Student Housing Co-ops — What Are They?

In 2015, student housing co-operatives marked their centennial year with an origin dating back to 1915 at Northwestern University. Many people have heard of student housing co-ops, but what exactly are they?

A student housing co-operative is defined as a type of accommodation in which its members (not tenants) collaboratively own and maintain the community buildings.

The primary purpose of a co-op is to help minimize accommodation costs for students, while creating a community environment. In most cases, these co-ops are non-profit; its members (students) pool both their money and personal resources to sustain a community style home. The provisions put an emphasis on collaboration and working together for the benefit of the entire house or building.

By and large, co-operative housing is typically cheaper than both on-campus and standard off-campus housing arrangements, and also seen as a cheaper alternative to dorm style living.

In many cases, student housing co-operatives are formed in response to a lack of affordable student housing options. This situation was exactly the case in Montreal, where the city launched its first student housing co-operative to aid with the lack of affordable student housing in the city.

So what exactly is the difference between standard off-campus housing and a student housing co-operative?

The key difference is that co-operative housing projects are just that — co-operative living. Co-operative living means that each resident is expected to contribute equally to the accommodation, for the greater good of the entire residence. In a standard off-campus housing arrangement, students are not members, but rather tenants. Communal duties and responsibilities are not enforced as they are in co-operative housing. Furthermore, student housing co-ops are owned and operated by the members, unlike rentals, where the landlord operates and maintains the property.

Student housing co-operatives are also run like a democratic organization where every member has an equal say in decisions, full ownership, responsibility for the property’s maintenance, and control of its revenues and expenses. Rental rates in co-ops are often determined collaboratively by the members and often a Board of Directors, rather than set out by a landlord or property manager. Operating costs and expenses are the main factor in determining rental rates, not profit.

Lastly, co-operatives generally follow what is known as the Rochdale Principles. These are a set of ideals which are the foundation of co-op housing projects. It emphasizes seven principles:

  • voluntary and open membership
  • democratic member control
  • member economic participation
  • autonomy and independence
  • education, training and information
  • cooperation among cooperatives
  • concern for community

In both Canada and the United States, there are a variety of very successful student housing co-operatives that run on these principles. One example is The Michigan State University Student Housing Co-operative that is comprised of over 200 members with 15 different properties, all with a rich history. In Toronto, The Campus Co-op has been in operation since 1936 and now operates over 28-row houses or detached Victorian homes.

Student housing co-operatives aren’t for everybody; but students seeking alternative communal living arrangements should research to see if there are any co-ops in operation within their city. This type of accommodation is great for students who wish to save money or greatly value a sense of community in their homes.

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