High-end housing in USC area booms as affordable rent grows scarce

Brand new “luxury” student-exclusive housing complexes are rising in University Park.

USC’s history of gentrification around the University Park campus shows that when local residents can’t afford to live in the area anymore, they leave. (Brittany Shaw / Daily Trojan)

This article is the first in the “A Place To Live” series, which will examine housing issues impacting students and local residents of University Park and Exposition Park. 

As new student housing and hotel developments continue to break ground in University Park, a trend of rising housing costs in the area threatens increased displacement. 

Student housing around USC has boomed over the past decade, and the construction of multiple new complexes geared toward student living — typically multi-bedroom apartments with shared bedrooms — is planned for the area in the near future.

A Landmark Properties mixed-use development project will open on South Figueroa Street across from the Banc of California Stadium in Fall 2026. The  4.4-acre site, which Landmark President and CEO Wes Rogers called “luxury off-campus living,” will house more than 1,500 total beds, including 87 multifamily units designated for low-income individuals, and more than 20,000 square feet of commercial space. The complex’s construction would demolish eight rent-stabilized buildings, including 32 units in historic buildings.

Another high-end new student housing development, Jasper LA, moved in its first residents in June. The complex — which offers a slew of amenities, including an onsite dog spa and an outdoor pizza oven — prices studio apartments starting at $2,050 per month, one-bedrooms at $2,450 and two-bedrooms at $3,450. 

Other off-campus complexes built in the last decade or so include Icon Plaza, the Hub, Element, Jefferson Flats and Victory on 30th. 

The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in University Park — zip code 90007 — is $2,592, according to real estate site Zillow. That’s just slightly above the citywide median of $2,525. 

The median income of University Park households stands at $47,209, per the 2021 United States Census Bureau release. That’s about $3,900 of monthly income, meaning rent prices consume a considerable portion of the average resident’s earnings. USC’s history of gentrification around the University Park Campus has shown that when local residents can’t afford to live in the area anymore, they leave.

Ellis Act evictions prevalent in University Park

Non-student residents aren’t just driven out by rents they can’t afford — many are uprooted when landlords decide to repurpose their buildings into student housing. Residents of University Park’s rent-stabilized units — of which there are currently 5,191, according to a spokesperson for the L.A. Housing Department — are often evicted because their homes are demolished or altered to accommodate students, said Glafira Lopez, a community organizer at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy. 

The Ellis Act, a California state law allowing landlords to evict tenants in rent-controlled units if the building or complex is going “out of business,” is commonly used as a loophole by landlords hoping to do away with their tenants paying lower, stabilized rent in favor of higher-paying student tenants, Lopez said. 

“That’s what we’ve seen: the loss of a lot of affordable housing that’s specifically going to communities that have been there for a long time — for 15, 20 years,” Lopez said.  

According to the Staff Recommendation to City Planning Commission the L.A. Department of City Planning published in late 2022, there were an average of 35 Ellis Act evictions per 10,000 housing units around USC between 2018 and 2020. Citywide, that average stood at nine evictions per 10,000 units. 

Students the ‘preferred tenant’ for private landlords as USC-built housing runs scarce

Complexes built for student housing make their target renters known: Banners and signage indicating complexes are meant for USC students exclude non-students and local residents from available housing around UPC, Lopez said. Landlords, she said, cater to students, who are often willing to pay more for smaller spaces. 

“[Landlords] are not going to get the highest amount of rent as possible with families that have been there for a long time, especially if the family has been paying a rent-controlled amount,” Lopez said, making students the “preferred tenant.”

University Park has turned into a goldmine for developers because of the shortage of housing institutionally provided by USC, a spokesperson for L.A. City Planning wrote in an emailed statement to the Daily Trojan. Enrollment at the University grew more than 33% in the last decade, from 37,000 students to 49,500 in 2022, they wrote, but student accommodations haven’t kept up. This has resulted in the continued development of non-USC-built student housing within a growing radius of campus. 

Lopez estimated the University would need to create 5,000 additional beds to accommodate the current number of enrolled students. With the recent demolition of several student dormitories, including Marks Hall, Trojan Hall and Fluor Tower, the need for more on-campus housing is mounting. Building new dorms, though, might mean taking up more space off-campus; the construction of USC Village in 2017 raised concerns about displacement and gentrification in USC-adjacent areas. 

Development and market trends difficult to curb, city officials find

Legislation has, in the past, been enacted with the specific goal of protecting rent-stabilized housing around USC and ensuring affordable housing remains available. The establishment of the North University Park-Exposition Park-West Adams Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay District in 2008 set out to “address a concentration of campus-serving housing in the vicinity.” The ordinance that implemented the district required property owners to seek a conditional use permit before reconfiguring single-family homes to student-oriented, multi-bedroom homes. 

In 2020, Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents the Eighth Council District, argued the ordinance had been unsuccessful in protecting affordable housing, citing a continued “overconcentration of student housing near the University Park/Expo Park community.” 

L.A. City Planning noticed developers began going around the NSO’s guidelines, configuring units with extremely large bedrooms or very limited shared living spaces to maximize the number of bedrooms. If these units have less than five habitable rooms, they aren’t subject to the conditional use requirement. 

The NSO ordinance in itself has not been effective at keeping up with development and market trends that relate to the concentration of campus-serving housing,” the spokesperson wrote. 

At the time, Harris-Dawson called for the publication of a report with recommendations to address the lack of rent-stabilized units in the district. He also called to expand the overlay district farther west to Western Avenue. The district retains the same parameters it had in 2008. 

Instead, L.A. City Planning’s report back to Harris-Dawson resulted in the amendment of the South Los Angeles Community Plan Implementation Overlay introduced in 2010 to help better address design and affordability issues. One change to the CPIO involved requiring any project replacing a CPIO Protected Unit — typically a rent-controlled or otherwise affordable unit — to have the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms as the project before it, and that it be as affordable as the project it replaces. The L.A. City Council adopted the amendment earlier this year. 

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