Author, attorney and activist Randy Shaw visited UCLA Luskin on April 15, 2019, to discuss his latest book, “Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America.” As the working and middle classes find themselves priced out by skyrocketing rents and home values, Shaw dissected the causes and consequences of the national housing crisis. Shaw is a housing policy influencer and advocate for people experiencing homelessness. In 1980, he co-founded the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, San Francisco’s leading provider of housing for homeless single adults. At the talk hosted by Urban Planning, Shaw said he decided to write “Generation Priced Out,” his sixth book on activism, after the 2016 Ghost Ship tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of 36 people when a fire broke out in a former warehouse in Oakland. Shaw initially planned to focus on Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland but ended up broadening the scope of his book to include other progressive cities that claim to support inclusion, including Austin, Denver and Portland. Shaw said the book highlights the hypocritical rhetoric of progressive cities whose policies price out working-class people. Many books about gentrification are misleading, he added. The absence of affordable housing policy and opposition to new construction contribute to the gentrification of urban spaces, he said. While discussions about gentrification often villainize developers, Shaw argued that “the real profiteers of gentrification are homeowners.” To solve the national housing crisis, Shaw advocates for a combination of rent control and housing construction. — Zoe Day
Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA Luskin, shared his expertise on housing policy with several media outlets covering the November 2018 ballot measure that would give California cities more power to curb rising rents. “The state doesn’t do anything for renters. It does everything for property owners and developers,” Yaroslavsky told the Christian Science Monitor. “If we keep this up for another generation, we’re going to have far more homelessness than we do now.” The Monitor’s article on the fight over Proposition 10 cited the Los Angeles Initiative’s 2018 Quality of Life Index, which found that more than a quarter of L.A. County’s 10.1 million residents had worried about losing their home in the previous year. “These are the people who are a lost job or eviction notice away from winding up on the streets,” Yaroslavsky said. The Monitor also cited a UCLA Luskin Center for History and Policy working paper on the historical roots of the affordable housing crisis in Los Angeles. Yaroslavsky has also been quoted in Proposition 10 coverage from Bloomberg News, the Guardian and Curbed LA.
Paul Ong, director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was quoted in recent news stories on a proposed temporary measure by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — approved in September 2018 — that would cap rent increases in unincorporated county areas. A Los Angeles Times story cited research by Ong that indicated no significant difference in rental housing in cities that have adopted some form of rent control as compared with the rest of the county. “The short-term solution is protecting those who are most vulnerable,” said Ong, professor emeritus of urban planning, social welfare and Asian American studies. “It needs to be complemented in the long term by strategic planning about increasing the supply of affordable housing.” Ong also spoke to LAist for a story on the proposal. “What we’re seeing is rents are increasing faster than inflation, and faster than people’s incomes,” he said. “We have reached a point now where many households are unable to pay their rents. … They quite often have to decide between paying the rent and paying for other daily necessities.”
Urban planning lecturer Joan Ling, left, was among the panelists for a discussion about rent control in Los Angeles. Other panelists were Tony Samara and Doug Smith. Photo by Les Dunseith
By Zev Hurwitz
Though housing prices in Los Angeles are seemingly out of control, it may be control that can start to ease the burden for struggling renters.
At a panel conversation held at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on Feb. 26, 2018, a trio of experts discussed the housing crisis in the area and the potential for new rent control and eviction protections to help stabilize living situations in Los Angeles.
Michael Lens, assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin, opened the event, “Protecting Renters: Discussions of Rent Control, Stabilization and Evictions,” and alluded to the growing homeless issue as “an indicator of the housing issue in Los Angeles.”
“Here in Los Angeles, renters are spending enormous sums of money on basic shelter,” Lens said. “For an alarming number of Angelenos, even basic shelter is out of reach.”
Lens noted that the most recent homeless data shows 57,000 individuals on a given night are without shelter — a 23 percent increase over the year prior.
“The homeless crisis is an indicator of the housing issue in Los Angeles,” he said.
Tony Samara, program director of land use and housing at Urban Habitat in the Bay Area, explained some of the major issues facing renters in California. The two most critical issues are lack of rent control policies and so-called just cause eviction protections.
“Just cause evictions mean that to evict a tenant, you have to have a reason,” Samara explained. “In the state of California, unless the city has a just cause ordinance, you can be evicted at the end of your lease or within 60 days on a month-to-month basis for no reason. It’s called no-fault eviction.”
Most cities in California do not have such protections for renters, weakening the ability for tenants to plan ahead. Samara noted growth in advocacy campaigns by tenants’ rights groups aiming to broaden the scope of just cause protections and rent control.
“These policies won’t solve all our problems but will at least provide more stability,” he said.
Doug Smith, a staff attorney at the pro bono law firm Public Counsel, is a 2013 alumnus of UCLA’s Urban Planning department and the UCLA School of Law. Smith spoke about how the effects on a community without tenant protections might force families into overcrowded, substandard living conditions — or even homelessness.
“The consequences are really traumatic, and we’re seeing that played out in communities without these policies,” Smith said.
Smith noted that four Los Angeles County cities — Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Los Angeles — do have some protections, but the other 84 regional cities do not.
“If you live in one of those cities, those protections are really important,” he said. “They can help stabilize your situation, allow you to continue to live in your home and invest in your community.”
Joan Ling MA UP ’82, a longtime lecturer in Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin, noted the cost of housing for moderate-income Angelenos has risen tremendously in the past 20 years.
“In 1998, 96 percent of units were affordable to moderate level incomes,” she said. “Today, only 15 percent are affordable to that group.”
One big obstacle to the spreading of tenant protections is the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which blocked major rent control policies and allowed landlords to dramatically raise rents on units that become available. A repeal effort has stalled in the state government, though some Californians are working to place a measure on a statewide ballot to repeal the law.
Beyond a full Costa-Hawkins repeal, Ling explained that rent control laws may be a disincentive to developers of new projects because they would be limited in their revenue generating. However, she said that compromise is possible.
“You don’t have to say that all housing units will fall under rent control,” Ling said. For instance, housing 10 years old or older would be subject to it.
Ling also noted that data show renters in areas with protections are more civically engaged and tend to remain invested in the community for longer than do tenants in unprotected neighborhoods.
The event was the second in the Housing Equity and Community Series hosted by the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. The forum was co-sponsored by the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate and the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin. It drew more than 60 students, faculty and community members.
Video of the event can be found here.