Posts Tagged ‘Living Cooperatively’

All You Ever Wanted to Know About Co-Op Living!

I have to begin by apologizing for posting late (eek!) and say thank you (yes you!) so much for submitting questions!

In the previous post I promised to answer your questions on Tuesday but, sadly, Tuesday came and went and I was just too buried in school work to be punctual :/

But without further ado, lets dive right into your questions!

1. Whose dinners do you look forward to?

This was a tough one because everyone who lives in my house has really surprised me with their culinary skills. And we all cook very different things! So I have to say that I look forward to dinner no matter who is cooking. Even when it’s my night to cook I look forward to it because it is always a learning experience.

2. What is the downside to living in a co-op? Does it feel like a frat/ sorority?

The downside of living in a co-op would be changing your schedule a lot when you first move in. When the year first started it was a little daunting to go from planning my life around my own things to planning with all my housemates. Now it seems like second nature but it was def an adjustment getting used to being home weeknights for house dinners and Sundays for pot lucks and house meetings.

I think it doesn’t feel like a frat or sorority but I have never lived in a sorority so… idk?

3. What is your favorite Mad Ox memory?

In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that I have a terrible memory. But my favorite memory this week was Dinner time on Monday night.

We decided to do a left overs night for dinner and we also decided to double dinner time with the house meeting. I think I was running a little bit late because everyone was already sitting around the table and I was cooking up some dinner concoction on the stove.

This was when it had first started to get super hot and we hadn’t turned on the A/C yet so I was ROASTING from the heat coming off the stove. And of course as I sat down to the table to enjoy my food I smothered my piping hot meal in salsa (I am known to put salsa on basically anything and everything).

So I’m sitting at the table sweating from the heat in the house, the heat from the stove still, and the heat of my spicy food too and we are all sitting around the table shouting about god knows what, arguing (about basically anything and everything) across the table, and making fun of each other.

Something about that just warms my heart ūüôā

4. What were the biggest conflicts you had with other people?

Well, I think we have been really lucky that we all get along pretty well, especially considering the fact that none of us were friends before we moved in. The biggest issue we have come across has definitely been deciding how to shop for food. We typically share everything and pay for our food as a group. However this gets complicated due to dietary restrictions (vegetarians), issues of food justice (free range and fair trade products), health concerns (no msg, no partially hydrogenated oils), and general dislikes (ewwww mushrooms!). I think between the 5 of us we have easily logged at least 3 days worth of intense convos about the products we purchase and it is something we continue to discuss and prefect as time goes on.

5. Did you learn any interesting cooking tips?

One of the biggest things I’ve learned through this experience has been that cooking doesn’t always have to be an exact science. Sometimes you deviate from the recipe and it sucks but other times you improve on the recipe by accident. It’s always fun to experiment with different spices too! Don’t be¬†afraid¬†of using new spices and flavors.

6.How did you find out about co-op housing?

I found out about co-op housing because, luckily, a bunch of people who were friends of friends of mine were involved with getting the co-op movement started here and forming CHUM (Co-op Housing University of Maryland). I also knew the founder of CHUM, and remember hearing her speak about co-op housing at a meeting of one of the other student organizations I was involved with.

7. If money was not an issue would you still do co-op housing or another form of off campus housing?

Yes! A million times yes, I would most certainly do co-op housing even if money was not an issue. I’m a huge fan of the sense of community involved with co-op housing. I love being close with my roommates and all the people who live in the other houses as well. It’s a great little community within a community.

8. How is a co-op different from just renting a room in a house?

For me this definitely goes back to the idea of a community. When moving into the co-op, members sign a membership contract. Membership within the co-op hinges on following some general guidelines such as a commitment to the cooperative lifestyle, agreeing to attend as many co-op functions as possible, and having dinner with your housemates at least 3 times a week, to name a few.

The expectations for living in the co-op are that everyone will put an equal amount of work (through cooking and cleaning) and time  (attending house events and meetings) into both their house and the co-op organization as a whole. This means getting involved in committees and attending CHUM general body meetings.

In renting a room in a house there are not always these same explicit expectations and there is not that same community of multiple houses under one organization.

9. What’s the most challenging part of co-op living?

At this very moment the biggest challenge of co-op living that I can think of is leaving it. After living cooperatively for about 9 months now I’m really used to living in a co-op and I honestly don’t remember any negative things from when we were first starting out. But now that I am so used to living with my housemates and living the way that we do, it is very hard to imagine… not. lol

10. How are newly started co-ops different from established ones?

Awesome mural in one of the University of Michigan Anne Arbor Co-op Houses

This is actually a really exciting question. In November we had the opportunity to go to a NASCO (North American Students of Cooperation) conference at the University of Michigan Anne Arbor. Co-ops have been around at Michigan since the 1930s!!! So they have a huge and powerful legacy on that campus. They are very well-organized and have a ton of longstanding traditions.

But being a part of a baby co-op like CHUM is very exciting¬†because¬†you are the one (hopefully) planting the seeds that will one day become a mammoth presence on campus and starting¬†traditions¬†that the next generation will (hopefully) hold onto. It’s super exciting but also really intimidating. But, having stayed at one of the Anne Arbor co-op houses for a few days, I can safely say the experience from established co-op to new co-op is mind-boggling different!


Thanks again to everyone who submitted a question! I got a huge kick out of answering your questions and I hope you enjoy my answers just as much!

Any other burning questions out there? Feel free to ask any time!




The Great Debate aka The Door

Aka The Great Door Debate 2011

In my house, we have a meeting once a week, ideally on Sunday, usually some time early in the week depending on our schedules. Last week, being the hectic mess that was the week after spring break and all of us reuniting post being sent to different ends of the earth, we slacked big time and never got a meeting organized. So this week we were all fiending for a house meeting.

As usual we started with the boring stuff like planning our meals for the week. But then we moved on to the juicy stuff. And this is why I love meetings.

Jk Jk. It’s nothing too juicy, but we use this time to talk about any gripes, issues, worries, etc. affecting the house. I love having a structured and specific time to air issues that I’m having. If someone has been getting on my nerves because they do dishes like they never saw a sponge before and it’s driving me to the point where I want to either pull my hair out or hit them in the same dirty sponge they obviously don’t know how to use, I take a HUGE amount of comfort in knowing that soon I will have a golden opportunity to address the house dish/sponge habits (and probs be vindicated in knowing that other people are bothered by the same or similar things)*.

At this particular meeting no one had any silly sponge-like gripes because, to be perfectly honest, the separation over spring break had come at just the right time to get us all off of each others backs. But, this is not to say we didn’t have other fish to fry.

We have been having a now longstanding debate over… Drum roll please… Locking the door.

Yes, believe it or not, locking the door (really the door in general has been a huge issue of contention for us). I hear you out there, sitting at your computer, rolling your eyes (yes I hear eye rolling), and saying- Moe. Really? Locking the door is your big debate?

Yes. Yes it is.

In our defense, our front door is not like any ordinary door. You pull up instead of down to get yourself out of the house (a lot of poor souls have acted a fool trying to exit our humble abode). And too often the door gets caught on the shoe mat and you have to put a foot up on the door frame for leverage and yank it with all your might to get that thing closed.

But the debate really boils down to… When do we lock the door?

Is it:

a) Whenever you enter or exit the house?

b) When no one is downstairs?

c) Only after 9pm?

d) None of the above?!?!?!?

The debate has only intensified over the last few days as there have been a spattering of days in which various housemates have been confronted with doors left wide open for unknown time spans during the wee hours of the night.

We are dying here. To live in a world of constant door locking neurosis or a world of abandon in which no bolts are closed? What’s a co-op house to do?

* This was a really ridiculous example of a gripe so don’t judge us on it! Roomies, I have not been harboring a secret resentment about your sponge habits.

note to possible house thieves: we are in a state of lock down now, so no more golden opportunities to steal our chore wheel and delish leftovers. thankssssss

The Philosophy pt.1

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!


With a meager six and a half months of living in a student cooperative under my belt, I have come to the conclusion that the essence of cooperative living is different for each person who experiences it. CHUM (Cooperative Housing University of Maryland, College Park) is currently made up of 3 houses and about 20 members. All 20 of us agreed to buy into this notion of cooperative living rather blindly as,before August 2010, CHUM existed as an idea only. All 20 members have their own interpretations of what CHUM means and where CHUM is going.

This blog, unless otherwise noted, is one person’s take on cooperative living and the experience of living in just one of the three CHUM houses. CHUM Life, for me, is about the people, the experiences, the trials and errors, and the food!

In the wise words of David: ‚ÄúThis is a process!‚ÄĚ and it is my hope that through this blog the success, stumbles, good times, and bad of CHUM‚Äôs second semester will be accesible to students at UMD, students from other universities that have their own co-ops, anyone dying to start their own co-op, people who have no clue what a co-op is, and everyone in between.

Peace & Cooperation,