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‘Unequal Cities’ Conference Highlights Housing Research The multiday event in Los Angeles launches a global research network supported by the National Science Foundation that will unite scholars concerned with housing justice

By Les Dunseith

UCLA Luskin’s Ananya Roy opened a multiple-day conference convened by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin by stressing a desire to shift people’s thinking beyond the pragmatic concerns of a “housing crisis” to the broader theme of “housing justice” and what that means to society on a global scale.

“Our present historical conjuncture is marked by visible manifestations of the obscene social inequality that is today’s housing crisis, the juxtaposition of the $238-million New York penthouse recently purchased by a hedge fund manager for occasional use, to the tent cities in which the houseless must find durable shelter,” said Roy, a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography who also serves as director of the Institute.

The setting for those remarks on Jan. 31, 2019, was particularly poignant — just outside, homeless people huddled on a cold and damp evening in tents lining the Skid Row streets surrounding the headquarters of the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN). Inside, a standing-room-only crowd of about 150 students, scholars, community organizers, housing experts and other stakeholders gathered to hear Roy and other speakers talk about the inadequate supply of affordable housing in California and around the world, and the cultural, political and economic barriers that undermine solutions.

“The fault lines have shifted,” Pete White, executive director and founder of LA CAN, told the audience. “We are now fighting the wholesale financialization of housing.”

The event in downtown Los Angeles and a full day of presentations that followed the next day on the UCLA campus was titled “Housing Justice in Unequal Cities,” and it signified the launch of a global research network of the same name supported by the National Science Foundation. With partners from India, Brazil, South Africa, Spain and across the United States, the network aims to bring together organizations, individuals and ideas around the creation of housing access and housing justice through legal frameworks, cooperative models of land and housing, and community organizing.

Roy said the Institute on Inequality and Democracy views the network as “exemplifying our commitment to address the displacements and dispossessions — what we call the urban color-lines — of our times.”

By partnering with community-based organizations such as LA CAN, “we situate housing justice in the long struggle for freedom on occupied, colonized, stolen land,” Roy told attendees.

The Housing Justice in Unequal Cities Network will bring together research and curriculum collaborations, data working groups, summer institutes, publishing projects and more. Roy said the network will unite movement-based and university-based scholars concerned with housing justice.

The effort also will build upon “an extraordinary proliferation of housing movements, policy experiments and alternative housing models,” Roy said. “This energy crackles all around us here in Los Angeles and it animates the work of the speakers at this conference.”

Over the course of the first evening and the full day of programming that followed, conference participants heard from a variety of speakers from UCLA, across the country and around the world — several of whom traveled from their home countries to be in attendance. The opening night included talks by James DeFilippis of Rutgers University, Maria Kaïka of University of Amsterdam, Erin McElroy of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and Keisha-Khan Y. Perry of Brown University.

Kickoff event attendees also were treated to music, with UCLA Luskin’s urban planning student Caroline Calderon serving as DJ, and listened to a riveting spoken-word performance by poet Taalam Acey.

“A man is judged by what’s in his soul and what is in his heart … not just what is in his pocket,” Acey said.

The second day of the event attracted a crowd of about 250 people and focused primarily on current research related to housing justice. Speakers pointed out that housing equity goes well beyond the extremes of homeownership and homelessness to include the experience of renters as well.

“Renters are powerful contributors and creators of their communities,” noted Sarah Treuhaft of PolicyLink.

According to Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, “We don’t have a housing crisis, we have a tenants’ rights crisis.”

Additional speakers at the conference included UCLA Luskin’s Michael Lens, associate professor of urban planning and public policy; UCLA Luskin graduate students Terra Graziani and Hilary Malson; Gautam Bhan of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements; Nicholas Blomley of Simon Fraser University; Nik Heynen of University of Georgia; Toussaint Losier of University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Sophie Oldfield of University of Cape Town; Laura Pulido of University of Oregon; Raquel Rolnik of University of São Paulo (via video); Tony Roshan Samara of Urban Habitat; Desiree Fields of University of Sheffield; and former UCLA Luskin Urban Planning faculty member Gilda Haas of LA Co-op Lab.

Those interested in finding out more and getting involved in the effort are encouraged to sign up to receive housing justice reports and updates about community action and events: join the network.

View additional photos from the conference on Flickr.

Institute on Inequality & Democracy - Housing Justice in #UnequalCities

DeShazo and Callahan Recommend Expansion of Housing and Transportation Choices

JR DeShazo and Colleen Callahan, the director and deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, co-authored an article in Capitol Weekly outlining their recommendations for incorporating housing and transportation choice into climate action policy in California. After successfully passing climate action legislation, politicians are now faced with “the enormous task of meeting these goals,” the authors said. They recommend “bundling climate change solutions with initiatives to ease the housing crisis, transportation problems and income inequality” in order to maximize consumer choice. According to DeShazo and Callahan, “all Californians — including members of low-income and vulnerable communities — deserve choice in terms of where they live, where they work, how they move around and how they power their lives.” They conclude with their hopes to “ease housing and transportation burdens while cutting greenhouse gas emissions and expand choice for all Californians.”


Roy on Unequal Cities Conference’s Unique Approach to Housing Justice

UCLA Luskin Professor Ananya Roy commented to media outlets about the Housing Justice in Unequal Cities Conference held Jan. 31-Feb. 1. UCLA’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy collaborated with the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN) in Skid Row to put on a conference that delved into L.A.’s housing crisis. As director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Roy spoke to Knock LA about the importance of UCLA being “an institution that serves the city.” In an article in Next City, Roy highlighted the discrepancy between the abundant anecdotal evidence of “Latino and black households being pushed out of the city” compared to the sparse systematic data available. Roy explained the importance of partnering with community residents and organizations that “tell us where the gaps in knowledge are and how our research should address those gaps.”

View photos from the conference

Not Enough Land for Newsom’s Housing Goals, Monkkonen Finds

Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen was featured in the Los Angeles Times and KTLA 5 News explaining the results of a recent UCLA study that highlighted a discrepancy between the amount of land necessary to fulfill Gov. Gavin Newsom’s housing goals and the amount of land the state of California has set aside for development. Cities and counties have set aside enough land for the construction of 2.8 million homes out of the 3.5 million housing units Newsom aspires to build in the next seven years, the report found. Monkkonen explained that “because not all that land can be developed quickly for home construction, the state would probably have to double or triple the amount of land zoned for housing for the governor to reach his goal.” He said the report “shows pretty clearly that it’s going to be a hard slog to actually get 3.5 million housing units built.”


Kevin de León Joins UCLA Luskin Former state legislative leader who bolstered California’s role in fighting climate change and building a clean-energy economy will teach public policy courses and provide insight on issues of special importance to Latinos

President pro Tempore Emeritus of the California State Senate Kevin de León has joined the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs as a distinguished policymaker-in-residence and senior analyst.

“Kevin de León has led the way for more than a decade on issues as important as environmental protection and climate, immigration, education, and so much more. Our students and researchers will both benefit greatly from his insights and vision,” Dean Gary M. Segura said in announcing the appointment.

De León began his new role at UCLA Luskin on Jan. 22, 2019, and will teach his first courses at UCLA in the spring quarter that begins in April. His courses will focus on topics of interest to the School’s graduate students studying public policy and to undergraduates in UCLA Luskin’s new major in public affairs.

As the first Latino in more than a century elected to the position of president pro tem of the California Senate, de León championed California’s global leadership role in fighting climate change and building a clean-energy economy. He also focused his attention on rebuilding the state’s infrastructure; improving public education; ensuring workplace and health care equity for women, immigrants and low-wage workers; and enhancing public safety.

In Sacramento, de León also led the creation of a first-of-its-kind retirement savings program for low-income workers. He pushed for a requirement that a quarter of all carbon cap-and-trade revenue — now totaling over $8 billion — be spent in disadvantaged communities. As Senate leader, he shepherded legislation that set California on the path to a 100 percent clean energy future — the largest economy in the world to do so — thereby creating the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation.

His role at UCLA Luskin will include an advisory position with the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative (LPPI), which is a multifaceted laboratory designed to support Latinos around domestic policy challenges. Research and policy briefs from LPPI tackle major legislative issues that directly impact Californians, particularly communities of color.

In December 2017, de León served as keynote speaker for the launch of LPPI, saying that UCLA is “arguably the finest public institution in the nation, if not the entire world.” De León also spoke enthusiastically of the promise that LPPI represents for elected officials. “We need the empirical evidence, and it’s about time we have this institution established at UCLA.”

Last year, de León launched a historic challenge to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein. He prevailed in a tough primary battle, earned the overwhelming endorsement of the state’s Democratic Party, and secured more than 5 million votes.

He has an extensive record on women’s rights, gun-violence prevention and workers’ rights. De León has also worked to create solutions to address the state’s transportation, housing and infrastructure goals.

Another aspect of de León’s appointment at UCLA Luskin will be a collaboration with the Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) to design implementation strategies for signature laws that he shepherded during his time in the State Capitol, including legislation to ensure that disadvantaged communities have access to clean transportation options.

Other collaborations with LCI will advance efforts to move the state to 100 percent zero-carbon energy and provide support for policies designed to ensure that California continues to lead the country with its climate policies. De León will help craft community-based solutions that advance these statewide goals.

De León attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, and he graduated from Pitzer College.

Micah White, founder of the Activist Graduate School, launches the course on housing justice and activism at UCLA Luskin.

At the Intersection of Activism, Housing and Politics UCLA’s Institute on Inequality and Democracy hosts new course for graduate students across campus interested in battling housing injustice

By George Foulsham and Mary Braswell

A critical shortage of places to live — especially safe, affordable housing — has afflicted neighborhoods across California, the nation and the world. As politicians and civic leaders debate zoning laws and developer incentives, one principle is too often ignored: housing justice.

To fill this gap, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs has entered into a first-time collaboration with the Activist Graduate School (AGS) to offer a new class called “Housing Justice Activism and Protest: Past, Present, and Future,” which weaves together history, theory and strategy in a curriculum designed to forge equitable solutions to the housing crisis.

Housing injustice takes many forms, and each week the course will delve into a different facet: Mobilizing renters threatened by unfair evictions. Cracking down on predatory financing. Viewing public housing in a global context. Understanding tensions among tenants, landowners and law enforcement.

Open to all UCLA graduate students, the winter-quarter course quickly filled to capacity. Class sessions are being recorded to eventually be made available for online study worldwide through AGS, a learning community designed to meet the needs of activists.

“Activist Graduate School is part of our ongoing efforts at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy to develop strong alliances between university-based research and movement-based advocacy and activism,” said Ananya Roy, professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography at UCLA and director of the Institute, which is hosting the course.

“We call this ‘teach, organize, resist,’ and the idea is to train graduate students at UCLA to make change in unequal cities as well as to share this training and pedagogy with activists and young professionals nationwide,” said Roy, who is co-teaching the course with Micah White, founder of AGS, co-creator of the Occupy Wall Street movement and one of UCLA’s 2019 Activists-in-Residence.

“We try to teach how to think like a critical activist — focusing on theory of change, strategy, history — without presuming to teach what will be effective or what will spark a social movement,” White said.

“One of the pedagogical principles of AGS is that activism cannot be taught in a prescriptive manner,” he added. “This is because any tactic that was useful in the past is likely to be ineffective in the future, and social movements nearly always come as a surprise; therefore, it is nearly impossible to predict which campaigns will take off.”

During the first class of the quarter, grassroots organizing and renter revolts took center stage. René Christian Moya, an activist with the L.A. Tenants Union and other advocacy groups, shared tactics learned in the trenches of the housing justice fight — including rent strikes and the public shaming of landlords, developers and politicians.

“The law is not on the side of tenants,” Moya said. “We have to be very, very clear and honest with tenants when we’re dealing with them that ultimately it is not the law that’s going to save them, and it’s damn well sure not going to be their elected officials. It’s going to be through their own power.”

The roots of housing injustice in the United States run deep, added speaker Marques Vestal, a Ph.D. candidate in UCLA’s History department.

“Think of all the ways that tenants are maligned or completely disregarded in everyday culture,” Vestal said. “One of our most dangerous problems … is that most of society thinks landlordism is a natural hierarchy of land.”

Students in the class represented graduate programs from across campus: Geography, History, Law, Public Health, Chinese Studies and all three Luskin School programs — Urban Planning, Social Welfare and Public Policy. By the end of the course, each student will have developed a campaign tackling some area of housing injustice.

Dian Tri Irawaty, who came to UCLA after spending years as a tenant activist in Jakarta, Indonesia, was immediately drawn to the curriculum.

“I want to empower myself with academic tools while doing activism at the same time,” said Irawaty, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in urban geography and member of a graduate student working group at the Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

She hopes the course will enrich her research into housing and evictions in the global South and ultimately plans to bring her new skills and scholarship back to Jakarta to foster change.

“History, theory and strategy are really important if we want to win the fight for housing,” Irawaty said.

The course was designed in collaboration with Institute graduate student researchers Terra Graziani and Hilary Malson of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning.

“This continues the tradition of student-organized courses here at UCLA where we come together and create a curriculum that we feel is urgently needed but otherwise missing,” Roy said.

Graziani, who is also co-director of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Los Angeles, said the course will spur graduate students “to not only think like activists, but to think of ways that their scholarship can take up activists’ mandates for justice-oriented research.”

At the inaugural class, tenant organizer Moya issued a challenge to the gathered students. “You’re not here just to hear me lecture about this. You’re not here to hear any of us just tell you what we already know — that we’re suffering a horrible housing crisis that impacts all of our communities,” he said. “We need every single one of you here to jump into this movement.”

Support for the course is provided by the Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Urban Planning and Social Welfare from the Luskin School. Other UCLA supporters are the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, Institute of American Cultures and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies.

Cristina Barrera contributed to this report.

Follow the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin on Twitter @challengeineq to learn more about AGS featured speakers and for updates about the UCLA Activist-in-Residence Program.

View more photos from the Housing Justice Activism and Protest course on Flickr.

Housing Justice Activism and Protest

Ong Weighs In on Progress of Transit-Oriented Communities Program

After a study by the UCLA-UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project found that L.A. neighborhoods near transit hubs were seeing increases in white, college-educated, higher-income households and decreases in populations with less education and lower incomes, Los Angeles has taken various measures to combat gentrification. Construction in areas near bus and train hubs aiming to physically revitalize those neighborhoods has resulted in increases in rent. As new developments progress, policymakers are working to protect residents from being pushed out, according to the real estate trends site The Real Deal. The Transit-Oriented Communities Program in Los Angeles is fighting gentrification by offering density bonuses to developers building near transit, but only if they include affordable units in their projects. Research professor and director of UCLA’s Center for Neighborhood Knowledge in the Luskin School of Public Affairs Paul Ong commented that “the challenge is ensuring that progress is fair and just.”


Ling Speaks Out on California Housing Policies

Lecturer in Urban Planning Joan Ling was cited in Capital & Main on California state policies regarding housing. At a state Senate hearing in mid-November, Ling said that local governments have had years to address the housing crisis but have squandered their chances under current rules. Local governments do not always know what is best, she said, pointing to 40 years of “not zoning enough to provide housing for our population at the local level.” Ling said she believes that a new bill that provides housing near transit hubs while also protecting vulnerable communities is possible. “We need to craft policies that do no harm, particularly to low-income and minority communities who have borne the side effects of well-intentioned policies,” she said.


 

Monkkonen Critiques California Governor-Elect’s Ambitious Housing Proposal

California governor-elect Gavin Newsom’s plan to solve California’s housing crisis were critiqued by Associate Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy Paavo Monkkonen in a recent article on Curbed. Newsom and Monkkonen agree that California’s current housing crisis is the result of “an underwhelming amount of housing production … contributing to escalating rents and home prices,” but they disagree on the approach to a solution. Monkokken argues that while Newsom’s proposed construction of 3.5 million new housing units by 2025 sounds appealing, “it’s harder to figure out how to actually make that work.” Newsom’s plan would require an unprecedented construction boom and matching investment in infrastructure; Monkkonen points out the “restrictive zoning requirements” as a significant obstacle “that make dense housing extremely difficult to construct.” He concludes that the priority should be “[finding] a way to ensure housing construction keeps pace with demand” instead of Newsom’s focus on “[reaching] a specific number of units.”


Mukhija Comments on Program to House Homeless in Backyards

UCLA Luskin Urban Planning Chair Vinit Mukhija commented in a New York Times story about a program to offer homeowners incentives to house the homeless in their backyards. Pilot programs in the city and county of Los Angeles offer subsidies for the construction of so-called granny flats that would be rented for a set number of years to those in need of shelter. The programs are seen as a creative, if limited, way to address the affordable housing crisis, which Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called “the biggest humanitarian crisis in this city.” “In the total picture of homelessness, we know this will not necessarily change that much,” Mukhija said. “The value goes beyond that, though, because it is finally somewhat of a departure of the purity of single-family housing in the region. It’s a good step to change what people here really consider a dogma of private housing.”


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