The University of Southern California ranks among US News and World Report’s top 25 national universities. One of the most selective institutions in the country, USC’s learning environment is rivaled by few other American colleges. The campus’ surrounding environment, on the other hand, is a whole other story.
Situated in “South Central” Los Angeles — an underprivileged section of the city made famous by Southern California rappers such as NWA and by USC film school alum, John Singleton, who wrote and directed “Boyz in da Hood” — off-campus living for USC students can be a little tricky. But, if you know where to look, housing near USC can be both safe and affordable.
There are some neighborhoods adjacent to campus that are worth looking into. The USC campus itself is bordered by Jefferson Boulevard to the North, Vermont Avenue to the West, Exposition Boulevard to the South and South Figueroa Street to the East. As a rule of thumb, areas north of Jefferson Boulevard are the best places to start if you’re looking for something within walking distance to campus.
Century Apartments and Cardinal Garden Apartments are University-owned student housing and are hard to get into. However, these complexes are the best anchor to begin your search as they are essentially the gateway between residential Los Angeles and USC itself. This area is teeming with student pedestrian traffic and you’ll find houses and apartments all along Orchard Avenue (running north to south) and along 30th , 29th, 28th and 27th Streets (running east to west) already heavily occupied by the student population.
You can search bulletin boards advertising for “roommates wanted” that will frequently have Orchard, 30th and 29th addresses. The best time of the year to inquire is in the spring when the majority of students are getting ready to graduate and move on.
Another good neighborhood adjacent to campus is the area west of Vermont Boulevard. South Catalina Street is lined with homes and apartment buildings that frequently advertise rooms for students to rent. Like Orchard Avenue, this area is heavily student populated and within easy walking distance to campus. Several of the more distant streets are also worth checking out, but the closer you search Normandie Avenue the less I recommend the area as a safe walking distance.
Going south past Exposition Boulevard you will find much gentrification going on. The apartment buildings going up in view of the LA Coliseum are worth checking into, but I’d recommend ending your search before you pass Martin Luther King Boulevard.
East and south of USC campus will offer the most affordable housing. But you probably won’t run into many fellow students in these directions. A brief car tour of these areas is recommended for any rental queries.
Owning a car opens up a lot of great areas for off-campus USC housing. For very-close, five-to-ten minute commute times, consider most of the neighborhoods between the north side of campus and the 10 Freeway. You’ll want to scope out each rental query for this area but, in general, you can find some great prospects here. A rule of thumb — the closer you get to the Santa Monica Freeway, the less likely you’ll find rentals especially those catering to students. But this area has gentrified greatly over the past decade and you’ll see a lot of housing projects going up specifically geared toward attracting USC students.
Downtown Los Angeles is currently undergoing a residential boom. While most of the high-rise condos under construction aren’t of the “affordable student housing” variety, the trend toward a more residential downtown has created an opening for projects of all types such as the renovation of The Alexandria into quality low-income housing. The area around the Staples Center and the Fashion District are well-worth checking into for rental opportunities and both are an easy jaunt down South Figeuroa to campus.
Heading west out of the downtown area will also produce some excellent rental opportunities. If you cut a square from Beverly Boulevard in the north to La Brea Avenue to the west to the Santa Monica freeway to the south and MacArthur Park in the east, you will find some of the best mixes of affordability and safety in the city. This swath has a combination of highly urban/ethnic areas such as Korea Town mixed with affluent neighborhoods such as those of the Highland, Wilshire and Larchmont districts. On the edges of these varying communities, you will find relatively inexpensive apartments to share. Western Avenue from 3rd Street to Olympic Boulevard is an excellent starting point. Check the side streets around these main thoroughfares for some of the best affordable housing in the city.
Park LaBrea is another possible choice. This is a gated community of mid-rises surrounded by two-story townhouses. It sits between 3rd Street and 6th Streets between La Brea and Fairfax. This is about as far west as you want to go from campus and still have a relatively short commute time. On off-hours, you can drive from Park La Brea to USC in 20 minutes. But, during rush hour, expect at least an hours-worth of driving.
If your school schedule is set up so that your commute times are not during Los Angeles’ peak traffic hours (7:30 am to 10:00 am and 3:30 pm to 7:00 pm) then you may consider some of LA’s bordering suburbs as potential housing.
Glendale, California lies just north of Downtown Los Angeles and is accessible to USC within 20 minutes or less during non-rush-hour commutes by using the 5 and 110 Freeways. You can also reach USC within in 20 minutes from Glendale by taking the Glendale Freeway to its southern end point on Alvarado Street south connecting to Hoover Street which will take you directly to USC.
Pasadena, California resides to the East of Glendale and can reach USC in roughly 25 minutes by using the 110 Freeway.
Culver City, California is about 10 miles to the west of USC and is south of the 10 Freeway. You can reach campus in 15 to 20 minutes during non-rush-hour by taking Jefferson Boulevard or Exposition Boulevard. Expect at least 45 minutes during rush hour.
Glendale, Pasadena and Culver City are all independent cities and you can expect generally lower rents in each of them than in LA proper. You will also find parking much more amenable in these cities than you will in LA. All three are excellent areas to check out for affordable and safe off-campus housing for USC.