Our HAUS

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

If the bike shop doesn't pan out, Schechter wants to start a veggie gas station in the garage. But first he's trying to start a community garden. HAUS's neighbor, an auto supply store called XL Parts, owns a large vacant lot that's been lifeless for years. Schechter thinks it would be the perfect location for a garden. 

Don Pilkington, vice president of purchasing for XL Parts, thought differently when Schechter proposed the idea to him. "Uh, no," he says he remembers telling Schechter. "I don't think my insurance company would be overly excited about me doing something like that." 

It's a house full of dreamers in a city motivated more by profit than by progress. Schechter knows that if they want to get anything done, they'll have to do it themselves — until they fulfill their first goal of showing Houston it can change. "One of the problems with our demographic is that we're quite ambitious," Schechter said. "We have all these fantastic ideas piling up on top of each other." The trick is finding enough time to do all, or any, of them.
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Five nights a week, members of the house rotate cooking duties. Every meal is vegetarian to reduce environmental impact, though no one in the house is a vegetarian.
photo by Mandy Oaklander
Five nights a week, members of the house rotate cooking duties. Every meal is vegetarian to reduce environmental impact, though no one in the house is a vegetarian.
Members of the co-op want to clean out their garage and turn it into either a bike shop or a veggie-oil gas station.
photo by Mandy Oaklander
Members of the co-op want to clean out their garage and turn it into either a bike shop or a veggie-oil gas station.

Crossley is sitting outside on his balcony one sultry June night, surrounded by his nursery of potted baby fig trees and hot peppers. From here, you can see straight into the glass living room of an expensive town home across the street. 

He, too, has a priority that he knows is not shared by the group. Above all else, Crossley wants the catalog of five HAUS co-ops — the Rosalie HAUS for young professionals, one for families and at least one Austin-style shitshow college co-op — to be a racial mix. It's something that didn't happen with the first house, which is predominantly white and doesn't include anyone from the Third Ward. Such a dream is hard enough to pull off now, if Coleman is right about the model not making sense to African-American adults. But it might be even harder to accomplish in the near future.  

"I feel sometimes like a lone voice talking about the problem of light rail," Crossley says. The town homes and condos that surround his house are the future for much more of the Third Ward, he says, should nobody help the neighborhood brace for skyrocketing property values. "Any other city in the world would have a plan for affordable housing, and how the people in that neighborhood can be involved in planning for their future and stay there, once it's a much nicer neighborhood because it has access to really high-quality transit." 

With or without these co-ops, gentrification isn't about to stop, says Danyahel Norris, an attorney and legal research instructor at TSU and longtime Third Ward resident. He first started noticing gentrification in 2000 during his senior year at UH, when he watched a crack house turn into an upscale residence. Norris wrote an article published last year in the Thurgood Marshall Law Review outlining different ways that residents of the Third Ward can hold onto their property. One major strategy is to enforce deed restrictions, neighborhood covenants designed to retain the look and character of a certain area. In unzoned Houston, they're powerful weapons residents can use to stave off gentrification, but only if the residents know what they say. "Most of them don't check out their deed restrictions," Norris said. 

Norris doesn't know of a unified effort to stop gentrification in the Third Ward. Though he urged such an effort in his article, he's not optimistic of one springing up before the rail hits. 

Neither is he convinced that Crossley's plan for a tri-school co-op is a realistic model for the neighborhood. Having gone to both UH, a public school, and TSU, a historically black university that is also public, Norris can't imagine either of them mixing — let alone with Rice, a private school. "As nice of a thought as that is, I think when you talk about making people live together — not hang out occasionally, but when you're talking about living in the same space...it sounds like a nice idea in theory, but the practical side is a little more difficult," he said. Even if the co-op served just one school, Norris said that the challenges in Houston are much greater than those in Austin. Rice students have excellent on-campus housing already, making it an insular cocoon few wish to leave. TSU and UH, on the other hand, are both schools with a heavy commuter contingent. Many students at both schools have part-time jobs. Who has time to cook for ten after class and work? 

Crossley admits a multicultural co-op is not going to be easy to pull off. His initial attempts at TSU fell flat. "I tried to reach out and figure out how we get a student group at TSU to lead this project," he said. "It just didn't work." Crossley plans to keep trying, but if the concept of co-ops catches on only with white people, they're the ones who will lead them. In that respect, co-ops could just become the new face of gentrification. "Personally," Crossley said, "I am sort of torn about how this works — how this particular project, whether it's a force for evil or good."
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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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