My friend Simone and I used to live in the University Students' Cooperative Association
together. She is now starting a similar co-op in New Orleans called NOCHA (New Orleans Cooperative Housing Association), amid the rubble of Katrina, and honestly I'm not sure why. Let's ask her. She's visiting San Francisco now, so here we go.

Q: Simone, why are you starting a co-op?

A: Because New Orleans needs co-ops.

Q: You're gonna have to give a better answer than that.

A: There's not housing right now and rents have been increasing half by the market and half by destruction--but regardless housing, housing is no longer affordable down there. People are price gouging.

Q: So how's a co-op going to change that?

A: Co-ops are cheaper. Co-ops foster community while lowering the cost of living.

Q: Haven't people fled New Orleans?

A: Yeah, we're starting with students because we want students to stay in the city. We want them to be able to go to college and in doing so support the rebuilding process. Their parents are paying for their housing and their spending money that they spend in local businesses. That's why students are vital to the local economy; and it's important that we keep them in the city. And hopefully while living in the co-op they get more involved in their community, more so than they would in other types of student housing, and then stick around. Because currently, there are at least five major universities in New Orleans and those students graduate and leave.
There's not a thriving research and development sector, or technological economy, or intellectual sector in New Orleans like there is in, say the SF Bay Area or in New York or other major university areas.

Q: Why would co-ops involve the students more in the community than other housing types?

A: Cooperatives are innately democratic. House decisions are made by those living in the co-op. There is systematic, institutional involvement in this type of housing that more easily relates to the outside world. Students become involved in the house and the central-level co-op system.

Q: So you're planning on having multiple houses?

A: Uh-huh. And we're hoping that involvement will spread from the co-op level to a more regional level. What we're really trying to do is foster the idea of cooperation and community.

Q: How? Students are busy with school, and it sound like the co-op involvement will take up the rest of their time.

A: Then they graduate.

Q: OK, but don't you want to get them involved in the wider community you spoke of while they're still students in the city, in New Orleans--before they flee to find jobs and pay-off loans?

A: Students aren't that busy when they are in college. I was a student. I had lots of time.

Q: Uh, Simone.... Weren't you a workaholic with three jobs, ten projects at any one time, 18 units and a time-consuming mooch boyfriend, plus a real dog?

A: The eunuch aside, you can't really compare everyone to me, BUT, college students do have spare time. Students historically are always the ones at the frontlines of political change and activism--that's true everywhere. If any city needs activist students, it's New Orleans. Our co-op can connect these idealistic-minded students to a greater network of like-minded people all over the country, through organizations like NASCO (North American Students of Cooperation).
Through these kind of affiliations, you can encourage people to stay and work within the city. New Orleans is going to change, it
needs to change. Currently, both candidates for mayor promised a diversified economy on their platforms. Whoever gets elected, there are students from at least five major universities that can fill those positions whatever those positions are. We're hoping those students are NOCHA alumni.

Q: Why do they have to be NOCHA alum? If this quint-university city already produces enough grads to fill those spots, then what does NOCHA add? And if it doesn't what will NOCHA change about that?

A: They don't have to be NOCHA alum. It would just me nice, obviously.
The City of New Orleans does produce many intelligent, well-educated students in other areas; what it does not produce is jobs. The economy of New Orleans is very tourist-based and it's not self-sustaining because it's dependent to outside consumers. A college-educated, say engineer, is not going to work at the "Chocolate City" t-shirt store on Bourbon Street. We hope NOCHA alum would offer an alternative perspective on the status quo of hierarchical management, which would be radical cooperation and self-governance.

Q: So, you want the new city to be a cooperative economy? What, are you a commie?

A: Oh, Melanie. I think that cooperatives have a place in the new economic model of New Orleans, However, I don't feel that the entire economy has to be a cooperative one. What I think New Orleans does need is a diversified economy, and I'm not the only one who thinks that.

Q: Okay, so what sorts of economic activities do you foresee NOCHA alumni enriching New Orleans with; and how would a background from NOCHA help stimulate that diversification?

A: The rebuilding of New Orleans is a multi-player venture. NOCHA is not trying to or claiming to be the sole rebuilder. We're not a training institution or university, but merely a housing cooperative that will foster a sense of community and true democracy as the city rebuilds.

Q: You are planning on purchasing a house for NOCHA. How long do you think it will take for student co-opers to pay you back?

A: Whatever house we purchase, we will with a loan and we'll have mortgage payments monthly that will be lower than the revenue generated from student rents. We'll use student rents to pay the mortgage.

Q: You need it to be large enough to scale for rent but bigger space takes land: So what size are you looking for?

A: We'd like to start with housing 50 students, but that's not going to be easily done in the house. I've done research and budgeting in proposals that I've written for various grant requests. I've looked up the cost of houses for sale near local universities and rents for dormitories, and we have set our budget to those numbers.

Q: Can the co-ops expected prices beat the dorms and local houses, or are they just competitive?

A: Well, our prices are competitive. Our amenities are incomparable. We offer the same physical amenities--internet, laundry, food, etc.--but we offer something the university dormitories don't. NOCHA is a student-run democracy. Dorms can't compete with that.

OKAY, we girls are sleepy now. No more grilling Simone, who tonight debuts her pink mohawk. This is the first interview of an n-part series... So stay tuned.

Post tag: You're it!


Ruth said...


Yay for coops-I definately enjoyed my time at Castro (in my view the best coop!)

Good luck with setting up in New Orleans


Jessica said...

I'm moving to Tulane this August and am wanting to move into a co-op. I lived in one as a undergrad and loved it. Any advice on how to go about finding co-op living situations in New Orleans? Thanks!

melanie said...

Jessica --
Thanks for leaving a comment. If you send me your email/phone I can put you in touch with my friend Simone, who can put you in touch.