Campus co-ops gain in popularity

Cooperative housing, where students live together, pool their resources and share responsibility for cooking and cleaning, is growing in popularity on campuses across the nation.

Jim Jones, director of asset management for North American Students of Cooperation, credits the resurgence to an increased interest among students in building community relationships.

Large residence halls can make students feel anonymous, Jones said, and apartment living can be tough on a student who tries to be outgoing and form relationships.

Co-ops provide “communities of face-to-face people,” something that Jones believes is waning, even in the face of increased access to technologies that allow people to stay in touch.

NASCO tries to promote co-ops through various programs and services, including consulting, training and networking activities. In addition to providing services for housing co-ops, NASCO also serves various retail and worker co-ops.

Jones estimates that 10,000 students live in co-ops nationwide. “I don’t know for sure, though,” he added. “Many exist out there that we haven’t heard of.”

“The movement is spreading to a lot of new campuses,” he said, mentioning the existence of new co-ops in Rochester, N.Y., Athens, Ohio, and State College, Penn.

Another such relatively new co-op is in Charlottesville, Va.

In January 2003, Laura Hartman was part of a group that founded Co-operative Housing at the University of Virginia. Shortly thereafter, CHUVA registered as a non-profit corporation.

CHUVA offers “social diversity, environmental consciousness, and democratic decision making” in its houses, according to its website.

Hartman believes these tenets are why the organization has added new houses since forming and continues to see a “steady and growing demand” for space in the its units.

“We have always been able to fill our rooms,” Hartman said. The high demand, she added, means the organization can “have more people that want to live there.”

The application process for living space includes questions about previous co-op living experience and what prospective applicants can offer to CHUVA.

The main benefits of living in a co-op, according to Hartman, are financial and environmental. By pooling money together, unit costs of food drop, and by sharing a living space, the per-person utility costs are less.

“There’s a lot of power in cooperation,” said Hartman. “We’re more together than the sum of our parts.”

The modern-day growth of co-ops is the third such phase the movement has gone through over the years, said Jones, who also has served as NASCO’s historian.

During World War II, student body numbers shrank all over the country. Once the war ended, co-ops proved to be a viable alternative for soldiers returning to the country. The soldiers were used to the type of living that a co-op provided-sharing a living space and being able to rely on others.

In the 1960s, during what Jones termed a revolution in culture, students in general demanded more control over their own environment. The increased popularity of co-ops during that time could be attributed to students seeking to gain such control over what affected them.

Whatever the reasons for co-ops’ popularity, Hartman believes they have staying power: “What really draws people to live in co-ops is the community aspect.”

“This social aspect really enriches the lives of the people who live in them,” she added.

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