Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding the rapid evolution of green building practices and integrating those approaches into affordable housing may be more critical than ever, according to Walker Wells, a UCLA Luskin Urban Planning lecturer. In “Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing,” Wells and co-author Kimberly Vermeer, a Boston-based sustainability consultant, argue that the best way to meet health and climate challenges is by providing society’s most vulnerable people with housing stability while reducing the environmental, health and climate impacts of constructing and operating buildings. In this fully revised edition of a book first published in 2007, the authors provide guidance on innovative green building practices and green building certifications available for affordable housing. To help builders align design decisions with environment-friendly goals, the authors explain the integrated design process. They also detail best practices for green design, from water management to renewable energy. Acknowledging the complexity of financing green affordable housing projects, Wells and Vermeer also discuss funding sources and the latest financing strategies. New case studies span high-desert homeownership, supportive housing in the Southeast and net-zero family apartments on the coasts. “Blueprint for Greening Affordable Housing” seeks to provide information for everyone in the affordable housing industry, including housing development project managers, designers, engineers, funders and housing advocates. Wells is a principal at Raimi+Associates, a consulting service with offices in Los Angeles, Riverside and Berkeley, California. Vermeer founded and leads Urban Habitat Initiatives, a consulting practice that advances sustainability and climate resilience.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to Dear Pandemic about housing market factors that are affecting how the pandemic is unfolding. Lens said he worries about the “short- and immediate-term losses of income of people who were already very tenuously housed.” For many families already spending huge amounts of their income on rent, the loss of one or two paychecks can mean being foreclosed on or evicted. While short-term policy interventions in the form of income and unemployment support and eviction moratoria have been implemented, they generally do not cancel or lower rent. Lens asked, “What happens when the eviction moratoria are lifted and people are still not able to pay?” In the short term, people must be sheltered without sinking into debt or losing their savings. In the long term, Lens said, the systemic problems of the housing crisis must be fixed.
Public Policy Professor Michael Stoll commented in a CalMatters article on how California’s housing crisis is worse for Black communities following decades of systemic racism. The article shows that significant barriers continue to exist for Black communities and individuals in building and retaining wealth compared to whites and other ethnic groups within the state. Data shows that California cities are typically less segregated than in the Northeast or Midwest. In part, this is due to gentrification and displacement pressures on Black communities in urban cores, notably Los Angeles and the Bay Area. “African Americans and to a lesser extent Latinos are moving to suburban areas at the fastest clip we’ve observed since the civil rights era,” Stoll said. But patterns of segregation continue, he said, noting, “It’s hard to become a socially cohesive place if people are living in different neighborhoods and not being able to communicate and work together around common interests.”
UCLA research on the looming threat of eviction and homelessness in Los Angeles County is guiding debate about how to safeguard residents as the region attempts to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown. Recent studies from the Institute on Inequality and Democracy (II&D) and the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK), both housed at UCLA Luskin, have been cited by policymakers, civic leaders and advocacy groups. An II&D report authored by Gary Blasi, UCLA professor emeritus of law, estimated that tens of thousands of households in the county could fall into homelessness due to the pandemic. Blasi called for robust tenant protections, as well as urgent planning for temporary housing for those who lose their homes. His findings have been cited on the news and editorial pages of the Los Angeles Times, as well as on NPR, CalMatters, Streetsblog and Capital & Main. In response to the pandemic, the California court system in April put a hold on eviction proceedings statewide. Despite these protections, some Los Angeles landlords have sought to remove tenants by force or coercion, creating a “web of urban inequality,” according to Paul Ong, CNK director and author of a study on rent burdens that was cited by the Los Angeles Times. As the court considered lifting California’s eviction moratorium, advocacy groups such as Disability Rights California and the pro bono law firm Public Counsel lobbied against the move by presenting research from II&D and CNK, among other sources. The court subsequently delayed its review of the moratorium.
Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, was featured in a CalMatters article discussing how crowded housing exacerbates the spread of COVID-19. Neighborhoods with large numbers of people per household have about 3.7 times the rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 1,000 residents as neighborhoods where few residents live in tight quarters. “The problem has increased in the past decade as neighborhoods have gentrified, pushing rents to rise astronomically,” Lens explained. In some neighborhoods in Los Angeles, two in every five households are overcrowded. A report from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy estimated that 365,000 households in Los Angeles County are at high risk of being forced out of their homes when the statewide freeze on evictions is lifted, which will push them into even more crowded conditions. “Absent some unexpected interventions and generosity … of course people are just going to be way less able to afford housing,” Lens said.
Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, spoke to Fox 11 News about the impact of impending evictions on the housing crisis. A moratorium in Los Angeles prohibited landlords from evicting renters during the coronavirus pandemic, but many families fear they will lose their homes when the moratorium is lifted. The threat of eviction comes as widespread unemployment has pushed many households further into debt. After studying how the coronavirus crisis has affected different communities, Ong said that African American and Latino households in Los Angeles County are at high risk. “These are the same workers that … are on the financial edge,” he said. “By the end of the crisis, [they] will be deeply in debt.”
By Les Dunseith
Author Gary Blasi, a UCLA professor emeritus of law, closely and thoroughly examines the precarious state of housing for workers in Los Angeles County who are unemployed and have no replacement income in the time of COVID-19.
The report starts with the 1,198,141 unemployment claims filed so far in Los Angeles County during the COVID-19 emergency, a level of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression.
Historical experience and previous studies have consistently shown that only about two-thirds of eligible workers apply for unemployment insurance, which in this case means 599,000 additional workers in Los Angeles County who are now unemployed. Blasi said that unemployed workers may not apply for many different reasons, among them the fact that 13% of the county workforce is undocumented and thus ineligible for unemployment benefits.
“Even before the pandemic, the number of those who were precariously housed was shocking,” Blasi said. “About 600,000 people in Los Angeles County lived in households where 90% of household income was being used to pay rent.”
Based on census data, Blasi estimates that about 75% of workers with no income are renters, or about 449,000 individuals in 365,000 renter households unable to pay rent and with no replacement income, nearly all of whom he says will be displaced.
Given the unprecedented nature of the crisis and the unknown capacity of familial and social networks to save those evicted from homelessness, Blasi offers two estimates. The most optimistic estimate is that 36,000 renter households, with 56,000 children based on U.S. Census figures for Los Angeles County, are likely to become homeless. If those support networks have been severely degraded by the pandemic, those numbers could rise to 120,000 newly homeless households, with 184,000 children.
Blasi notes that nearly all eviction cases, known as unlawful detainer proceedings, were stopped in early April by the California Judicial Council, the administrative arm of the state’s judiciary. That freeze expires either 90 days after the governor declares the COVID-19 emergency has ended, or when the order is amended or repealed by the Judicial Counci.
“The governor is highly unlikely to relinquish all his emergency powers while the public health crisis continues, but the Judicial Council will face enormous pressure from landlords to lift the hold on unlawful detainer cases,” Blasi said. “The floodgates will open.”
The report shows that the various restrictions on evictions placed by state and local officials since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic are unlikely to have much effect unless tenants have access to a lawyer, which is rarely the case in Los Angeles.
Professor Ananya Roy, the director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, described Blasi as one of the luminaries of public interest law, and emphasized the significance of this report.
“While the report shows the vast scale of the devastation to come in the form of evictions and homelessness in Los Angeles, none of this is inevitable,” she said. “The report makes it clear that the crisis at hand is as much political inertia as it is a public health emergency.”
The paper also includes several policy recommendations and options, beginning with interventions that allow more tenants to pay rent and reduce the number of evictions, some of which are currently being discussed in Sacramento.
Given that tenants who represent themselves almost always lose eviction cases in which landlords are represented by a lawyer, the report argues for a massive expansion of the number of attorneys to help tenants defend themselves. Potential partner organizations such as Neighborhood Legal Services, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Inner City Law Center are mentioned.
For those who are evicted, the report argues for expanding current “rapid rehousing” programs and dramatically increasing the number of currently vacant hotel and motel rooms to provide temporary shelter. As a last resort, the report argues, government officials must prepare to rapidly expand second-best alternatives such as villages of small structures and authorized and supported encampments.
Subsequent reports by the Institute, including “Hotels as Housing” and “Preparing for the Camps,” will address these measures in greater detail.
By Les Dunseith
Families living in public housing developments with a history of gang violence and troubled relationships with law enforcement are seeing less crime and feeling safer because of a policing program launched in 2011 by the Los Angeles Police Department, according to a comprehensive analysis led by Jorja Leap, an adjunct professor of social welfare at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
The Community Safety Partnership, or CSP, began in the Jordan Downs public housing development and later expanded to two other Watts locations, Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts, as well as Ramona Gardens in Boyle Heights. The program assigns specially trained LAPD officers to work alongside residents to reduce crime by developing youth outreach, sports, recreational and other programs tailored specifically to their communities.
The yearlong UCLA-led evaluation compared crime rates in Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens with computer-generated, synthetic models of demographically similar neighborhoods that did not receive CSP services. The research team also conducted community-based research with officers and residents, logging 425 hours of observation, conducting 110 interviews and 28 focus groups, and completing close to 800 surveys as part of a mixed-methods research effort at Nickerson Gardens and Ramona Gardens. Clear majorities at both sites expressed support for this innovative program.
“Their lives were literally changed by CSP,” Leap said during a May 12 online meeting of the Los Angeles Police Commission at which the study was publicly unveiled.
Leap is an expert on gangs whose academic research and community engagement in Watts spans four decades, including the Watts Leadership Institute, a 10-year initiative based at UCLA Luskin. She told the five members of the civilian commission that people interviewed by the UCLA team “felt it was safer to go outside, mingle with people, use green spaces.”
As part of the LAPD program, extra effort is made to bridge communication between officers and residents, many of whom have deep-seated distrust of the police. Leap said a critical component involves officers apologizing to community residents for past mistakes and incidents of brutality.
“We were the enemy — pure and simple — if you had the LAPD uniform on, it was as if you had a target on your back. If there were reports of a shooting, officers were not supposed to come in without back-up,” said one officer interviewed for the report. “That’s all changed. The residents of this community want CSP here, they want this community to be safe. They welcome us.”
The impact on crime is significant. According to the analysis, in a one-year period, CSP has led to seven fewer homicides, 93 fewer aggravated assaults and 122 fewer robberies than would otherwise have been expected at Jordan Downs and Nickerson Gardens.
Statistics like those, plus the high level of resident support found by researchers, encouraged Leap to recommend to the commission that CSP serve as a model for department-wide LAPD policing efforts. The relationship-based focus could also be helpful in other crisis situations, including public health problems such as opioid abuse or the current coronavirus pandemic, she said.
“It could be extremely useful for epidemic crises, including homelessness and the pandemic,” Leap told the commission. “This is the type of approach that represents a new and important paradigm in law enforcement.”
The program has already expanded beyond Watts and Boyle Heights to housing developments in South Park and San Fernando Gardens, as well as the neighborhood surrounding Harvard Park. That expansion was funded by the Ballmer Group, co-founded by Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, and the Weingart Foundation, which, along with The California Endowment and several private donors, were among the seven funders of the $500,000 UCLA study.
The report describes many positive outcomes related to CSP, but it also identified several shortcomings.
“It is not all sunshine and roses,” Leap warned the commission, adding that the community was skeptical regarding the department’s commitment. “This must become part of the DNA of the LAPD and not a hit-and-run program that is gone in a few months.”
Some respondents questioned the level of community involvement in CSP activities, for example, saying that the officers implemented some programs without first seeking resident participation. Many residents — and even some of the officers — also expressed confusion about the specifics of the program.
“Everyone understood it was about relationships. Pretty much everyone understood it was about building trust,” Leap said. “Nevertheless, there was tremendous confusion” about the CSP model and a strong desire from all parties for better documentation of the program’s components.
Leap said the level of support for CSP in the study differed according to demographic characteristics.
Overall, she said, women were the leaders in both of the housing developments that were studied, and women were slightly more supportive of CSP than men. On the other hand, she noted, there were major differences in terms of ethnicity.
Latino residents predominantly supported CSP, Leap said. “Where we got push-back and mixed results,” particularly on community surveys, was among African Americans. The researchers were able to delve into the underlying reasons for this response during their interviews and focus groups.
“It should come as no surprise — African Americans have had the most tumultuous history” with law enforcement in Los Angeles, said Leap, who noted that incidents of police violence against blacks in other parts of the country in recent years have only added to longstanding tensions between the community and the LAPD. “There are many individuals who carry this history and this mistrust.”
In the report, one interviewee said: “Don’t say everyone loves CSP because not everyone loves CSP. There’s some people who think it’s a bunch of bull. There’s some people who are never gonna trust the police. And there’s some people who are waiting to be convinced. They’re waiting to see if the CSP sticks around or — if once all the publicity goes away — then [the CSP officers] go away.”
That concern was echoed in the report, which included a recommendation to increase funding for CSP and a designation of the program as a permanent part of the LAPD’s law enforcement strategy.
Staying the course over time is important to Leap. She pledged that this study will be just one part of an ongoing effort by her research team, which included UCLA Luskin social welfare professor Todd Franke, a methodological and systems expert, and UCLA anthropology professor P. Jeffrey Brantingham, who is a lead researcher for the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office Gang Reduction and Youth Development program. Also on the research team were UCLA research associate Susana Bonis and UCLA Luskin alumna Karrah Lompa, who served as the project manager. Several students, some of whom grew up in Watts and Boyle Heights, joined project staff in conducting field research and data analysis. A multicultural advisory board helped guide the study and will contribute to follow-up efforts.
The key to the program’s success is cooperation. Leap told the commissioners something she has repeated in public meetings: “The community truly partners with the police — this is not rhetoric but a meaningful model.”
By Lauren Hiller
Housing choice vouchers in the United States allow low-income families to move into neighborhoods with greater opportunities and resources. But these vouchers may provide opportunities beyond housing — access to employment, transportation and welfare programs that can improve general economic conditions.
As a visiting scholar this year at the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, UCLA Luskin alumna Kimiko Shiki MA UP ’01, Ph.D. ’08 will investigate the relationship between housing choice vouchers, residential mobility and opportunities in Los Angeles. The associate professor of policy science at Ritsumeikan University in Osaka, Japan, specializes in the housing-location decisions of low-income households and their spatial access to employment opportunities, transportation and welfare services.
Shiki’s doctoral research at UCLA focused on why low-income households are concentrated in dense communities in U.S. cities. At the Lewis Center, Shiki said she plans to use Department of Housing and Urban Development administrative data to analyze low-income residential mobility in Los Angeles from housing choice voucher recipients.
Unlike in the United States, public housing in Japan is often located in the suburbs because of the scale and cost of construction, but transportation access and employment opportunities are more limited outside an urban core.
“Suburban locations can be good for housing quality,” Shiki said. “But if you want to try out other jobs or use other childcare services, it may not work in the suburbs.”
According to her study in Kyoto, Japan, low-income families tend to apply for public housing near their residences in order to maintain their current jobs and local social support systems, Shiki said. Because public housing supply is highly limited geographically, as well as numerically, this means that many low-income families cannot choose to live in public housing.
Without a rental subsidy program, like housing choice vouchers, these households instead turn to a private market that has little economic support, Shiki said. Her research seeks to show policymakers that affordability is not the only consideration that low-income households must weigh when searching for housing.
“Urban poor often experience a lot of migration and mobility, and their needs for residential location change. They often have to move to other areas to find better opportunities,” Shiki said. Public housing doesn’t provide resources for various needs, she said, “but the private market might give them more options for residential location.”
Shiki said she understands the benefits of public housing and hopes her research will show how Japan can augment its services.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to HuffPost about the consequences renters will face when bans on evictions are eventually lifted. Many Americans may be evicted immediately, resulting in a significant increase in homelessness. Manville predicted that “thousands of newly homeless people and thousands of empty apartments will create a situation that benefits neither renters, landlords nor cities.” He explained that “individual landlords may be confident that if they evict tenants, they’ll be able to fill the vacant unit quickly. If a large number of landlords evict their tenants at the same time, however, there’s going to be too many empty apartments and not enough people with the savings to move into them.” According to Manville, “only the federal government has the power to keep this problem from spiraling.” He argued that all these problems can be avoided “by just letting people stay in their homes.”