About Peter

Peter Dreier is the Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Department, at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He joined the Occidental faculty in January 1993 after serving for nine years as Director of Housing at the Boston Redevelopment Authority and senior policy advisor to Boston Mayor Ray Flynn. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1977) and his B.A. from Syracuse University (1970). In 2008, he created and has since coordinated Campaign Semester, a program that provides Oxy students with a full semester credit to work off-campus on an election campaign.

For more than three decades he has been involved in urban policy as a scholar, a government official, a journalist, and an advocate for reform. Professor Dreier has written widely on American politics and public policy, specializing in urban politics and policy, housing policy, community development, and community organizing. He is a frequent speaker on this topics to a wide variety of professional, scholarly, and civic organizations.


His next book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, will be published by Nation Books in early 2012. It includes profiles of the century’s most effective and influential reformers and radicals, an introduction putting their efforts in historical context, and a brief look into their 21st Century counterparts so far.


Civic and Political Work

Dreier is actively engaged in civic and political efforts at both the national and local levels. He is chair of the board of the Horizon Institute, a progressive think tank based in Los Angeles.  He serves on the executive committee of Housing LA, a broad coalition of labor, community, and faith-based groups. He served as co-chair of the Housing Innovations Roundtable, sponsored by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office, to identify “best practices” in housing policy and programs that can be adopted by LA.  He is on the steering committee of Invest in PUSD Kids, a community organizing group to rally support for public schools in Pasadena.

He has been a member of two Los Angeles City Council task forces — on economic development and on affordable housing. He is a member of the Bring LA Home: Blue Ribbon Task Force on Homelessness and of the United Way of Los Angeles’ Community Reinvestment Task Force. He served on the Pasadena Charter Reform Commission and is currently on the boards of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, the Pasadena Educational Foundation, and the National Housing Institute. For many years he served on the board of the Southern California Association for Nonprofit Housing. He has also served on the advisory boards of United for a Fair Economy, Campaign for America’s Future, Boston Foundation, Liberty Hill Foundation, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Neighborhood Housing Services, and other groups.

He is a founder and co-chair of the Progressive Los Angeles Network (PLAN), a foundation-funded project to link policy experts with grassroots organizations to develop a broad policy agenda for the Los Angeles region.
He has served on the editorial boards of Urban Affairs Quarterly, Housing StudiesCityscape, and Shelterforce. He also served as chair of the Advisory Committee of the Spivack Program in Applied Social Research and Policy of the American Sociological Association (ASA), as a member of the ASA Program Committee for its 2007 meeting, as a member of the ASA’s Committee on Public Sociology, as a member of the elected Council of the ASA’s Community and Urban Sociology Section, and as a member of the Best Book Award committees for the American Political Science Association’s Urban Politics Section and the ASA’s Community and Urban Sociology section.

Work in Community Organizing

He has worked closely with a wide range of community organizations, labor unions, and public interest organizations, and has worked as a consultant for a variety of foundations and government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), VISTA, the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the MacArthur Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Boston Foundation. He has provided pro bono consulting for the California AFL-CIO, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, ACORN, the Industrial Areas Foundation, and others. In Boston he served on the boards of Neighborhood Housing Services, Urban Edge CDC, Health Care for the Homeless Project, and other organizations. In the early l980s, he was a founder of the Massachusetts Tenants Organization. While working in city government, he was named “Hero of the Week” by the Boston Phoenix for his efforts to fight redlining (bank discrimination) in Boston’s neighborhoods.

Further Honors

Other honors include the Public Service Award from the University of Chicago Alumni Association (2002), the Will and Nan Clarkson Visiting Chair in Urban and Regional Planning at the SUNY-Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning (2005), and the Benjamin and Louise Carroll Visiting Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oregon (2001). In 1980-81, while teaching at Tufts, he was awarded a Public Service Fellowship by the National Science Foundation to work with community and consumer organizations in Boston.

In 1987, while serving in city government, Dreier drafted the Community Housing Partnership Act, legislation sponsored by Congressman Joseph Kennedy and Senator Frank Lautenberg, which became part of HUD’s HOME program, created under the National Affordable Housing Act of 1990. This legislation provides federal funds to community-based non-profit housing development organizations.

In 1993, the Clinton administration appointed Professor Dreier to the Advisory Board of the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), the Savings-and-Loan clean-up agency.

Other Books and Scholarly Works

He is coauthor of three other books, and coeditor of another book, about cities and urban policy. The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City (with Oxy colleagues Regina Freer, Bob Gottlieb, and Mark Vallianatos) was published by University of California Press in 2005. A new edition, incorporating the election and first year of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s administration, was published in 2006. Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century (coauthored with John Mollenkopf and Todd Swanstrom) was published by the University Press of Kansas in 2001; a second edition was published in 2005. It won the Michael Harrington Book Award, given by the American Political Science Association for the “outstanding book that demonstrates how scholarship can be used in the struggle for a better world.” Regions That Work: How Cities and Suburbs Can Grow Together (coauthored with Manuel Pastor, Eugene Grigsby, and Marta Lopez-Garza) was published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2000. It examines the disconnect between regional economic development strategies and community development practices in low-income neighborhoods. Up Against the Sprawl: Public Policy and the Making of Southern California (co-edited with Jennifer Wolch and Manuel Pastor) examines the government policies that promoted sprawl in Southern California.

In 2009, with coauthor Christopher Martin, Dreier wrote a report on media coverage of the controversy over the community organizing group ACORN, Manipulating the Public Agenda: Why ACORN Was in the News and What the News Got Wrong.  The report generated considerable media attention. Columnists for the  Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about the story.  Dreier appeared twice on the “Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC-TV, and on more than a dozen radio shows, to discuss the report. An updated version of the report was published in the Fall 2010 issue of Perspectives on Politics, sponsored by the American Political Science Association.

Dreier is co-coordinator – with historian Nelson Lichtenstein of UC-Santa Barbara and Donald Cohen of the Center on Policy Initiatives – of the Cry Wolf Project.  Funded by the Ford Foundation and the Public Welfare Foundation, the project is examining the accuracy of warnings by business groups and their allies  that government laws and regulations designed to make corporations act responsibly will “kill jobs” and “hurt the business climate.”

Dreier has also written other policy reports for various think tanks and foundations.  He wrote an analysis of U.S. urban and housing policy for the Eisenhower Foundation as part of a report on the condition of American cities 40 years after the Kerner Commission report in 1968. With Todd Swanstrom, he was co-investigator of a Brookings Institution report on widening inequalities in America’s suburbs and coauthor of the report, Pulling Apart: Economic Segregation among Suburbs and Central Cities in Major Metropolitan Areas, released in October 2004.

He wrote a report for the Ford Foundation and Demos (a public policy think tank) evaluating current federal housing programs and recommend a variety of reforms to strengthen housing policy’s effectiveness and political constituency.   Along with economists Richard Green and Andrew Reschovsky of the University of Wisconsin, he co-directed a $655,000 grant from the Ford Foundation focusing on expanding homeownership opportunities. They coordinated a team of 12 researchers to examine the impact of federal tax policy on homeownership and the housing industry and to recommend new ways to design tax policy to increase the homeownership rate, particularly among low-income households.

Dreier’s research has been funded by the Haynes Foundation, the Irvine Foundation, Atlantic Philanthropies, the Century Foundation, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, the Ford Foundation, the Brookings Institution, the Eisenhower Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, and other funders.

He is frequently quoted as an expert on housing and urban issues, including in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, National Journal, Los Angeles Business Journal, San Diego Union-Tribune, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Business Week, and has appeared on KCRW’s “Which Way LA,” PBS-TV’s “McNeil-Lehrer Report,” and elsewhere.

His scholarly articles have appeared in many edited books as well as in the Harvard Business Review, Urban Affairs Review, Social Policy, Journal of the American Planning Association, North Carolina Law Review, Housing Policy Debate, National Civic Review, Planning, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Real Estate Finance Journal, Journal of Urban Affairs, Cityscape, Columbia Journalism Review, Social Problems, Housing Studies, Humanity & Society and other professional journals.

Dreier writes frequently for the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, American Prospect, and the HuffingtonPost website. His articles have also been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, New Republic, Dissent, Washington Monthly, Progressive, The Forward, Commonweal, Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere.