Tackling California’s Housing Crisis: The Initial Blitz

Sean McKenna (BS ’17)

Los Angeles Planning Commission meetings happen on weekday mornings, meaning that most people who work normal jobs aren’t able to attend. In the future, I’ll be publishing some ideas on how to make this process more open and democratic!

It’s been two months since I started my project “Exploring Ways to Tackle California’s Housing Crisis,” which is made possible through the Milton and Rosalind Chang Career Exploration Prize from Caltech. The purpose of this project is to learn what skills and actions, particularly those outside my current repertoire of data science and economic analysis, can make a difference in solving housing affordability problems across California.

I have been involved in several actions and efforts so far, touching housing services and the housing market in ways I hadn’t even previously conceived. I participated as a volunteer in the homeless population count for the city of San Gabriel. I am volunteering at a not-for-profit community housing developer that is trying to get approvals for permanent support housing projects for formerly homeless individuals. It’s fascinating and frustrating to learn about the herculean public outreach effort required for them to change the minds of neighbors opposed to their projects. I have also interviewed housing innovators who emphasized the necessity for both regulatory reform and technological innovation in order to bring down developer costs for producing housing. The number and size of the industries and agencies that touch housing has astonished me.

My team of volunteers for the homeless point-in-time count on January 22nd in the City of San Gabriel. Note that fine alumni of other SoCal schools are also interested in solving housing issues!

Beyond learning and experiencing the causes, effects, and potential solutions to housing woes for myself, I am attempting to raise awareness among Californians, especially other Caltech alumni. I have started a series of short articles, a podcast series, and an Instagram channel. Several more publications are in my queue, so be sure to follow me on these platforms. You’ll be able to read, hear, and see my thoughts and experiences as they happen.

In the next few months, I will continue my outreach in Southern California. Then, I’ll begin to travel to other parts of the state to experience locational nuances of the housing crisis. This will include visiting the fire-ravaged town of Santa Rosa, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the State Capitol in Sacramento. In conjunction with this travel, I will continue to publish additional content as new lessons and experiences present themselves.

Visited Skid Row Housing Trust to learn about their model of permanent supportive housing, as well as their future projects across Los Angeles County.

The Career Exploration Prize has challenged me in ways I wouldn’t have expected at the beginning. For example, flashbacks to Phys 2a crossed my mind as I produced my podcast and learned audio editing software for the first time. Techniques for playing with simple harmonic oscillators did a decent job in preparing me to play with the waveform of my own voice! Additionally, I’ve written even more cold outreach emails than I did as an undergrad looking for a SURF, a feat I never thought I’d repeat. However, I’m heartened by the warm responses that I get from people who are passionate about housing. People love the idea of having a Techer working in this space.

I’m optimistic that the tide is turning on several fronts of the housing crisis, so follow along as I spend the rest of the spring and summer working to make that a reality!

Presentation at UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on opportunities for coupling housing and transit in order to tie in housing goals with environmental sustainability and social justice goals.
Course titled “How to Babysit Your Local Planning Commission,” presented by a YIMBY (Yes-In-My-Back-Yard) organization, about the kind of housing developments that are protected by California’s Housing Accountability Act.
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