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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

"We Just Built It:" Code Enforcement, Local Politics, and the Informal Housing Market in Southeast Los Angeles County
by Wegmann, Jacob Anthony George, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2014, 385; 3708337
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation is an exploration of the role of informality in the housing market in southeast Los Angeles County. While informality has long been the subject of scholarship in cases from the Global South, and increasingly in the United States, examinations of housing informality in the US thus far have largely been situated in rural and peri-urban areas. This work seeks to interrogate informality in housing processes unfolding within the very heart of northern North America's leading industrial metropolis.

After a brief preface, the dissertation's second chapter reviews literature on various aspects of informality and on Accessory Dwelling Units, or additions or conversions of living quarters on residential properties. Chapter 3 introduces the work's methodological pillars, and describes the four major, mixed methods relied upon. These are a survey of code enforcement officers; interviews and direct observation; and analyses of rental and property sales markets. Two other, minor, methods employed are an analysis of building footprints and the analysis of secondary data.

Chapter 4 introduces the single case used in the dissertation. This is a group of 14 communities, with a total population of 700,000, that are collectively referred to via the neologism City of Gateway. Next follows a historical overview of the area. Following a discussion of the 1965 Watts riots as a historical watershed, trends in the City of Gateway's economy and population that have driven a dramatic informalization of the housing stock since that time are examined.

Chapter 5 describes the physical expression of the informal housing market in the City of Gateway, in seven extralegal modes that involve either the conversion of existing space or the addition of new space, and the tactics used to effect them. Chapter 5 closes with a quantification and discussion of the consequences of the characteristic urban form produced by the informal housing market, horizontal density, which is the addition of density by more intensively covering lots with buildings rather than building upwards.

Chapter 6 describes the "nuts and bolts" of the informal housing market. It presents evidence that extralegal rentals are, on balance, generally (though not always) cheaper for their occupants than formal market alternatives. It examines presale ordinances that some cities have passed to try to disrupt the informal housing market by intervening in the sale of residential property. It discusses the important role of appraisers in providing or denying mortgage credit to current or would-be homeowners with extralegal space. An analysis of property sales transactions provides evidence that extralegal space does not appear to be capitalized in property values. Finally, the chapter discusses barriers imposed by the current US mortgage system to financing the construction of rentable space on residential properties.

Chapter 7 is an examination of the role played by code enforcement in shaping the informal housing market in the City of Gateway. Specifically, it examines how code enforcement departments allocate their time and effort given that there are far more potential enforcement actions than their capacity allows. The chapter presents arguments that code enforcement reshapes the informal housing market while failing to suppress it; that it is applied unevenly; and that it paradoxically helps maintain the informal order of the informal housing market.

Chapter 8 begins by arguing that issues related to informal housing, when they are discussed at all in the local political sphere, tend to be filtered through the reductive frame of law and order. The chapter presents reasons for this state of affairs, both ones specific to the City of Gateway and others that are more general and potentially applicable to other places in the US. Chapter 8 closes with a summary of high-profile local debates in which informal housing's influence is considerable but rarely acknowledged: fair share housing, water and sewer utility capacity, parking, and school crowding.

The conclusion, Chapter 9, begins by assessing the positive and negative attributes of the informal housing system. A normative judgment is made that the former outweigh the latter, although the drawbacks are considerable and in need of urgent attention. A multiscalar palette of policy interventions intended to usefully and justly intervene in the informal housing system is put forth. Many of these are within the ambit of local government, but action in other spheres—in state and even federal government, and within the housing NGO sector—is needed. Next, lessons for advocates, policymakers, and researchers drawn from the broader implications of this dissertation are presented. After that follows a speculative discussion about the role of culture in comparison with economic necessity in driving the informal housing market in the City of Gateway. Next, informed speculation about the future of the City of Gateway's housing market is presented. The dissertation closes with a discussion of these trends' implications for the City of Gateway's continued existence as that increasingly rare of type of place, a working class enclave in the heart of a vast global metropolis.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Chapple, Karen D.
Commitee: AlSayyad, Nezar, Groth, Paul E., Waddell, Paul
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: Civil and Environmental Engineering
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 76/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Urban planning
Keywords: Accessory dwelling units, Code enforcement, Housing market, Informal housing, Local politics, Los angeles
Publication Number: 3708337
ISBN: 978-1-321-83505-2
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