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Luskin alumni discuss policy at city, state levels during panel

(From left to right) Michael Fleming, lecturer of social welfare, Lourdes Castro Ramírez, Los Angeles chief housing and homelessness officer, Assemblyman Isaac Bryan and State senator Caroline Menjivar, are pictured. (Brianna Carlson/Daily Bruin)

By Joseph Wolmark and Gabriella Sonnhalter

March 19, 2024 7:03 p.m.

The UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs hosted a panel March 7 with alumni policymakers across Los Angeles to discuss the ongoing housing crisis, the importance of voting and the need for cooperation between local, state and federal governments.

The event began with remarks from Lourdes Castro Ramírez, the city of LA’s chief officer of housing and homelessness. The double Bruin was later joined by state Sen. Caroline Menjivar and Assemblymember Isaac Bryan in a panel discussion.

“The U.S. has a shortage of 7.3 million rental homes that are affordable and available to renters with extremely low incomes. Limited housing supply and high rents are squeezing low income families and placing them at higher risk of homelessness,” Castro Ramírez said.

Castro Ramírez said while nonprofit organizations and housing authorities have been established to house and support the unhoused population, the number of Angelenos experiencing homelessness exceeds available housing resources.

Both Menjivar and Bryan, who represent Senate District 20 and Assembly District 55, respectively, have experience advocating for affordable housing in LA on a state and federal level.

During the panel, Menjivar said while in Sacramento, she advocates to prevent homelessness for senior citizens and LA’s youth in foster care. She added that she intends to continue fighting to decrease homelessness in LA.

Bryan said he believes housing discrepancies are not something that just happened but rather have occurred through past policies. He added that it is the job of scholars and policymakers to work toward undoing this.

Low voter turnout in recent elections was another point of focus during the panel. All panelists affirmed the importance of voting during the event.

Menjivar said the recently voted on Proposition 1 referendum is an example of how a small number of votes can change election outcomes. As of Tuesday, two weeks after the election, the vote was still too close to establish if the bill would pass into law.

She added that the 2% voter turnout rate among people aged 18-35 in the primary election is a reason why policymakers do not equally reflect the interests of all voting demographics.

Bryan said his experience with a bill that failed passage by a single vote demonstrates the importance of every political appointment.

“I have been in rooms, and I have pushed for a policy that passed or failed off of one or two votes,” Bryan said. “I personally had a bill on the assembly floor that was one vote short of passing. That’s how important getting the right people in the right places to make the right decisions means, and that’s what your voice can do.”

Each panelist agreed that cooperation across different levels of government is important for successful policymaking. Castro Ramírez said the state’s Homekey project was successful, claiming the initiative allowed local governments to create 15,000 units of affordable housing over the past four years.

Menjivar said discussions between members of California’s state legislature and policymakers working in LA to incorporate the needs of California’s largest city into statewide policy are important steps to bridge the gap between different governments and align priorities.

The panel was followed by an audience Q&A, which included a discussion of landlords’ ability to increase annual rent rates up to 5%, financial literacy in California and why each panelist continues to work in policymaking.

Bryan said he discusses his drive for policymaking with his chief of staff Caleb Rabinowitz, also a Luskin alumni. He added that they ask each other if the state is better each week due to their work.

“The last time we ever do that, I hope that we’ll be able to say that there was a lot of good that we’ve done,” Bryan said.

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