Associate Professor of Urban Planning Adam Millard-Ball spoke to Bloomberg CityLab about his research on the land value of streets in the United States. Millard-Ball calculated the widths, land areas and land value of streets in 20 different counties in the U.S., and he found that streets averaged 55 feet wide, even in residential areas with low traffic. Streets are much wider in the United States than in other parts of the world. In the counties he surveyed, Millard-Ball found that streets took up 18% of the total land area. He said cities could use some of the land currently allocated to streets for bike lanes, transit, green spaces or housing. He also noted that decreasing standard street sizes could help reduce housing development costs. “People are already using streets for housing, just not in a sanctioned way,” he said. “Why do we rule out 20% of a city’s land and declare it off limits for that?”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen was mentioned in a San Diego Union-Tribune opinion piece about the need to enforce housing regulations in San Diego. Every eight years, California cities are required to adopt a state-approved plan that includes rules about regional housing targets, sanctions and zoning restrictions. San Diego is currently out of compliance, but it is unclear how California’s Department of Housing and Community Development will enforce the rules. State law says that cities that lack a compliant housing plan forfeit authority to deny or downsize affordable housing projects. Monkkonen and his students studied San Diego’s housing plan and identified grave shortcomings. For example, they found that 65% of the sites San Diego identified for low-income and multifamily housing are located in the poorest third of the city’s neighborhoods, and the plan fails to open up neighborhoods reserved for single-family homes to multifamily housing.
Urban Planning Professor Vinit Mukhija shared his expertise on unpermitted housing units in Los Angeles on KPCC’s “Take Two” and in an LAist article. In 2019, there were more than 2,700 violations associated with unpermitted housing, but citations for these units plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving tenants in unsafe living conditions. “Unpermitted housing is very common in the city of L.A.,” Mukhija said. “People end up in illegal units because public housing assistance is extremely limited and L.A. wages haven’t kept up with skyrocketing rents for legal units.” Mukhija said many people end up “living wherever they can find housing they can afford.” The Unpermitted Dwelling Units program, created to bring units up to code, has failed to make a large difference. “I am very happy that instead of shutting down the units, the city is trying to preserve them,” Mukhija told “Take Two” in a segment beginning at minute 22:20. “But this is a difficult task.”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Michael Lens was featured in a Washington Monthly article about the complexities and limitations of the Fair Housing Act. The Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, which sought to promote residential desegregation, was repealed during the Trump administration. The rule went further than the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which outlawed racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing but did not take any affirmative steps to dismantle segregation. Now, President Joe Biden has announced his plans to revive the AFFH rule, prompting discussion about how to make it more effective and equitable. According to Lens, “a new AFFH rule should go further and include measures of access to safe neighborhoods.” He pointed to extensive data suggesting that access to low-crime neighborhoods is a primary motivator for low-income families who move and that escaping high-crime neighborhoods increases educational outcomes for students.
Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, appeared in an Al Jazeera English documentary about Los Angeles’ crisis levels of housing insecurity, which grew starker during the COVID-19 pandemic. “With stay-at-home orders came a public realization about who could stay at home,” Roy said. “And I think one of the things that’s become very evident in the United States is the failure at all scales of government to protect communities and households that are vulnerable.” The film follows homeless families who take great risks by moving into vacant houses and highlights the work of advocacy groups including the Reclaimers, Moms 4 Housing and the Los Angeles Community Action Network. A fast-growing rent-wage gap has deepened the crisis, Roy said. “Housing has become a commodity, by which I mean that what matters is not whether people are housed or not. What matters is the profits to be made on housing that is traded in the marketplace.”
Urban Planning Associate Professor Michael Manville was featured on KCRW’s “Greater L.A.” in an episode about the impact of housing supply on rent prices. “It’s important to separate this big question of gentrification with the question of what happens to rent,” Manville said. His research has shown that adding to the housing supply lowers nearby rent, but he explained that the trend is “not always easy to see because developers like to build in places where rents are already rising.” Considering neighborhoods where housing demand is already increasing, Manville asked, “Do you want newer residents moving in and displacing residents in the existing housing, or do you want them to be in brand-new housing where, while they will change the neighborhood by their presence, they don’t put as much pressure on the existing housing stock where a lot of the current people live?”
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville wrote an article for The Atlantic about the disastrous impact of parking requirements in American cities. Zoning laws that require homes and businesses to include space for parking cars have created “an unreasonable, unaffordable and unsustainable city,” he wrote. “American urban history is stained with tragic missteps and shameful injustices, so parking requirements are hardly the worst policy cities have tried. But they are notable for how much needless damage they have caused, over a long period, with few people even noticing.” Manville argued that parking mandates make driving less expensive and development more so, which in effect prioritizes the needs of cars over the needs of people. He concluded, “In an age of ostensible concern about global warming, it shouldn’t be illegal to put up a building without parking and market it to people without cars.”
Ananya Roy, director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, spoke with the podcast Today Explained about the urgent need for housing solutions. Looming evictions will force millions more from their homes, she said, possibly triggering the nationwide proliferation of squatter settlements like the Echo Park encampment recently cleared by Los Angeles police. “That, I think, should wake the country up because all of that is avoidable, all of it can be changed if the right policies are put into place at the right time,” Roy told the podcast, beginning at minute 18. She called for the cancellation of rent debt, regulation of the corporate acquisition of residential property and the vast expansion of low-income housing stock. Roy also spoke with Grist about Los Angeles’ emphasis on addressing homelessness through policing, saying it has criminalized some aspects of the search for shelter. Grist also cited urban planning Ph.D. student Hilary Malson, whose research focuses on housing justice.
Urban Planning Professor Michael Storper was cited in a Governing article about the affordable housing crisis in the United States. Experts disagree on the best strategy to meet the need for affordable housing. Two years ago, Minneapolis voted to make single-family zoning illegal; Oregon and cities in North Carolina and Northern California have adopted similar measures; and upzoning has been in place in Chicago for more than a decade. So far, these policy changes have had little effect on housing construction, the article noted. “What upzoning did not do in Chicago, and is not likely to do anywhere, is create incentives for housing construction in the areas where middle-class and lower-income people most need it at the prices for which they need it,” Storper said. Changing zoning laws doesn’t mean that developers will choose to build cheap housing, especially when they can build housing for the affluent and pay an alternative fee to an affordable housing fund.
Experts, scholars and activists convened to discuss successful housing strategies — and their potential application in the L.A. region — at the Luskin Summit webinar “Homes for All: Building Coalitions for Equitable Planning in Los Angeles County.” Culver City Vice Mayor Daniel Lee delivered the keynote address at the April 9 event, co-sponsored by UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and Ziman Center for Real Estate. Lee suggested that social housing is the key to addressing homelessness and the affordable housing crisis. Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, moderated a panel on the successes and challenges of housing initiatives in other areas. Berkeley City Council member Terry Taplin shared his personal experiences with homelessness and discussed efforts to end exclusionary zoning practices. Laura Loe, founder of Share the Cities, spoke about her work building housing coalitions in Seattle and the importance of building trust within communities. Alison McIntosh of the Oregon nonprofit Neighborhood Partnerships explained that, “while these problems are complex and thorny, they are solvable.” A second panel, moderated by Tommy Newman of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, focused on how Los Angeles might apply these strategies. Andy Cohen of the architecture and design firm Gensler pointed to COVID-19 as an “opportunity to reimagine the future of cities and prioritize the human experience,” while Joss Tillard-Gates of Enterprise Community Partners spoke about preserving supportive housing for homeless populations. Mahdi Manji of the Inner City Law Center discussed serving the lowest-income clients, and Leonora Camner of Abundant Housing LA stressed the importance of “moving at the speed of trust.” — Zoe Day