Our HAUS

Houston gets its first co-op — decades after other cities took the plunge.

Check out pics from Houston's first co-operative living experiment in our slideshow.

Shrapnel from the city of Houston makes up the kitchen of a weird old house in the Third Ward. Wall tiles come from a torn-down property, and the countertops are thick oak doors that once swung at the Houston Ballet. Jay Blazek Crossley is dicing a small mountain of onions on the doors, helping prepare the nightly vegetarian dinner that feeds him and his ten housemates.  

Not that any of them are vegetarians. It's just that it's part of their lease agreement that any food bought with pooled money be vegetarian. 

Before he had a balcony and a house full of friends, Jay Blazek Crossley lived alone in an apartment for five years. Fearing he'd turn into a creepy, isolated dude, Crossley brought the concept of co-ops to  Houston.
photo by Mandy Oaklander
Before he had a balcony and a house full of friends, Jay Blazek Crossley lived alone in an apartment for five years. Fearing he'd turn into a creepy, isolated dude, Crossley brought the concept of co-ops to Houston.
Members of the house often kick back after a long day at work on the shared deck, which overlooks the gentrifying neighborhood.
photo by Mandy Oaklander
Members of the house often kick back after a long day at work on the shared deck, which overlooks the gentrifying neighborhood.

That same lease agreement also is the impetus for the worms out back that feed on the chest-high heap of compost, and the rainwater tank that powers the house's four toilets. The landlord requires each tenant to sign a pledge promising to reduce his or her carbon footprint while living in this house. 

This is Houston's first housing co-op: a community under one roof where members share resources and labor for the good of the environment, their social lives and their bank accounts. They cook and clean for each other. They fight with each other. At the end of the day, they come home to each other — and try not to sleep together. 

Co-ops took hold in most major urban areas in the '60s and '70s as a way for free-spirited college students to live cheaply. They're still thriving across the country in progressive hubs. Austin alone has 20 co-ops. But Houston somehow escaped the co-op craze entirely. Despite several attempts, co-ops never caught on here. Now, a collection of pioneering young professionals — not time-warped hippies of the past — are setting out to prove that intentional communities like co-ops will work in Houston. Under founder Jay Crossley's lead, they aim to build five green co-ops in Houston's urban core within the next five years. They're planning to expand the model to families, as the next house is designed for parents and their children. After that, the group wants to start a giant college co-op in the Third Ward that will mix students from Texas Southern University, the University of Houston and Rice University.

While Crossley thinks the co-op model would be a great way for the Third Ward to become a cultural mix, several from the area are skeptical. State Representative Garnet Coleman, who actively fights gentrification in the ward his family has called home for generations, doesn't get why ten successful, predominantly white individuals would want to share a house anyway. "Ten in one house is a lot," he said. "What is the purpose of doing this? What do they call this stuff — new urbanism? Is that what this is supposed to be?" Crossley's priority is to provide affordable housing for all Houstonians, but particularly for people who already live in the Third Ward — a goal he's not sure the rest of the house shares, and one he fears will be glossed over when he moves back to Austin at the end of the year.

Although Coleman applauds the environmentalism of the project, he can't see it catching on with African-American professionals, who want privacy and a yard, he says. "If I'ma buy a house, that's the reason I buy it: because I want my privacy," he said. "There's a difference in the expectation in use of property by culture."
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The only thing wasted in Jay Crossley's tiny second-story room is the half-full pack of cigarettes lying in his trashcan. He tried to quit smoking this morning. (Turns out, even that got recycled. A housemate dug the carton out of the trash later that night and lit up.) Crossley is always wearing a crisp button-down tucked into clean pleated khakis — a wonder, considering he dries his clothes by hanging them on a clothesline near the compost pile. His wavy jet-black hair is well maintained, and a flash of his straight white smile is always a second away.  

Betterment runs in Crossley's blood. His father David Crossley started Houston Tomorrow, a local environmental research nonprofit. It wasn't easy to get Crossley out of Austin, where he lived in three different co-ops throughout college and graduate school. He even met the woman he plans to leave Houston for and marry while crashing at his friend's co-op. Though he hated to leave, Crossley moved back to his native Houston to work for Houston Tomorrow in 2006. 

One of his early projects was to survey future stops for light rail, which will snake its way almost 30 miles further than the existing line in 2012. Crossley noticed a lot of spacious vacant houses along the route. "You could buy a house for $75,000 that's going to be within a block of a light rail station," he said. "That's unheard of. That's unique in the country." The thought of restoring an abandoned house close to public transit practically screamed co-op. 

Crossley started holding Houston Tomorrow workgroup sessions for anyone who was interested in the idea of creating a co-op in Houston. Every month for about two years, he went to Montrose coffee shops and hung a folder off of the table labeled "CO-OP." He met another guy, a 24-year-old named Frank Freeman, who wanted to start a co-op too. A dozen other people joined the movement, and Crossley soon realized he had enough interest to start looking for a property. Then one day, Paul Schechter showed up. "He's like, 'Hi, I'm Paul. I own a green co-op,'" Crossley said. "I'm like, 'What? The fuck are you talking about?'" Schechter, a tall, thin 30-year-old with auburn hair and a goatee, had moved begrudgingly from crunchy Madison, Wisconsin, to Houston for a job in wind energy in 2009. He had never lived in a co-op before, but many of his friends had. Since there weren't any in Houston, he decided to start one himself. A few months after he got to town, Schechter bought a house in the Third Ward and began to transform it into an energy-efficient home like those he left up north. Crossley and Schechter were a match made by the green gods above. Crossley had found his landlord and his first co-oper in the same man. 

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19 comments
Craigley
Craigley

Just a reminder this is not the first co-op. The artist commune on Elgin was and this was way back in the 80s.

Jams77015
Jams77015

Blessings to you who are trying the Co-op (modern name for commune) and environmental ways in this wasteful city. Your grandparents must be really cool people.To those opposed, I challenge you: Why is this not a good idea?

surplus
surplus

Wow, where to begin?

1) This is modified communism. We live in America. Pick whichever you like better, and leave the other alone. Do you see legal immigrants, those who want to live the American dream and make a new better life in the US, trying to live in a co-op?

2) Grow up. The reason that there are so many co-ops in Austin with all the parties and sleeping around is that they are filled with YOUNG SINGLE people who have nothing to lose, cheap meals and rent and hippie hookups to gain, and are in a transition phase in life. Once you get married/couple up, you want to have something together, and when you produce/adopt children, you want to have something for your family that is yours and no one else's. If you are someone's parent, you don't need to be consulting a calendar to determine if you can flush the toilet today. You think that this guy Crossley, who is moving to Austin to get married, and his new wife are going live in a co-op? Even if they do, you think they will try to raise their kids in a co-op? No matter how hippie that gal of his is now, motherhood will make her grow up QUICK, and they will be renting a hovel in Rollingwood so that their kids can go to Eanes ISD schools by the time that kid speaks a word. That is a fact. That is being a parent.

If you are an American and a parent and disagree with #1 and #2 above, (as the web-hipsters say) YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. The American dream is outlined above. The biological imperative is to find a mate, make a child, and give him/her the best life you can. You do not sacrifice this for some hippie veggie dinner or to save the last red panda in China. You do what is in the best interest of your genetic material. Or you are defective. 3) You are not special. I lived with a roommate throughout college and for my first year of medical school. We shared utilities, tried to recycle, turned off the lights, and rode bikes/walked when we could. Does this mean this was a co-op? NO, this is what normal people do, even if they don't write articles about them. You are just ROOMMATES, forcing each other to eat some lentil dish when everyone just wants a steak.

4) By doing this, you will be gentrifying neighborhoods, for better or worse. At least that is what I think you call filling houses in a historically black or Hispanic neighborhood full of white professional hipsters who patronize the local businesses to be ironic or to brag about it to their cubicle mates, but who aren't really a part of the community in any real way, until the landscape is nothing but soulless 3-story angular townhomes with low-flow toilets and hybrid cars fueled by their drivers' sense of self-importance.

Schechter
Schechter

Mandy screwed it up, we do not live in the Third Ward, we live in Midtown (essentially at La Branch and Elgin...look it up). Not that the Third Ward is bad, it just isn't where we physically live. Most of our neighbors live in newly built townhouses...

Tarragontoo
Tarragontoo

Too bad the reporter failed in their application of the cooperative name to what is clearly NOT a co-op. This guy is a landlord and the other residents are tenants. Add the rules and all you have is an owner occupied rental property with rules. Having lived in a real housing cooperative for three years and worked professionally in the development and management of housing cooperatives (all member-owned and organized under the Rochdale Principles), referring to this living situation as a cooperative is disingenuous at best. I look forward to a retraction.

I commend the effort to live more sustainably but we must be careful to not muddy the waters and make untrue references. Millions of people the world over benefit from various forms of cooperatives. Misrepresenting what is obviously a rental situation here denies the long and important history of cooperatives and frankly insults the great strides that cooperatives have made since their inception..

Thank you.

isargin
isargin

As a newcomer to Houston from London, I find the segregation between black and white people here truly astonishing. Neighborhoods like Third Ward, South Houston and Harrisburg seem to me to be some of the few places in Houston with any kind of charm left, but then of course I don't know the city very well.

Hopefully these co-ops will be able to create some kind of contact point between people from different backgrounds instead of just being part what does look like an initial hipster invasion, followed by the usual yuppie take over of the neighborhood.

El Carter
El Carter

Any particular reason behind choosing to live in a Houston ghetto instead of starting a farm somewhere like central Texas where real estate is cheap and plentiful?

Schechter
Schechter

Hi Tarragontoo,

My name is Paul Schechter and I own the Rosalie house. With all due respect, you are wrong with your assumption that we are not a real co-op. We are all members of NASCO (North American Students of Cooperation) which, as I'm sure you know if you've lived in a co-op for 3 years, is the grandfather organization of the cooperative movement in North America. They were instrumental in the founding of our project and representatives from NASCO flew-in from Michigan to give us organization help and advice. Second, although member ownership is important, it is not the only characteristic of a housing cooperative and the lack thereof certainly does not 'disqualify' a group from being a co-op. There are many co-ops in New England, who have triple net leases from landlords and still consider themselves co-ops (e.g. http://millstonecoop.org , http://www.arlingtonfriendshou... , http://cambridgecoop.wordpress... ). Real estate in this area is way too expensive for many of them to qualify for loans from a bank, and thus they do the next best thing: a triple net lease. If you're not familiar, this is the most basic type of lease you can obtain. The landlord strictly rents the building/land and nothing else; all upkeep, maintenance, community involvement etc is the full responsibility of the leasee (i.e. cooperative). Third, a NASCO housing cooperative is different than other types of co-ops. There are buildings in NYC that are considered ‘co-ops’ simply because they are jointly owned by the occupants. They all have individual apartments, separate utilities, separate meals, and no communal space. In stark contrast, we have 5 communal meals per week, all of our food is jointly purchased, all utilities are paid by one entity, we have bi-weekly meetings, and we all contribute equally to total household labor. Ask anyone who’s lived in a co-op and they’ll tell you we have MUCH more of a cooperative living arrangement than the ‘co-op’ apartments in NYC. Fourth, I have a 3-year master lease with HAUS and there is very explicit provisions stating that they have the first right of refusal to purchase the house after March 2012 (when they have enough rental history to do so). Further, through sweat equity, contributions from individual members, and contributions from 501 (c) 3 entities (which I would otherwise not qualify for) HAUS already owns many thousands of dollars worth of equity in the Rosalie house. So in that sense, they are already partial owners of the property.

If you still are not convinced that we are a real co-op, please stop by some weekday at 7pm for dinner and we’ll prove it to you in person!

Cheers,Paul

Urumomo
Urumomo

i lke touching fish ( no not that fish ) . I love plastic army men . I eat raw potato

L014
L014

You reveal yourself as someone who stays in ultra-white parts of town because not only is the South more integrated than most of the Northern United States but Houston is probably one of the most integrated cities of the South. From your very own Daily Mail:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new...

Priscilla Lane
Priscilla Lane

I live in Third Ward. It is not a ghetto. There are ghettos IN Third Ward, but the entire Ward is not a ghetto and it is right now a lovely place to live.

Not everyone wants to be a farmer. Some of us want urban community living.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Gentrification?

Vintom Lebowski
Vintom Lebowski

Maybe because all of the jobs are in HoustonAnd the Third Ward may not be a ghetto for much longer

Craigley
Craigley

59/288 is the offical split between the two.

 
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