Rise in co-op housing applicants

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With the rise of apartment prices in West Campus, co-op housing has become a more popular option for student living.

Most co-ops charge significantly less in rent than the West Campus apartments that neighbor them. Newer complexes in West Campus have been increasing rates by 6 to 7 percent each year for the past 10 years, according to Richie Gill, real estate broker at Longhorn Leasing. Living in a two bedroom/two bathroom apartment at 2400 Nueces will cost a student $1,009 to $1,019 per month for the 2014-2015 academic year. In contrast, College Houses, a non-profit operator of co-op houses in West Campus, provides residents with meals and utilities while charging them as low as $742 for a single occupancy room and $570 for a double occupancy room.

In West Campus, there are two non-profit organizations and three independent co-ops that offer co-op housing to students. The two organizations are College Houses, which owns seven co-ops, and Inter-cooperative Council Austin, which owns nine co-ops. College Houses’ largest building holds 124 students, while Inter-cooperative Council houses hold anywhere from 15 to 30 students.

Kim Penna, education and training coordinator at College Houses, said College Houses and Inter-cooperative Council have been 99 percent occupied for about the past five years. She said the number of applicants increased in 2008 after the recession.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the number of people applying per year and the number of people on our waitlist has grown dramatically,” Penna said.

Inter-cooperative Council Facilities Administrator Billy Thogersen said although they do not have exact numbers, the organization has noticed an increase in how quickly its houses have been filling up. He said he thinks the Inter-cooperative Council hasn’t seen a dramatic increase in applicants because co-op living is not for everyone.

“Our occupancy has been very high,” Thogersen said. “We generally don’t have openings. People want to live here and we’re filling up the spaces easily.”

In addition to the financial benefits of living in co-op housing, members have a voice and can make decisions about the way the house will run, Thogersen said.

“You are a member and you are an owner, so you have a much greater say in how the organization is run,” Thogersen said. 

Students who live in co-op housing control the way in which their co-op operates by participating in several hours of weekly labor such as cooking, kitchen cleaning or building maintenance. Each house is run democratically, so students have the ability to decide where they want money to be spent and can work together to set other house rules.

Unlike Inter-cooperative Council, which only operates group residential houses, College Houses has two co-ops that are made up of apartment units. Residents in the apartment-style housing are still members of the co-op and do several hours of labor per week.

Radio-television-film senior Mark Rubin, lived in University Towers in the 2010-2011 academic year but now lives in Inter-cooperative Council’s House of Commons because it is affordable and he is given the opportunity to meet so many different people.

“It can be a culture shock but I think everyone should entertain the idea of cooperative housing,” Rubin said.