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Center for Neighborhood Knowledge on L.A.’s Housing Crisis

A New Yorker article on homelessness and the affordable housing crisis in California cited data from the UCLA Center for Neighborhood Knowledge (CNK). The article focused on Weekend Warriors, a company that hires individuals facing housing insecurity to house-sit vacant homes in gentrifying neighborhoods. Weekend Warrior employees live in properties that are being flipped, guarding them through the renovation, staging, open-house and inspection periods. CNK research shows that Los Angeles has the highest median home prices, relative to income, and among the lowest homeownership rates of any major city. As for rental units, Los Angeles has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country and the average rent is $2,200 a month. The housing shortage, caused in part by restrictive zoning laws and NIMBYism, has exacerbated homelessness in Los Angeles, with about 66,000 individuals sleeping in cars, in shelters or on the street on any given night.


Yaroslavsky Defends Right to Access the Justice System

Director of the Los Angeles Initiative Zev Yaroslavsky co-authored an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times about threats to cut funding for legal self-help service centers, which provide free assistance to Angelenos who cannot afford legal representation. These services are used by 150,000 people a year in Los Angeles County, particularly those in poverty, experiencing homelessness, facing domestic abuse or with limited English proficiency. A decline in sales taxes due to COVID-19 has put the existence of these centers in peril. “We cannot afford to let this happen,” Yaroslavsky wrote. Self-help centers have always been “a place that residents can go to get information they trust and the free legal help they need.” Protecting legal self-help centers is “morally and fiscally the right thing to do,” he concluded. “We must use every tool at our disposal to reach those who need our help, and self-help legal access centers are a key part of that strategy.”


Matute, Taylor on Prospective Promotion for Garcetti

Director Brian Taylor and Deputy Director Juan Matute of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies spoke to the Los Angeles Times about the possibility that Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will be appointed to a Cabinet post in the Biden administration. After serving as national co-chair of President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign, Garcetti is a potential candidate for transportation secretary. While Garcetti has only held local office, Taylor noted that he would not be the first mayor to run the federal department of transportation. Taylor added that big-city mayors like Garcetti have to know how to pull federal, state and local resources together, along with political will, to get transportation projects moving. Matute acknowledged the success of Measure M as Garcetti’s signature legacy but said he wished he “had more success in the implementation of his vision for a better Los Angeles,” given the mayor’s grasp of the intricacies of transportation planning.


A Blunt Assessment of Grand Olympic Promises

The notion that cities chosen to host the Olympics are guaranteed to reap a financial windfall for years to come is flatly untrue, according to noted U.S. economist Andrew Zimbalist, who has spent years scrutinizing the costs and benefits of major sporting events. Zimbalist dissected the extravagant promises and deep pitfalls of past Olympic experiences and handicapped Los Angeles’ chances of success in hosting the 2028 Summer Games at the Luskin School’s first Transdisciplinary Speaker Series event of the academic year. Host cities have been beset by cost overruns, environmental degradation and displacement of local populations, he said. And with fewer cities willing to bid for the Games, the International Olympic Committee has been forced to consider hosts with questionable human rights records. “It’s valuable to have the best athletes from around the world congregate in the Olympic Village and live together and model what peaceful co-existence looks like,” he said, “I just don’t like the way it’s organized now.” As for the upcoming L.A. Games, “Yes, there’s a risk, but I think it’s a safe risk,” said Zimbalist, an author and professor of economics at Smith College. Southern California is already home to major sports venues and other infrastructure, including a ready-made Olympic Village at the UCLA dormitories, which also accommodated athletes during the city’s 1984 Games. For the future, Zimbalist envisioned permanent Olympic venues — for summer, perhaps in the area between Olympia and Athens, Greece. “There’s no reason, either environmental or economic, to argue for rebuilding the Olympic Shangri-La in a new place every four years,” he said.


 

Diaz Appointed to Commission to Redraw City’s Electoral Map

Sonja Diaz, executive director of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative at UCLA Luskin, has been appointed to the commission that will redraw Los Angeles City Council district boundaries to ensure that constituents are fairly represented. “As a fourth-generation Eastsider, I am humbled to serve the city as we seek to uphold diverse communities’ fundamental right to elect their candidates of choice,” said Diaz, a civil rights attorney with extensive experience in voter protection efforts. “I’ve focused my career on advancing equitable policy solutions, and redistricting is a critical component to ensuring front-line communities have leaders that will fight to keep them safe, housed and visible in the new decade.” As part of the redistricting process, which takes place every 10 years after the U.S. Census is completed, commissioners closely analyze demographic data and offer members of the public opportunities to weigh in. Their proposal for a new electoral map for Los Angeles must be submitted to the City Council by June 2021. Diaz was appointed to the commission by Councilman Kevin de León. “Sonja has long been an advocate for equity in Los Angeles, using her voice to protect the civil rights of countless Angelenos,” de León said. “As we redraw the invisible lines that unite our diverse districts into a cohesive city, Sonja’s leadership and deep knowledge of the Voting Rights Act will be critical to ensuring more equal and reflective representation … for the entire city of L.A.”


 

Yaroslavsky and Newton Weigh In on Garcetti’s Record

Los Angeles Initiative Director Zev Yaroslavsky and lecturer Jim Newton were featured in a Forward article highlighting the successes and shortcomings of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is reportedly being considered for a Cabinet appointment in the Joe Biden administration. Garcetti established his reputation as a mayor who could get things done after he signed a $15 minimum wage into law in 2015 and with the 2016 passage of Measure M, which expanded public transit and bike networks. “Today, no county in America has so much local money invested in building transportation infrastructure as L.A. County has,” Yaroslavsky said. “He has a considerable record under his belt in that regard.” However, critics point out Garcetti’s failures to address homelessness and traffic congestion. “I’m one of the people who wanted to see him be more ambitious and swing higher,” Newton said. “I don’t think homelessness is his fault, … but I also don’t believe he can point to much evidence that he’s succeeded.”


Model Identifies High-Priority Areas for Vaccine Distribution

To help slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, UCLA public health and urban planning experts have developed a predictive model that pinpoints which populations in which neighborhoods of Los Angeles County are most at risk of becoming infected. The researchers hope the model, which can be applied to other counties and jurisdictions as well, will assist decision makers, public health officials and scientists in effectively and equitably implementing vaccine distribution, testing, closures and reopenings, and other virus-mitigation measures. The model, developed by the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin and the UCLA BRITE Center for Science, Research and Policy, maps Los Angeles County neighborhood by neighborhood, based on four important indicators known to significantly increase a person’s medical vulnerability to COVID-19 infection — preexisting medical conditions, barriers to accessing health care, built-environment characteristics and socioeconomic challenges. The research data demonstrate that neighborhoods characterized by significant clustering of racial and ethnic minorities, low-income households and unmet medical needs are most vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. Knowing precisely which populations are the most vulnerable and where new infections are likely to occur is critical information in determining how to allocate scarce resources. The data can also provide insights to social service providers, emergency agencies and volunteers on where to direct their time and resources, such as where to set up distribution sites for food and other necessities. And importantly, identifying the areas and populations with the highest vulnerability will help decision-makers equitably prioritize vaccine-distribution plans to protect the most vulnerable. — Elizabeth Kivowitz Boatright-Simon

Yaroslavsky on Crisis in Sheriff’s Department

Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, joined KPCC’s “AirTalk” to discuss tensions between the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Alex Villanueva. The supervisors have voted 3-2 to explore options to impeach or reduce the responsibilities of Villanueva. Yaroslavsky, a former L.A. County supervisor, said there is always some tension between the sheriff and the supervisors, but they’ve historically been able to work together to adhere to their constitutional responsibilities. However, he said, Villanueva has violated agreements on constitutional policing issues, including excessive use of force. Yaroslavsky agreed that it is important to raise the idea of changing the way that sheriffs are chosen but said he doesn’t think voters would approve the measure. “The resources and energies that would have to be brought to bear on a constitutional amendment or charter change should be brought to bear on removing him from office in the regularly scheduled election,” he said.


Corporate Landlords Sought to Profit During Last Economic Crisis, Study Finds Residential property acquisitions by LLCs soared during the Great Recession in Los Angeles’ working-class communities of color

By Les Dunseith

A recently released research brief from the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy draws fresh attention to the manner in which corporate entities have sought to benefit from an economic crisis by rapidly acquiring residential property in Los Angeles. 

The report builds on insights from several studies released during the COVID-19 pandemic by UCLA researchers that have found social and economic inequalities being reflected disproportionately in working-class communities of color. A significant percentage of residents in such communities face higher risk of unemployment, unsafe jobs, homelessness, and possible eviction and subsequent housing displacement. 

The report analyzes data on the Great Recession, finding that corporate control of residential property in many working-class communities with large Black and Latino populations expanded significantly in Los Angeles County between 2005 and 2015. The report also develops case studies that focus on different types of corporate landlords that have been active in Los Angeles in recent years and their varied strategies to profit from the acquisition of distressed residential properties.

The study seeks to examine the geography of racialized risk in Los Angeles by focusing on working-class communities of color with high rent burdens, grouping data from 20 at-risk ZIP codes into four regions: South Central Los Angeles, the Koreatown/Westlake area, the Hollywood/East Hollywood area, and a portion of the San Fernando Valley that includes Van Nuys and North Hollywood. 

Researchers focused on property acquisitions during the 10-year period in which the new owners are listed with the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor as limited liability companies, or LLCs. Residential unit acquisitions by such LLCs increased significantly in the four regions in the wake of the Great Recession, peaking in 2012. 

Referring to those acquisitions as “housing grabs,” the report finds that corporate control of residential property “is established and maintained through various strategies, including dominance in the single-family rental market, mass acquisition of foreclosed properties, destruction of rent-controlled housing, and running ‘eviction machines’ to displace tenants.”

“Who Profits From Crisis? Housing Grabs in Times of Recovery” is the title of the report issued Oct. 16 and written by Ananya Roy, director of the institute and a professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography; tenants rights activist Terra Graziani MURP ’19; Pamela Stephens, a doctoral student in urban planning; and Joel Montano, MURP ’20.

“Housing grabs are enabled by policies of deliberate deregulation, which also extend to financial lenders and the banking industry,” the authors write in the report. “Rewarded through bailouts and government-sponsored securitizations after the Great Recession, these real-estate and financial actors continue to be enabled in their profit-making on crisis.”

The report argues that action by public officials is needed to protect rent-burdened tenants in communities vulnerable to housing grabs, especially amid the pandemic. “Otherwise, there will be mass displacement of an unprecedented scale.” 

A single property transaction can refer to the acquisition of a single-family home or an apartment building with several hundred units. The focus of the study was primarily on the number of units acquired through LLC transactions because the authors believe that figure best illustrates the scope of impact on a given community. During the period of study, data show a countywide increase in LLC transactions of 433% and a 121% increase in the number of units acquired. In 2015, for example, a total of 30,651 units were acquired through LLC transactions.

The four regions in the study have different housing stocks, the study notes, and thus a property sale in the San Fernando Valley, which has a higher share of single-family units, would likely have different meaning than would a sale in Koreatown/Westlake, which has significantly more high-unit apartment buildings. 

The largest number of unit acquisitions through LLC transactions in any ZIP code in any year of the period of study was 735, which took place in the 90005 ZIP code of Koreatown in 2012. The Koreatown/Westlake region also had a significant spike in 2015 when 665 units were acquired by LLCs in the 90006 ZIP code, which is Pico Union.

South Central Los Angeles had the greatest overall increase in unit acquisition, at 388%, during the study period. Unlike the other regions, South Central had a fairly steady increase in units acquired through LLC transactions between 2007 and 2010, with a sharp increase and peak in 2011. Acquisitions were on the downswing after 2011 until another increase in 2015. This region’s change in unit acquisitions was greatest by far in ZIP code 90016 (West Adams), rising 2,757%.

The average number of units acquired through LLC transactions increased 201% overall during the study period in the region of the San Fernando Valley that was studied. The highest number of units, 550, in that region changed hands in the 91601 ZIP code (North Hollywood) in 2009. 

The rise in units acquired in LLC transactions in the Hollywood/East Hollywood region was the least of the four at-risk regions studied, although still at 40% between 2005 and 2015. 

The study was released at a time when the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti were considering how to respond to a legal challenge from the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles to the city’s moratorium on renter evictions amid the pandemic. 

As director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, Roy joined with Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge based at UCLA Luskin, in filing an amicus brief that argues against the landlord association’s effort to persuade a judge to issue a preliminary injunction that would suspend the moratorium on eviction for those renters who have experienced financial hardship during the pandemic.

“The proposed preliminary injunction threatens mass displacement in Los Angeles,” according to the amicus brief filed Oct. 9 in Los Angeles federal court. “Studies of COVID-19 impacts in Los Angeles show that most of this suffering will be concentrated in the city’s working-class communities of color, which are already bearing the burden of high infection and death rates.”

City leaders chose to fight back against the landlord association, and a U.S. District Court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction on Nov. 13, allowing Los Angeles’ eviction moratorium to remain in place.

Wachs on Understanding the History of L.A. Traffic

A StreetsBlog article highlighted the findings of a new paper by Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning Martin Wachs and graduate students Peter Sebastian Chesney and Yu Hong Hwang about the history of Los Angeles traffic congestion. Their paper, “A Century of Fighting Traffic Congestion in Los Angeles: 1920-2020,” delves into the many arguments over how to battle congestion in the city over the last 100 years. While solutions including improvements in public transit and construction of new freeways have been proposed, these strategies have never brought more than a temporary reprieve from the unrelenting growth in congestion, the authors say. They argue that in order to address traffic congestion today, experts must understand the city’s complicated history with public transit and transportation infrastructure. Today’s proposals are not much different from past solutions, and even though mistakes have been made, it’s not clear that lessons have been learned, they wrote.