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.
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.
Brian Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA Luskin, spoke with KCRW’s Greater L.A. program about several freeway expansion plans in the region. For motorists hoping the projects would bring lighter traffic, Taylor tempered expectations. As the region grows, more people and goods will need to move around and the expanded freeways will eventually clog up again, he said. The key to relieving congestion is charging for the use of the road, which is “wildly unpopular” among motorists and elected officials, he said. The urban planning professor also linked the planned High Desert Freeway project, which would connect Palmdale and Lancaster with the Victorville area, to the affordable housing debate in the L.A. Basin. With resistance to higher-density housing near L.A.’s transit corridors, “we end up building out on the fringe, and then we have to accommodate the demand for the traffic out there,” he said.
Public Policy lecturer Jim Newton commented on suburban sprawl in a New York Times article about the demonization of developers. Homebuilders, who once personified progress and opportunity in the United States, are now often vilified as unscrupulous characters driven by greed, the article said. In many cities, developers are blamed for the shortage of affordable housing; the irony is that remedying the shortage will probably require yet more development. Newton weighed in on the trend toward housing subdivisions and mass production to save time and money. “If you drive through the San Fernando Valley, you wouldn’t feel like someone did all of that because they were driven by a desire to create community, or that they were really modeling their housing on aesthetics,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of houses and strip malls.”
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to Curbed LA about Assembly Bill 1482, which would bar most property owners in California from increasing rent more than 7 percent, plus the cost of inflation, in one year. The bill would also require landlords to have just cause, such as failure to pay rent, when terminating a lease. “We’re definitely at a time more tenant protection in California generally — and especially L.A., San Francisco and other hot markets — is necessary,” Lens said. Advocates say the bill, if enacted, would protect up to 4 million Californians from rent gouging and arbitrary eviction. Opponents say it could deter developers from building at all. Lens pointed out that the 7 percent cap on rent hikes may be too high to have significant impact. “There’s a really small number of homes in which a landlord in a given year is even mulling a 10 percent hike,” he said.
Curbed LA spoke with UCLA Luskin’s Paavo Monkkonen about efforts to provide affordable housing in every part of Los Angeles. City planners have been instructed to develop recommendations that require all neighborhoods to help meet L.A.’s affordable housing goals. One option is “inclusionary zoning,” which would require new residential developments to include units that low-income renters can afford. Some developers argue that this policy would dissuade them from building new housing in the city. Monkonnen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, said inclusionary zoning would be a good start. But he added that it would not have much impact on single-family neighborhoods with little land zoned for multi-family buildings. “A better idea would also be to rezone a lot of land for multi-family and combine it with inclusionary zoning,” Monkonnen said.