Change of scenery: A2's alternative housing options uncovered

BY JOSEPH LITMAN
Daily Arts Writer
Published November 14, 2002

After knowing someone for just a few months, mostly seeing him while in the bathroom, would you want him to have keys to your home? During October of freshman year, did you ever call your mom about the kids you had met in college and pause while speaking to ask your new "best friend" what her last name was? Have you found the prices charged for some of the places in Ann Arbor a little outrageous?

Paul Wong
Paul Wong
Paul Wong
JESSICA YURASEK/Daily
Owen House, part of the Ann Arbor Inter-Cooperative Council.

Regardless of the answers one might provide to these and similar questions, hopefully they illustrate how precarious searching for housing can be and some of the risks entailed when attempting to live off-campus. For most students, finding an abode for the following fall becomes a priority after the school year's first two months given that landlords start marketing their holdings quite (read: too damn) early. Freshman can find the process particularly daunting since they are still adjusting to school and might not even know with whom they truly will want to live. However, looking for a house or apartment - the two most traditional student-housing options - can intimidate anyone.

The anxiety inherent in the process is in part due to how unfamiliar it can be for many people. With notable exceptions like the children of real estate magnates, entrepreneurs who are guaranteed mortgages from a young age or those whose favorite television station growing up was the one which listed housing prices over muzak, finding an apartment or house while in college can be the first time someone encounters the real estate market. Conditioned to feel skeptical and defensive by tales of cunning and negligent landlords, prospective lessees surely will fight apprehension when they are asked to put up large security deposits or realize that they will be held accountable if their roommates decide to stop paying rent and move to Albania in the middle of the year.

Ignoring the potential problems one may encounter while living as an off-campus home-renter, many students might simply feel uncomfortable living in a house or apartment. Some may find these conventional living arrangements isolating given how many other people are at one's disposal in the residence halls; others may thirst for an opportunity to better integrate their academic and residential existences; still more people might enjoy living in a community in which they can take a leadership position. Bearing in mind that there are even more possibilities than those which follow, the Daily presents three perhaps overlooked housing options which may alleviate some of the stress and burdens of a traditional house hunt:

Cooperative Living provides students with a chance to exist in a community setting off campus. The student co-ops, known as the Inter-Cooperative Council (ICC), are an affordable alternative to the residence halls that still feature many of the accouterments common in residence hall life, qualities like camaraderie, convenient access to essential facilities, and a meal plan. ICC homes, student owned and operated, do not seek to make a profit, and this condition markedly reduces the price. For little more than $400 a month, students can live in a co-op and receive a room, meals, laundry services, utilities and local phone calls.

The premise on which co-op living hinges, though, is that residents will engage in four or five hours of work per week meant to maintain and improve the home. These activities can range from mundane chores like paying bills to perhaps more engaging work like making dinner. Residents also make group decisions at house meetings concerning issues like when social functions should occur, what each week's menu should be and to which publications the house should subscribe.

This communal attitude has even spawned an ICC-invented term, "guff." Guff refers to things that are community property, often food items such as bread. It can be used as a noun -"Hey, there's some guff here"; a verb - "I didn't think that belonged to anyone so I guffed it"; or an adjective - "Is this our guff cheese?"

Inherent in these community-based, democratic processes - and in co-op living in general-is a reliance upon others. Yet sometimes responsibilities are neglected and expectations are not met. These shortcomings can be difficult to reconcile. As current Joint House resident and LSA sophomore Becky Mau said, "When people didn't know each other well (early on), it was hard to get on people's cases (about neglecting duties). The whole making sure everyone pays their rent is hard. The house is now getting better because people are getting to know each other better." On the whole, though, Mau has enjoyed her experience in a co-op. "I didn't like living in the dorms and definitely have met more and different kinds of people here. And, you can drink and smoke. People are not so stuck up and into material things like a lot of kids in Ann Arbor."

While the stuck-up set may be out of luck when searching for co-op housing, anyone, stuck up or otherwise, may apply to live at the Telluride House. Telluride offers full room and board scholarships to twenty or thirty students annually. The house is part of the Telluride Association, an organization founded - for all intents and purposes - in 1890 by Lucien L. Nunn. Nunn was a wealthy Telluride, Colorado-based miner who realized a need for electrical engineers and sought to train and employ them so that they could help his energy business. After the successful implementation of his plan, Nunn was able to slowly develop a scholarship program for students that emphasized academic excellence and leadership initiative. Since its nascent stages, Telluride Association has grown and now includes installations in Ithaca, N.Y. at Cornell and here in Ann Arbor.

Students interested in a Telluride scholarship should be prepared for a concentrated academic experience. LSA sophomore Shira Levine, a first-year Telluride resident, said, "I had heard of the organization and was interested in a combination of my home and academic lives." Living in the House, members engage in a battery of stimulating discussions and are given sundry opportunities to ponder, as the organization's website claims, "our time - scientific and philosophical, social and political, literary and aesthetic." Informally, such discussions take place consistently. "I think that the major strength of (the house) are the people that you meet," said Levine. "There is a big range of interesting, passionate people doing things around campus who talk to me about my interests and try and develop my ideas more." Formally, events like visits from speakers, professors, and Telluride alumni/alumnae maintain the high level of discourse.

Though not as innovative as adding a word like "guff" to the English language, yet surely congruent with the Association's message, Telluride House's "pub speak" program is a unique component of the experience that affords residents a chance to drop knowledge on their peers. Each house dweller delivers a "pub speak" on some topic about which he or she is informed and passionate. The presentation topics are diverse with a recent highlight being a speech about black music divas.

Telluride House is not an academic utopia, however. Levine, despite offering otherwise glowing praise for the House, mentioned that it was difficult living in the community "when I first moved in because I felt like I was living with a bunch of people who I didn't know. That made it hard to talk with people about some things. Also, sometimes you are a little far off campus. I spend a lot of time in the house."

Students who are not interested in the co-ops or the Telluride House - be they stuck up, selfish, nonintellectual, interested in being closer to campus or something else entirely - can perhaps investigate becoming Resident Advisors. Becoming an RA ensures that room and board will be paid for and presents students with a distinct opportunity to provide leadership and counseling.

Jon Beyer, an LSA senior who served as an RA in Alice Lloyd last year, said that he became an RA because, "I liked living in the residence halls, it was attractive financially and I thought that it would be a positive experience in terms of having a position of responsibility and interacting with other students living in the hall." The final two components of Beyer's RA experience - having a position of responsibility and interacting with other residents - are particularly worth noting. While ensuring that the residence hall are comfortable places for everyone can be a hassle at times (asking that one kid to stop making noise for the twentieth time is not fun), RA's can find all-new friends in their residents and get to know this group intimately given the close quarters, common facilities, and inherent nature of the position. Additionally, making the rounds while on duty, implementing educational programs, and attending to many problems can all further endear an advisor to his residents, and this can allow for strong connections and effective leadership.

A resident advisor's free room and board, chance to help others and social avenues were not enough to make Beyer return to Alice Lloyd this year, though. "There are some petty requirements concerning things such as programming. That becomes a drag because they require a lot of effort, and there is often a general lack of interest (from the residents in participating)." Beyer's objections are legitimate and should not be disregarded. However, as is true for every possible living scenario, students must assess the negatives or positives carry more weight.

Whether or not students choose to pursue any of the options detailed above, it is hopefully reassuring to know that they at least exist. Please bear them in mind the next time a landlord asks for $500 a month for a small place with no heat.