Ananya Roy, founding director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, was interviewed by the Planning Report on her thoughts about Senate Bill 50, which would have addressed the housing affordability crisis in California through blanket upzoning. The institute’s research has identified some of the underlying causes of housing unaffordability and homelessness in Los Angeles and California, including the “displacement of working-class communities of color from urban cores to the far peripheries of urban life” and the “broad state-driven processes of displacement, racial exclusion and resegregation.” Roy stressed the importance of “[recognizing] that different social classes experience [the housing] crisis in different ways.” According to Roy, policies like SB50 “solve the housing crisis for the upper-middle class—particularly for the white, entitled YIMBY movement—by grabbing the land of those who are truly on the front lines of the housing crisis.”
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, expressed his support for Senate Bill 50 in a Los Angeles Daily News article about the controversial bill. If passed, SB50 would override local restrictions against multi-family housing, allowing developers to construct larger buildings or condos near transportation hubs in a process known as upzoning. Many have expressed opposition to the bill, arguing that it would destroy neighborhoods without necessarily addressing housing affordability. Critics of SB50 argue that there is little empirical evidence to support the relationship between upzoning, increased construction and lower housing prices. Lens points to the long-standing trend of downzoning to protect single-family neighborhoods, arguing that “there is an absence of evidence mainly because we don’t have a lot of experience upzoning anything like this.” In defense of SB50, Lens explains that he “doesn’t believe it’s his right to guarantee that a building down the street isn’t multi-family housing.”
A Planning Report article featured Urban Planning Professor Michael Storper‘s latest research challenging blanket upzoning and the “housing as opportunity” school of thought. Upzoning has been proposed as a solution to the affordable housing crisis, aiming to increase supply and affordability through trickle-down economics. According to Storper, UCLA Luskin’s distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning, “Blanket upzoning is a blunt instrument, whereas people’s housing needs are diverse.” Storper highlights the unintended consequences of upzoning, which “favors those who can pay the price of housing in high-demand areas,” while the trickle-down effect to middle-class and lower-income people “will be small and could even be negative in highly desirable areas.” Storper concludes, “Affordability has to be tackled directly; it’s not going to be created through aggregate supply and trickle-down.” Storper’s comments were cited on Planetizen, the Berkeley Daily Planet, CityWatchLA, Fox&Hounds and other outlets.
Urban Planning Vice Chair Paavo Monkkonen spoke to Los Angeles Magazine about the formation of the North Westwood Neighborhood Council. For decades, single-family homeowners in neighborhoods surrounding UCLA worked against the interests of students, said Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy. Before the new council was formed, the Westwood Neighborhood Council was the voice of the area and would often object to housing construction. “West L.A. has extremely high rents, and there is not enough housing for students. In the extreme, we have students sleeping in cars but, more commonly, they just have to commute very far,” he said. As Monkkonen concluded in a paper for the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, “The vocal advocacy of a handful of neighbors is often framed as local democracy, but many of these processes exclude the majority of a neighborhood’s residents and explicitly favor those with more money and time.”
UCLA associate professors Michael Manville and Paavo Monkkonen were recently featured in an article on Sightline highlighting their research on neighborhood opposition to new building. Even more than perceived harm and self-interest, Manville and Monkkonen found that “the most powerful opposition frame is about the developer,” specifically when a developer “is likely to earn a large profit from the building.” Despite the apparent motivation to “enforce community norms of fairness” by reining in developers who strive to maximize personal profits, Manville and Monkkonen note the potential flaws of this approach. Manville and Monkkonen illustrate the potentially “vicious cycle of regulation and resentment” as a result of anti-developer attitudes in which “punishing developers … [risks] thwarting affordability, punishing people who need homes, [and] discouraging all but the least likable, deepest-pocketed and most aggressive developers from building.” Despite the foundations of a moral argument against profit-driven developers, Manville and Monkkonen propose a shift in focus to the accessibility and affordability of “homes of all shapes and sizes [for] neighbors of all income levels.”