OPINION: Students should stand with evictees of Expo apartment buildings

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

Last October, approximately 80 residents living in seven apartment complexes on Exposition Boulevard received eviction notices, requiring them to leave their homes within 90 days. Two real estate investors, Chung Suk Kim and Hae Jung Kim, purchased the buildings for $8.5 million and immediately began planning to renovations exclusively for USC students. After protesting the evictions for 10 months, the tenants now face an uncertain future and possible eviction.

While unjust and undeserved, the terms of these evictions are not illegal because the apartments were not protected by the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance. The evicted tenants, who are mostly working class families from disadvantaged backgrounds, were not given enough time or payment to find new places to live, according to the Los Angeles Tenants Union.

This is not a new phenomenon by any means. USC’s presence is notorious for bringing in new development,  and consequently gentrifying the surrounding neighborhood, displacing people — particularly, people of color — to make way for students who can pay higher rates for housing. Real estate investors see a major opportunity here, as they can secure a hefty dime from USC students if they buy and remodel buildings in the area, pushing out poor and working class people in the process.

After the completion  of USC Village, the University promised to donate millions of dollars to the Los Angeles Housing Department. This donation would ostensibly go toward ensuring affordable housing in the local community. However, the impending evictions on Exposition Boulevard indicate that we have yet to see any kind of positive changes.

Landlords know they can charge USC students higher rates than local residents. But these people deserve stable, affordable housing, and we should not simply allow investors to kick out our neighbors for students’ sakes. While USC claims it is taking steps to aid the housing crisis around campus, it needs a more direct plan; otherwise, this displacement will continue.

Los Angeles is seeing one of its largest rent strikes in modern history occurring in the Westlake area, where a group of landlords imposed rent hikes despite horrid conditions like faulty sewage pipes and pest infestations. About 200 families living on South Burlington Avenue currently refuse to pay their rent in response to these unaffordable rent increases.

The reality is that Los Angeles faces a dire housing crisis. USC is an expanding institution; it leaves a huge mark on its community and is in no way exempt from culpability in the urgent issues of displacement and homelessness.

As USC students, we are the demographic  developers, and landlords would rather have us as conduits for gentrification rather than the working class people who already live here. By using us, they are effectively pitting our interests against those of our neighbors’. The eviction letter from the Exposition real estate investors even stated that the vacant apartments would be marketed toward USC students. Students should feel ashamed to be associated as a reason for these evictions.

USC students care about our community in different ways. While we already reach out to our local institutions, we must also make housing stability a priority for our neighbors if we truly want our community to thrive.

While the evictees’ futures on Exposition remain unclear, the USC community must rethink how it impacts the housing crisis in this neighborhood. The tenants have had little political success fighting the Kims — in fact they have yet to secure a meeting with their councilmember. But USC has significant political bargaining power and could use it to fight for rather than against the victims of displacement.

If USC students pay tuition to this school, we should have a say in how it operates. If we don’t want to see our neighbors displaced, we must put pressure on the school’s administration to protect them. Our University has the ability to improve and enrich the lives of its neighbors.

Displacing our neighbors is not a solution to crime and poverty. It breeds only homelessness and desperation among already vulnerable households, many of whom have lived in the area much longer than the average University student. If anything, allowing landlords to buy up surrounding buildings and evicting their tenants will instill a sense of resentment for USC.

As a community that strives for justice, USC must focus on investing in the economic security of local residents who established their lives in the area long before many of us even knew we would be spending four years here. All L.A. residents deserve adequate housing, not just the ones who pay tuition to USC.

We have a choice to either fall victim to our stereotype as thoughtless rich kids disrupting a vulnerable community or to otherwise stand with those people unjustly evicted from their homes. By choosing the latter, not only will we present an obstacle to future displacement but we will also kickstart positive changes in the community by acknowledging and valuing its people’s rights to live here.