New UCLA Data for Democracy Brief Examines Housing Inequality in Los Angeles

"The struggle for housing justice is the unfinished work of freedom," says Ananya Roy, UCLA Professor of Urban Planning, Social Welfare, and Geography.

Professor Ananya Roy studies access to housing and housing justice movements around the world. In describing her work, she uses the term “housing justice” because as she says: “I was so tired of doing research on the ‘housing crisis.’ I wanted to think about how this moment of crisis is also a moment for uplifting and foregrounding new ideas about housing.” 

Roy shares her thinking about the issue in Housing Inequality in Los Angeles, the latest in a series of UCLA Centennial Initiative Data for Democracy research briefs engaging students, teachers and schools in UCLA research about issues impacting equality, opportunity and social change. The brief on housing was produced by the Data for Democracy teamin collaboration with the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at UCLA Luskin, and in partnership with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project.

Digging deep into the issues that affect housing in the L.A. region, the Data for Democracy brief invites K-12 students across Los Angeles to examine charts, graphs, tables, maps, and interviews about housing insecurity and movements to create housing justice in local communities.  The brief is available online and is shared with students and teachers in area schools. Access and use of the briefs is free. 

Housing Inequality in Los Angeles shares and explores data about who owns and who rents homes in Los Angeles and how this has changed over time. The research also digs into the high burden of rent on Los Angeles families. The new brief takes a close look at the number of homeless residents in Los Angeles, how this has changed over time, and how homelessness differs by race and ethnicity. The research focuses particular attention on what the brief refers to as “houselessness,”as the most visible and urgent aspect of housing inequality in Los Angeles. 

Data representations in the brief show that 55 percent of residents of Los Angeles County are renters, a much higher rate than the 30 percent of renters in other communities across the nation.   The data details that the share of renters has been increasing over time and that Black and Latinx households are more likely to be renters than other racial-ethnic groups. 

In the brief, Professor Roy explains how the legacies of discrimination in the housing market, redlining, subprime lending, and subsequent foreclosures, have made it hard for these communities to achieve and retain homeownership. The effect of this legacy of housing discrimination is that less than half of African American and Latino families in Los Angeles County live in homes that they own. More than 60 percent of these families are renters.

The research also examines the expense of housing in Los Angeles County. Home prices are out of reach for many L.A. residents and the median monthly cost of rent is more than a third higher than the rest of the United States ($1,390 compared to $1,023). The majority of renters in Los Angeles County are considered rent-burdened — meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, leaving less money to spend on other basic needs like food, transportation, and healthcare. Nearly three in ten renter households in Los Angeles County spend more than half of their income on rent and are severely rent-burdened.

To engage students, the brief offers discussion questions about severe rent burden, including mathematical questions such as how much a family needs to earn so they are not rent-burdened, or how many hours would someone need to work at the new minimum wage of $15 so that they will not be rent-burdened. 

“The questions not only engage students in important lessons of mathematics, but involve them in analysis of issues that are connected and meaningful to their lives and communities,” said Megan Franke, a professor of Education at UCLA and co-director of the Data for Democracy project. “It also offers resources to help them explore the issue further.” 

As rent burden rises, a growing number of evictions are also increasing housing insecurity. The brief takes a close look at the issue and the Ellis Act, a California state law that allows landlords who say that they are going out of the rental business to evict all the tenants in a building at once. The Ellis Act can only be used on buildings that are rent-stabilized, or units that are covered by a policy in Los Angeles that limits the amount a landlord can raise the rent each year. 

Homelessness, or as the brief focuses on, “Houselessness,” is a big part of the challenge of housing justice in Los Angeles. The research brief details the increasing number of homeless in Los Angeles County, which in 2019 included nearly 59,000 people.  Data representations in the brief offer students the opportunity to trace the increase in homelessness over time, and to examine the number and percentages of homeless by race and ethnicity. The brief also examines responses to homelessness, including strategies such as providing shelter, permanent housing and policing.

Importantly, the brief offers a broader set of ideas about how to promote greater housing security, including tenant protections and public and subsidized housing. 

The brief closes with an interview by UCLA Education Professor and co-director John Rogers with Professor Roy, exploring the ideas and sharing examples from the housing justice movement, and inviting students to envision a different housing future in Los Angeles.

“Housing justice movements are my teachers. I learn from their work. Their analysis guides my own research and teaching,” Roy says in the brief.  “The struggle for housing justice is not just for a roof over one’s head, although that is vitally important. The struggle for housing justice is the unfinished work of freedom.”

Students and teachers are invited to share questions and learn more about housing and the housing justice movement by joining Professor Roy and the Data for Democracy team for a webinar exploring the issue, 11 a.m.- noon on Thursday May 7.  Click here to register for the webinar.

“The Data for Democracy project began as a way to engage Los Angeles students in an exploration of UCLA research that addresses issues that matter to their lives and the well being of their communities,” Rogers said.  

“Amid the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic, the project offers a critical source of content for teachers and students as their classrooms transition to distance learning.  And given the impact the pandemic may have on the economy and related effect on housing, this brief could not be more timely.” 

In addition to resources on housing issues, the project webpage also features helpful resources about housing and housing justice amid the COVID-19 crisis. 

Data for Democracy in Los Angeles is one of four UCLA Centennial Initiatives commemorating the University’s 100thanniversary.  The Centennial Initiatives are designed to expand public access to UCLA’s scholarly resources and build upon the University’s longstanding commitment of service to the community. Each one is a collaboration among multiple departments, centers, institutes and community groups. 

All of the UCLA Data for Democracy briefs can be found online at