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
A new UCLA report casts doubt on the feasibility of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s campaign promise to address California’s housing affordability crisis by building 3.5 million new homes by 2025. The policy brief from the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies shows that cities and counties have the capacity to construct just 2.8 million new housing units. The report adds that “historically, only a fraction of planned units are actually built” due to limited demand, community opposition and other factors. The report also found that “much of the planned capacity is located in the relatively lower-demand, more rural parts of the state. … High-demand communities do not plan for or permit housing, and planned capacity in low-demand areas remains unbuilt.” The brief, titled “Not Nearly Enough: California Lacks Capacity to Meet Lofty Housing Goals,” is based on research conducted by Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and Spike Friedman, an urban planning master’s student. Monkkonen is senior fellow for housing policy at the Lewis Center. The researchers examined data from 525 municipalities and unincorporated areas, which are mandated to zone for sufficient new housing construction to accommodate population growth. The brief highlights the obstacles created by the state’s zoning policies and the difficulty Newsom will face in meeting his stated goal. With California’s current construction patterns averaging 80,000 new housing units per year, the governor’s plan would require a sevenfold increase in housing construction. — Zoe Day
View of Tijuana, Mexico, from the penthouse of the Cumbres de Juarez project. Photo by Paavo Monkkonen
By George Foulsham
UCLA scholar Paavo Monkkonen teaches classes covering housing policy, applied microeconomics, and global urban segregation, but much of his research focuses on Mexico. He has been working in Mexico – and in Tijuana – since 2003 and has served as a consultant to the Mexican government on housing policy issues.
So when Monkkonen, an associate professor of Urban Planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, speaks about housing problems in Tijuana, people should probably pay attention.
“In the last 20 years, Mexico has built a lot of suburban housing and a lot of it’s empty,” Monkkonen said. “There is a major housing crisis right now.”
It’s also a teachable moment for this college professor, who created a course that took his students to Tijuana to examine the housing that federal policies have financed. The course provided the opportunity to offer real-world urban planning lessons to UCLA Luskin students.
“I had the idea of doing a case study of Tijuana’s housing system and how federal policy is played out in a local context,” Monkkonen said. “The course is different from many, though, because it’s a studio course that is a practice-based, problem-solving type of course. It’s not about me teaching; rather, I am working with students to actually do research and provide policy recommendations.”
The goal of the class, “Special Topics in Regional and International Development: Increasing Infill Development in Tijuana, Mexico,” was to determine how the institutions of Tijuana’s property market shape the implementation of the new federal urban policy designed to limit expansion and increase density in the central parts of Mexico’s cities.
With financial assistance from UCLA’s Urban Humanities Initiative and the Latin American Institute, Monkkonen put together the 2016 studio course in which students made two trips to Tijuana during the spring quarter.
“They were in five different groups, working on different aspects of the housing production system — infrastructure, planning, real estate development, the social culture around the consumption of housing, and formality,” Monkkonen said.
The students’ first visit to Tijuana included meetings with:
- A representative of the government housing finance agency
- A real estate broker who does consulting work for the government
- A representative from a regional economic development consulting company, focused on industrial development
- Local academics and graduate students
The students also did two site visits, including a tour of a new middle-class apartment building and of a new social-interest housing development.
“The focus of the class is the new federal policies that are trying to curtail sprawl and promote urban compact density,” Monkkonen said. “These policies were enacted in part because 30 percent of the new houses are empty. Despite the new message from the federal government to build more compact cities, they’re actually still building a lot of sprawl.”
The site visited by the students was a perfect example of the housing explosion in Tijuana. In an area that is miles from the edge of Tijuana, a developer is building about 50 houses per week, next to several developments full of abandoned houses.
“They have 5,000 built and the master plan of that company is to build 50,000 homes,” Monkkonen said. “The federal housing agency supports it, so it’s a strange system of bad decisions and government gone wild.”
Construction of new homes in Tijuana — and all over Mexico for that matter — is built on a system that encourages rampant development, Monkkonen said.
“Developers can make a lot of money building small, inexpensive houses in the urban periphery,” he said. “The vast majority — 70 percent — of housing finance comes from a federal government agency that operates like a pension fund, although the pension payout is very low. So every salaried worker has to pay into it, like a social security contribution, and then they are heavily pressured to get a mortgage. In many cases people use this mortgage even if they don’t want a house.”
The students also drove past two failed housing projects on the way back from Natura into Tijuana, developments of about 3,000 homes. “Some sections are half-built,” Monkkonen said. “There’s empty land, parts that are half-empty, covered in graffiti — not a nice environment, with a lot of trash around.”
It didn’t take long for the students to recognize the issues that led to two decades of overbuilding.
“The issue with Tijuana is that the institutions don’t really talk to each other,” said Katie Cettie, one of the students who authored the Real Estate Practice and Finance section of the report. “What the federal and the state do is very different from what actually happens at the city level. Everyone has their own agenda, so it’s really hard to get them to come together.”
Among the findings and recommendations in the recently released 131-page final report:
- Local land use planning and development institutions are disconnected from federal housing policies.
- Federal housing policies are designed more for the stimulation of the economy from the national perspective.
- The flow of communication from local to federal and federal to local is unclear among agency employees, and the framework for this process is not well understood by officials or the public. The roles of federal, state and municipal agencies are largely distinct and lack effective coordination.
- In Tijuana, the private sector has historically driven growth and economic development. Today, these actors continue to be overrepresented in the planning process.
- The importance of political linkages and alliances at the local level continue to stifle the ability for sustainable urban development in Tijuana.