The New York Times spoke with public policy lecturer Jim Newton for an article about California’s socioeconomic conundrum: The state has a thriving $3-trillion economy with record low unemployment, but also has a pernicious housing and homelessness problem and faces a future of ever-worsening wildfires. California’s biggest cities, plagued by traffic and trash, have gone from the places other regions tried to emulate to the places they’re terrified of becoming, the article noted, adding that the state has lost more than 1 million residents to other states since 2006. “What’s happening in California right now is a warning shot to the rest of the country,” Newton said. “It’s a warning about income inequality and suburban sprawl, and how those intersect with quality of life and climate change.”
Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, spoke to the Goethe-Institut’s Big Pond podcast about housing justice. Through the lens of Berlin and Los Angeles, the podcast examined how old ideas of homelessness are evolving as new solutions are proposed. “We’ve got to think of the actual facts of homelessness as well as the political framing of homelessness in relation to rights and claims,” said Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin. The institute is home to Housing Justice in Unequal Cities, a global research network that focuses not on the housing crisis but on housing justice, Roy said. “It is also our argument that as there is a housing crisis in many cities of the world, particularly in cities that we see to be deeply unequal, there is also in those cities tremendous mobilization,” she said. Roy participated in the Goethe-Institut’s weeklong “Worlds of Homelessness” project in Los Angeles in October.
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.
Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, spoke with KCRW’s Press Play shortly after President Trump criticized California cities for the spread of homelessness during a trip to the state. Yaroslavsky took issue with Trump “coming in here and lecturing to us about what’s wrong with our housing policy,” saying several of the administration’s actions are responsible for pushing citizens onto the streets. He also said the root of homelessness is income inequality, not the availability of housing units. “The bottom line is this: We have an affordable housing crisis. We don’t have a market-rate housing crisis.” Yaroslavsky argued against loosening rules on zoning and development. “The proposals that have come out of Sacramento to eliminate the single-family homes and the duplex zones and the quadruplex zones in the city and allow seven-story massive apartment buildings with no parking is not the answer,” he said. “The people who are squeezed in this housing environment are people who are of low and moderate income, and that’s 40 to 45 percent of the city.”
Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija held a wide-ranging dialogue about affordable housing with state Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) on the podcast Then There’s California. Mukhija’s research focuses on informal, makeshift housing in the United States and abroad. He has studied slums, border areas and farmworker dwellings but noted that unregulated and unpermitted shelter is becoming more commonplace in cities and suburbs. Wieckowski has sponsored legislation to remove barriers to the creation of granny flats, garage conversions and other so-called accessory dwelling units. “This can be a very reasonable way of adding housing supply from our existing physical resources,” Mukhija said. In addition to addressing the growing demand for affordable housing, regulated accessory dwelling units can bring in significant property tax revenues, he added.
Professor Raquel Rolnik of the University of São Paulo co-leads a weeklong summer institute on housing justice organized by UCLA Luskin's Institute on Inequality and Democracy. Photo by Mary Braswell
By Mary Braswell
When Raquel Rolnik began her work for the United Nations Human Rights Council monitoring access to adequate housing, she found that the world body did not fully grasp the scope of the challenge.
“Adequate housing was seen as a problem of underdeveloped countries, those countries full of favelas, slums, barrios,” said Rolnik, who served as a U.N. special rapporteur from 2008 to 2014. “And of course it was not a problem at all in the developed world — at all.”
The global financial crisis of the last decade helped put that myth to rest, shining a spotlight on people in countries — rich and poor — who struggle to find secure housing, said Rolnik, who shared her experiences at a weeklong summer course hosted by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
With “challenge inequality” as its rallying cry, the institute strives to advance democracy through research, critical thought and alliances between academia and activism. With that mission in mind, the institute developed the curriculum on “Methodologies for Housing Justice.”
‘We are talking about banishment, we are talking about permanent transitoriness, we are talking about invisible people who are pushed from place to place.’ — Raquel Rolnik
More than 50 participants from universities and social movements attended the Aug. 5-9 course led by Rolnik and Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography. A large Los Angeles contingent was joined by participants from Oakland, Orange County, Austin, Chicago, New York, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Manila and other locales.
Their goal was to share knowledge, master the tools of research and strengthen their commitment to uphold what the United Nations calls a basic human right: a place to live in peace, security and dignity.
Nancy Mejia, who works with Latino Health Access and other advocacy groups in Santa Ana, said the swelling demand for stable housing in Orange County compelled her to take part in the summer institute.
For years, Mejia’s work centered on access to healthy food, open spaces and recreation, but she found that constituents forced to move from place to place could not take advantage of these programs. So she shifted her focus to tenant rights, rent control and other housing justice issues.
“We’re getting more organized, and this is the sort of place to come and hear what else is going on around the country,” Mejia said. “We are getting the tools, connections and networks to build our capacity as a movement.”
The summer institute underscored that, rather than a social good, housing has become a commodity used to enrich property owners.
The dozen instructors covered a broad spectrum of issues, including laws against squatting or sleeping in one’s car that in effect make poverty a criminal offense; the ethics of collecting and controlling data on private citizens; and the responsibility of researchers to take the next step — to act for the greater good.
“We are not talking about an individual process of eviction,” Rolnik said during a session on her work with the São Paulo Evictions Observatory. “We are talking about banishment, we are talking about permanent transitoriness, we are talking about invisible people who are pushed from place to place.”
The Evictions Observatory was created to turn small bits of information collected from across the Brazilian metropolis into data-rich maps exposing broad trends of inhumane behavior.
Rolnik displayed a map highlighting pockets of São Paulo where at least 100 evictions took place within one kilometer — frequently in locations known for drug consumption or inhabited by non-white residents. At times, tenants were cleared out so that businesses could expand. In one case, she said, a building was demolished while squatters were still inside.
Largely powered by university students, the Evictions Observatory intervenes on behalf of the homeless and lobbies for “key-to-key” policies — that is, no person may be evicted unless he or she has a safe place to land.
The observatory is led by Rolnik, a professor, architect, urban planner and author. In addition to her position as U.N. special rapporteur on adequate housing, Rolnik has held positions with the Brazilian government, non-governmental organizations and academia. She currently chairs the design and planning department at the University of São Paulo.
“Raquel’s work and career to me have always been an inspiration for how one might in fact be both inside and outside powerful institutions and produce scholarship and frameworks of social change that are abolitionist, that are anti-colonial and that are committed to a human right to housing,” said Roy, who also holds the Meyer and Renee Luskin Chair in Inequality and Democracy at UCLA.
The summer course was offered through the Housing Justice in #UnequalCities Network, which was launched by Roy’s institute, with support from the National Science Foundation, to unite movement-based and university-based scholars in the field.
That expression of solidarity attracted Joshua Poe, an independent geographer, city planner and community activist from Louisville, Kentucky. To sharpen his skills in urban design and data visualization, Poe returned to school to earn a master’s in urban planning but acknowledged that he has an “insurgent relationship” with academia.
“For a lot of people who’ve been doing movement-based research or movement geography or movement science, we’ve been somewhat isolated and somewhat invalidated at times and kind of gaslighted by academia,” Poe said. “But this institute lends not just legitimacy to what we’re doing but also expands our networks and emboldens our work in a lot of ways.”
Poe spoke after a day of lectures and training at the Los Angeles Community Action Network, or LA CAN, an advocacy group headquartered in downtown’s Skid Row. LA CAN, part of the Housing Justice in #UnequalCities Network, also hosted a book launch for the English version of Rolnik’s “Urban Warfare: Housing Under the Empire of Finance.”
At the close of the summer institute, the work was not done. In the coming weeks, participants will craft chapters on key housing justice methodologies, which will be disseminated as a digital resource guide available to all.
“This open-access volume will be a critical resource for defining housing justice as a field of inquiry,” Roy said.
View photos from the summer institute on Flickr.
A CityLab article on housing supply as a hot-button issue delved into the robust debate around the best strategies to make shelter affordable. Los Angeles is the epicenter of the housing crisis, and UCLA Luskin urban planning scholars have conducted extensive research on the issue, with varying conclusions. The article described arguments made for and against upzoning, which would increase the housing stock by lifting regulatory limits on density. In an earlier article, Professor Michael Storper cast doubt on the effectiveness of such policies. In rebuttal, three of his UCLA Luskin colleagues, Associate Professors Michael Manville, Michael Lens and Paavo Monkkonen, authored an essay pointing to studies that support upzoning. “When every neighborhood acts to preserve itself, soon the city is mired in regulation, and rents and prices rise,” they wrote. “Were regulations relaxed, these places would have more housing, and price increases would first slow and eventually fall.” They concluded, “The consequences of inaction also matter.”
Members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus join LPPI staff at the initiative's second annual policy briefing in Sacramento. Photo by Celina Avalos
By Celina Avalos and Sonja Diaz
On May 20, the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI) hosted its second annual California Latino Legislative Policy Briefing in Sacramento.
Fifty policy advocates, legislative staff members and community leaders attended the briefing at Sacramento’s La Cosecha venue to learn more about LPPI’s latest research findings and discuss policy interventions that improve the lives of California’s residents.
The briefing, co-hosted by the California Latino Legislative Caucus and UCLA Government and Community Relations, featured research presentations by three LPPI faculty experts: Gary Segura, dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; Melissa Chinchilla, a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and Arturo Vargas Bustamante, associate professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
The briefing covered voting, housing and health, three areas that present critical policy challenges for the California legislature. Each issue has unique impacts on Latinos, who make up a plurality in the state. LPPI’s legislative briefing provided a unique opportunity for leaders to better understand policy solutions that address the disparities faced by Latinos.
Segura kicked off the policy briefing with his timely research on public opinion trends leading to the 2020 presidential election. LPPI research documented a 77% increase in Latino votes cast in the 2018 midterm election, compared to the 2014 midterm election. Segura explained that the leading public opinion sentiments that influenced Asian American, black and Latino voters were immigration, the #metoo movement, access to affordable health care and support for gun laws. Across the board, voters of color embraced Democratic positions on guns, health care and immigration at higher rates than their white peers. On the whole, the 2018 election illustrated the upward growth of the Latino vote in and beyond California, Segura said.
In her policy presentation on Latino homelessness in Los Angeles County, Chinchilla cited the lack of accurate data on Latinos facing housing insecurity, leading to an undercount of the demographic group. Homelessness is not a one-size-fits-all narrative, Chinchilla said, citing findings from her LPPI report, “Stemming the Rise of Latino Homelessness.”
“Many factors contribute to the undercount of Latinos facing housing insecurity, like immigration status, economic vulnerability, and cultural and language barriers,” she said.
Vargas Bustamante concluded the policy briefing with his work on the shortage of Latino physicians in California.
“As California’s plurality, Latinos will represent 44.5% of California’s population by 2050. However, currently only 4.7% of physicians in California are Latino,” said Vargas Bustamante, sharing findings from his report, “Latino Physician Shortage in California: The Provider Perspective.”
Factors contributing to the shortage are lack of financial support and opportunity, academic disadvantages, underrepresentation and citizenship, he said.
LPPI’s briefing provided an opportunity for leading policy stakeholders to hear timely research centered on the needs of the state’s plurality. The briefings build upon LPPI’s legislative portfolio of engaging elected and appointed officials on critical policy issues with data and facts, breeding new research-practice partnerships and accelerating the capacity for evidence-based policy.
Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to LAist about the root causes of homelessness in Los Angeles. Monkkonen pointed to rising housing costs exceeding income as the main contributor to homelessness. “People talk about [housing] like it’s a game of musical chairs, but I don’t think that’s really the right metaphor. Income differentials don’t matter in a game of musical chairs, but they do in this one,” Monkkonen said. Restrictive land-use policies have limited the amount of new housing available to accommodate a growing population, he said. Housing costs have increased because of a lack of supply of places to live and more high-income jobs that lead to gentrification and displacement in less affluent neighborhoods. “We’re building much less housing than we have at every other point in our history, in at least the last century or so,” he said.
Blueprint editor Jim Newton, left, with panelists Vinit Mukhija, Christina Miller and Phil Ansell. Photo by Les Dunseith
By Mary Braswell
Ending homelessness is a stated priority for legislators and policymakers up and down the state.
But it’s also a moral imperative for every citizen, one that will “define our civic legacy in the eyes of future generations,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
“Homelessness is the most pressing problem in this region,” he said to open a wide-ranging dialogue hosted April 30 by UCLA’s Blueprint magazine. “Mere steps away from the dozens of cranes looming above the gleaming towers of downtown, we find Angelenos — our brothers and our sisters — in utter squalor.”
Blueprint is a civic affairs publication of the UCLA chancellor’s office and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The event drew about 100 people to Cross Campus, a co-working venue in downtown Los Angeles.
Joining the conversation were public officials and scholars on the front lines of the region’s fight against housing insecurity: Phil Ansell, director of L.A. County’s homeless initiative; Christina Miller, deputy mayor for the city of Los Angeles’ homeless programs; and Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. Mukhija’s research focuses on substandard housing in the United States and abroad, and it was featured in the latest issue of Blueprint. Editor-in-chief Jim Newton, a UCLA Luskin lecturer in public policy, moderated the panel.
Stark numbers framed the conversation: “We have 52,000 people on any given night experiencing homelessness in the county,” Miller said.
To ensure housing security for all who need it, 560,000 affordable units must be built, Ansell added.
The discussion made clear that homelessness takes many forms. The chronically homeless may spend years on the street. Others find shelter in their cars or dwell in makeshift or substandard living conditions. Many drift in and out of homelessness due to precarious incomes and high rents.
Each of these populations requires a different response. And all of the proposed solutions require not just money, but time.
Miller said 10,000 “permanent supportive housing” units will be built over 10 years thanks to Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion city bond measure passed by voters in 2016. These units are designed for people suffering chronic disabilities — a small subset of those in need.
For short-term assistance such as temporary rent subsidies and job training, both the city and county offer rapid rehousing programs.
“People haven’t always connected the fact that the homelessness crisis is a housing crisis,” Miller said. “We see our system get better at lifting people up once they become homeless and getting them back into housing as quickly as we can, but we’re not seeing progress because the tide is too strong.”
Mukhija advocated for interim steps to provide safe living conditions while more permanent solutions make their way through the system.
“I love hearing all the numbers about 10,000 permanent supportive houses, and I think that’s the kind of thing that gets people galvanized to vote for a proposition and that’s wonderful,” he said. “But I would like to see storage for the homeless. I’d like to see more toilets. … I would like to see money targeted for improving existing accessory dwelling units,” such as garages that can be converted into shelter.
Ansell spoke about the county’s expanding Safe Parking L.A. program, which will soon be the largest of its kind in the nation.
“Safe parking means a parking lot where a person who lives in their car, van or RV can sleep safely at night, where there is security and they won’t be bothered, and there’s [an outdoor toilet] or other restroom facility, and hand washing,” Ansell said. “I think that’s a very important and promising strategy, particularly in a community where over half of our unsheltered homeless population is living in vehicles.”
Another county resource is la-hop.org, the county’s homeless outreach portal. “Anyone in Los Angeles County — a resident, a first responder, a city employee, a business, a faith organization — can use it 24 hours a day” to reach one of nearly 800 full-time outreach workers, Ansell said. A homeless person who needs immediate assistance should find a phone and dial 211.
The county’s homeless initiative was bolstered by the 2017 passage of Measure H, a sales tax expected to raise more than $350 million a year to combat homelessness. However, Ansell said, “This is not a crisis that the county can effectively address on its own.”
Citing support from government, philanthropy, the nonprofit sector and faith organizations, Ansell said, “We have hundreds of organizations and thousands of people who are involved on a full-time basis as part of this movement, and hundreds of thousands of other Los Angeles County residents who care very deeply about bringing their homeless neighbors home.”
“Housing and the Homeless: A Crisis of Policy and Conscience” is the theme of Blueprint’s latest issue, funded by a grant from Wells Fargo Bank.