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Under expansion

Cynthia E. Griffin | 8/22/2012, 5 p.m.

A plan by USC to redevelop University Village into a mixed-use retail, residential and educational complex has turned the spotlight on one of the region's most pressing problems--the need to create and maintain affordable housing.

Called the USC University Park Specific Plan, the development was discussed at meeting of the L.A. City Council Planning and Land Use Management committee (PLUM) held Tuesday that lasted more than two hours, featured a hour of testimony from a parade of witnesses and resulted in consideration of the item being continued until Sept. 18.

At that time, city departments are supposed to bring back answers to a laundry list of questions committee members had about the project; many of them revolving around the impact the project will have on affordable housing in the community surrounding the university.

As proposed, the University Park Specific Plan accomplishes a two-fold purpose, according Craig Keys, vice president for civic engagement at USC. It would replace the outdated University Village shopping center with one that better meets the needs of community residents, students and the university community; and it could, over of the course of 20 years and depending on demand, add up to 5,200 new student beds to the area. At least 1,000 of those would be built in the first phase of redevelopment.

Keys said it would take one year to demolish the current development and another year to build the new site.

Additionally, the new center is proposed to include 250,000 square feet of retail, a 150-room hotel and a 50,000-square-foot conference center.

Plans for the development have been in the works since at least 2005, and were put together in part with input from community members via a master plan advisory committee made of representatives from various neighborhood organizations, churches, museums and other stakeholders.

The committee was chaired by Jackie Dupont Walker, head of the Ward A.M.E. Economic Development Corp.

The new development is being planned in the midst of historical and current trends that have many community organizations and residents concerned and, in fact, a number of them combined forces to release a Rapid Health Impact Assessment of the plan.

Produced by Human Impact Partners with support from Strategic Actions for a Just Economy (SAJE) and Esperanza Community Housing Corp., the report, released on April 30, points out a historic trend that has developed over the last decade and a half.

During that period, the report noted, USC has become more of a traditional residential campus than the commuter school it had once been.

As a result, students have begun to compete for affordable housing with local residents who have typically lived around the university. According to Beth Rodin of Esperanza, many of the families living around the school earn below 50 percent of the poverty line. They cannot compete with many of the students who have more available income.

Among the concerns the report noted was whether the proposed development will result in the continued and/or intensified displacement of existing residents. The study also pinpointed the lack of attention in the environmental impact report and associated nexus study to the current and past trends that are predictors of displacement and gentrification, and that impact housing in the area.