The Berkeley Student Cooperative is a housing organization in Berkeley owned and operated by and for students. The mission of the organization is to provide a quality, low-cost, cooperative housing community to university students, thereby providing an educational opportunity for those who might not otherwise be able to afford a university education. By providing and constructing low-cost cooperative student housing, the organization is intended to relieve the state from some of the burden of providing housing for university students. The organization furthermore has a commitment to educate and influence the community in order to eliminate prejudice and discrimination in housing.
Fourteen students founded the BSC in 1933 with the help of Stiles Hall (the University YMCA), and with a $500 loan from the Club House Loan Fund of the University. The students first arranged to occupy an existing boarding house with the proprietor as cook. Shortly thereafter they rented a house, furnished it with borrowed furniture, and began their first individual operation. After two years the organization purchased a larger building with a very small cash down payment and a very large mortgage. Since then, several additional houses have been leased or purchased.
The BSC operates two types of living facilities: group-living, which provides both room and board, and apartments. There are now seventeen room and board houses and three apartment complexes. Eighteen are owned by the BSC, and two are leased from the University of California. The houses have a population of about 900 students (approximately 50% women and 50% men), and provide board for additional students. In addition to the room-and-board houses, our three apartment complexes contain 143 apartments housing 389 members. All of our buildings are within easy walking distance from the campus. Total BSC membership is about 1300 students, which represents about 4% of total University enrollment. The capacity of individual houses ranges from 17 to 151 members. All but one were originally built for other purposes, including apartments, boarding houses, a hotel, sororities and fraternities, private homes and a convent. Most of these buildings are quite old, but they have a great variety of room sizes, and generally offer more space per student than newer buildings would.
As of 24 May 2008, the organization’s total assets are approximately $42,020,815. Assets consist almost entirely of land, buildings, and equipment. The growth of assets is due largely to the appreciation of property values in the Berkeley campus area, contributions of alumni and friends, and the savings from operations. In addition, each year the Board of Directors allocates a portion of each member’s rent for a contribution to equity. The 2008-2009 operating budget is approximately $8.3 million. The BSC is incorporated as a non-profit, public benefit corporation under California law, and is classified as a tax-exempt charitable and educational organization under Section 501(c)(3) by the Internal Revenue Service and under Section 23701(d) by the California Franchise Tax Board. All donations are tax-deductible.
GOVERNMENT AND MEMBERSHIP
The governmental system is a federated one in which an elected government of each house or apartment controls its internal affairs. The BSC Board of Directors, composed of twenty-five students and three non-students, determines matters of concern to more than one house or to the organization as a whole. House officers are elected popularly on a one-member, one-vote basis, as are the representatives to the Board of Directors. The BSC student membership ultimately controls the organization through the board, which is elected proportionately by member houses. Non-student members include BSC alumni and UC Berkeley faculty members. No Board member has the power of veto. Student directors serve one-semester terms, while non-student directors serve indefinite terms. This arrangement provides continuity and experience while retaining control in the hands of the student membership.
Membership consists primarily of students at the University of California at Berkeley, and admission is made strictly on a fist-come, first-served basis, with the exception that preference is given to students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students, and foreign exchange students. A significant percentage of our members were also admitted under the University’s Educational Opportunity Program. No other screening of applicants is done. Members are more or less evenly distributed at all undergraduate and graduate levels. Assignment to houses is based strictly upon member preference and seniority within the co-op system.
UNIVERSITY AND ALUMNI RELATIONS
The BSC has no legal or financial ties to the University, nor is it under the control of its alumni except through the influence of alumni representatives to the Board. In the early years the University began to recognize the significance of the BSC as a partner in solving the housing problems of the growing campus, and as a responsible voice of student opinion. In recent years, BSC representatives have worked closely with the University Housing officials and have helped implement liberalization of housing policies, resulting in a wider variety of living arrangements and better distribution of information about housing. BSC representatives serve on various UC Task Forces from time to time, our members are active in the Associated Students’ government and other student activity groups, and the University provides information about the BSC to incoming students as well as providing specific assistance to several BSC programs.
Alumni have retained interest in the growth of the BSC and have contributed a great deal of time and money over the years towards a sizeable scholarship endowment fund for needy co-op students, building renovation campaigns, and other ongoing projects and programs. The alumni incorporated in 1996 and formed a separate 501(c)(3) nonprofit association in order to support the BSC and its mission. BSC alumni recognize that the viability of the organization depends upon continued student control and have always refrained from attempting to control or unduly influence its operations.
Students almost entirely manage the BSC. House members appoint house managers who are compensated in the form of free room and board. These managers supervise resident functions, including meal service, housekeeping, maintenance, and gardening. A student “workshift” manager oversees and assigns tasks to each resident member who is obligated to work about five hours per week. All of the houses are responsible for preparing their own meals using workshift hours under the supervision of elected student kitchen managers. Individual houses can purchase food and supplies either through the Central Warehouse or on their own. Likewise, house members under the supervision of the elected student house maintenance managers, perform most routine and minor maintenance; a central level professional maintenance staff oversees major maintenance projects.
In addition to the student management, there is a professional full-time staff of 21 people who oversee centralized operations. The professional staff consists of the Executive Director and Operations Manager and staff in five main departments: Accounting, Operations (including housing assignments and warehouse-food service), Maintenance, Development, and Member Services/Education. Central functions include collection of fees, applications and assignments, purchasing, warehousing, fiscal management, and major maintenance. While the full-time staff provided continuity and expertise for the organization, major policy and organization decisions are reserved for the Board of Directors.
Throughout the co-op, students regulate social conduct in each house through its own house government. The emphasis of our organization lies in placing major responsibility for conduct upon students themselves. Since 1933, BSC students have consistently demonstrated maturity and good judEDent in conducting their own affairs.
In the late 1960’s, the BSC introduced unsupervised co-ed living arrangements. Today, most BSC houses and apartments are co-ed, except for two all women houses. The BSC also offers a wide range of themed houses for students with special living needs. House themes include graduate and re-entry students, vegetarian, women, African American and gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender.
At various times we have sponsored retreats, workshops, training programs, and residential colleges, and we have a continuing program of social activities and member education organized and run by the students. Members have, over the years, continued to show leadership and innovation in group-living and cooperative programs, commitment to the environment and diversity, women’s groups, student-led classes on campus, organization of other campus co-ops, a regional student co-op network, and so on.
In 1966 construction was completed on our first new building, Ridge Project (a.k.a. Casa Zimbabwe). This 1.5 million dollar project was the first a co-ed residence hall built in the United States with a central facility, including a central warehouse, maintenance shop and office, to serve the entire organization. While architects did the actual design of this very complex building, students were deeply involved at every stage and highly influenced its final form. The U-shaped residence hall provides two bedroom wings, joined by a central core of dining room, lounge, conference, and TV rooms. To reduce mortgage costs, it was necessary to conduct a fund raising campaign. Over a period of three years, more than $660,000 was raised in contributions from alumni, students, faculty, community friends, and foundations. The remainder of the financing was accomplished through a commercial mortgage.
In 1971, with the aid of a loan from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and on land leased from the University, the BSC completed a $2,119,000 housing project, called Rochdale Village, to accommodate 260 students in apartment-type facilities. Rochdale Village is the first at the Berkeley campus to provide accommodations specifically designed for upper division and graduate students. It combines arrangements, and is highly regarded by the community. In January 1981, we completed Fenwick Weavers’ Village, a second complex adjacent to Rochdale Village. This complex, which houses 100 students, was also financed by a $2,375,000 loan from HUD through the College Housing Loan Program. In the late 1990s, the BSC purchased two group living houses, one a 22-person house from the University of California, and the other, a former fraternity house for 38 students.
Recent campaigns include major fire and seismic safety, sustainability and disabled accessibility improvements to all of our buildings.
CONTRIBUTION TO THE COMMUNITY
A commitment to inclusion and diversity has been at the core of the BSC’s mission since day one when the campus was primarily a Caucasian, middle and upper class society where the fraternity and sorority houses were totally segregated. Co-op houses, on the other hand, welcomed a variety of ethnicities, religions and nationalities. When Japanese-Americans were being interred during World War II, it was the co-op that the Japanese Students Club came to for help when they no longer could maintain the rent on their building. The co-op operated it as a house until after the war and the end of internment, at which time it was returned to the Japanese Students Club. In 1966, the BSC became one of the first student housing organizations in the nation to offer co-ed houses, which is now the common practice at most campuses across the U.S.
Overall, the BSC is in a unique position to demonstrate the ability and responsibility of college students to conduct their own affairs, to facilitate their own development and to contribute constructively to the community. Since 1933, BSC members have worked to create and continue an organization that will benefit not only themselves, but many future generations of students. As the largest, and nearly the oldest student housing cooperative in North America, the BSC has contributed not only an education in cooperation and self-help to more than 60,000 University of California students, but continues to provide inspiration and an example to students throughout the community and across the country.