Not About That Dorm Life This Fall? How You Can Own Your Own Home (Kinda)
Dorm life got you down? Expensive room and board? Lacking a voice in residential affairs?
Maybe a student housing cooperative is for you. From 1,300 people in a series of homes at UC-Berkeley, to smaller groups in places like Chicago, Buffalo, and Athens, Ohio, students and other Americans across the country are taking housing into their own hands.
Co-ops are “owned by their members through a group equity or zero equity model” in which students are “members of an organization that collectively owns the property,” according to Morgan Crawford, director of educational programs at North American Students of Cooperation, a group that supports cooperative housing.
"It’s a good alternative to dorm living or the sort of slumlord-style predatory housing market that most students get involved in,” Crawford said.
One of the obvious potential benefits is budgetary.
“Cooperatives aren’t trying to make money off of everyone,” Crawford said. With no surplus needed for a landlord's profits, students in housing co-ops can keep costs down.
Other, perhaps more potent advantages can’t be measured in dollars and cents. If we accept the premise that the typical buyer-seller relationship is inherently undemocratic—for instance, a renter has no control over their housing situation except what is specifically granted to them in their lease—then a co-op offers students greater self-control.
“Instead of students paying large sums of money to live in a dorm where they have no control over what happens, who they live with, how they’re governed, et cetera,” said Crawford, co-ops put students in the driver’s seat.
While the specific methods vary, the idea is that students use a democratic process to set rents, decide what repairs are needed, and figure out who is responsible for which chores. They can even sell their house if they so choose, Crawford said. (But not to cash out—the money would be held by the co-op as part of the zero equity structure.)
Crawford lived in several housing co-ops during his college years, and came away singing their praises. They were “powerful personal experiences in building community, creating the community and the spaces that I want, having ownership over my life and my spaces,” he said.
This post is the first in a series on life in cooperative student housing. Next up: the economic advantages and pitfalls of co-ops.
Chris Lewis is a reporter at Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @chris_lewis_.