Peter Dreier is the Dr. E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He was also the founding chair of Occidental’s Urban and Environmental Policy Department, a position he held from 1997 to 2018. 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. in sociology from the University of Chicago (1977) and his B.A. in journalism and sociology from Syracuse University (1970).
He teaches courses on American politics, urban politics and policy, community organizing and leadership, movements for social justice, and work and labor. In 2004, Dreier founded Oxy’s 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 these topics to a wide variety of professional, scholarly, and civic organizations.
His research and writing focus primarily on American politics, social movements and organizing, and urban politics and policy. He has also devoted research to his twin passions of politics and baseball. The result is two books (coauthored with Robert Elias) published in April 2022 : Baseball Rebels: The Players, People and Social Movements That Shook Up the Game and Changed America (University of Nebraska Press) and Major League Rebels: Baseball Battles Over Workers’ Rights and American Empire (Roman & Littlefield). His other books include:
- The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012) which 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.
- We Own the Future: Democratic Socialism – American Style (The New Press, 2020), co-edited with Kate Aronoff and Michael Kazin. This is a collection of original essays examining what the U.S. would look like if it adopted democratic socialist policies regarding work, criminal justice, banking, corporate regulation, health care, sports, housing, the family, immigration, and other aspects of society.
- 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 (coauthored with Oxy colleagues Regina Freer, Bob Gottlieb, and Mark Vallianatos) was published by University of California Press in 2005. It explores the past, present, and future of LA, with a focus on progressive movements for social justice and an agenda for change.
- 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 in 2000, examines the government policies that promoted sprawl in Southern California.
Dreier writes frequently for the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and American Prospect. His articles have also been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, the Huffington Post, the New Republic, Dissent, Washington Monthly, The Progressive, The Forward, Commonweal, Talking Points Memo, The Conversation, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and elsewhere. His scholarly articles have appeared in many edited books as well as in the Harvard Business Review, Urban Affairs Review, the Journal of Urban Affairs, Social Policy, Journal of the American Planning Association, North Carolina Law Review, John Marshall Law Review, Housing Policy Debate, Non-Profit Quarterly, National Civic Review, Planning, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Real Estate Finance Journal, Cityscape, Columbia Journalism Review, Social Problems, Housing Studies, Humanity & Society, and other professional journals.
Dreier has written several reports that have generated significant media attention.
- In 2018 he coauthored (with Dan Flaming), “Working for the Mouse,” a report on the working and living conditions of employees at Disneyland. The report was the basis of articles in the New York Times and many other media outlets and helped trigger a successful living wage movement in Anaheim that pressured the Disney Company to improve wages and working conditions at the resort.
- In 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 2009, with coauthor Christopher Martin, Dreier wrote a report about media coverage of the controversy over ACORN, the community organizing group. Columnists for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about the story and Dreier appeared on “The Rachel Maddow Show” to discuss the report’s findings. The study, “How ACORN Was Framed,” was published in the Fall 2010 issue of Perspectives on Politics, a journal sponsored by the American Political Science Association,
- In 2004, 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. It was one of the first studies of how growing income inequality was shaping America’s metropolitan areas.
- In 1999, along with economists Richard Green and Andrew Reschovsky of the University of Wisconsin, he co-directed a $655,000 grant from the Ford Foundation and coordinated a team of 12 researchers to examine the impact of federal tax policy on homeownership and the housing industry. The report helped expose the imbalance between federal tax breaks for homeowners (particularly wealthy homeowners) and federal subsidies for low-income renters.
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. He has been interviewed 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.
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.
Dreier is actively engaged in civic and political efforts at both the national and local levels. He has served on the boards of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, the Pasadena Educational Foundation, the Southern California Association for Non-Profit Housing, Pasadenans Organizing for Progress, the Labor 411 Foundation, the National Housing Institute, Boston Neighborhood Housing Services, Urban Edge CDC, and Health Care for the Homeless.
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 (SCANPH) 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 three Los Angeles city forces — on economic development, on affordable housing, and the LA Revenue Commission. 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 is one of the founders of the United to House LA campaign that was launched in December 2021 – a broad labor-community-faith coalition to design and pass an LA ballot measure in November 2020 to increase the real estate transfer tax on commercial buildings and apartment buildings in LA that sell for more than $5 million. It would raise about $800 million a year that will be used to build affordable housing and provide tenants with rent relief if they are at risk of eviction.
He served on the Pasadena Charter Reform Commission and 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 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.
Dreier 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
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), the City of Justice Award from the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (2016), and the Pasadena Progressive of the Year Award (2018) for his role in the successful minimum wage campaign. 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 the early 1980s, he was a founder of the Massachusetts Tenants Organization. In 1989 he was named “Hero of the Week” by the Boston Phoenix for his efforts to fight redlining (bank discrimination) in Boston’s neighborhoods.
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. They have twin daughters, Amelia and Sarah.