70 Years Later, Ever-Expanding Co-ops Remain Popular Option

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Even 70 years ago, UC Berkeley students faced the same dilemma every spring: Where can we find affordable housing? You want how much?

Fourteen students had an ingenious solution: buy a house, do your own cooking and your own chores, and pick up after yourself. After all, houses were cheap during the Great Depression. The idea resulted in the University Students' Cooperative Association, the largest cooperative housing association in North America, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this month.

The USCA now includes almost 1,300 students occupying 20 student-run and owned houses ranging in size from Cloyne Court with 151 students to Kidd Hall, which houses 17 students.

"(The co-ops) are sort of like a new parent: Once students move out of high school, they are completely removed in the co-ops; they have to do everything for themselves," said George Proper, USCA general manager, a former co-op resident himself. "(Moving into the co-ops) is a bigger transition for students than the residence halls are, and that's what makes us unique."

To kick off its 70th anniversary celebrations, the USCA held a dinner on Oct. 25 for 100 co-op residents and 200 alumni, including some who graduated in the 1930s.

The USCA began in 1933 with the 14 students pooling their money and buying what became Barrington Hall, an all-male co-op. The idea of living in a co-op became a hit, as some students going to school during the Great Depression were priced out of more expensive fraternities or sororities, and looking for more affordable housing.

What began as one co-op soon grew to five houses within the next five years, including Stebbins Hall, the first all-female co-op. The system quickly became affiliated the campus.

"These co-ops were built because that's what the students decided to do," said Kathryn McCarthy, USCA development director.

After separating from the campus in 1953, the USCA quickly expanded during the 1960s and 1970s as the student enrollment skyrocketed. It acquired Cloyne Court, which had been a hotel and housed faculty, as well as former sorority and fraternity houses such as Davis House and Wolf House and the Northside apartment buildings-the first USCA cooperative apartments. The USCA was also known for its progressivism, being among the first organizations to offer racially integrated student housing in the 1950s and truly co-ed housing, Ridge Project, now known as Casa Zimbabwe, in 1966.

"The co-ops have helped lead the effort to change in Berkeley," Proper said. "Even though there was housing with men's and women's wings, we were the first to have co-ed rooms and men's and women's rooms right next to each other."

But with the continued expansion of the co-ops, residents also began to lose their identity as being a part of a united cooperative system, Proper said. Instead of identifying with the co-op system as a whole, students today identify more with their individual house.

The last addition to the USCA was the completion of the Oscar Wilde House-which is lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-themed-in 1999. The co-ops are planning for further expansion, including negotiating with UC officials to build three new co-ops on Southside, and raising funds to make current co-ops safer and more accessible to disabled students.


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