Peter Dreier is the Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics, and the founding chair (1995-2018) 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 addition to teaching courses on American politics, urban politics and policy, community organizing and leadership, and work and labor, Dreier runs a summer internship program for students interested in housing and community development. Since 2008, he has coordinated Campaign Semester, a program that provides Oxy students with a full semester credit to work off-campus on an election campaign. It is the only program of its kind in the country.
For more than three decades he has been involved in urban policy as a scholar, a government official, a journalist, and an activist and organizer. 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 latest book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, was published by Nation Books in 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.
He is coauthor of three other books, and coeditor of another book, about cities and urban policy:
- Place Matters: Metropolitics for the 21st Century (coauthored with John Mollenkopf and Todd Swanstrom) was published in 2001 by the University Press of Kansas. A third edition was published in 2014. The book 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.”
- 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.
- 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), published by the University of Minnesota Press, examines the government policies that promoted sprawl in Southern California.
In May 2014, the Haas Institute at UC-Berkeley released a report he coauthored, “Underwater America,” that documented for the first time the magnitude and location of the nation’s “underwater” mortgages. His op-ed based on that report, “What Housing Recovery?” was published in the New York Times in May 2014.
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 as “How ACORN Was Framed” in the Fall 2010 issue of Perspectives on Politics, a journal sponsored by the American Political Science Association.
Dreier is co-coordinator – with historian Nelson Lichtenstein of UC-Santa Barbara and Donald Cohen of In the Public Interest – of the Cry Wolf Project. Funded by the Ford Foundation and the Public Welfare Foundation, the project examines 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.” The Cry Wolf Project’s website can be found here: http://crywolfproject.org.
Dreier has also written other policy reports for various think tanks and foundations. in 2008 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. 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.
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 “The Tavis Smiley Show,” “Moyers and Company,” “The Rachel Maddow Show,” “The O’Reilly Factor,” KCRW’s “Which Way LA,” PBS-TV’s “McNeil-Lehrer Report,” and other shows.
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 & Societyand other professional journals.
Dreier writes frequently for the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, American Prospect, and the Huffington Post. 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.
Dreier is actively engaged in civic and political efforts at both the national and local levels. He currently serves on the boards of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, the Pasadena Educational Foundation, and the National Housing Institute.
He was founder and co-chair of the Progressive Los Angeles Network (a foundation-funded project to link academic experts and practitioners to develop a progressive policy agenda for LA), co-chair of the Housing Innovations Roundtable (sponsored by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s office to identify “best practices” in housing policy), and chair of the Horizon Institute (an LA-based think tank). For many years he was a member of the board of the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing and of 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 was also 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. 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 has served on the editorial boards of Urban Affairs Quarterly, Housing Studies, Cityscape, 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 and 2015 meetings, 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.
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, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), 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.
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.
Dreier lives in Pasadena with his wife Terry Meng (a nurse practitioner) and twin daughters Amelia and Sarah.