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Graduate Students Oppose UCLA’s Complicity in Evictions and Displacement

An from a group of students from the UCLA Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program.

UCLA Royce Hall (Photo Credit Prayitno on Flickr)

This open letter was written by a group of students from the UCLA Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) program who feel compelled to speak out against this May 31 event hosted by the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate. They reached out to Knock-LA to publish the letter, which can also be found here.

Open Letter to the UCLA Community Regarding UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate’s & Mercy Housing California’s Symposium, “Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Democracy?” and UCLA’s Complicity in Evictions and Displacement

May 30, 2018

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, are writing to express our disappointment with UCLA’s Ziman Center for Real Estate’s May 31st event and to more broadly condemn the Center’s ties to powerful individuals and institutions that contribute to and profit off of the racialized displacement of entire communities. We urge would-be attendees to boycott this event.

On May 31, 2018, the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate, with nonprofit developer Mercy Housing California, is holding a symposium on California’s housing crisis titled “Is there Such a Thing as Too Much Democracy?” In addition to Mercy Housing itself, the panel is stacked with several evictors and gentrifiers like Brad Cox and Alfred Fraijo Jr. Given the Levine Program’s stated mission to “address the housing needs and outcomes of low-income and workforce households,” it is shameful that UCLA and the Ziman Center are celebrating and legitimating those invested in making our cities more unaffordable for working families.

We should not be surprised, however, that this is coming from the Ziman Center, an institution devoted to treating shelter as a commodity, and with deep ties to the industry that evicts, drives into homelessness, and banishes from the urban core poor individuals, and disproportionately Black and Latinx tenants and homeowners, on a daily basis. Of the Center’s Founding Board Members, 23 of 26 are white men, as are all eight members of the Center’s teaching faculty. The Ziman Center is a profoundly reactionary institution, researching ways to expand a housing market that continually fails to provide housing for those who need it.

Its board, and this event, is stacked with people who have financial stakes in high housing costs. We outline a few from this roster of displacers here:

The Levine Family, major funders of the Ziman Center and creators of the “Howard and Irene Levine Program in Housing and Social Responsibility,” are currently invested in the Ellis Act evictions of the 13 residents at 2820–24 Folsom St. in San Francisco’s Mission District. In 2015, the Levines loaned multiple-Ellis evictor Danny Sun $200,000 to help him purchase the buildings, and almost immediately he moved to evict. A letter from the tenants and supporters was recently delivered to the Ziman Center’s Executive Director Tim Kawahara. We urge him to honor their demands, and to abide by their own stated mission to address the “housing needs and outcomes of low-income and workforce households,” by stopping the evictions at 2820–24 Folsom St.

Mercy Housing is currently harassing and evicting tenants on rent strike from the Midtown Apartments in San Francisco’s Fillmore neighborhood (Save Midtown!). Mercy received control of the buildings from the city in 2013, instantly reneged on the years of promises that the tenants would be able to own their homes collectively, raised rents, and is now pursuing evictions and demolitions. Many of the tenants are low-income and Black. Doug Shoemaker, President of Mercy and moderator of the May 31 event, has played an active role in all of this.

Alfred Fraijo Jr., dubbed “Mr. Eviction” by Defend Boyle Heights, is also speaking at the May 31 symposium. His legal expertise has been instrumental in advancing gentrification and displacement in Boyle Heights and the nearby Arts District, as he has provided legal services to gentrifiers like Vera Campbell and filed eviction notices against local residents. This is not a controversial characterisation, as even his biography from his law firm’s website recounts his expertise in “urban renewal” and “emerging markets.”

Up next, Brad Cox, another speaker at the event, has his own history of profit-driven evictions. In 2009, under Cox’s leadership as Senior Managing Director, Trammel Crow Company carried out “one of the biggest evictions ever of Santa Monica renters due to the Ellis Act,” displacing 47 tenants from rent-controlled units at 301 Ocean Ave.

Finally, the namesake firm of Tod Spieker, a Ziman Founding Board Member, has recently donated nearly $400,000 to a PAC created by the California Apartment Association to defeat the efforts of grassroots organizations seeking to repeal Costa-Hawkins and expand rent control.

In solidarity with the tenants of Folsom St., the Save Midtown rent-strikers, Defend Boyle Heights, the tenants evicted by Trammel Crow Company in 2009, and all those fighting for housing justice across the state of California, we urge readers to recognize UCLA’s and the Ziman Center’s complicity in the current housing crisis and to boycott this May 31 symposium.



National Lawyers Guild, UCLA Chapter

Union de Vecinos

UCLA Community Scholars 2018

Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco

Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

Boyle Heights Alliance Against Artwashing and Displacement / Boyle Heights Alianza Anti Artwashing y Desplazamiento (BHAAAD)

Ground Game Los Angeles

Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action (LACCLA)


Goetz Wolff, Lecturer, UCLA Urban and Regional Planning Department

Terra Graziani, UCLA MURP

Jacob Woocher, UCLA MURP/JD

Jessa Orluk, UCLA MURP

Liana Katz, UCLA MURP

Spike Friedman, UCLA MURP

Justin McBride, UCLA MURP

Riley O’Brien, UCLA MURP



Elana Kessler, UCLA MURP

Meg Healy, UCLA MURP

Jacob Wasserman, UCLA MURP

Roxana Aslan, UCLA MURP

Thomson Dryjanski, UCLA MURP

Kaitlyn Quackenbush, UCLA MURP

Jessica Prieto, UCLA MURP

Jesus Garcia, UCLA MURP

Stephanie Law, UCLA MURP

Nathan Serafin, UCLA MURP

Aleli Balaguer, UCLA MURP

Daniel Foster, UCLA PhD, Geography

Kyle Nelson, UCLA PhD, Sociology

Kyle Scott, UCLA PhD, Philosophy

Toulouse Roy, UCLA PhD, History

Catharine Krebs, UCLA PhD, Human Genetics; UC Student-Workers Union UAW 2865

Michael Dean, UCLA PhD, History; UC Student-Workers Union UAW 2865

Jonathan Koch, UCLA PhD, Music; UC Student-Workers Union UAW 2865

Victoria Lewis, UCLA MPP/MD

Andy Currier, UCLA MPP

Stephano Medina, UCLA JD

Karly Wildenhaus, UCLA MLIS

Allison Carlisle, UCLA PhD, Spanish & Portuguese

Dr. Kristina Meshelski, UCLA class of 2003; Democratic Socialists of America, Los Angeles

Dr. Thomas E. Winningham, Lecturer, UCLA Department of English; Ground Game LA

Walt Senterfitt, Los Angeles Tenants Union

Taliah Mancini, Los Angeles Tenants Union

Paul Lanctot, Los Angeles Tenants Union

Jeffrey Lassanske, Los Angeles Tenants Union

Jared Baxter, Los Angeles Tenants Union

René Christian Moya, Los Angeles Tenants Union

Arielle Sallai, Democratic Socialists of America, Los Angeles

Dr. Jan Breidenbach, Professor, UCLA Community Scholars

Ruben Garcia, UCLA Community Scholar

Valerie Acevedo, UCLA Community Scholar

Ace Katano, Ground Game LA

Jessica Salans, Ground Game LA

Timothy Hayes, Ground Game LA

Ada Rajkovic, art.exit

Daniela Dover, Professor, UCLA Philosophy Department

Faiq Raza, DSA-SF

Jen Snyder, DSA-SF

Peter Polack, UCLA PhD, Information Studies

Sonia Suresh, UCLA MURP