This week, USC students currently living at the Da Vinci Apartments should have moved into the Element housing complex. The townhomes, a short walk from campus and the original space for which hundreds of students paid and signed a lease, still remain unoccupied and under construction.
On Oct. 21, Element leaseholders received an email notifying them that the management company, StuHo Student Housing, and the developer had shirked on yet another deadline — the third one this semester.
Students were displaced to Da Vinci, a Downtown complex located 4.7 miles and a 15-minute drive from campus, and forced to adopt a commuter status from the “comparable alternative housing” provided by StuHo. Now, as the fall semester nears the end, it is undeniable that for these students, proximity to school is a luxury.
Among all this chaos and clamor between students and StuHo, local news and social media outcry, a third observer stood silent — our University. Instead of sitting idle to a housing situation that causes alienation, unnecessary stress and additional economic burden to students, the University must take action and facilitate a more streamlined off-campus housing process separate from Undergraduate Student Housing.
The University has a vested interest in the protection and well-being of its students. We doubt any administrator would think to contradict this statement. It is baffling, then, to imagine that the University didn’t take action — even in a peripheral way — when a company betrayed, manipulated and lied to hundreds of its students.
This company orchestrated a convincing and creative song and dance using the University’s brand name and its trademarked logos. It targeted our students and geared its marketing to appeal accordingly. They elected to construct a new building close to campus, and thus sold apartments and signed leases before the building was ever constructed.
Element residents were offered 20 percent back on their rent (which paid for a living space that did not exist) and a shuttle to campus, which, like all of StuHo’s promises and projects, quickly deteriorated. With pick-up and drop-off times that ended abruptly at 10:30 p.m., the service left those in student organizations, on-campus jobs and intramural sports to find their own way home. Students quickly found that 20 percent refund to be supplanted by Uber and Lyft charges. The company begrudgingly allowed students to potentially break their contracts — with a mere seven days to find a new place to live.
It’s also impossible to ignore the hundreds of students who signed leases with StuHo and returned from the summer to find that their supposedly new, furnished and certainly expensive housing was nothing more than a threadbare skeleton, without so much as electricity or running water. This is obviously a problem that supersedes the capabilities of students and requires the attention of the University, whose influence around the University Park Campus area is undeniable.
The race to secure housing every year is taxing and often requires much forethought. Even with extensive planning, housing plans fall through — and that’s due in large part to the convoluted system currently in place.
A brief survey of the StuHo website advertising to the USC population will reveal just how arcane their listings are. Prices are obscured and testimonials from former tenants are absent — all standard components that promote trust in a potential landlord. It is clear, however, that with incessant complaints from students over the years, the company has yet to change their ways. Thus, to remedy the situation, the University must intervene and design a system that installs transparency.
First, the University should endorse management companies and housing listings that meet the needs of the students. This would include legal conduct, fair pricing and guaranteed function of all assured amenities.
Additionally, there should be a University-operated portal in which management companies and housing listings that have met USC’s assessment are posted. Students should have an easier time parsing through information vital to their well-being. A portal could enable a mentality in which management companies would have to elevate their standards to meet the University’s, and therefore the students’ seal of approval instead of shrouding unappealing parts of their operation in mystery.
Currently, however, residents of Element are caught between two unideal housing options because the building they were promised is still unfinished. So, with both StuHo as well as the University, we have unfinished business.