Demolition of freshman dorms pushes more upperclassmen off campus

The number of available dorm spaces has declined in the past few years.

USC wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan that housing is guaranteed “for freshmen and for sophomores who lived in university housing either in the fall or spring terms of their freshman year.” (Brittany Shaw / Daily Trojan)

USC may experience an increase in transfer students and upperclassmen living off campus in the next few years after the University demolished multiple housing structures amid continually growing class sizes, cutting opportunities for non-guaranteed students to secure housing.

Since last year, USC leveled buildings containing a combined 600 beds. In June 2022, USC tore down Fluor Tower, a suite-style housing facility that was part of West Residential College and contained the El Sol y La Luna Latino Floor and Somerville Place. In Spring 2023, the school began demolition of Marks and Trojan Hall.

The University gave no specific reason for the demolition of the structures, but Fluor Tower had flooded and evacuated residents in October 2019 prior to closing. All three buildings remained unoccupied since the coronavirus pandemic shutdown sent students home in Spring 2020.

Between 2019 and 2022, USC freshman enrollment continued to rise. Compared with the 3,168 freshmen at USC in 2019 when the three facilities were in use, the freshman class that entered 2022 totaled 3,420 students.

USC has been able to keep the amount of freshman housing consistent through this period by allocating other housing facilities as freshman housing. Despite adding Parkside Apartments and Webb Tower as options for freshman housing, USC decreased the number of freshman beds from 3,411 in 2019 to 3,361 this year.

Aiden Oho, a freshman majoring in economics, pointed to the ongoing housing reassignment process as evidence that there’s sufficient housing for freshmen. The reassignment process from Sept. 12 to Nov. 5 allows students in USC housing to transfer to an open spot in another housing space. The process relies on a number of empty spaces in freshman and upperclassmen housing to run smoothly.

“Even now, people are switching through housing, switching from one housing to the other,” Oho said.

To have enough freshman housing, USC cut the number of available beds on campus — excluding Gateway, which Housing leases from PeakMade Real Estate, a private company — for upperclassmen by 606 and the number of beds for graduate students by 308.

In an emailed statement to the Daily Trojan, Director of Housing Chris Ponsiglione wrote that spaces are guaranteed for freshmen and sophomores who lived in University housing in either the fall or spring of their freshman year.

“There are no changes to our plans to provide housing for these students,” Ponsiglione said.

Left out of this guarantee are students who transferred into USC their sophomore year and must wait for those guaranteed housing to be assigned first. Many of these students are left to find housing off campus and commute daily, said Shiza Khan, a sophomore majoring in political science. Khan saw a friend of hers, a transfer student, go through the process of finding housing after being told they wouldn’t be able to dorm on campus.

“Commuting is a lot cheaper, but it is hard getting to campus and leaving campus every day,” Khan said.

If incoming classes continue to grow, USC might find itself allocating a larger and larger share of its housing portfolio to freshmen, leaving transfer students more likely to be crowded out.

Many students already live off campus, either by choice or because they weren’t able to secure on-campus housing. According to Housing, 65% of upperclassmen lived outside of University housing during the 2021-22 school year.

“Off-campus housing tends to be cheaper or better and normally larger than on-campus housing, so upper grades, when they’re more familiar with the school, they tend to move outside,” said Steven Yuan, a senior majoring in applied and computational mathematics and computer science and business administration who moved off campus after dorming at Cardinal Gardens his sophomore year.

When many students live off campus because of limited on-campus housing, other universities have faced issues with affordability. 

UC Berkeley underwent a yearslong legal battle over its plans to build new student housing and boost its 22% on-campus housing rate — the lowest in the UC system. The school turned down more than 5,000 students who expressed interest in on-campus housing in the Fall 2021. An internal study in 2017 found that 10% of the total student body reported having experienced homelessness since arriving at the university. The same study found that 6% of undergraduates reported that they almost didn’t attend because of the housing situation.

In the area around USC, an increase in students living off campus may contribute to the gentrification of South Central and surrounding neighborhoods. The construction of USC Village in 2017, for one, pushed out community-serving businesses while creating 2,500 beds for undergraduates.

To meet its housing guarantee to freshmen and sophomores, Ponsiglione said the University plans to “supplement University housing through added lease space as needed.” That means that if space runs out on campus, USC may enter the private housing market around campus and potentially drive up rental prices higher.

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