Housing for the students, by the students

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If you’re walking through West Campus and you see a house with TVs dotting the roof, you’ve stumbled upon French House. This is one of the nine co-ops that belong to the UT Intercooperative Council, one of two co-op boards in West Campus. 

What exactly is a co-op? It’s a house or other residence in which all of those who pay rent own the property together. This means that everyone gets an equal say in the rules, renovations and other decisions about the living space. According to Anna Pope, the president of ICC’s board of directors and trustee of French House, co-op living is simply “based on what we want.” 

In general, ICC co-ops are smaller than those of College Houses’, the other West Campus co-op board. The co-ops under ICC are all actual houses, rather than dorm or apartment-like dwellings, and they house a range of 15 to 33 people. The board of directors is elected by residents in the co-ops and is an entirely student-run, nonprofit program.

 Pope, who graduated in December with degrees in Spanish and Latin American studies, has lived in French House since January 2012. As trustee, it’s her job to make sure the household runs the way it’s supposed to and to run the bimonthly meetings. 

Like other co-ops, French House has officers within the house who take care of certain duties. Everyone is required to do a certain number of hours of labor each week — like grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and other chores — and the rent covers not only a resident’s room, but also utilities and food. Co-ops can be an economically savvy decision for students who want to experience the convenience of living in West Campus, while paying a lower rent. 

Each house offers a different atmosphere. For instance, French House does not allow pets, and only upper division and graduate students can live there. There are no TVs allowed in common areas, to increase social interaction, and they require prospective members to attend a dinner at the co-op before being able to move in. For applicants to French House who don’t currently live in Austin, the household will do a Skype interview in lieu of dinner. 

Currently, 19 people live at this particular co-op, which is known among the other co-ops as the “clean house,” because they are much tidier than others. Each person in the house must do four to five hours of labor per week, and there is a weekly schedule of chores that usually shifts every semester due to new members and other changes.

The camaraderie among the residents at French House is in part owed to the rule that bans TVs, and many of them said that they hang out together often. 

“Co-ops can be pretty insular, but not always,” said aerospace engineering graduate student Karl McDonald. “It usually gives you a ready-made social group.”

Pope agrees, adding that co-ops are eclectic, and you can make friends that you never would have met otherwise.

“I’ve known very few people who move into co-ops and don’t like it,” she said.