BY: DANIEL KORN
Common wisdom dictates that when it comes to institutionalized post-secondary education, you get what you give. It’s the time to open yourself to new experiences, knowledge, and people, so it’s no surprise that students often find that their behaviours, personalities, and friend groups are codified within the four years they spend in college.
But absorbing yourself fully into the college experience takes a lot of time, energy, and money that a lot of people simply don’t have. A full course-load’s worth of work requires a massive amount of time and dedication—twice as much so if you want to do well. Meanwhile, the siren call of the Internet pulls you away from socializing with others, opting to stay in for a night of binge-watching Breaking Bad after finishing your third 5000-word paper in a week rather than going out and meeting new people. Then there’s the money issue. Just tuition costs several thousand dollars a year—tens of thousands if you’re in the United States—and the metropolitan location of top universities results in off-campus living in cities that are prohibitively expensive even for working stiffs, never mind debt-ridden students.
Tenants of Student Housing Cooperatives work together to maintain and add features in order to supply quality housing for themselves.
Cooperative housing is a middle finger to all of that; a social, sustainable way to live off-campus for cheap.
Interestingly, co-ops have had a rebellious streak virtually since their inception. Reportedly, the original co-op was made up of a group of English textile workers in the 1850s who decided to pool their resources together to buy goods that they couldn’t individually afford. They ended up staking a claim in an industry dominated by corporations simply by working together to create well-made products. Later, in the 1920s, co-ops created a living space for the increasing number of women attending colleges, who often couldn’t get traditional jobs due to their perceived inability to do certain types of work, and even when they were allowed to do so were severely underpaid in comparison to their male counterparts.
Cooperatives work on a democratic system where all tenants get a vote
The concept of co-ops is simple: the tenants are also the landlords. A co-op house is highly democratic and dedicated to self-governing, with all tenants’ individual votes on house affairs holding value. The house is usually either leased out to the residents directly by a housing organization—often with residents able to buy the building outright after a certain period of time—or given distinction as a co-op residency by city council (often a combination of both). This means that rent is fixed at-cost, since there’s no landlord trying to make a profit from the property, allowing a co-op house to be substantially cheaper than a typical city house or apartment.
Edinburgh Student Housing Cooperative
Indeed, perhaps what a co-op does best is allow students a greater sense of control and self-sustainability than what they would get in a typical living arrangement. Housekeeping duties are split up between members—maybe you’ll be in charge of cleaning the living room, fixing the piping, or washing the dishes—in a way that teaches students responsibility for the well-being of both themselves and the people around them. With the amount of pressure placed on modern students, it can be so easy to withdraw from others, to shelter yourself from caring about anything other than your own problems. Aside from teaching you boring but necessary life skills, a co-op forces you to venture outside the bubble, rekindle your relationship with your fellow students, and freely exchange ideas with a wide variety of individuals. Everything in a co-op is by students, for students, and the people living there can have an impact on an individual house’s culture decades after their tenure.
Co-ops are testament to the idea that we’re stronger together than we are alone. In a time where the economy is in ruins, the job prospects for young people are grim, and it’s easier than ever to withdraw into oneself, the values of co-op living might be more important than ever.