Coop Housing
Affordable Student Housing the Cooperative Way

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Road Warrior

Affordable Student Housing the Cooperative Way

By Brian Murphy

Many students attending college away from home often find it difficult to find affordable housing that is on or near campus. The availability of housing, especially for incoming freshmen, is often in short supply and sometimes not available at all. Overcrowding in dormitories and other university housing facilities is quite common. An alternative to conventional and university housing is membership in a student co-op. The benefits of membership in a student co-op are many and varied, but all are positive reasons to be considered by anyone looking for on-campus housing.

Affordability is generally the number one factor that most people consider when looking for a place to live. Co-ops are much less expensive because the cost is divided by a large number of people ranging from as little as twelve to as many as ninety depending on the size of the co-op. Co-ops are generally large single family homes that have been converted to accommodate more people. Sometimes they are also converted apartment buildings or other facilities that were built to house a large number of people. The amount of space available is generally quite large in order to accommodate everyone without feeling crowded. Co-ops have the same living spaces that most houses and apartments have such as a living room, dining room, kitchen, multiple bathrooms and other such common areas as well as a study room, recreation room, and a laundry room. These rooms include amenities such as a TV, VCR, pool table, ping-pong table, computers, and a house telephone.

Expenses incurred by each house are shared by all of the members of that house. Food, utilities, and maintenance are the primary expenses that are incurred. Each house sets up a budget allotting a set amount for each of these items and member's monthly charges are based on an equal division of the overall budget. Other expenses such as mortgage payments, home owners insurance, property taxes and other overall expenses are shared by all members of all of the co-ops which are joined together under the Inter-Cooperative Council. The ICC is the governing entity of all of the co-ops in Ann Arbor. The monthly cost of living in the co-ops ranges from $362.00 to $520.00 based on which house you live in and whether or not you have a single or double occupancy room.

Each house in the ICC is self-governing within the policies set forth by the ICC. Each house can set its own rules and regulations provided they conform to the policies and bylaws of the ICC which are determined by the overall membership of all of the co-ops combined. All members have a voice in how their individual houses are run as well as the overall operations of the ICC. It is through this means of governing that the co-op system is a true democracy. Each house elects it's own leaders, also known as house officers, to oversee different operations. These positions are: An out-of-house president to represent the house at the ICC level; An in-house president to handle internal house functions; A treasurer to handle financial functions; Food stewards responsible for the purchasing of food and other household necessities; Work managers to see to household cleaning and upkeep; A maintenance manager to take care of the repair and upkeep of the house and its contents. Each member is responsible for four hours of work per week towards the cleaning and upkeep of the house to include the preparation of meals.

One of the benefits of living in a student co-op is the social atmosphere provided by the large number of people in each house. There are almost always other people around to talk to and socialize with. This provides for, and is conducive to, a good personal support structure. Because you are surrounded by people who are also in the same situation as you are, there are plenty of people that you can turn to for help with schoolwork, personal problems and just good all around advice. The population of the co-ops tends to be very diverse, with people from many different backgrounds and experiences, which makes the overall college experience much more enriching.

As members of the ICC, each house has access to professional assistance. For example, if someone were to sue a member house for injuries sustained on the house's property, the ICC has a legal team to represent that house in court. Also, if a member moves out of a house owing money, that house can ask for legal help in collecting the unpaid debt. Another example of available help would be financial assistance. If a member house were to be drastically over budget or if many members of the same house were owing money for past due monthly charges, the ICC's finance committee would step in and take over the house's finances until everything was back under control.

Affordability, shared expenses, self governance, a social atmosphere and professional assistance all combine and contribute to making student co-ops a viable and desirable alternative to conventional and university housing for those that would prefer to live on-campus.

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