Open Letter to UT President Fenves: Let’s make student housing affordable together

College Houses responds to University of Texas President Fenves’ 2019 State of the University address. Our co-ops have provided affordable student housing in Austin for 55 years. Let’s partner together to build an empowering and inclusive future of UT student housing.

On September 18, 2019, President of the University of Texas at Austin Gregory L. Fenves delivered his annual State of the University address. The president discussed the issue of housing affordability for students, and set out a goal to increase the availability of affordable housing near campus. In this response letter, UT student and College Houses Board President Lauren Bare discusses College Houses’ long history as a student housing provider, and invites open collaboration to solve this important challenge.

Dear President Fenves,

As part of the UT-Austin community for 55 years, College Houses is keenly interested in your recent State of the University address. We feel inspired by your recounting of UT’s history and growth, and we are excited by your open-minded approach in seeking creative solutions to challenges such as affordable housing. College Houses has been working to preserve and expand affordable student housing near UT since 1964, and we applaud your commitment to addressing the full cost of higher education.

College Houses traces its beginnings to a UT student government project from the early 1960s. The original “College House” project was conceived to create a unique student living and learning experience, where professors and students alike could freely share ideas in the cozy setting of a single-family home.

Just as UT experienced explosive growth, that idea grew and evolved, eventually leading to the founding of our organization, College Houses. We are an independent nonprofit organization that owns and operates five residential facilities close to the UT campus. Each semester, we offer 532 beds of affordable housing to students, from freshmen to PhD candidates, the majority of whom attend UT.

As we grew in capacity, we also developed a unique approach to building student communities. The students who live at College Houses are not just residents. They are voting members of a democratically managed cooperative organization. Through democratic participation, College Houses members get first-hand managerial and decision-making skills. The cooperative model also empowers members to take an active role in daily operations. Members work together to cook, clean, do basic maintenance, and more, developing practical skills and becoming well-rounded individuals. By cooperating to manage their house, members build a robust social network and support system. Many of our members cite this sense of community as the most important part of co-op living.

College Houses has grown, innovated, adapted to an ever-changing Austin, and continues to provide a unique student living experience in West Campus. All of this started with a creative idea from the student government, and a spirit of courage to tackle important challenges.

This same spirit is needed now to reach our shared vision for affordable student housing in Austin. In order to make this vision a reality, we will need many strong collaborators who embrace diversity and seek to provide housing options to suit the needs of every student. We will need a creative network of campus partners who share your vision of removing barriers to student success. Most of all, we will need an atmosphere of openness and a spirit of exploration that includes the voices of everyone who makes up the UT community.

College Houses is excited to be part of this conversation, and to apply our history and expertise to help UT expand affordable student housing near campus. Together, we can build a future of empowering and inclusive housing that works for all students.

In cooperation,

Lauren Bare
Board President, The College Houses

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