AKA There’s A Problem Here
Definitely some pro-Cooperative Propaganda but that’s basically the theme of this post
I think that it’s about time that I address some of the philosophy behind co-op housing. Without the philosophy, this is just a blog about what I cook for dinner and the rules we follow in my house.
But I want you to think to yourself “WOAH Self! Co-ops are the bees freaky knees”. I want you to know about co-op housing so you can spread the word. I want you to spread the word so that we can have some agency and a say (beyond settling) in where we live.
So let’s dive right in.
At the University of Maryland (like many other universities) there is a severe drought of on campus housing. Most of us can only live on campus for our first two years (sometimes more sometimes less of course). According to the university, upper classmen who, god forbid, want to live close to the university (and away from their parents) have a plethora of amazing housing options to choose from and the housing crunch is being addressed. But as I see it, students only have two choices:
1. You move into Commons, the View, the new Varsity, the new Block-Out-The-Sun-But-Surrounding-A-Liqor-Store buildings popping up all over route one, etc. etc.
2. You rent a house off campus.
The big problem with living in one of the huge apartment building on/off campus with university/ private ownership is that you have to have the money! To live in most of these places it can cost you an average of about $800 a month (this is even choosing the least expensive suite option available). So for a 12 month lease, you will need roughly $9,600. Now unless your mom and dad are willing to shell out the cash or you are willing to go into debut through loans (you know besides the loans you actually take out for your education), who can afford this?
As far as renting homes off campus goes, you can still run into the same problem of not being able to afford a most likely crappy house that you decide to share with some besties/ acquaintances (or strangers found through craigslist?). But I would say the bigger concern is spending money on a shitty house and having a landlord who doesn’t care.
Who hasn’t heard a horror story about a landlord who wouldn’t respond to black mold issues, broken fridges, CAVED IN CEILINGS?!? (If you haven’t heard any of these stories, you have no friends) There’s also the added pressure of actually having to find the people you want to share your house with instead of being randomly assigned like in some apartments/ dorms and knowing where to turn in case things go wrong.
With both of these options, this is also the issue of community. Who has ever lived in a suite and NEVER seen one of their suite-mates post move in day? Who has ever been that suite-mate? Who has ever lived in a house with a decent kitchen but eaten all their meals (Chipotle) in their room (alone)?*
(*these are not autobiographical stories of sadness, though I do love Chipotle)
Now that you are good and depressed, remember there is hope! And (drum roll please) the hope is called Cooperative housing.
What exactly is a housing cooperative you ask?
This is how I describe it:
Cooperative Housing is a community oriented living style bases on the not for profit model. Every person who lives in the cooperative owns an equal share of the house and has an equal say in what goes on in their living space. Since this model is not for profit (unlike the rental properties or apartment complexes) rent is not exorbitant, offering a more affordable option for students who are struggling financially.
Within the cooperative model there are guiding values and principles. These include self help, concern for community, democracy, autonomy and independent, equity, and solidarity. I personally really respect and was drawn to the ideas of ownership, community building, and shared labor.
I think that ownership is the key to solving the issue of affordable housing in College Park and addresses the problems student renters can face with landlords and companies that are less then stellar. In order for ownership to be realized in the cooperative model, co-op houses are branches of a greater organization. In student cooperative there is a central organization for the entire campus system that unites all the houses. In my case, the co-op house is called the Mad Ox and our house is one of three in the organization, CHUM (Cooperative Housing University of Maryland). Through loans and help from organizations such as NASCO development services, hopefully sometime soon (maybe even winter of next year?!?!) CHUM will build up the resources to purchase our first property!
CHUM is still a relatively new organization, having just gone through its first “faux-op” phase this year (we currently rent all three of the houses). HOWEVER, co-ops are not a new idea! Coming soon: The Philosophy pt. 2 aka the long legacy of co-op living!