USC should educate its students on off-campus housing

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh/Daily Trojan

Not a lot of things in life are guaranteed, and for USC juniors and seniors, that list includes on-campus housing. 

USC only guarantees housing for underclassmen, leaving older students to fend for their own leases and rents without the experience or education they need to make informed decisions. USC should provide better housing education and resources for students living off campus — many of these students are leasing for the first time and can be taken advantage of by local landlords and housing companies.

Housing insecurity is a major problem for college students, and it can be hard for them to perform well academically when they are desperately searching for an affordable place to live, struggling to pay rent or have suboptimal living conditions due to landlord or property owner negligence. 

A 2015 report by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development found that colleges systematically underestimate students’ off-campus living costs. For example, the USC 2019-20 Cost of Attendance summary puts room and board at $15,916, which is just a bit higher than the average academic year cost of a one-bedroom apartment on-campus at USC Village and a residential meal plan. As a result of the expensive on-campus housing options, local landlords have also increased rents to be competitive with University-offered housing.

According to Rent Café, a nationwide rent listing service, the monthly average rent for an apartment in University Park is $3,809, over $1,000 more than the average apartment rent in Los Angeles, which is $2,508. Local landlords take advantage of the limited student housing and students’ resulting desperation to find a place by increasing rents.

Asking USC to lower on-campus rent prices is a fight unto its own, but at the very least, the University has an obligation to keep track of the housing offered around campus, ensuring that enough of it is available and affordable to students. 

USC can do this by better educating its students about the process of finding housing and keeping local landlords accountable, whether by tracking their rent prices in an online database or compiling and addressing student complaints about certain landlords and housing companies.

Local landlords also often fail to uphold their housing contracts because students lack other housing options and don’t have the resources to hold their landlords accountable. In an investigation conducted by the Daily Trojan last spring, several students reported that Mosaic Student Communities, one of the largest student housing companies around campus, delayed responding to complaints. One student reported a termite infestation that was left unaddressed for a month. The Delta Kappa Alpha house, which is owned by Mosaic, never had a broken front door lock replaced — a safety concern that persisted for two years.

Students have also opened lawsuits against Mosaic for misusing their security deposits for maintenance repairs, which should have been regularly conducted and shouldered by Mosaic.

One way USC could assist students looking for off-campus housing is by creating a directory list of reputable housing companies and landlords in the area. Students should be able to leave reviews and comments about their experiences, so that future renters have an idea of what to expect. Several universities like the University of Maryland, Boston University and the University of Miami offer databases like this so that their students have an idea of the housing available in the area and know that these companies and landlords are recognized by the University community.

USC could also provide education for first-time renters — whether online on the USC Housing website or in an email to students when they end their on-campus housing contracts. There are many resources online for those who look, but none that are specific to students who live in the University Park area.

While USC may not have the space to provide all of its students guaranteed on-campus housing, it does have an obligation to its students who are left to find housing on their own. USC should provide them the education and resources they need to find an affordable, stable and well-kept place to live.