The next idea in my “Making a Difference” series isn’t exactly a new one. It’s been tried before elsewhere, and I’ve even suggested it before here in Carbondale. But it still hasn’t happened — and so, the stubborn Taurus in me is going to keep pushing this idea until I can find other people who feel similarly inspired.
The idea? Start a housing co-op.
A housing co-op is any form of housing where ownership (or at least rental) of a house (or houses) is held collectively. All decisions that affect the house(s) as a whole are made cooperatively by the members, and all maintenance/housework/etc. is organized by and for the members.
There are many benefits to a housing co-op, and many challenges as well. Here are some of the benefits:
* Owners have more control over the circumstances of their housing — not as much as a sole owner, of course, but much more than an isolated renter.
* Expenses tend to be lower, and quality of living higher, because there is no landlord extracting a profit.
* Flexibility of housing: Your housing co-op doesn’t have to be a big house with a bunch of roommates. It can take on other forms, including: an apartment building with separate living spaces; a trailer park with separate trailers; a lot or block with separate houses; a tenant-union-type group for people who are renters with the same landlord/neighborhood but don’t all live under one roof; or several buildings which blend alone-space and community space.
* Intentional Living: Some housing co-ops have a theme — all students, or all vegetarians, or all gaming geeks, or all activists, or all ninjas, etc.
* Participating in a weekly or monthly meeting gives owners experience with grassroots cooperative decision-making (i.e. democracy, which the U.S. was supposedly founded on).
And here are some of the challenges:
* You generally have to be at least a little more “involved.” This means going to a regular meeting, whether once a week or once a month. How important it is to make it to most/all meetings depends on what kind of housing coop it is.
* If you have other people under the same roof as you, you have to hope that they’ll keep up their end of any chores, meetings, etc. In other words, if your fellow members are bums, you might have to deal with dirty dishes, laundry on the floor, etc. (Or if your fellow members are neat freaks, you might have to listen to them complain because you don’t scrub the floor with a toothbrush every single day.)
* If you don’t have an already existing co-op to join, you have to start a new one. And even if it’s a simple one, it’ll take at least a little time and energy to think it through and talk it over with other prospective members.
The good news is that most of the challenges are easily manageable, and most are things you would encounter in any roommate situation. Being roommates is, in fact, a very simple form of cooperative housing.
So why is a housing co-op going to make a difference in the world? Well, there are a number of ways:
* We may save money by sharing resources — rent, and possibly even food money, time, energy, etc., depending on how we set it up. And extra money in the hands of cool people is a cool thing, whatever they may choose to do with it.
* We may get to know our neighbors/roommates better.
* We may get practice cooperative decision-making.
* We may form interest-based housing co-ops to support each other around some particular interest or quality we have in common.
* We’ll be supporting a shift in thinking — away from the idea of landlords and towards the idea that everyone should be in charge of their own housing situation.
Does any of this sound like a good idea to you? Good! Let me know what you think of it all. And since I’ve pledged to get as specific as possible with these “Making a Difference” ideas, here are a few simple and specific ideas about action steps you can take if you like the idea of cooperative housing:
* Talk to other people who share your interests. Not everyone who talks about it will actually go through with the idea, but this can help you to learn more about housing co-ops and think about what you might be looking for in a housing co-op.
* Organize/Join a discussion group. Discussion groups about “new ideas” are helpful because there may be many people who like the sound of an idea, but aren’t familiar enough with it to invest time and energy in it until they actually see it unfolding.
* Be roommates with people who share your interests. And in saying this, I’m not just talking about finding a roommate you can tolerate, or a roommate who is your friend’s friend. Think about what’s most important to you in life — whether that’s art, politics, ecology/environment, music, computers, gaming, etc. You may already be doing this to a degree… if so, talk to your current roommates about it, and keep these qualities in mind the next time a housing/roommate decision.
If I can find at least two other people who are interested, I’d like to co-start a housing co-op with a focus on eco-activism and/or eco-spirituality. This would probably entail being roommates for a year, seeing if we get along, and clarifying what if anything we would like to be a next step [i.e. incorporating, trying to own rather than rent, how to rotate members in/out, etc].
If there’s some other type of housing co-op you’d like to start, I’d still be happy to give you a hand and direct you to any information or resources you may need.
And if you really don’t like the sound of housing co-ops at all… well, that’s cool too. That’s why I’m coming up with a whole SERIES of ideas! The world needs a lot of change, and not everyone will agree on what needs changing, or where each of us may fit in. So, let’s explore as many options as possible and find as many people as possible who are interested in a similar approach.
I hope to hear back from some of you soon, whether you love this idea or hate it with a passion. In the meantime, I’m off to grab some dinner and/or flesh out a few of the other ideas I’ve got on tap for future blog entries.