Paavo Monkkonen, associate professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, studies the relationship between land-use regulations and segregation of housing by income in California. Monkkonen said part of the housing crisis in West Los Angeles is due to strict, outdated zoning regulations in densely populated areas. Consequently, housing costs have risen, thereby excluding low-income populations. Propositions such as Measure S, which would have restricted building across Los Angeles, were voted against earlier this year, and UCLA’s proposal to building five new housing structures in Westwood was also contested by the local government. In particular, Monkkonen discussed the housing crisis in Westwood, as the municipality has been struggling to accommodate an influx of new renters and buyers in the past 15 years. The Daily Bruin’s Andrea Henthorn and Meghan Hodges spoke with Monkkonen to discuss the implications of his research on housing in Westwood and its effects on UCLA students and faculty.
Daily Bruin Can you explain your research in housing markets and policy?
Paavo Monkkonen I started studying local opposition to new housing development because I think it is an underaddressed issue in California. One of the major reasons there’s not enough housing being built is outdated zoning laws, and the reason we can’t change them is because of an empowered system of local opposition. It’s extremely inequitable in terms of who has the power to stop development, so historically the zoning laws and maps that we have are quite old. And when they were set up, they were set up to to exclude low-income, nonwhite families from parts of the city where single-housing homes would be built.
DB Why have zoning laws not been updated?
PM People don’t talk about zoning enough. There’s a background idea in the U.S. that your house increasing in value is because you’ve done something, or because your community’s good, but that’s especially wrong in a metropolitan area. The metropolitan region grows horizontally, so the central parts inevitably get more valuable.
(In these areas), we don’t have enough supply; the fine-grained issue in adding supply is where would we add it? The existing zoning is mostly in poor parts of the city, and that’s why there’s all these fights about gentrification. We don’t talk enough about building homes in the rich parts of the city. Partly it’s a frustration with the city government, where they’re talking a lot about a crisis, but the solutions they’re proposing are very mild. One of the issues is 75 percent of residential land is zoned for single-family housing only. I would love the mayor to say we need to upzone some of that.
DB How does your research intersect with housing at UCLA?
PM One of the fundamental problems with U.S. housing policy is that homeowners get rich when there’s a supply shortage, and renters get evicted. All renters are vulnerable, and when you move as a renter is when your rent changes. Since students are in transition usually, they’re hit by rent changes. Not to mention, they’re young and don’t have incomes.
UCLA does a great job of getting minority, low-income, first-generation students, which is important and great, but if we can’t commit to giving them housing, then we’re (holding back) people without the resources to attend UCLA. It would only make it easier for low-income families to send their kids to UCLA if there was housing.