Kansas University student Noah Compo lives in his apartment alone. But when he goes home at night, he’s welcomed by a community of people.
Compo lives in Lawrence’s newest cooperative housing residence, which opened Aug. 1. Residents of the co-op on Indiana Street between 10th and 11th Streets have their own apartments, complete with individual bathrooms and kitchens — but they share a common space, responsibilities and some meals in the two houses.
Living in a cooperative is Compo’s way of being a part of a larger social system.
“Humans are social creatures," Compo said. "It makes sense for us to live together."
Cooperative housing is a form of group living. The Lawrence houses are owned by the National Association of Student Cooperatives, and managed by the University of Kansas Student Housing Association, which focuses on administrative responsibilities and allows the co-op residents to manage the houses themselves.
UKSHA is made up of four co-op houses in Lawrence, with a total of more than 70 residents: Ad Astra, at1033 Kentucky St.; Olive House, at 1614 Kentucky St.; Sunflower House, at 1406 Tennessee St.; and the new Indiana Street facility. Olive House is the smallest co-op, with just eight rooms, while Sunflower House is the largest. Sunflower has 33 bedrooms, five bathrooms, a few common spaces and one kitchen.
Typically a resident rents his or her own bedroom, but shares bathrooms, living space and the kitchen with others. The new Indiana Street co-op offers a bit more individual space than the other three, but still depends on common areas.
The mission of the UKSHA co-ops is to create a “democratic, egalitarian, peaceful and environmentally sound” living environment. Residents vote on rules, new roommates and any changes that may need to be made to the house. They can even provide input on whether a resident's lease should be renewed or if it would be best to search for other applicants who may be a better fit for the house.
“It’s not how most people live; it takes a little getting used to,” said Compo, who lived in Sunflower House for two years prior to moving into the Indiana Street house.
Residents spend time together during scheduled weekly meetings and scheduled meals. Chores are divided up and each resident keeps others accountable for making sure the house is running smoothly.
“Instead of a landlord, which can sometimes be stressful to deal with, we all operate together,” Chris Lawrence, a resident at Sunflower House, said.
Living in a co-op costs between $300 and $500 a month, depending on the house and the size of the room. The cost typically includes rent, Internet and food for group meals. Leases for the most part are one-year, although there are some exceptions. The apartments, which range from the studios to larger family-sized units, cost about half of the price of other apartments that are similar in location and size, Compo said.
A growing community
The new co-op houses on Indiana Street were added this year because the older cooperatives had run out of room to house everyone interested in living the co-op lifestyle.
Compo said the co-ops also are seeing a new group of applicants who weren’t the usual students or recent graduates who might be attracted to the house because of cheaper rent or the social lifestyle. Increasingly, families and older adults wanted to be a part of the cooperative movement.
“These are people who want to raise their kids with more people around,” Compo said. “I think it can be a really supportive environment.”
UKSHA is leasing the two Indiana buildings for the year as an experiment. By renting out the individual apartments, small families or people who are more private can have their own space, but the shared common space and weekly meetings and meals keep alive the community feel of a co-op. The Indiana Street co-op can house up to 20 people.
Each resident is a member of the individual cooperative communities and the UKSHA community. The residents are a mix of students, farmers, artists, musicians, professionals and business owners. While diversity of ages, interests and occupations can sometimes make living together a challenge, the satisfaction of learning about each other is what makes cooperative housing meaningful, according to residents.
“It’s about sharing your life with people,” Compo said.