USC Students’ Facebook Comments Lead to L.A.’s Greenest Student Housing

Los Angeles--Symphony Development took green to the next level with West 27th Place, a premier student housing community in USC, after listening to what students want.

Los Angeles–It’s sage advice. Give the people what they want, and Symphony Development did just that when it built West 27th Place, a premier 161-unit student housing apartment scheduled to debut in May near the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The commercial real estate company didn’t just consult statistical reports when planning the project, it looked at comments from its Facebook page. Those comments conveyed that USC’s students are very keen on green, and that is why West 27th Place is in line to become the only residential project with the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification–the organization’s highest sustainability certification level–in all of Los Angeles.

West 27th Place, developed at a cost of $55 million with the assistance of Symphony’s equity partner, CityView Los Angeles Fund, accommodates 400 beds in residences ranging from studios to four-bedroom apartments and features 10,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space open to the community. While students’ Facebook comments spurred Symphony to take green to new heights, the developer had originally planned to construct an eco-friendly building.

“Candidly, the City motivated us to start it,” David Hilliard, president of Symphony Development, tells MHN. “The City was offering to expedite planning approvals if we registered for any type of green certification. As we got into the projects, we looked for green options in every element of the construction and design. We started aiming for Silver certification, but we found that if we were careful in our selection of materials and construction techniques, we could gain additional points here and there at a relatively small increase in cost. Suddenly, we found ourselves aiming for Gold, then Platinum certification.”

Certainly, West 27th Place has earned the top-level USGBC green designation. Symphony’s environmental awareness was in play from the very start. To begin with, the project’s location within close proximity to various modes of transportation–including the city bus system, the Expo light rail line and the USC’s tram system–render it inherently green. During the construction process, Symphony relied on a variety of means to generate 95 percent less waste than seen with similar projects. The company utilized a modular framing system, which reduces wood waste and decreases the construction timeline through off-site construction, recycled drywall waste and repurposed bricks from the original structures on the site. The grounds feature drought-tolerant plants, and the fully furnished residences incorporate formaldehyde-free furniture, low-flow water fixtures and Energy Star-rated appliances. Even the elevator is sustainable. The high-speed OTIS unit generates electricity on its down cycle and returns it to the grid.

In the property’s parking garage, the primo parking spaces are reserved for low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles, and to promote the reduction of car usage–a major contributor to the city’s notoriously high smog levels–the building offers ample bicycle storage space.

From a state-of-the-art elevator and solar reflective roofing to traditional energy-saving features such as increased wall and window installation and efficient light fixtures, Symphony appears to have left few sustainable development stones unturned. There is an on-site recycling program at the property.

While rents max out at a relatively reasonable $2,042 per month for a four-bedroom unit at West 27th Place, the student apartment community offers coveted extras more frequently found at upscale condominium developments. Those Facebook messages screamed for green, but they also called for premier accommodations. And Symphony delivered. Residents can avail themselves of a resort-style swimming pool and spa, a 24-hour fitness center and a round-the-clock computer lab. The salt-water pool has fewer chemicals than conventional pools, and the fitness and computer facilities feature recycled materials in the flooring and furnishings.  Additionally, there is motion sensor lighting in the well-appointed common areas.

“There is no other housing designed for USC students that currently has any kind of LEED certification,” Hilliard says. “The green element is very important to USC students. We have numerous persons who made a lease decision wholly based on us being green. And it is an achievement worth mentioning, when you can combine responsible building and living with elegance and style. It is truly the best of both worlds.”

As for demand for off-campus apartments, the student housing market is as strong as ever. “From a macro perspective, student housing continues to outperform other asset classes due to strong long-term fundamentals,” as noted in a recent report by the ARA National Student Housing Group. “Based on U.S. Department of Education projections, college enrollment is expected to rise 10 percent between 2008 and 2017 to over 20 million students.”

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