News And Politics

Students rent outside of the USC bubble to cut costs

May 19, 2012, 11:23 a.m.

This 102-year old craftsman home on Van Buren Place is home to a retired couple and three USC graduate students or recent graduates.

A month after a high-profile shooting in their neighborhood left two Chinese USC students dead, residents of the homes surrounding the 2700 block of Raymond Avenue say they feel secure.

Most of these residents are working-class families and elderly renters, but the neighborhood has welcomed a growing number of USC students looking for affordable housing away from the hubbub of campus.

For 24 years, Leslie Evans has lived in a 102-year-old craftsman home on Van Buren Place—just one street over from where Ming Qu and Ying Wu were shot. He and his wife Jennifer own the home and have been renting to USC graduate students for the last few years.

“We were getting old, and we thought it would be nice to share the house with some people that needed it,” Evans said.

A woman named Marguerite, who requested that her last name not be used, moved into a historic home across the street from Evans as a USC graduate student. After she finished her program, she decided she liked the neighborhood and wanted to stick around. She’s now one of three Trojans who rents rooms in the Evans’ home.

Marguerite first moved into the neighborhood because of the price. For $625, she gets her own bedroom and bathroom, kitchen access and homegrown vegetables from the backyard garden.

“It was the best value and the space was decent,” Marguerite said. “A lot better than other places around USC where the landlords really rip you off.”

Coming from Paris, she said she is comfortable in the community, even riding her bike at night. Her biggest complaint when it comes to crime is the items that were stolen from her over the years, including four bikes and a car stereo.

“I’m very aware of what the neighborhood is—that there’s a lot of poverty nearby and there’s a lot of social contrast, but I’ve never felt threatened physically."

Allison Guilford and her four roommates recently moved into an apartment at 27th and Raymond—steps away from where the USC students were gunned down.

Guilford began her career as a USC graduate student on Monday, and was drawn to the neighborhood by the affordable rent—$700 for a bedroom in a five-bedroom apartment. She’d already committed to the lease when last month’s shooting happened.

While shocked to hear what had happened so close to her new apartment, Guilford isn’t too worried.

“I feel like anywhere around USC, safety is a concern.” Guilford said. “But, I think being aware and careful is the best you can do.”

The cheaper rent slightly outside the bubble of USC even attracts some students from other schools.

Danielle Arnold and her two roommates—all students or recent grads of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Downtown L.A.— live in an apartment two blocks southwest of the where the shooting took place. They chose the neighborhood two years ago because of the price--$1600 for a three-bedroom apartment.

Arnold said she was worried about safety before moving in to the apartment.

“In the beginning it was a concern, but there’s a lot of families in this neighborhood,” Arnold said. “Not a lot of action.”

Arnold said a group of USC guys inhabit the apartment above theirs and the landlord lives just a few blocks north.

On Wednesday, the parents of Ming Qu and Ying Wu filed a wrongful death suit against USC, claiming the university lied about campus safety during the application process.

The lawsuit calls attention to statements made about safety on the university’s admissions website, including: “USC is ranked among the safest of U.S. universities and colleges, with one of the most comprehensive, proactive campus and community safety programs in the nation.”

The block where Qu and Wu were killed lies outside of the school’s Department of Public Safety patrol area. The Adams & Normandie neighborhood ranks 27th out of 209 Los Angeles neighborhoods for violent crime, according to the L.A. Times Mapping L.A. project.

The majority of USC students live just north of campus—within the DPS patrol area. USC’s Office of International Services issues this warning on its website: “Housing may be more affordable outside of the patrol areas but we strongly recommend that students stay within these areas for safety reasons.”

Evans, 63, says that the neighborhood was more violent when he moved in (in 1988), at the height of L.A.’s gang wars. Still, he says last month’s killings are the very first time he could recollect where anyone anywhere near his home who wasn’t involved in gang activity was killed.

“It was shocking, but extremely unusual,” Evans said. “We have not felt threatened living here."

He’ll continue to rent to USC students and hopes this tragedy doesn’t stigmatize the neighborhood.

“USC students slowly, over the years, moved out further from campus, as it became safer.” Evans said. “And it is safer, despite this one terrible crime.”

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