On Wednesday, the Daily Trojan released our Spring Supplement, “A Home Away From Home,” which outlines ongoing struggles with access to affordable, convenient and safe options for students and community members.
In our conversations with USC students, a number of them described their search for off-campus housing as a confusing process to navigate, and one that left the many students who are first-time renters vulnerable to exploitation from predatory leasing companies. USC students only have guaranteed access to accommodations through USC Housing for their freshman and sophomore years. After that, with USC housing options often filled by underclassmen, many juniors and seniors who have never rented before or are unfamiliar with housing in the area are left to search for a place to call home in the surrounding area with little support or resources from the University.
Students have reported issues with various management companies in the USC area for years. Most notably, in 2016, leasing company Stuho missed multiple completion deadlines of the Element apartment complex, leaving hundreds of students who had paid for and signed leases scrambling for accommodations during the school year. Our reporting found multiple landlords in the area who were engaged in questionable and unethical practices, such as evicting community members in an attempt to make room for USC students.
A mix of limited affordable housing options and a lack of awareness about these options has led to USC’s substantial population of transfer students struggling to find housing by themselves with limited time, as well as many students opting to commute, and experiencing isolation from the USC community as a result.
The University must accept responsibility for its students’ struggles to find reliable housing that fits their needs from ethical landlords in the USC area. As a starting point, the University must play an active role in helping situate students who do not acquire USC housing.
This can be accomplished through creating an updated, thorough registry that not only publicizes affordable housing in the area, but also gives students access to references about others’ experiences with landlords. In creating this registry, the University should ensure landlords and buildings known to partake in unethical or predatory practices are excluded from the registry.
Although USC offers an alternative housing resource webpage, it contains only links and information for weekly legal counseling aide on housing, and state-sponsored documents about tenants’ legal rights and protections. As a resource, this webpage is simply inadequate for the many students who have never signed a lease before or do not live near the South Los Angeles area — especially when they are about to sign year-long leases to management companies in USC’s backyard.
USC is a powerhouse in the South L.A. community; it is one of Los Angeles’ biggest employers and a top-tier institution of higher learning. With that status, it has greater obligations and responsibilities within the community to ensure the safety and shelter of those in the “Trojan Family.” The University also has to disavow exploitative housing managers and landlords, who utilize students’ lack of knowledge to their advantage and disregard the rights of the South L.A.’s many low-income residents.
The establishment of USC Village last fall was marketed as the ultimate solution to accessible housing for USC students. n addition to leaving many USC students still struggling, the Village also came at the cost of community members losing housing and storefronts. Intentionally or not, the University has already played a role in pushing vulnerable demographics from their homes and communities; now, it has an even greater obligation to take a stand against exploitative landlords and housing managers in the community, and guide students away from giving patronage to these entities.
USC must create a registry that refers students seeking outside-housing only to trusted and ethical sources, publicizes affordable housing options and ensures that students are aware of other students’ experiences with certain management companies. And in addition to this, the University must provide more accessible counseling services to protect students from being taken advantage of. One approach could be to set up a physical office space where students can make appointments or walk in to discuss their specific needs with a counselor, or come to ask questions and seek legal advice if they feel a landlord has made a suspicious request.
USC policy guarantees housing for only first and second-year students. But shelter and living conditions are an integral aspect of students’ educational experiences, affecting their ability to focus on academics, practice self-care and participate in the surrounding community. The University has an obligation to ensure students are aware of affordable options and additionally steer them away from predatory or unreliable sources of housing. Otherwise, it must accept responsibility for enabling unethical practices in the community and the subsequent exploitation of students.
Daily Trojan spring 2018 Editorial Board