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New USC student housing adds Target, Trader Joe's, gentrification tension

This week 2,500 University of Southern California students are moving into a brand-new, massive development on campus that school officials contend will take pressure off the local housing market.

But fears of displacement in this corner of South Los Angeles have been renewed by the project. Housing advocates say popular amenities in the $700 million USC Village — including a Target Express, Trader Joe's and 15 restaurants — will transform the surrounding neighborhood and indirectly squeeze out low-income residents.

"Across the street, land values are going to increase," said Joe Donlin, associate director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy. "We know the landlords are going to rent at higher levels of rent."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFyB38WzO5s&feature=youtu.be

USC Village sits on 15 acres around Hoover Street and Jefferson Boulevard that once housed an aging strip mall anchored by a movie theater and discount supermarket. Bordering a piazza, six new buildings contain student housing on the upper levels while retail stores fill the bottom floors.

The public has access to the village from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., although certain areas are for students only such as a dining hall where they can eat offerings from a crepe bar and vegan bar underneath vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows. 

A giant new dining hall, with its high arched ceiling and stained glass, might remind students of where Harry Potter and his friends ate at Hogwarts.
Jason Georges/KPCC
A giant new dining hall, with its high arched ceiling and stained glass, might remind students of where Harry Potter and his friends ate at Hogwarts.

William Marsh, USC's director of capital construction, said every effort was made to include the community in the project. For instance, the school emphasized local hiring of construction workers, and more than 20 percent of them lived within five miles of the site. The retail tenants must also hire community members.

"The way it's written into their leases, they need to have a certain amount of local hires," Marsh said. 

The retail stores combined with new USC staffing for the development, including custodians, have created nearly 800 permanent part-time and full-time jobs. 

Instead of using fences, designers created a border for USC Village with buildings.
Jason Georges/KPCC
Instead of using fences, designers created a border for USC Village with buildings.

As part of a development deal with the city, USC also provided $20 million for construction of off-site subsidized housing.

But Donlin says USC needs to build even more student housing around the university to prevent future displacement of residents. He said the school falls far short of other universities located in urban settings. 

"USC provides a very small amount of on-campus housing for their students," Donlin said. "Somewhere between 25 to 30 percent of students are able to live on campus. Other urban institutions provide 80 to 90 percent." 

Marsh said the student village has the ability to expand to 2,700 beds if students triple up in some suites. And there is still enough space on the property to build for 300 beds on top of that, Marsh said.

The new Target at USC Village features an inventory of Trojan gear.
Josie Huang/KPCC
The new Target at USC Village features an inventory of Trojan gear.

Outside the new Trader Joe’s, local resident Christina Valdez said gentrification is inevitable.

"That just comes with the territory," said Valdez, 24. "USC has been here for so long that it was bound to happen that there’d be stores convenient for the students."

Convenient for her, too, Valdez said, as she pushes a cart into the store, its walls covered with the logo of the USC Trojans.