All Together Now

While renting an apartment or living in University housing may be the default choices, there are other alternatives. In Hyde Park alone there are three established housing co-ops–Bowers, Concord, and Haymarket–which provide room and board at a low premium, plus a bevy of other perks.

The three houses make up Qumbya, a Hyde Park association of co-ops. Haymarket, the first Hyde Park Co-op to open in 1989, is home to a tight-knit group of twelve, not counting pets. Bowers, a yellow-bricked beauty that was a mansion at the turn of the century, is the largest of the three with 24 residents. The most recent house to be incorporated into Qumbya is a Queen Anne-style three-floor flat with a kitchen on each level and 19 current residents.

Rents range from about $350-530, depending on room size and amenities. On top of that, there’s a $190 monthly charge that covers food, utilities, and Internet.

The number of co-op members is always in flux, and house cultures change with the people living there. But some things–like communal decision-making and house rules–have remained remarkably stable. All three co-ops are vegetarian friendly–all group meals must have a vegan option, and when ordering communal food in bulk, they cater to herbivores. Meeting protocols and house responsibilities like weekly chores have been codified and passed down (but can be altered with a vote). House traditions–including folk music concerts, bondage soirees, and prank wars–and tales of past members constitute a kind of hallowed co-op lore.

The words “cooperative living” tend to bring to mind your pony-tailed uncle’s stories of bongo circles and free love, but that’s not really the case at these co-ops. Within the Bowers community alone are three married couples, one retiree, and a giggly blonde toddler. “We’re not all fucking and doing ecstasy,” notes Beth Topczewski, who lives in Bowers. They do host some racy parties, and ask that all prospective housemates be accepting of homosexuality and moderate drug use. Another Bowers resident, Meghan Sullivan, says, “All of the stereotypes [of co-op living] have been violated for me, but not consistently.”

While co-op living has a more regulated system of chores than one would encounter in a normal apartment situation, many residents see value in the “social pressure” it provides. Taking up residence in an intentional community means that everyone pitches in, which can actually cut down on domestic labor in the long run. And the co-op provides an “instant social network,” according to Topczewski. There are always people around the house, and it’s a good way to make friends. In the end, says Bowers resident Kayla Higgins, “life can be more peaceful with a lot of people.”

Bowers House, 5130 S. University Ave.

Concord House, 5225 S. Blackstone Ave.

Haymarket House, 5405 S. Ridgewood Ct.

Visit qumbya.com for more information and to download an application.