Ananya Roy, founding director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy and professor of urban planning, social welfare and geography, was interviewed by the Planning Report on her thoughts about Senate Bill 50, which would have addressed the housing affordability crisis in California through blanket upzoning. The institute’s research has identified some of the underlying causes of housing unaffordability and homelessness in Los Angeles and California, including the “displacement of working-class communities of color from urban cores to the far peripheries of urban life” and the “broad state-driven processes of displacement, racial exclusion and resegregation.” Roy stressed the importance of “[recognizing] that different social classes experience [the housing] crisis in different ways.” According to Roy, policies like SB50 “solve the housing crisis for the upper-middle class—particularly for the white, entitled YIMBY movement—by grabbing the land of those who are truly on the front lines of the housing crisis.”
Michael Storper, distinguished professor of regional and international development in urban planning, shared his views on the future of housing in California during a livestreamed conversation hosted by 48 Hills, an alternative news site in San Francisco. The manifold roots of the affordable housing crisis include high construction costs, income inequality, cumbersome zoning and regulation, and ongoing discrimination, Storper said. He took issue with the approach behind Senate Bill 50, the now-tabled state legislation that would permit blanket upzoning to increase the housing supply. “Both academics and some housing activists have generated a master narrative that concentrates centrally on just one element of that broader puzzle, which is zoning and regulation, and very specifically on getting more housing built as the master solution to the multifaceted problem of housing,” Storper said. He added that he was not aware of any data or research showing that this “zoning shock therapy” would work.
A UCLA Newsroom article celebrating transfer students featured Urban Planning Professor Brian Taylor and UCLA Luskin Senior Fellow Tom Epstein, president of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors. Taylor, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies, was a Long Beach City College transfer student before getting his bachelor’s in geography and Ph.D. in urban planning at UCLA. “It just so happens that I recently hosted my now retired LBCC economics professor for lunch at the UCLA Faculty Club to thank him for changing my life,” Taylor said. “At the time I was studying to be a travel agent, and he convinced me to transfer to UC to study geography and economics instead.” At UCLA, 92% of transfer students come from California community colleges. “Completing a degree helps students not just to succeed in the economy, but also to contribute more to their community by helping people who are less fortunate or participating in civic affairs,” Epstein said.
Hilary Malson, a doctoral student in urban planning at UCLA Luskin, has been awarded a three-year Ford Foundation predoctoral fellowship to support her study of race, space and community development in American exurbs. In her current research, Malson draws from the wider fields of diaspora studies and black geographies to explore how scattered black and brown communities navigate the expanded regional geographies of everyday life. The Ford Foundation honor “is testament to Hilary’s rigor as a scholar and recognition of her insistence that such scholarship be forged in solidarity with communities facing displacement and erasure,” said Ananya Roy, director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, where Malson is a graduate student researcher. Malson holds a B.A. in the growth and structure of cities from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and an MSc in urbanization and development from the London School of Economics, where she earned the dissertation prize for her research on insurgent planning and spatial politics in a majority-minority Virginia suburb. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine awards the Ford Foundation Fellowships to increase diversity among university faculties and encourage professors to use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Of the 71 national predoctoral fellowships announced this year, six were awarded to UCLA students.
Paul Ong, research professor and director of the Center for Neighborhood Knowledge at UCLA Luskin, was featured in a KPCC Airtalk interview along with Gov. Gavin Newsom about the controversial SB50 upzoning proposal that was recently tabled. Ong agreed that “we need to move to denser, more efficient urban development” but pointed out the shortcomings of the trickle-down economic theory behind SB50. A “marginal increase in supply is not adequate,” he said, because housing will continue to be controlled by those with the “greatest demand and greatest income.” One of the biggest challenges is implementation, he added, noting that he wants to see greater protections for current tenants. Ong agreed that SB50 is a move forward that “makes development possible and levels the playing field” that has historically favored the privileged, but he stressed the importance of “listening to people’s fears about the uncertainty of change” and “collectively thinking about what is best for society as a whole.”
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.
By Mary Braswell
A deep exploration of social justice as a guiding principle behind urban design will evolve into a book conceived by the UCLA Luskin faculty.
Over spring quarter, Urban Planning brought 10 prominent scholars to campus to shed light on public space in all its complexity. They spoke about the market forces, political calculations, environmental concerns and lifestyle trends that are transforming cities in Southern California and around the world, pushing some citizens to the fringe. And they offered frameworks for putting inclusion back at the center of urban design.
The speakers’ insights will become chapters in a book that shares the same name as the lecture series: “Just Urban Design: The Struggle for a Public City.”
“Cities are very much theaters of inequality, an inequality that has been increasing in the last decade,” said Urban Planning Professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, who organized the project with Chair Vinit Mukhija and Assistant Professor Kian Goh.
“The larger question that motivates this series is whether there is anything we can do through physical planning and urban design to create more just cities.”
The speakers who came to UCLA as part of the Harvey S. Perloff Lecture Series and Meyer and Renee Luskin Lecture Series brought decades of experience both in scholarly settings and on the front lines of urban upheaval.
They included Setha Low, described by Loukaitou-Sideris as “one of the most prominent anthropologists and ethnographers of our time.” A professor at City University of New York’s Graduate Center, Low has worked with U.N. Habitat and other institutions to develop global social justice indicators for urban design.
“This is a really important moment in time,” Low said during her April 23 visit to UCLA. “There is a push to create a society, at a moment of great divisiveness, that is much more open and accessible and let’s say free. We need places to come together.”
She said one of her greatest challenges is communicating these ideals to the general public.
“We need to really explain how public space creates flourishing societies,” she said. “We need to really reach outside of ourselves and reach a much broader public so that they understand why it matters.”
The April 25 lecture by Harvard Professor Diane E. Davis was moderated by Goh, who noted, “The things that I learned from her, mostly to do with politics and scale, really informed the work that I do now.”
Davis, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology at UCLA and now serves as the chair of urban planning and design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, raised foundational questions such as “What makes a city public?” and “What gives a city a robust democratic public sphere?”
“I’m really interested in the politics of how people and states interact or don’t interact with each other,” she said. “I think that is a really important framing for thinking about the best urban design.”
The notion that public space transcends national boundaries guided a May 1 talk by Teddy Cruz and Fonna Forman, professors at UC San Diego and partners in a studio specializing in urbanism, architecture and political science.
“We believe that the convergence of geopolitical borders, climate justice and poverty is ultimately the challenge of our time,” said Cruz, explaining a project the two had created for the U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Called “MEXUS: A Geography of Interdependence,” the presentation cast the border region as a shared space interwoven with environmental, economic and cultural connections.
Forman sounded an alarm about the “nativist mentality” that is moving into the mainstream, “legitimizing open racism that we haven’t seen since the middle of the 20th Century.”
“We see the San Diego-Tijuana border region as a microcosm of all of the injustices that neoliberal globalization has inflicted on the world’s most vulnerable people: poverty, climate change, accelerated migration, gender violence, human trafficking, slow suburbanization, privatization and so on,” she said.
Forman said that she and Cruz want to tell a very different story about life on the border.
“Our work reimagines the U.S.-Mexico border as a tissue of social and spatial ecologies, an amazing laboratory for political, urban and architectural creativity. For us, conflict is a creative tool.”
These other speakers also contributed to the series: Rachel Berney and Jeff Hou of the University of Washington, Alison Hirsch of USC, Kimberley Kinder of the University of Michigan, Matt Miller of the University of Pennsylvania and Michael Rios of UC Davis.
Loukaitou-Sideris, Mukhija and Goh will join the “Just Urban Design” lecturers in contributing chapters to the planned book, which has sparked interest from several publishers.
Collecting the insights of guest speakers in a single book is a model that UCLA Luskin Urban Planning has successfully used before. In 2014, Loukaitou-Sideris and Mukhija invited lecturers to contribute essays examining urban activities such as street vending, garage sales and unpermitted housing to create the book “The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks and Day Labor,” published by MIT Press.
Stan Paul contributed to this article.
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.
Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning and public policy, spoke to the San Francisco Chronicle about a new housing development in a wealthy Bay Area suburb. A multi-family housing development will be built in the city of Danville, creating 144 new units, 11 of which are to be set aside for affordable housing. The apartment building will accommodate lower-income people in the local workforce as well as middle-class residents priced out of most Bay Area real estate. Some cities say this type of multi-unit development is not feasible because they are built-out, with no more land available to develop. Monkkonen argued that suburbs use that as an excuse to not create more housing. “What they don’t tell you is that up to 90% of their land is zoned for single-family homes,” he said. If changing that “is not on the table, things aren’t going to change.”
An Agence France-Presse story featured comments by Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, professor of urban planning, and Martin Wachs, professor emeritus of urban planning, on the status of California’s high-speed rail project. The original plan to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco was revised by Gov. Gavin Newsom in February to link Merced and Bakersfield instead, a distance only a third of the originally planned route. Construction delays and unexpected budget increases have prompted criticism of the “train to nowhere.” Loukaitou-Sideris weighed in on the curtailed route. “It absolutely does not make sense,” she said. “Any transit project needs big [urban] centers as origins and destinations, and so to have something like that … all but kills the project.” Wachs agreed, arguing that “California should have capitalized on its existing rail network, including that currently dedicated to freight.” The AFP story was picked up by several news outlets, including Yahoo! News and Daily Mail.