Housing Co-op Grows Membership, Moves Off Campus

One year after five students came together to form the Housing Co-op in Lodge 4, the group is expanding and moving off-campus. The group will be renting two apartments in the Barn, a six-unit off-campus apartment complex, in addition to incorporating some students in one unit who already live there.

Plans to finalize the number of people living in the off-campus Co-op, as well as how many apartments would be leased, were in flux for some time. The realtors were “a little unclear as to whether or not certain apartments are opening up,” according to Co-op Member Ben Wolcott ’14.

The Co-op group also encountered difficulties as current Barn residents expressed varying degrees of willingness to participate in the Co-op. According to Wolcott, some residents differed as to whether they wanted their apartment, or the larger Co-op community, to be the basis of their communal living experience. “I want the apartments to be more just rooms in the larger experience,” he said.

The Co-op has now been finalized as members signed the lease to their second apartment last week. The group will comprise two apartments, some Barn residents in other apartments, as well as any non-Barn residents who wish to take part in the communal sharing of responsibilities and meals.

The Co-op was created in order to foster a communal living arrangement with intentional relationships. “It’s one thing to live together; it’s another to become a family together,” said Co-op member Haydil Henriquez ’14. “Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the Swarthmore rush that we forget to form organic relationships with people.”

Wolcott and other students brought the idea of an on-campus co-op before the administration the year before last. He said he believes the administration would “support the idea, but only get behind us once they know it’s going to work.” According to Wolcott, the administration had a negative experience with a group of students who attempted to live in a co-op arrangement in the Ashton house a few decades ago.

Last year, the Co-op group downsized to five students to fit into a Lodge. Moving from a Lodge to the Barn will allow the Co-op to become larger and more inclusive. Wolcott said that he would like to see the Co-op “create a community off campus that’s cooking together and sharing time in a meaningful way to grow together.”

Moving off-campus will also create more freedom in the structure of meals; this is an important aspect, as the current members hope to increase their weekly dinners. “If every student is required to be on the meal plan, there’s no space for [an on-campus Co-op],” said future Co-op resident Ashley Vogel ’13. Being on the meal plan as well as cooking with the Co-op isn’t practical: “co-ops should be cheaper alternatives,” Wolcott said.

The prospect of sharing communal meals with friends was an attractive idea for many prospective Co-op members. “The combination of good food and good people has drawn me to the Co-op,” Vogel said.
Co-op members will share responsibilities around the space, taking turns cooking, cleaning, and shopping for each meal. Other Co-op activities may include group projects, such as composting. Skill sharing will also form a part of the Co-op experience. “That’s the entire point of the Co-op: bettering yourself, improving yourself,” Henriquez said.

The glue that keeps it all together is the idea of intentional living: the notion that members have chosen to live together and want to forge bonds and friendships, as well as engage in productive dialogue and discussion. “It’s consensus-based,” Vogel said. Every group member envisions something different they’d like to take from the experience; for Wolcott, that means “check-ins once a week, meetings, and fun events, depending on schedules.”

Henriquez said that for some, getting off the meal plan and having a communal eating experience may be a major plus; however, “it goes beyond just the meals… it’s about forming a community,” she said.

When three of the current Co-op members began looking to expand, they sought out the Barn, and have rented two apartments as well as incorporated some members of a third apartment. The opportunity to join was extended “to several list servs because we wanted to be accessible to anybody on campus, anybody who wants to participate,” Henriquez said.

Tayler Tucker ’13, a future Co-op member and current Barn resident, said that having the Co-op off-campus gives the participants more discretion in tailoring the space to their needs. “The disadvantage is the lack of greater administration and institutional foundation,” Tucker said.

According to Tucker, joining the Co-op is not so practically different from living off-campus: “The Co-op as an idea is very much how people that live off-campus successful do anyways or should do anyways,” she said. “The only difference is the idea of sharing some of the food responsibilities and cleaning responsibilities, and I don’t think that should be that hard.”

The foundational difference between Co-op and non-Co-op off-campus housing, and Tucker’s reason for joining, is the notion of collective living. “What I felt in the barn this year is it’s been great and you see people passing by, but there doesn’t seem to be as much of a cohesive sharing of space,” she said. “People are opting in to join [the Co-op], so there’s already this intention to develop these relationships that give off-campus living more of a family feel.”

For some, living in the Co-op provides a happy medium between off-campus and dorm life. “[It’s] a great way to make off-campus seem less independent and solitary and to form something that works better than dorms,” Tucker said.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” Vogel said. “It’s removed from campus, but it has a community.”
Some may find the new time commitment a challenge. Henriquez said she didn’t foresee any challenges in moving from the Lodge to the Barn other than “more time management for me… but that’s all about being a respectful member of the Co-op who understands the responsibilities.” Factoring in that added consideration will be important. “It’s not like you can be a co-op member [only] when you’re feeling good,” she said.

According to Tucker, the fundamental challenge will be determining the logistics of how the Co-op will run as well as economic responsibilities. Vogel agreed that defining a budget for off-campus housing can be difficult, especially with a large number of participants.

The group has had regular meetings for the past few months to determine interest, a vision for what the Co-op will look like, and practicalities like budgeting and roommates. They will meet this Thursday to further determine logistics, Tucker said.

She also said that it will probably not move back on campus within the next 2-3 years, because “the structures that we have or that the college is willing to buy right now with our current … budget is a little bit stretched.”

Nonetheless, Tucker said she foresees a positive future for Co-op membership, even if it may fluctuate due to student interest. However, the group is laying the ground work now for future members.


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