Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky presented an in-depth look at the findings and methodology of the fourth annual UCLA Luskin Quality of Life survey on ABC 7’s Eyewitness Newsmakers program. After surveying Los Angeles County residents about their satisfaction in nine different categories, Yaroslavsky’s initiative found that cost of living continues to be the No. 1 concern for the fourth consecutive year. Young people, renters and people in low-income brackets are at the greatest risk of being harmed by high housing costs, he told ABC 7 host Adrienne Alpert. Yaroslavsky also weighed in on the SB50 upzoning proposal, which he described as a “one-size-fits-all approach that wouldn’t actually solve the affordable housing problem.” Yaroslavsky said his opposition to SB50 was echoed by the survey results, in which a majority of both homeowners and renters preferred to have new apartment building built in multi-family zones only.
Joan Ling, lecturer in urban planning, spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the lack of soundproofing in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Inglewood. The Federal Aviation Administration and Los Angeles World Airports have given the city of Inglewood $400 million over the past few decades to purchase and demolish homes around the LAX flight path and soundproof others. Zoning rules, however, have prohibited home improvements in the neighborhood most affected by this noise pollution. Ling believes it is not practical to build new housing along the flight corridor, as some have suggested to alleviate the housing crisis, but she does not see any reason existing homes cannot be soundproofed. “What’s important is for the city to go out there and do some ground-up planning and figure out what the community members want,” she said.
By Naveen Agrawal
“Let’s get ready to … RHNA!” That was the rallying cry from UCLA Luskin Associate Professor Paavo Monkkonen during a recent panel discussion on Los Angeles’ housing needs with policy experts familiar with the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) process.
California’s 1967 housing element law — and the RHNA process — is an underemphasized aspect of state policy that matters just as much today as it did half a century ago, the panelists said.
Held May 15, 2019, “Planning for the Housing That Greater L.A. Needs” was the third and final installment for the year in the Housing, Equity and Community Series, a partnership between the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.
The event was moderated by Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy. Providing the state’s perspective was Melinda Coy, senior policy specialist with the California Department of Housing and Community Development. Providing the regional view was Ma’Ayn Johnson MA UP ’05, who is a senior housing and land use planner at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Representing municipalities was Diana Varat JD/MA UP ’08, who works at Richards, Watson & Gershon, a firm that specializes in public law services.
California’s housing law seeks to ensure that cities zone for enough housing to accommodate population growth. In the RHNA process, state agencies project the population growth of each region. Then, metropolitan planning organizations like SCAG allocate a number of housing units to individual cities based on the projected growth. Cities are then required to demonstrate that they have enough capacity to accommodate these additional housing units, but RHNA does not force cities to build those units. Enforcement is spotty and construction often lags, resulting in housing shortages in many areas.
Recent state legislative actions have sought to reform the RHNA process, with a particular eye on equity. These and other issues related to the RHNA process are detailed in a newly released Lewis Center brief.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently vowed to enforce RHNA targets more strictly, and his office has gone as far as initiating lawsuits against cities that are not meeting their targets, including Huntington Beach.
Coy described the state’s expanding role in promoting and enforcing RHNA targets, including providing technical assistance to help local governments comply. Coy also mentioned that her department’s staff has increased, reflecting the governor’s emphasis that housing planning be taken seriously.
The complexity of regional governance over the 191 cities and six counties represented by SCAG was emphasized by Johnson. She also cited the importance of having a social justice and equity perspective when RHNA targets are allocated to individual cities so that racial and low-income housing segregation is avoided. She also mentioned that RHNA targets will likely increase to reflect unmet need, not just projected growth.
As a contract attorney working on housing compliance with various California cities, Varat characterized the law as requiring cities to “collect research and ignore it.”
Varat pointed out that identifying sites for affordable housing is a burdensome task for cities. And because it is not coupled with a requirement that those sites actually be developed as affordable housing units, the effort is often moot.
Coy described the housing element law as an effort to create a public safety net for what is otherwise an unprotected essential need. Varat, however, countered that the state’s effort to dictate city policy is based on a presumption that cities hold the power to develop new housing — in most cases, developers actually hold that power.
Another tension between local autonomy and regional/state authority involves existing affordable housing units. Varat criticized the housing element’s emphasis on new units, rather than preservation of existing affordable units. Coy acknowledged this shortcoming, saying that individual RHNA targets are supposed to include existing units, but they seldom do.
One lesson was clear — participation matters. Johnson informed the audience that meetings of SCAG are held monthly and are available by webcast. Both Coy and Varat underscored the importance of planning education and community engagement, and they see promise that the upcoming round of RHNA targets will better address previous gaps.
View a Flickr album of photos from the event.
“The Hussle Is Real,” a conversation inspired by the life and work of Nipsey Hussle, was held May 14 at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The event, organized by the student-run Luskin Black Caucus and UCLA Luskin’s Social Welfare Diversity Committee, included presentations by Latoya Small, assistant professor of social welfare; Michael Lens, associate faculty director of the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies; and Marcus Hunter, associate professor of sociology and chair of African American Studies at UCLA. The discussion went beyond the “gangster-rapper” label to examine Hussle’s contributions to the community and impact in the context of public affairs and urban space. “When you think about Nipsey Hussle, it’s not just the gangster rap, it’s also the entrepreneurship,” Small said. “He didn’t rent a shop, he purchased the building. He hired people that were undesirable to others and talked about promoting commerce … and building business legitimately.” Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, provided “numbers and history” on South L.A.’s environment and long legacy of segregation to provide a framework for Hussle’s community work. “Nipsey was the embodiment of the power to affect positive change from the ground up, and his death undoubtedly leaves a hole,” Lens said of the rapper, who was slain in March. Hussle, who was born in 1985, during America’s “War on Drugs” era and its aftermath, was a survivor, Hunter said. He played samples of Hussle’s music, asking the audience to “consider what questions come up when you meditate on Nipsey’s contributions and tragic murder.” View photos of the event on Flickr.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville weighed in on the controversial Senate Bill 50 in a recent Los Angeles Times column. SB50 aims to relieve the housing shortage, reduce commuting time and combat climate change by requiring cities to allow multi-family complexes to be built in areas near mass transit, among other provisions. Many California residents have expressed concern that SB50 would increase housing density and destroy the integrity and character of their neighborhoods. Manville understands the concerns of residents but believes that everyone must contribute to solving the housing crisis, including those living “smack dab in the middle” of the nation’s second-largest city. “We have people in our city living in tents. They live in their cars. They live under our highway overpasses and they die on our sidewalks,” Manville said. “At a certain point, the pedigree of your house has to matter a little bit less.”
Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky was featured in the Los Angeles Times commenting on Senate Bill 50. According to census data, nearly two-thirds of California residences are single-family homes and between half and three-quarters of the developable land in much of the state is zoned for single-family housing only. Among other provisions, SB50 would allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes to be built on much of the residential land now zoned for only single-family houses. “When people around the world think of L.A., one of the things they think of is a home with a backyard,” Yaroslavsky said. “I think much of it should be preserved.” Doing away with single-family-only zoning would unalterably diminish California for current and future residents, he said.
Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning, co-wrote a paper featured prominently in a CityLab article. Storper and co-author Andrés Rodríguez-Pose of the London School of Economics argue that, while insufficient housing is a part of the problem, the idea that it is the main cause of urban economic problems is based on faulty premises. They find that increasing the housing supply does not lower housing costs. Rather, they find lower-income service workers move out of the city and higher-income “knowledge workers” move in. They write that the affordable housing crisis is “due less to over-regulation of housing markets than to the underlying wage and income inequalities, and a sharp increase in the value of central locations within metro areas, as employment and amenities concentrate in these places.” Storper is also the director of Global Public Affairs at UCLA Luskin.
By Mary Braswell
Ending homelessness is a stated priority for legislators and policymakers up and down the state.
But it’s also a moral imperative for every citizen, one that will “define our civic legacy in the eyes of future generations,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
“Homelessness is the most pressing problem in this region,” he said to open a wide-ranging dialogue hosted April 30 by UCLA’s Blueprint magazine. “Mere steps away from the dozens of cranes looming above the gleaming towers of downtown, we find Angelenos — our brothers and our sisters — in utter squalor.”
Blueprint is a civic affairs publication of the UCLA chancellor’s office and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The event drew about 100 people to Cross Campus, a co-working venue in downtown Los Angeles.
Joining the conversation were public officials and scholars on the front lines of the region’s fight against housing insecurity: Phil Ansell, director of L.A. County’s homeless initiative; Christina Miller, deputy mayor for the city of Los Angeles’ homeless programs; and Vinit Mukhija, chair of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning. Mukhija’s research focuses on substandard housing in the United States and abroad, and it was featured in the latest issue of Blueprint. Editor-in-chief Jim Newton, a UCLA Luskin lecturer in public policy, moderated the panel.
Stark numbers framed the conversation: “We have 52,000 people on any given night experiencing homelessness in the county,” Miller said.
To ensure housing security for all who need it, 560,000 affordable units must be built, Ansell added.
The discussion made clear that homelessness takes many forms. The chronically homeless may spend years on the street. Others find shelter in their cars or dwell in makeshift or substandard living conditions. Many drift in and out of homelessness due to precarious incomes and high rents.
Each of these populations requires a different response. And all of the proposed solutions require not just money, but time.
Miller said 10,000 “permanent supportive housing” units will be built over 10 years thanks to Proposition HHH, the $1.2-billion city bond measure passed by voters in 2016. These units are designed for people suffering chronic disabilities — a small subset of those in need.
For short-term assistance such as temporary rent subsidies and job training, both the city and county offer rapid rehousing programs.
“People haven’t always connected the fact that the homelessness crisis is a housing crisis,” Miller said. “We see our system get better at lifting people up once they become homeless and getting them back into housing as quickly as we can, but we’re not seeing progress because the tide is too strong.”
Mukhija advocated for interim steps to provide safe living conditions while more permanent solutions make their way through the system.
“I love hearing all the numbers about 10,000 permanent supportive houses, and I think that’s the kind of thing that gets people galvanized to vote for a proposition and that’s wonderful,” he said. “But I would like to see storage for the homeless. I’d like to see more toilets. … I would like to see money targeted for improving existing accessory dwelling units,” such as garages that can be converted into shelter.
Ansell spoke about the county’s expanding Safe Parking L.A. program, which will soon be the largest of its kind in the nation.
“Safe parking means a parking lot where a person who lives in their car, van or RV can sleep safely at night, where there is security and they won’t be bothered, and there’s [an outdoor toilet] or other restroom facility, and hand washing,” Ansell said. “I think that’s a very important and promising strategy, particularly in a community where over half of our unsheltered homeless population is living in vehicles.”
Another county resource is la-hop.org, the county’s homeless outreach portal. “Anyone in Los Angeles County — a resident, a first responder, a city employee, a business, a faith organization — can use it 24 hours a day” to reach one of nearly 800 full-time outreach workers, Ansell said. A homeless person who needs immediate assistance should find a phone and dial 211.
The county’s homeless initiative was bolstered by the 2017 passage of Measure H, a sales tax expected to raise more than $350 million a year to combat homelessness. However, Ansell said, “This is not a crisis that the county can effectively address on its own.”
Citing support from government, philanthropy, the nonprofit sector and faith organizations, Ansell said, “We have hundreds of organizations and thousands of people who are involved on a full-time basis as part of this movement, and hundreds of thousands of other Los Angeles County residents who care very deeply about bringing their homeless neighbors home.”
“Housing and the Homeless: A Crisis of Policy and Conscience” is the theme of Blueprint’s latest issue, funded by a grant from Wells Fargo Bank.
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Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the recently released UCLA Luskin Quality of Life Index. Poll respondents in Los Angeles County expressed satisfaction with health care, the economy and community relations. However, cost of living, particularly for housing, ranked lowest on the index. “This survey is important to our region and its communities in that it helps capture at a point in time what county residents consider most important to them, personally,” Yaroslavsky said. The study was also featured on media outlets including KABC7, NBC Los Angeles, The Patriot LA 1150, AM870 and LAist. In a KNX In Depth radio interview, Yaroslavsky said the rising cost of living is spurring residents to leave Los Angeles. “People who are economically on the margins and can’t afford to rent an apartment or buy a home are going to places where the costs are cheaper,” he said.
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.”