Around this time last semester, ponies were on campus. Small, fuzzy, nonplussed creatures being paraded down Trousdale Parkway in what became an adorable, non sequitur blitzkrieg of advertising by University Gateway apartments.
Marketers offered free bikes and gift certificates as incentives for early lessors, forgetting in the end students care more about affordable housing than gimmicks.
But moving day has passed. The ponies are gone, replaced instead by a herd of naysayers.
Many students now living in Gateway have voiced complaints that the housing monolith has not lived up to its overly enthusiastic promotion — that rooms appear unfinished, lighting and storage space are scant and promised amenities are absent. In fact, Urban Partners, LLC, the corporation that manages the complex, recently lowered the rent on some apartments to $899, almost $200 lower than the original pricetag, a move that disgruntled some students who thought they had gotten in on the ground floor.
USC simply doesn’t have enough beds, and letting companies like Urban Partners bring housing close to USC is a necessary step to keeping students on campus. But if USC doesn’t closely monitor its outsourced housing, it could find itself in another Conquest Student Housing situation. (In 2009, after numerous student complaints that Conquest — whose properties included Tuscany and Chez Ronnee — had provided subpar services to the student body for several years, USC bought the property with Westar Housing and transferred control to the company.)
If the university won’t provide the beds, it has a duty keep an eye on the operation.
Gateway promised to be an exciting part of USC’s Master Plan. The complex on Figueroa Street and Jefferson Boulevard was touted as the next wave of “luxury” apartments sweeping North University Park — the costly alternative to a long trek home each night. The apartment is providing 1,650 beds to the many students shunted off campus by poor housing lottery numbers, though the original $1,064 price tag for a 12-month lease proved too cost-prohibitive for many.
Much of Gateway’s bluster involved its many advertised amenities. The complex’s buoyant website invites students to “live!, work, play, dine, dance, shop and sweat” — all without venturing outside its red-brick walls. Besides music practice centers, a bevy of restaurants, a Wii game room and what the site describes as an “over-the-top fitness center,” students turned to Gateway for space and proximity.
Instead, according to some residents, they got small, unfinished rooms without ample storage space or lighting, off-site parking and, for some, unresponsive management.
Gateway’s advertising campaign revealed a telling push for aesthetics over function. But students don’t care about ponies or pageantry. They want reasonable housing that lives up to its hefty price tag.
USC officials have said the ultimate goal is to provide guaranteed on-campus housing to students for all four years, but this objective is far from becoming a reality — instead, our alumni dollars will probably be paying for it. For now, the university has the responsibility to heavily police the many units sprouting up around campus, as vigilantly as if they had the Trojan logo on them.
Students shouldn’t have to sacrifice decent housing for proximity, and no amount of advertising can obscure subpar units. Although Gateway may simply be going through a few growing pains, USC should be right there to protect the interests of the student body.
Lucy Mueller is a senior majoring in cinema-television production and managing editor of the Daily Trojan.