USC puts pressure on housing market, advocates say
By Robert Fulton, California Health Report
Outside of the house in South Los Angeles where retired veteran Willie Hill has lived for more than a year hangs a sign: “This Property Closed to the Public.”
Hill’s rented home, which he shares with three others on tree-lined Menlo Avenue, just north of the University of Southern California campus, has been condemned.
Yet Hill, 72, and his housemates refuse to leave despite poor living conditions such as no running water, heat or electricity. If they vacate, they risk losing their tenant rights. Plus, Hill doesn’t know where he would go.
Contrasting Hill’s situation is a sign hanging from another house across the street from where he lives. This one advertises a USC rental housing street fair at the end of January.
In Hill’s neighborhood, much of the housing is now occupied by students and others affiliated with USC. Property gets sold to a developer, who clears out the house, renovates, and rents it to Trojan students and faculty who can afford higher rents than those paid by working-class Angelenos. One way to force residents out is by making the domicile so unbearable, the tenants leave.
“Gentrification in this neighborhood remains extreme,” said Nancy Ibrahim, executive director at Esperanza Community Housing. “This is one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city.”
Hill’s experience is not unique. Three years ago, Gloria Serrano, who has lived in South LA for 40 years, and other families were evicted from a building on West 23rd Street, a few blocks north of USC. Now Serrano’s old building, like many around it, is decorated with for rent and for lease signs.
A website featuring her former home boasts of a “well-maintained, gated-building” with “perfectly appointed” kitchens and a five minute walk to USC.
Organizations such as Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) have worked with Hill and Serrano in helping them understand their rights, while groups like Esperanza try to maintain affordable housing in the neighborhood.
“USC created this intense competition for housing in the area,” explained David Robinson, Political Director at SAJE and director of United Neighbors in Defense Against Displacement, or UNIDAD.
“The gentrification continues apace,” he added.
But the displacement and gentrification around USC isn’t a clear-cut case of a monolithic entity kicking folks out of their homes and onto the street to make way for expansion. Many of the cases such as Hill’s, Serrano’s and others are the result of private property owners not affiliated with USC taking advantage of the land’s proximity to the campus.
“When we talk about the displacement issue, the challenge is that the university did not come in and remove people from their homes,” said David Galaviz, Executive Director of Local Government Relations at USC. “It wasn’t the university doing that. It wasn’t anybody acting in an official capacity on behalf of the university.”
USC is currently ramping up a major redevelopment of its University Village, which calls for new on-campus housing, academic buildings and retail. According to the university, the project will be built on land already owned by USC.
A highlight of the plan is the construction of 5,200 new student beds, a net creation of 4,000 beds. Galaviz stresses that creating more on-campus housing will alleviate the demand fo