OPINION: USC must address lack of campus student housing

From lawsuits filed against former campus doctors for sexual abuse to the college admissions scandal, USC has been ladened with countless issues. Just a little over a week ago, multiple activist groups, headed by the coalition USC Forward, have banded together to address some of these issues. The groups are calling for USC to take responsibility for its actions and provide assistance in a wide set of problems including admissions for low-income LAUSD students and support for displaced residents in the area surrounding the University’s campuses.

While the group targets numerous key issues, one in particular stands out: housing. In an effort to rebuild the relationships USC has with the surrounding community, the University should deal with its own housing issues and prevent the problem at its source.

First, the protestors are calling upon administration to provide affordable housing for existing and displaced residents impacted by the expansion of its University Park and Health Sciences campuses, including the USC Village expansion project, new graduate school buildings and the surge in prices for student accommodations. The rising cost of living negatively impacts residents of South Los Angeles, stirring tensions between the University and the community.

While USC does need to spend some time remediating the effects and providing aid to community members, it must first address its overwhelming problem of both affordable and adequate housing for students on campus. Currently, the University can only support a small percentage of its student population, with only 30% living in USC-owned or operated property, according to the 2019 U.S. News USC profile. Compared to other Los Angeles universities, these statistics are disappointing: 48% of students live in campus housing at UCLA and 53% at Loyola Marymount University, according to their respective U.S. News profiles. Additionally, USC Housing is only guaranteed for freshmen and sophomores who applied as freshmen, with upperclassmen having to enter a lottery system to be guaranteed campus housing.

To combat the lack of campus housing for students and the consequent inflation of neighborhood housing costs, USC needs to increase the amount of housing it offers to students. USC should look to acquire private enterprises that already house students in the area. The University can surely afford this, having raised over $6.9 billion for University functions ranging from scholarships to development projects, according to the University’s 2018 financial report. USC Village construction is complete, but if the University continues to fundraise, it may lead them toward acquiring more student housing.

Located just half a block away from USC Village, University Gateway is an example of a prime location to take over. With 421 units, the building can roughly house more than 1,600 students. By purchasing this eight-story complex, which was acquired for more than $200 million by a Wisconsin public employees pension fund in 2012, USC would gain a substantial amount of housing that is close to campus and also appeals to students.

Converting complexes farther away from USC and providing transportation from those areas to USC is another viable option. This solution would allow the University to create more affordable housing. Chapman University has already done this by purchasing an apartment building and a hotel complex, each about 10 minutes away from its main campus. By purchasing more student housing, USC would incentivize students to live at University-owned structures. Students will no longer turn to privately owned off-campus housing options and rent costs will lower as student demand lessens. Local residents cannot afford the rent prices students are charged, but if the University provides more housing options for students under its own regulation, South L.A.’s housing costs could stabilize.

In essence, the effort USC can undertake to increase and improve campus housing will have a domino effect on both its students and the greater L.A. community. The University should prevent the displacement of local residents, and actually be a good neighbor for once.