Published in February 2019, “The Garcetti-fication of Los Angeles: A Gentrification Cautionary Tale” is a special report detailing how Mayor Eric Garcetti and the LA City Council favored policies that have benefited developers but adversely affected “[m]iddle and working-class Angelenos, particularly people of color and immigrants,” McDonald wrote, who have had to contend with “soaring rents, record-high evictions, unwanted displacement, and sudden homelessness.” According to the report, which earned him an award for best activism journalism, LA politicians’ embrace of “spot-zoning” and landlords’ enforcement of a little-known law to remove tenants from rent-controlled units led to “at least 13,633 people” being evicted from 2013 to 2017.
McDonald produced the report for Housing Is A Human Right, the housing advocacy division of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), where he has worked as a journalist for the past three years. He said he got his start as a reporter at Fordham, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and wrote for the paper.
“In my senior year at Fordham, the first Gulf War broke out under President George H.W. Bush in 1991,” McDonald said. “I was opposed to the war, and I was reading a lot of war coverage in the mainstream media and the alternative press. For me, the mainstream media was getting it totally wrong … so I pitched an idea to the paper about covering an anti-war rally, and they said go for it.”
“It set me on my career path,” McDonald added, describing his work as a kind of “spiritual calling” and a way to use his skills as a journalist “to be of service by making the world a better place. … Now that I think about it, it’s a very Jesuit approach to life, isn’t it?”
After graduating from Fordham, McDonald worked for numerous alternative newsweeklies, including The Village Voice, New York Press, and L.A. Weekly, and as a contributing writer at The Advocate. He’s the author of two books: The Mayor: How I Turned Around Los Angeles After Riots, an Earthquake and the O.J. Simpson Murder Trial (Post Hill Press, 2014), which he co-wrote with former mayor Richard J. Riordan, and Righteous Rebels: AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Crusade to Change the World (Prospect Park Books, 2016), which led him to his work with AHF.
Since McDonald’s special report was published, Los Angeles’ housing crisis has only gotten worse. Even before COVID-19 ravaged the economy, LA County’s rate of homelessness was up almost 13% from last year, according to NPR.
Despite the increase, McDonald believes that shining a light on the city’s politicians can effect change. In fact, this year, Housing Is A Human Right was one of the leading organizations involved in getting Proposition 21 on the ballot in California. Currently, McDonald is involved with the “Yes on 21” campaign, which seeks to allow local governments to expand rent-control policies, which he says are severely restricted thanks to a law “that’s rigged the system in favor of corporate landlords.”
“It’s a more subtle change that can inspire or fuel big change,” he said. “The work does make a difference, one way or another—if only to hold powerful people accountable and shine the spotlight on them, which they don’t like at all.”