voice for democracy

Affordability, democracy and community: Co-op residents share their housing experience – The State News

Thursday, October 28, 2021
College is a time to experiment, explore and get out of one's comfort zone. For those seeking a unique living experience based in the community, cooperative housing is a viable option.
Finding a community at school can be hard, and finding roommates you actually enjoy can be even harder. With the always-popular option of Greek life, co-op housing — while offering similar qualities — can often be overlooked. 
Michigan State's Student Housing Cooperative, or SHC, offers 17 houses to choose from, and with five to 29 members per house, co-op housing can serve as a unique alternative for those looking for something different.
Many credit their urge to be a part of a community and to meet new people as a pro for co-op housing, especially as the pandemic slowly creeps to a foreseeable end.
Packaging senior Claire Hibbard is the Vice President of Membership at SHC, as well as a resident of Orion. She has lived in co-op housing for nearly three years.
“There's no one single owner of our community,” Hibbard said. “We really try to encourage member ownership and member empowerment and try to encourage all of our co-oper's that you're responsible for the home that you live in.”
Chemistry junior Brian York is a resident of Vesta, one of the many co-op houses that sits on M.A.C. Avenue. 
“The community aspect was really attractive to me,” York said. “I've always heard great things about them, and after the pandemic, I wanted to go out and try some more things instead of living in an apartment. You're only in college one time, so I figured it'd be a good time to be living in an experience like this.”
Beal Cooperative House in East Lansing on Oct. 15, 2021.
Physics senior and fellow Vesta resident Josh Music said he joined a co-op because of the pandemic.
“It was pretty much just me and my girlfriend for the whole year, so it was kind of lonely and I wanted to meet as many people as possible,” Music said.
Environmental studies and sustainability senior Cragen Davies said that she wanted to “get to know different kinds of people and experience living with a large number of people.”
According to all three residents, members of their houses get along well and it's helpful that they're all there for the same reason: to meet new people and live among a community.
“I've lived (in Vesta) not much longer than a month, and some of the people here are some of my more closer friends now,” York said.
The social aspect is a romantic and enticing quality, especially since co-ops house anyone regardless of gender. Despite the social environment, many co-ops enforce privacy for its members. At Bowie, Davies said the house implements quiet hours at 11 p.m.
Music said Vesta runs similar quiet hours. On top of that, Bowie has all single rooms — an extra layer of privacy and alone time in a seemingly crowded space, Davies said.
Since there are no landlords or housing managers, co-op houses are run solely by the residents, and with the capacity to house upwards of 20 residents, this may seem like a recipe for disaster. However, biweekly meetings — where chores and other responsibilities are delegated — bring the houses a sense of structure and professionalism.
“You get to decide what you want to do with the house with the people living there and decide how you want your house norms to be, based on who's living there,” York said. “You decide a lot of things democratically.”
York said Vesta holds house meetings every other Sunday to facilitate a comfortable environment among the residents.
“We'll bring up discussions we want to talk about, and if it comes down to it, we'll vote as a house on what we want to do about certain things," York said. "We have disagreements and what not, but everyone has an equal voice.”
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Music seconds this.
“There's definitely an aspect of professionalism and just making sure everyone's on the same page, which is definitely unique to this kind of housing,” Music said.

Bower Cooperative House in East Lansing on Oct. 15, 2021.
Similar to Vesta residents, Davies said Bowie has meetings biweekly.
“We have house meetings every other week, and we vote on pretty much everything, and everyone has a house job that they do each week,” Davies said.
Co-ops often hold parties at their houses, but those that don’t wish to partake don’t necessarily have to help with the morning-after clean-up.  
“The first party (Vesta) had, there were two people who were not interested, so we compromised,” Music said. “If you didn't want to come to the party, you didn't have to do any cleaning that week and you can just stay in your room or go hangout with your friends. We just try to be respectful of that.”
A universally attractive feature of co-op housing is affordability. Co-ops are historically a cheaper option to renting a house, and according to the National Association of Housing Cooperatives, or NAHC, in terms of overall price, a co-op is often cheaper than renting a condo.
“There is an affordability aspect because it's a lot cheaper than a lot of apartments on campus,” Davies said.
She said her monthly payment, which includes utilities, WiFi and food, totals to less than most off-campus apartments in the area.
“For a double room, it's only like $420 a month, and my old place was probably just as far away from campus and I was paying like $800, not including utilities,” York said.
“You don't have to pay $800, $900 a month for a single little bedroom just like everyone else is,” Hibbard said.
A never-ending social life, an affordable place to live and a democracy — many co-op housing residents expressed satisfaction in their experience.
“It kind of makes a brand new place feel a little more like home,” Hibbard said. “I can rely on co-ops as a way for me to find like-minded people who can get behind the same social and moral values and find that sense of community.”
“If you're looking into it … go for it,” York said. “It's a really unique experience, and you get to meet a lot of cool people in your house, as well as other houses. I definitely recommend people give it a try.”

This story is a part of our Fall Housing Guide. View the full issue here.
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