Housing Guide 2011: Living Cooperatively

The phrase “cooperative living’ is steeped in the counterculture of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s. The name harkens back to hippie lore and conjures up images of Kerouac, Snyder, and Ginsberg hunkering down together in San Francisco; waxing poetic in the morning, agitating in the afternoon, and reveling through all hours of the night. While those images have largely faded into Beat mythology, the idea of a large group of people freely sharing chores, food, and resources in a communal environment still seems like a concept belonging more to Haight Ashbury than to the comparatively staid streets of Hyde Park.  Nevertheless co-ops have been growing more and more popular in this neighborhood during the last decade and increasing numbers of newcomers are choosing them as welcoming, cost-effective alternatives to traditional apartments.

The largest co-op organization in Hyde Park is Qumbya, a nonprofit cooperation that has approximately fifty members spread out across three Hyde Park properties.  In a Qumbya house, rooms cost between 365 and 535 dollars a month depending on their sizes, on top of which each resident pays an additional $175 a month for utilities and food.  Members are expected to do their share of chores that can range from simply cleaning a bathroom to painting a stairwell or cooking dinner for the rest of the house, which residents are obliged to do about once every three weeks.

Qumbya’s largest house, Bowers, is the place that third-year at the University of Chicago, Anne-Marie Williams, calls home. She says that, expense-wise, the food is a break.  “Last night, we had a stir-fried tofu dish that was just delicious, we’re able to get all of ingredients fairly cheap because we buy in bulk from local produce places and Costco.”  Said Williams.  All the grub, according to organization guidelines, must be vegetarian with Vegan options. Carnivores aren’t shunned, meat just can’t be bought with communal funds.

Applying to live in a co-op is fairly simple: you just have to go to www.qumbya.com, fill out an application, and within three weeks you’ll be invited over to dinner.  Each new member must be voted in at a house’s weekly governance meetings. The agreement on potential members contributes to what Williams describes as a “relatively conflict free atmosphere.” Currently, according to Williams, although undergraduates are welcome at co-ops, at they are a minority. “Most co-op members are graduate students and young professionals, “ she said.

According to Williams, the diversity of co-ops is a major plus. Qumbya’s website is a testament to the truth of this. With people ranging from a self-described “toned Texan from the National Guard,” a “chain-smoking, foul-mouthed special ed teacher from Long Island”, and a “belly-dancing, sometimes-Catholic immunology grad student,”–all under one roof, co-op existence would be anything but boring.