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.

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