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Fight over USC Housing Escalates

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, September 04, 2007, at 03:35PM

Today USC and Urban Partners filed a lawsuit against Conquest Student Housing, the dominant private housing supplier around the USC campus. The suit alleges that Conquest has been doing all manner of shady, illegal things in trying to block Urban Partners from building its 400-unit University Gateway project on the northwest corner of Jefferson and Figueroa. Downtown's residential growth has seen an influx of students, largely because there's just not enough good housing stock right around campus.

Those who aren't Trojans might not be aware of how ugly the housing market is around the USC campus. The University itself only promises housing to Freshmen, leaving the vast majority of the student population to find its own housing, mostly in the area directly to the north of the school. The tight supply of units leads to exorbitant rents, and generates a nice profit for those with units to offer.

Read on for more, including how the Urban / Conquest fight has impacted Downtown's Herald Examiner project.

A little personal connection: When I moved Downtown it was actually to escape rents that had gone up $400 in two years (basically up 1/3). I came to the Historic Core and paid $350 less for more space in a nicer building. Sure, Downtown's gone up a bit since then, but USC-area rents are still higher than those here, for much shoddier units.

For backstory on Conquest's fight with Urban Partners, check out the Downtown News' coverage from last May. Behind the cloak of community groups and misinformation, Conquest was trying to keep the Gateway project from getting the needed approvals. They got a variety of slap-downs at the City level -- the filing quotes Councilman Jack Weiss as calling Conquest a "vexatious litigant” -- but each time would take the case to some different level of appeal.

Herald Examiner Building A large chunk of the suit is devoted to allegations that Conquest additionally mettled in Urban Partners other projects far from USC. One of those is the Herald Examiner project, located at Broadway and 11th. Site owner Hearst Corporation had brought Urban Partners on to help develop the site, and the suit alleges that Conquest attacked the project

with the intent to strain Urban’s relationship with Hearst by delaying the development of the Herald Examiner Buildings and to deter and destroy Urban’s reputation and business.

The filing quotes Councilwoman Jan Perry as stating that she was “stunned and disappointed and disgusted” by Conquest's challenge. Nevertheless, Hearst and Urban parted ways and the Hearst Corp. is now trying to figure out how to develop the Examiner project by itself.

It says a lot to me that USC is one of the plaintiffs in this. A fight between developers is one thing, but USC is an opponent that I wouldn't particularly want to be taking on in court.

Despite the challenges, Urban Partners says that the University Gateway project has cleared its hurdles and should be underway next summer, with construction lasting approximately two years.

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