Defend co-op tradition for the future

Ryan Nill

In 1940 a group of UT students cooperatively built, managed and lived in a house called The Campus Guild, located at 2804 Whitis Avenue. They understood that having a vested interest in their housing situation would give them greater control over their home life and finances. That first co-op led to a long tradition of UT students working together to build and own self-sufficient houses, a tradition that may be coming to an end.

On Sept. 27th, Austin City Council will vote on the re-zoning of six of the seven neighborhoods (all but West Campus) in the Central Austin area. This will change MF-4 Group Residential Housing, the zoning category that housing cooperatives currently belong to, into a conditional-use category. This means that if students wanted to build a new co-op in any of those six neighborhoods, they would have to seek approval from the city. Neighbors within 500 feet could reject the new co-op by signing a petition. By bringing this resolution to Council, the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee clearly is signaling hostility towards those seeking future group residential use of properties in the area. A property owner would have many incentives to try to avoid selling to co-ops when he or she could just sell the property immediately and without fear of rejection from neighbors to another developer or family for the same price. This further disenfranchises students seeking to start a co-op, who often cannot afford a competitive bid against those of developers with plans to charge tenants high rents.

Co-ops represent an asset to the University community because they offer students unrivaled opportunities. As a co-op resident, I can identify three:

1. Living democratically: We discuss and vote on decisions of all levels, from what color to paint the dining room to whether we should move $1.3 million of debt and interest to University Federal Credit Union from Bank of America. We literally eat, breath and live democratic processes.

2. Learning to run a corporation: We offer the best business training available to students. By allowing students to become executives and board representatives in multi-million dollar corporations, co-ops teach students how to set big budgets, make 10-year plans, manage a paid staff, design non-discriminatory housing policies and learn important laws part of upkeep of a corporation.

3. Affordable housing for students: This is the mission, the reason we exist. We do it by being janitors and property managers. The pricing difference is clear when you compare student housing options. Living within the Inter-Cooperative Council system in West Campus costs $6,500 a year, including food and utilities. The apartment complex next door costs $9,500 a year, without food or utilities. Co-ops are about half the price of on-campus dorms, which cost around $12,000 annually with a meal package.

The UT co-op community stands for affordable student housing. If the city resolution passes in the upcoming vote, student co-ops will be unable to expand into areas outside of West Campus. With property values soaring, West Campus property will no longer be an option for students seeking to build a co-op, even as the growth of the UT population necessitates increased housing options. Without the opportunity to expand, and with the arrival of increasingly aggressive commercial neighbors who do not have students’ interest in affordable housing at heart, no co-ops will be built and the existing co-ops will be stamped out.

Nill is an ecology, evolution and behavior student from San Antonio, and the former executive committee coordinator for the Inter-Cooperative Council.