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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, April 12, 2024

Cooperative living: a lifestyle alternative

Madison is proudly one of the most progressive cities in the United States. There's a first-rate recycling program that is ahead of most of the country. There are bicycle trails that stretch from one end of the city to the other. Every weekend it seems like there is some sort of demonstration on Library Mall. When Madisonians go home, why should their accommodations be any less progressive? 

 

 

 

That's where Madison cooperatives fit in. Madison has a considerably large number of co-ops for its population, although it comes as little surprise that they are a very popular choice for many in a more liberal college town. 

 

 

 

The largest organization of co-ops in Madison is run by a common body, the Madison Community Co-op. Founded in 1968, MCC takes responsibility for distributing fees and taxes and distributing both income and expenses among a pool of 11 co-op houses.  

 

 

 

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MCC comprise many different types of co-ops, ranging from the Syntropy Co-op, an eight-member house of predominantly workers in the Madison area with an average age of 31.5 to Lothlorien Co-op, consisting mostly of feminist/queer-supportive younger residents (both students and non-students). In addition to the MCC, there are about 12 other non-student housing co-ops in the Madison area, according to Daniel Long, co-president of the MCC and resident of the Friends Co-op. 

 

 

 

'The main differences in the MCC co-ops are size and whether they are family-oriented or not,' Long said. 

 

 

 

Life in the co-ops offers a different style of living. 

 

 

 

'You find a sense of community and diversity of people'in co-ops I learn a lot more about the people in the world around me,' Long said. 

 

 

 

Along with the benefits of living in a diverse community come differences of opinion. 

 

 

 

'There are certain political beliefs in [co-ops], and different political views will be listened to by the house, and they will strive to make a consensus,' Long said. 

 

 

 

Each co-op has small differences in rent, but generally residents of MCC co-ops will pay $200 a month for a small room to $350 or $400 for a large room or pair of rooms. In addition to saving money by living in a large house with many people, the MCC co-ops have recently been awarded property tax exemption by the city of Madison for their generosity in giving grants to local community groups, including organizations that tutor low-income children. 

 

 

 

In addition to rent, food is also generally purchased communally, with food costs ranging from $75 to $100 per month, per person. Alternatives to paying for food include performing service on cooperatively supported farms in exchange for boxes of vegetables.  

 

 

 

Co-ops also save money on food by buying in bulk. Each co-op usually has a weekly meal (everyone is welcome) cooked by its residents, where all house members can get together and socialize. 

 

 

 

'What I liked was the fact that we were all working to develop our community in the house,' said Brian Dahlk, financial coordinator and former resident of Lothlorien and Martha's co-ops. 

 

 

 

However, some co-op members say there are drawbacks. 

 

 

 

'Living in a house with a lot of people, a lot of person-to-person conflicts develop,' Dahlk said. 'Co-op residents have to have a certain level of flexibility ... in regard to diversity. There is a common baseline belief in diversity'racial, ethnic and people with different sexual orientations. This would be more of an issue in co-ops [compared to average households] by being more present.' 

 

 

 

Jenny Wichita, member and house treasurer of Women's Co-op, explained why she chose co-op life. 

 

 

 

'I wanted to live with people, yet still have privacy,' Wichita said. 'I was tired of doing the roommate bit'I had some really bad experiences. Residents of Women's [co-op] were very welcoming and there was an interesting mix of people.' 

 

 

 

Kevin Cullen, a newer resident of Hypatia Co-op, chose the house because he knew residents who lived there. 

 

 

 

'Hypatia is lower key, politically'the meetings aren't intense,' he said. 'There's tons of food to cook with'you should see the culinary masterpieces that come from the kitchen. ... I also liked the burden sharing.'  

 

 

 

Hypatia is a family-friendly house. 

 

 

 

'It's a home, and children brighten up any home,' he said. 

 

 

 

Co-op members stress communication. 

 

 

 

'Communication is a key thing'people are very open-minded, and not homogeneous,' Cullen said. 

 

 

 

Hypatia Co-op is similar to many other co-ops in that it is located in a historically important home. The house, a large, three-story building known as the Keyes House, was home to Elisha Keyes, Madison's first postmaster (appointed by President Lincoln), and mayor of Madison from 1865 to 1866 and again in 1886.  

 

 

 

Another co-op, Phoenix Co-op is also a historic building that at one time was even home to a fraternity'not surprising considering it's across the street from Kollege Klub bar and is at the end of a long neighborhood of fraternities, on the corner of Lake and Langdon streets. 

 

 

 

Ken Rosenberg has been a resident of Phoenix Co-op for four years. 

 

 

 

'[It has] a lower hippy factor,' Rosenberg said. '[Being an activist] is maybe less of an expectation at Phoenix than at other co-ops... We have less obvious hippies.' 

 

 

 

Tim Ruddy, a member of Phoenix Co-op for two years, echoes Rosenberg's sentiments. 

 

 

 

'Phoenix has an all-inclusive identity'there's less of an alternative dogma here [than in other co-ops],' Ruddy said. 'Residents here range from quote-unquote 'normal' to alternative/progressive. Ages in the house range from 18 to 47, but it's not set up to be for families. We're not trying to be exclusive of mainstream ideas. Members can eat meat, drive SUVs and we even have a TV, but there's no cable.'

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