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Lansing’s housing cooperatives and cohousing organizations provide reasonable rent with all utilities included, if you don’t mind cleaning dishes and doing chores around the house. With most rental spaces ranging around $400 a month with utilities, shared housing can be a means to save big bucks on the costs of living.
Formed in 1969, the Michigan State University Student Housing Co-op owns 17 homes which serve 240 members within the Lansing and East Lansing area. Applicants do not need to be MSU students to become members.
“We actually don’t call it rent because members aren’t renting in the co-op. They actually own the space and time when they are here,” Said Nola Warner, the member services coordinator.
Despite sharing the university’s name, the MSU Student Housing Co-op is an autonomous organization independent of the school.
The co-op’s three houses on Collingwood Street bear the symbol of two pine trees surrounded by a circle.
“That is the international cooperative symbol, the twin pines,” Warner said. “The circle represents an everlasting system while the pines are evergreen and everlasting as well.”
At the corner of Albert Street sits the Miles Davis co-op house. A part of the MSU Student Housing Co-op since 1991, the two-level property is the home of six owners.
Matthew Mandryk, a member of Miles Davis house, has lived in the housing co-op for two years.
“There is a tremendous sense of community here,” Mandryk said. “ I go to my friends’ places who have apartments and ask, ‘Do you talk to your neighbors?’ They usually don’t. That is so strange to me.”
He added that before moving to Miles Davis, he lived in a 22-person house.
“It is more of an intimate space and I’ve become close to almost everyone in the house,” he said.
Warner said though co-ops can undercut market rates significantly, the model doesn’t allow for fast growth.
“The answer why is affordability,” Warner remarked. “It’s our mission as a co-op to retain affordability. We can’t do that and grow exponentially at the same time. We can only afford to grow as our assets and equity builds.”
She added that a lot of housing co-ops “just sit on their assets, so to speak.” The money that the co-ops bring in often meets the regular expenses, leaving little room for extra spending.
Another cohousing group operates on Genesee Street on Lansing’s westside. Founded in 2003, Genesee Gardens Cohousing is a retrofitted cohousing community that spans over 10 homes.
“Co-housing is quite different from a co-op,” said Mike Hamlin, a resident of the Genesee Gardens Cohousing. “We have common values and make decisions from consensus with a common house, which we see as a shared piece of property. Other than that, we all have our own spaces.”
The organization was formed from home-owning neighbors who wanted to see organic change on their block. Its namesake Genesee Gardens is a shared space between all properties with flowers, vegetables, herbs and a chicken coop.
“We formed a condo association for the first four houses so we can share this garden because it is a language the city understands,” Hamlin said. “But unlike traditional condos, we are using and renovating what is already here.”
Some members were inspired by the story of the N Street Cohousing community in California, Hamlin said. The movement saw Kevin Wold and Linda Cloud tear down their fences to unite with a home next door in 1986. The action had a snowball effect over the next 30 years and eventually saw 21 houses tear down their fences to share a common green space in 2018.
The Genesee Gardens Cohousing group maintains a common house with rooms available to rent at $360 a month with all utilities included. A peek inside the cohousing property reveals an abundance of piecemeal couches arranged in the living room and large dining table stocked with garden-fresh vegetables.
The bottom floor of the common house functions primarily as a gathering space, Hamlin said.
“We have a vegan and a chef living here so we get some pretty amazing things in the kitchen,” Hamlin said.
There is more to the cohousing community than just a good deal, he added.
“We have people that are interested in just the price, but we try to be a little bit picky with that and find someone with shared values,” Hamlin said. “Aside from the low price, when you move in you’ll immediately know 25 neighbors in your community.”
The residents of Genesee Gardens Cohousing believe that sharing resources makes sense for the betterment of the community.
“Take a snowblower for example,” he said. “Why should everyone have to buy one to use it for only 20 minutes and put it away when we can share one?”