Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to CalMatters for a story about a California housing crisis mystery: There has been a major run-up in rents, and delinquent payments are the most common reason a landlord sues to remove tenants from their property. Yet the state has seen an unexpected decline in eviction filings. The article cited Lens’ research into what made one Southern California neighborhood more likely than another to see landlords initiate formal evictions, with surprising findings on the impact of gentrification. “The conventional wisdom is that landlords will be more aggressive in trying to push people out … when they think they can get somebody who will pay more,” Lens said. “But that’s not what we find, on the court side of things.” Instead the factors that had a strong correlation with eviction filings were whether a neighborhood was very poor or was largely African American, Lens found.
Panelist Chancela Al-Mansour, executive director of Housing Rights Center, shared information about various rights held by tenants. Photo by Stan Paul
Amid California’s ongoing housing and affordability crisis, numerous efforts are underway to protect tenants. But, they’re only as good as the enforcement behind them, as was made clear at a recent UCLA Luskin event.
Earlier this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed various tenant protections into law, including establishing statewide rent stabilization and just-cause eviction protections, and prohibiting discrimination against tenants with housing vouchers. Locally, other proposals like a right to counsel are being considered.
At the same time, numerous reports of landlords scurrying to evict tenants or drastically raise their rents before the new law goes into effect Jan. 1 have prompted cities across the state to enact emergency moratoriums.
Evictions, tenant protections and enforcement were among the topics at the Nov. 20 event designed to highlight the state’s persistent problem. “Eviction and Code Enforcement: Making Rental Housing ‘Home’” was part of the Housing, Equity and Community Series co-hosted by the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the Ziman Center for Real Estate.
Speakers included Michael Lens, associate faculty director at the Lewis Center, Chancela Al-Mansour, executive director of Housing Rights Center, and chief inspector Robert Galardi with the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department which oversees multifamily rental units.
Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, said academic research into evictions has not kept pace with community activists.
“This is an area in which advocates and tenants’ rights groups have been working, agitating and talking about the plight of people who have been displaced from their homes for a very long time,” he said.
Part of the reason academia might be behind is that eviction data are hard to come by. “Data is spotty and incomplete. We have some very specific data on evictions that doesn’t give you every type of eviction,” Lens said.
In a forthcoming research paper, Lens and his team reviewed more than 700,000 court-based eviction cases in Southern California between 2005 and 2015 to ascertain what types of neighborhoods see more evictions. They found that neighborhoods with higher populations of African Americans and higher poverty rates saw high rates of eviction.
A separate study currently underway is focusing on two types of evictions in Los Angeles — court-based evictions and no-fault, otherwise known as Ellis Act eviction petitions.
The L.A. study has not produced as consistent a story because Ellis Act evictions are harder to predict, Lens said. Regardless, city and county officials should be monitoring these data on a regular basis to focus on what neighborhoods are seeing growth in evictions, he added.
Al-Mansour of Housing Rights Center helped the audience to understand the human impact of these evictions.
She shared the story of an African American client who had been using Section 8 vouchers for housing for 20 years in South LA. When new owners took over the building, they issued a 90-day eviction notice to everyone using the vouchers. It took her client longer than anticipated to find someplace that would accept her voucher, but she lost her new unit when the paperwork failed to arrive after being mistakenly sent to the old address. She quickly went from living in her car to living on the streets and suffering abuse.
“She’s now suffering from severe mental trauma and will be very, very hard to house,” Al-Mansour said. “If this law would have been in effect 18 months earlier, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Al-Mansour also shared information about various rights held by tenants, including a right to withhold rent to ensure habitable premises. She also discussed a variety of landlord disclosure laws that could nullify a rental contract when violated.
“Oftentimes, people don’t know their rights; they just know something is wrong,” she said, adding that those in the audience should be ambassadors and share what they’re learning with their neighbors and communities.
Los Angeles, where 70% of people rent, has one of the strongest code enforcement programs. Unlike other cities, L.A. enforces penalties against owners for citations and violations.
Started in 1997, the city’s code enforcement program proactively inspects all multifamily rental units in the city every few years.
Galardi gave an overview of the city’s inspection program, which is housed in the Housing and Community Investment Department. More than 100,000 rental properties comprise about 850,000 multifamily rental units in the city. The program’s goal is to inspect each unit once every four years, but the department looks more often at some high-risk units that have had issues and citations during previous inspections, Galardi said.
“The benefit of this program for tenants is that this is a proactive inspection,” Galardi said. “That takes the burden off the tenant in terms of [fear of] retaliation, which is a big concern for renters in the city.”
Code enforcement also builds in follow-up visits to ensure that necessary repairs are addressed by landlords.
As a mechanism of tenant protection, Galardi said code enforcement inspectors are the “boots on the ground going to the units” and raising awareness among tenants about their rights.
To view a recording of the event, visit the Lewis Center’s YouTube page.
View additional photos on the UCLA Luskin Flickr channel:
An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times juxtaposed a Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) plan to meet housing construction requirements with recommendations from Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy. Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to combat the affordable housing crisis in California with construction of 1.3 million new units of housing. The op-ed, written by the managing director of Abundant Housing L.A., accused the SCAG plan of “disproportionately dumping housing into the sprawling exurbs” while leaving wealthy cities with massive job pools alone. Critics say the SCAG plan will create a housing and jobs imbalance that will lengthen commutes and lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Working with Monkkonen, Abundant Housing L.A. researchers built a different model for distributing housing requirements that minimizes sprawl, prioritizes accessibility to transit and creates affordable housing where people want to live and have opportunities to work, the op-ed said.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was featured in a Los Angeles Times article describing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lack of progress on his goals to tackle California’s housing crisis. While Newsom’s campaign platform included plans for the construction of 3.5 million new homes by 2025 and a Marshall Plan for affordable housing, critics have pointed out that the state still faces a shortage of 1.7 million affordable rental homes. Newsom’s largest success so far has been a new statewide cap preventing large rent increases, and he argues that he remains committed to fixing California’s housing problems. Nevertheless, the state’s homelessness crisis has become even more pressing since Newsom took office. “It seems like a pretty meaningful failure — either a failure of commitment or a failure of effort,” Lens said.
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.
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.”
Steven Dake moves into his new home, an accessory dwelling unit built in a Sacramento backyard. Photo by Paul Kitagaki / Sacramento Bee
Urban Planning Professor Vinit Mukhija argued for loosening restrictions on “granny flats” and other accessory dwelling units in a Sacramento Bee opinion piece co-authored with state Sen. Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont). As a result of legislative reforms that went into effect in 2017, applications from homeowners who want to build basement apartments, backyard cottages, garage conversions or upstairs additions are up across the state. These units, just one element of a broader strategy needed to ease the state’s housing crunch, are “the low-hanging fruit for cities seeking a quick and inexpensive way to increase housing,” the authors wrote. They urged Californians to support Senate Bill 13, which would reduce fees levied on homeowners, loosen owner occupancy requirements and strengthen state oversight of local ordinances. In addition to relieving the housing crisis, the authors wrote, “homeowners can generate rental income that provides much-needed financial security, especially for seniors who may be house rich but cash poor.”
Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about a state requirement that Southern California cities and counties plan for the construction of 1.3 million new homes in the next decade. The Southern California Association of Governments — which had proposed zoning for just 430,000 new homes during that period — must now determine how to fulfill the commitment in neighborhoods across Los Angeles, Orange, Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. Monkkonen argued for new housing in places where the demand is highest, such as Los Angeles’ Westside and other areas with strong job growth. To do otherwise would be “a travesty of planning,” especially given recent efforts to increase penalties on local governments that do not comply. Monkkonen said it’s unclear whether the law, which requires zoning for new housing but does not guarantee that the construction will take place, will have a significant effect on the region’s housing shortage.
Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke with CalMatters about ways to change the habits of Californians who are reluctant to give up their cars. “If we can create environments where traveling by other means becomes easier and easier, people will drive less,” Taylor said. “The challenge is the transition.” He added that increasing housing density could help create pedestrian-friendly cities that render automobiles such a hassle that they become an undesirable accessory. CalMatters also spoke to Kevin de León, UCLA Luskin senior analyst and policymaker-in-residence, about the dual challenge of taking on the fossil fuel industry and convincing consumers to change their ways. “You are talking about persuading [millions of] individual car drivers in the largest state in the union to drive zero-emission vehicles, or take public transportation, or ride a bike, or walk, or rideshare,” de León said. “We drive internal-combustion cars in part because they are easy.”
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.