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Monkkonen on COVID-19 and the L.A. Arts Scene

Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the impact of gentrification and pandemic on the eclectic arts and music scene in Highland Park. The COVID-19 lockdown has devastated the northeast Los Angeles neighborhood and widened the divide between old-school and upstart artists. “You see a correlation between gentrifiers maintaining their income and lower-income people losing it,” Monkkonen said. SB1410, a pending state bill offering landlords tax breaks for forgiving rent, might help keep tenants of all sorts in place, he said. But real estate speculation and further gentrification remain real possibilities, he said. “There’s a big concern that mom-and-pop landlords will decide they don’t want to deal with tenants who can’t pay, and sell their buildings,” Monkkonen said. “Times of crisis are good times to buy, and a lot of these distressed properties are bought up by private equity.”


 

Stoll Comments on How Housing Crisis Affects Black Californians

Public Policy Professor Michael Stoll commented in a CalMatters article on how California’s housing crisis is worse for Black communities following decades of systemic racism. The article shows that significant barriers continue to exist for Black communities and individuals in building and retaining wealth compared to whites and other ethnic groups within the state. Data shows that California cities are typically less segregated than in the Northeast or Midwest. In part, this is due to gentrification and displacement pressures on Black communities in urban cores, notably Los Angeles and the Bay Area. “African Americans and to a lesser extent Latinos are moving to suburban areas at the fastest clip we’ve observed since the civil rights era,” Stoll said. But patterns of segregation continue, he said, noting, “It’s hard to become a socially cohesive place if people are living in different neighborhoods and not being able to communicate and work together around common interests.”


 

Loukaitou-Sideris on Combating Gentrification With Street Art

Research by Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris was featured in an Age of Awareness article about the use of street art to combat gentrification in Los Angeles. Gentrification has turned areas like Gallery Row into flourishing arts districts with steadily rising rent while nearby areas like Skid Row have slid further into poverty, the article noted. To build a better community in the poor districts of Los Angeles, urban planners recommend increasing arts program funding and research for communities like Skid Row. A 2016 study co-authored by Loukaitou-Sideris found that spontaneous art events in Gallery Row and Skid Row lit up city streets “at a time when most Angelenos still avoided this downtown area because of its reputation for being dangerous and dilapidated.” The article argued that murals brighten concrete structures, create maintenance jobs and bring in tourist revenue. Research also shows that street art may decrease the amount of neighborhood graffiti.


Ong on the Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund

Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, spoke to KCRW’s Greater L.A. podcast about community mobilization against gentrification in Little Tokyo. Local residents and business owners organized the Little Tokyo Community Impact Fund to raise $2 million to collectively buy a building in Little Tokyo and rent it out below market value to selected tenants. Ong, a UCLA Luskin research professor, said the group has the credibility to make it happen but asked, “Will they be able to get enough investors?” He commented, “In many ways, you have to factor in things that normal businesses would not think about. That is, what is the cultural value, for example, of these businesses? What do they represent symbolically?”


 

Public Policy Hosts Weekend of Learning and Service

About 30 undergraduate students from California and beyond convened at UCLA for a weekend of learning and public service, part of the not-for-profit Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program. UCLA Luskin Public Policy hosted the program, “Advancing Social Justice Through Public Service: Lessons From California,” with senior lecturer Kenya Covington coordinating a full weekend of lectures, conversations and off-campus experiences. Students ventured out to MacArthur Park west of downtown Los Angeles, the Crenshaw District and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to hear how policymakers are grappling with homelessness and gentrification. They heard from several MPP alumni from both the policy field and academia, and learned about public service career paths from Dean Gary Segura and other UCLA Luskin staff. Several members of the public policy and urban planning faculty shared research, insights and data-gathering techniques during the Oct. 4-6 event, including Amada Armenta, Kevin de León, Michael Lens, Michael Stoll and Chris Zepeda-Millán. Public Policy Chair JR DeShazo encouraged the students to engage intellectually, socially and emotionally as they explored policy challenges and prepared to make an impact in their own careers. The students formed working groups to synthesize what they had seen and heard, and presented their findings at the close of the program. Joining the large contingent of students from four-year and community colleges in California were participants from Arizona, Illinois, Michigan and Washington. The public service weekend was one of several outreaches around the country that are coordinated through PPIA to promote diversity in public service.

View photos from the PPIA public service weekend on Flickr.

PPIA Public Service Weekend


 

Ong Foresees Upscaling and Displacement in Crenshaw

Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, expressed his concerns about upscaling and displacement in a recent Curbed article on the community’s response to planned redevelopment in South Los Angeles’ Crenshaw district. Residents worry that the expansion of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall will lead to higher housing costs, ultimately displacing low-income residents. Last year, Ong authored a study tracking economic progress in South Los Angeles over the past 50 years that found that 42 percent of renters in the region are “rent-burdened.” He predicted that the opening of the new Crenshaw Metro station will lead to a rise in housing costs in the area. “We certainly see that there are particular interests in developing that area that would lead to upscaling,” he said. The Crenshaw Subway Coalition, led by local community leaders, aims to inform residents about six major developments in the district and educate them about gentrification.


Ong on the Undermining of Ethnic Enclaves

Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the imminent departure of two Chinatown grocery stores following disputes with landlords. Such grocery stores act as anchors for ethnic communities, bringing foot traffic to barbers, bankers, restaurants, remittance businesses and other culturally specific vendors, the column noted. Ong said that ethnic enclaves such as Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Historic Filipinotown and Boyle Heights find themselves directly in the path of change because they’re located in the core of the city, where redevelopment is most intense. “There’s still a need for these culturally specific services in the urban core. But the question is, are we going to see these needs served?” Ong asked.

Grants Support Challenging Convention, Strengthening Communities

Four members of the UCLA Luskin faculty have received research grants from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy. The 2019-20 grants, among 10 awarded to faculty across the UCLA campus, support research, scholarship and teaching that challenge established academic wisdom, contribute to public debate and/or strengthen communities and movements, the institute said. UCLA Luskin recipients are:

  • Amada Armenta, assistant professor of urban planning, who will study undocumented Mexican immigrants in Philadelphia and their layered, complex relationship with the legal system in their everyday lives.
  • Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, who will use the lessons of Hurricane Sandy to research the key role public housing and infrastructure play in the quest for climate justice.
  • Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, who will create multimedia public narratives that document the stresses of gentrification, displacement and other community changes.
  • Amy Ritterbusch, assistant professor of social welfare, who will develop a restorative justice initiative to take research to the streets, producing knowledge about historically misrepresented communities beyond the confines of academic publication traditions.

In addition to awarding faculty grants of up to $10,000, the Institute on Inequality and Democracy supports research by graduate student working groups. The six groups announced for the 2019-2020 academic year include several urban planning and social welfare students from UCLA Luskin.

Aspiring Urban Planners Seek to Mitigate Gentrification Impacts in Pacoima Researchers study alternative living spaces in a community about to launch major development and infrastructure improvements

By Les Dunseith

For Silvia González studying for a doctorate in urban planning at UCLA is about more than learning how cities and communities can be better designed. It’s about promoting economic and environmental justice and housing equity, causes she is personally connected to.

González and her family grew up 20 miles north of UCLA in the working-class communities of Pacoima and San Fernando, spending several years in a garage converted to a living space without permits on a property owned by her aunt. Her family eventually moved out, and “later it was torn down, after inspectors found out.”

That result is “exactly what we don’t want to happen” in Pacoima, González said. “If it’s affordable housing, then how do we keep it?”

Fast forward to the past academic year, when González served as a graduate instructor for a comprehensive research project in which 16 urban planning master’s degree candidates in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs spent nearly six months studying ways to make sure a pending major redevelopment effort in the community does not lead to displacement of the people already living there.

The research and final report were produced for a nonprofit organization known as Pacoima Beautiful, other community partners and government agencies. The research effort was a byproduct of $23 million received by Pacoima as part of a statewide grant process that is providing funding for development and infrastructure projects to achieve significant environmental, health and economic benefits in the state’s most disadvantaged communities.

“I think our project creates a really amazing starting point for further research, and it provided concrete recommendations for the organizations to think about,” said Jessica Bremner, a doctoral student in urban planning who also served as a teaching assistant for the class that conducted the research. Professor Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning, was the course instructor.

Pacoima is one of many places in Southern California in which many lower-income residents scrape by amid a housing affordability crisis by taking up residence in converted garages and other outbuildings, or in portions of homes that have been added or converted as places to be rented. One subgroup of the UCLA Luskin class utilized aerial images and walked the streets of Pacoima to catalog the presence of these types of living spaces, which are known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

In the geographic area they studied, the team found that almost half of all properties included a secondary dwelling — often without the permits and inspector approvals to be considered legal. According to the project report, about three-quarters of the tenants pay less than $1,000 per month in rent. Almost half live in an ADU on a property in which the main unit is occupied by a relative.

On May 28, the team went to Pacoima City Hall to present its findings, which also detail the personal impact of housing instability on Pacoima’s residents. In their summary report, the researchers wrote that their research questions had presumed that the condition of individual housing units would be the defining characteristic of the tenant experience.

“We were wrong,” they wrote. “Tenants face a variety of good and bad conditions, but the most important factor influencing their quality of life was the relationship between the landlord and tenant.”

González said that Pacoima Beautiful and its partner organizations are committed to finding solutions to address possible gentrification and housing displacement before it happens in Pacoima. As grant awardees, the organizations are required to prepare and implement a displacement avoidance plan. González also works for UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge, which had assisted Pacoima with the grant application and is now taking the lead in developing that plan. Pacoima Beautiful is responsible for managing it.

“I really love the way that it came about,” González said. “The decision to address displacement before it happens came from the community. The community is interested in taking advantage of the housing options that are already there and building on that.”

The research effort included one-on-one interviews, focus groups and site observations, with volunteers from the new UCLA Luskin undergraduate public affairs program helping with some tasks.

Some of the findings were surprising.

“I think everyone has these assumptions around accessory dwelling units … that they are only for the short term or for temporary housing, which we found actually wasn’t true,” Bremner said. The majority of residents living in ADUs in Pacoima do so for many years, the study found.

When they looked at how space is used, Bremner said researchers expected that the shared communal spaces common to ADUs would promote bonding among residents, but that was not the case. For example, a youth from a family of five reported sleeping on a sofa in the living room of one dwelling and rarely interacting with the 10 people in other families living in two other ADUs on the property.

This interviewee was among a number of high school youths who spoke to the researchers, and those survey participants provided detailed descriptions of their living arrangements.

“I think the stories of the youth were very impactful,” said González, who noted that most cope with the burden of schoolwork and the pressures of teenage life while living in stressful, overcrowded conditions.

The urban planning team also analyzed the willingness of property owners to sell or lease all, or part, of their land for the purpose of creating community land trusts, which acquire and hold land in the interest of promoting affordable housing by removing properties from the speculative real estate market.

As urban planners concerned about housing equity, the UCLA team tended to view the idea of community land trusts as a good approach. But, González said, the homeowners were “apprehensive about being a part of a community land trust in the way that we were pitching it, which was a community land trust that owns accessory dwelling units.”

Property owners were not interested in the idea if it meant the homeowner would be responsible for dealing with the tenants.

“But if there’s an organization that will deal with the tenants— that will be responsible for them — then [property owners] wanted to participate,” González said.

The comprehensive project was just one step in a long process for Pacoima, but both Bremner and González believe the results will prove valuable.

“From Pacoima Beautiful’s perspective, I think it changed their approach to organizing,” González said. “They are an environmental justice organization. And now seeing how important that housing is to their community, I think it’s going to change the way that they approach the project. And it is going to change the way they do future projects.”

Leap on LAPD Probe of Nipsey Hussle

The New York Times spoke with Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap about the Los Angeles Police Department’s criminal probe of rapper Nipsey Hussle. After Hussle was slain in March, city leaders praised him as an artist, peacemaker and hero of South Los Angeles. They did not mention that the city had opened an investigation into Hussle’s business enterprises to determine whether they were hubs of gang activity. Now, investigators are under pressure to back away from the probe, even as they see Hussle’s killing as a sign of the gang violence they were looking into. “I think this goes to the complexity of the problem of gangs, gang membership and gang congregating,” Leap said. “Someone can be a hero, someone may also have a past. Neighborhoods can want zealously to have public safety and public gathering places. But for better or worse, that may or may not include gang members.”