USC Representative responds to South LA housing alliance proposals for 20-year Master Plan

South LA’s affordable housing alliance UNIDAD (United Neighbors in Defense against Displacement) has been lobbying for more specifics in USC’s Specific Plan and Development Agreement, particularly about community benefits. The Plan is the agreement between the City of Los Angeles and the University which spells out how USC’s Master Plan will be implemented. The terms of the Plan will stay in force until 2030, and thus the details are of intense interest to the University and its surrounding community.

UNIDAD has five main issues: provide enough housing for students at reasonable prices; provide significant money to support affordable housing for non-students; ensure that the construction and businesses that come into the development hire a good proportion of locals; ensure that a good proportion of those jobs are permanent and above minimum-wage; provide training for those jobs; and support and enhance local businesses, rather than relying primarily on national chains.

David Galaviz, Executive Director of Local Government Relations for USC, said the university is diligently addressing these issues. The university had met with UNIDAD early in the planning process, he said, citing ten meetings altogether, but a mutually acceptable agreement could not be reached at the time.

Student Housing

USC has proposed building 5,400 new beds as part of its redevelopment of University Village, a fairly rundown shopping area just north of campus on Jefferson Boulevard. There are already approximately 7,000 university-owned beds in various locations on campus and off. About 1,000 of those will be lost in the redevelopment, leaving 4,400 actual additional beds. The Recommendation Report released by the City’s Planning Commission says that this will free up 900 housing units in the community. UNIDAD is concerned that’s not going to be enough to significantly reduce the housing pressures in the community, especially because students are often willing to pay higher rents than many in the community can afford.

Galaviz confirmed that number is not enough to house every student who needs it. But, he said, “there’s going to be two million square feet added for housing alone. That’s a lot. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s a lot. And that’s going to be five to six stories of housing…So it’s not enough housing. But do we go sixteen or seventeen stories high? We’ve heard from the community that they don’t want that.”

Galaviz pointed out that the University doesn’t have many options as to where it can build housing. It can’t go west of Vermont Avenue, an area which already has seen a high proportion of family housing convert to student housing. It can’t build to the south, because that’s Exposition Park, which is filled with museums and the Coliseum. It can’t do much to the east, because the City has a lot of industrial space there, although the university does own some land in the area.

Affordable housing

USC originally proposed setting aside two million dollars for affordable housing in the area, particularly in University Park on the campus’s north side. The City Planning Commission required USC to increase that to eight million before the Plan could be approved. That’s not as much as UNIDAD would like, but it’s a welcome improvement, said David Robinson, Political Director for Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), a key organizer of UNIDAD.

Galaviz defended the amount, saying it would be used for many necessary community benefits, including a revolving loan fund for rehabilitation and conversion of existing privately-owned student housing back to family homes. SAJE’s Robinson counters that the amounts discussed so far would only help a relative handful of homeowners. Other possible housing mitigation could include purchasing homes, creating privately-held low-income housing projects, and creating grants for low-income housing. But these details are still to be worked out, according to Galaviz.

Jobs and training for locals

“One of the things we’re most proud of,” said Galaviz, “is that this is the largest development project in the history of South LA. We’re not using public dollars – this is financed completely by the University.” The project will include approximately 12,000 jobs, including “8,000 full-time equivalent construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs,” according to the Planning Commission’s Recommendation Report. Galaviz said the construction contractors will conduct outreach for local hiring and also provide training through trade apprenticeship programs. Additionally, the development will also use the city’s First Source hiring program, which requires contractors to train and hire the traditionally unemployed or under-employed for living-wage jobs. But these details are also still to be worked out.

Local small business report

The businesses to be brought in include a 25,000 square-foot grocery store. There will be an additional 325,000 square feet of commercial space for retail/shopping, restaurants, and a movie-theater complex. UNIDAD wants the largest proportion of business space to go to local businesses that will be affordable for the neighborhood. Said Galaviz, “The key price point has to meet the needs of students, faculty, and staff, and community members. We need the community to shop here to make this successful. So we have to meet their price points.”

He pointed out that the university already has multiple programs to assist neighborhood businesses, including its Supplier Diversity Services’ Local Vendor Program, the Gould School of Law’s Small Business Clinic, the Marshall School of Business’s Marshall Consulting Program, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Minority Business Enterprise Center, and the School of Policy, Planning, and Development’s Community Development and Design Forum.

Galaviz emphasized that the University still has many “regulatory hoops to jump through” before the Plan is finalized. USC wants to begin teardown of the current University Village in the early summer of next year, so those hoops have to be jumped through before then.

Community groups say USC’s Master Plan lacks guarantees for the neighborhood

Please make sure to read USC’s response to the issues raised by UNIDAD by clicking here.

Standing in the shade of a small pocket park sandwiched between modest apartments and the 110 Freeway,

imageJuana Osorio is worried about getting pushed out of the neighborhood by the USC Master Plan.

Juana Osorio spoke emphatically through an interpreter: “Me and my husband are on a very fixed income – we’re both already retired, so we depend on the support that my daughter and her husband living with us give us to share the rent.” Osorio is paying $1500 a month for a small house in the Estrella section of University Park, just north of USC.

The Osorios have lived in the neighborhood for almost forty years. They moved here after their previous, cheaper rental house a few streets over was sold. The new owners raised rents and the Osorios had to move.

Juana Osorio was one of the speakers on a recent journalists’ tour sponsored by United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement (UNIDAD), a campaign launched by the Figueroa Corridor Coalition for Economic Justice, an alliance between affordable housing and activist groups. The alliance hopes to focus public attention on USC’s Master Expansion Plan, a 20-year agreement between USC and the City of Los Angeles, and its effects on the surrounding neighborhoods.

Many students, not enough housing

USC, which bills itself as the largest private employer in Los Angeles, has a total enrollment of 38,010 students. According to a 2012 study commissioned by Strategic Action for a Just Economy (SAJE) – a key member of UNIDAD – and authored by a Master’s degree candidate in USC’s School of Urban Planning, fully 71 percent of those students will not live in university-owned housing, even with additional units being built under the Master Plan.

USC currently offers 7,198 units of on-campus housing. The Master Plan, available online, says it will provide 7,600 new beds. However, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) required by the city says that 5,200 beds will be built, but 1,200 existing beds will be lost.

The remaining students will have to live somewhere and many will fan out into the surrounding neighborhoods. These neighborhoods, which were fancy suburbs for early-20th century Angelenos, are now home to primarily low-income, working class Latinos and African Americans. The median income for the area is $18,533, making it one of the lowest-income areas in both the City and the County of Los Angeles, according to the L.A. Times’ “Mapping L.A.” project.

Beth Rodin, Director of Economic Development for Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, a UNIDAD member, said a majority of these residents pay one-third to one-half or more of their income on housing each month. And most of them live in rental housing.

Students and community compete for rentals

But with students looking to find rentals near campus, residents are often in direct competition for available housing. Scott Estevez, another speaker on the tour, is a 22-year-old whose family has lived in Esperanza affordable housing for almost eight years. He said that a friend of his father who owns rental housing in the neighborhood was told by a city housing inspector not to rent to Latinos, because they would ask for cheap rent and tear up the building, whereas students wouldn’t make a mess and would pay higher rents.

imageAnd they often do pay higher rent. Privately-owned student housing can soar to $4,000/month, which is the case at the Gateway Housing development, located on the corner of Jefferson and Figueroa. Rents for a 2-bedroom apartment are $999 per person if the bedrooms are shared with another occupant. If the rooms are rented privately, the monthly rent is $1,798.

According to figures released by UNIDAD, only three-percent of the housing stock in the Estrella neighborhood was occupied by USC students before 1998. By 2008, that had skyrocketed to 32 percent. Other neighborhoods around the campus have been hit with soaring rents as well.

Neighborhood changes affect local businesses

Pastor Brian Eklund, who headed St. Mark’s Lutheran Church from 1968 through 2007, saw these changes first-hand. More and more family housing in what he called “a vibrant, alive community” was snapped up by absentee landlords and private property-management companies and marketed to students. Eklund said St. Mark’s, situated on Vermont and West 36th Place, and not included in the current Master Plan, lost “about a third of its membership” to the conversion of family rentals to student rentals and the subsequent exodus of families from the area. “That was always our cry from the 1990s onward,” said Eklund. “We’ve been crying ‘Build housing, build housing.’” The response has been ‘We don’t do housing.”

The Master Plan outlines redevelopment of six districts around the campus, including a mixed-use retail, academic, and conference development with student housing at the University Village shopping center, and limited expansion into the warehouse district on the other side of the 110 freeway to the east. Its Guiding Principles include “encourag[ing] and participat[ing] in neighborhood development, in concert with the greater community.”

imageJon Samore, co-owner of Vermont Outlet True Value, says USC needs to give the neighborhood more information about its plans.

Jon Samore, co-owner of Vermont Outlet True Value at Vermont and 30th, said his store has a good relationship with the university. He and one of his brothers graduated from USC, as did several nieces and nephews. He is a former accountant for Arthur Andersen who also sits on the Board of Advisors for USC’s Leventhal School of Accounting.

Samore’s parents opened the shop in 1949; he and his brothers operate it now. Their customers and their employees come from the neighborhood. “We have two employees that live right around the corner…another one lives near Alvarado and 3rd St.,” said Samore. “We draw on the people in the neighborhood to work here.” But despite his positive feelings for the university, he wondered what the Plan “is going to do to the people in this neighborhood. We need more facts, we need more information.” According to Samore, Estevez, and UNIDAD, those details have been lacking. The discrepancies between the Master Plan online and the EIR do little to fill in the gaps.

UNIDAD’s wish list

UNIDAD wants the development agreement between the City and USC to address five issues: 1) provide enough housing for the students at reasonable prices; 2) provide significant money to support affordable housing for non-students; 3) ensure that the construction and businesses that come in as part of the Master Plan hire a good proportion of locals; 4) provide good permanent jobs for locals that are not minimum-wage; 5) provide training for those jobs; and support small businesses, rather than relying on national chains to fill retail spaces.

David Robinson, Political Director for SAJE, said it could be a win-win for everybody with thoughtful planning. “We’re not saying that USC has to sacrifice its growth and development. We are not saying that USC can actually solve all of the problems of the neighborhood – nothing like that. We’re saying we have very rational suggestions for how they can help families continue to live here, continue to work here, so that local community members and USC can prosper together.”

Dave Galaviz, Executive Director of Local Government Relations for USC, responds: “USC feels very ingrained into the social fabric of this community.” He cited multiple public meetings that were attended by hundreds of residents, many of whom expressed support for the project. (See Galaviz’ response by clicking here.)

The development agreement with Los Angeles for the Master Plan must be approved by the city’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, and then approved by the full City Council. The original date for that approval was September 9, 2012, but Guadalupe Duran-Medina, Planning Deputy for PLUM’s president, City Councilman Ed Reyes, said that deadline was no longer accurate. A new deadline has not yet been decided.

Redevelopment Of USC’s University Village Raises Concerns For Local Residents


Town and Gown Disagree about the New University Master Plan

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageThe new plans call for a mixed-use development with retail space on the ground floor and student housing above. The housing is especially important, because USC students have moved into housing that would have been rented by local families. The proposed housing units in the new development should return 900 units to the community, according to the Master Plan for University Village. However, this may not bring the expected benefits to the neighborhood. Paulina Gonzalez, Executive Director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE), a South Los Angeles community housing and economic development group, said,

“…even though the analysis that the university has released says that there’ll be 900 units
that will be released back to the community, those units have been lost [from] the rent
stabilization ordinance, so previously, where they might have been affordable to local families,
now they’re no longer under rent control—those rents can actually be significantly higher than
when they were initially lost.”

SAJE also has concerns that local merchants currently in the Village will not find a place in the new development. Akim Alam, owner of Quik Pix, a photo shop and portrait studio which has been in the Village for 30 years, echoed these concerns:

“Well, it isn’t a priority or nothing like that , so whenever they are done [with rebuilding], they
[the merchants] can apply…but that doesn’t guarantee nothing. It doesn’t matter how long you
have been over here doing business…you’re just like any other people.”

Information given by the University to merchants like Alam states that 160,000 square feet will be allotted for ground-floor retail space and 400,000 square feet for academic needs and conference spaces. That’s a 40% increase over the amount for retail. The Master Plan projects that the redevelopment will generate $1.7 million dollars in tax revenue.

University Village is owned by USC. It was created in the 1960s, when the City of Los Angeles used its powers of eminent domain to claim land for the university. Such a heavy-handed approach has left a legacy of distrust in the neighborhood which underlies the skepticism about the benefits of the new development. The new project will be paid for completely out of private funding and will not claim any land not already owned by the university.
A further concern of SAJE, Alam, and other merchants interviewed for this piece is that they have not been an integral part of developing the plan. David Galaviz, USC’s representative for local government relations, said that the community has been deeply involved, with over 100 public meetings held between 2007 and 2009. Community members, both for and against the development, were able to give feedback at these meetings throughout the planning process.

The redevelopment is now slated to start in 2013 and is expected to take six to ten years to complete. Merchants currently in the Village do not know if they’ll be relocated during the building process.

The Village at USC: The Largest Private Investment in the History of South Los Angeles

About 30 community leaders gathered last Thursday evening at Exposition Park to see USC’s Master Plan for The Village at USC (District 3), which promises new jobs, more housing, and new services for students and the community.


District 3 currently encompasses the University Village along Jefferson and Hoover, and the Cardinal Gardens and Century student housing. Kristina Raspe, USC-Vice President for Real Estate and Asset Management, presented the floor plans for the Village and discussed how the new development would impact the community.

The new Village, which is set to start construction in May 2013, will take 6 to 10 years to complete. It requires three million square feet of redevelopment and will be completely funded by the university. Developers estimate that once completed the University at USC will bring in $1.7 million in revenue to the City of Los Angeles.


According to Raspe, USC’s focus is to make the Village as permeable as possible to not only students, but to locals as well. The Village will include a hotel and conference center, a large town square, lots of green space, and wide walkways for easy accessibility. The university plans to use these areas for entertainment, farmers markets, and many other community events.

The ground floor of the Village will include retail, grocery stores, restaurants, and other services. “The restaurants won’t be high-end restaurants, but sit-down restaurants like Chili’s and California Pizza Kitchen,” said Raspe.

In addition to budget friendly restaurants, the university wants to bring in retailers, like H&M and Trader Joe’s, that “have not naturally come to this neighborhood,” said Raspe.


“The big bang is 12,000 new jobs,” said Raspe. “We are really proud of the number of jobs we are able to create.” Raspe estimates that the project will help create 8,000 construction related jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs. The USC Local Hiring Initiative will ensure that about 30% of those jobs will go to the residents of South Los Angeles.

The upper floors of the Village will be dedicated to student housing. Currently, USC students live in the neighborhoods surrounding USC, which has displaced many of the locals out of the area. USC plans to provide housing for nearly 5,200 students and 250 faculty/student family apartments. The new housing will return more than 900 housing units that were previously occupied by students to the community.

Overall, the project’s goal is to partner with the surrounding neighborhoods to create a safe and vibrant place for the entire community. “We want to strengthen those roots with South LA,” said David Galaviz, Executive Director for USC Local Government Relations. “We are definitely open to suggestions.”



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