In March 2013, the Berkeley Student Cooperative passed a budget that cuts rent 1.7% at its 17 room and board houses and limits rent increases to 1.4% at the Co-op apartments – less than half the rate of inflation. The cost of living in the BSC’s cooperative room and board houses for the coming Fall and Spring semester will be $3,354, down from $3,411 this year.

Tommy York, Vice President of Financial Affairs and Chinese / Business double major, noted that this rate decrease is the first in the 79 year history of the BSC and followed debate where the Board of Directors chose lower rates over other options for allocating the surplus. “We serve students whose families are enduring severe economic hardships. Most of our membership is seeing a growing chasm between the debt necessary to pursue higher education today and the reality of full-time employment after graduation, let alone a strong salary in the current job market.”

Academic tuition and the cost of living continue to rise, forcing students to shoulder more financially than ever before. From 2011 to 2012, tuition at UC Berkeley rose 17% and apartment rents in the Bay Area have increased by 8-12% on average.
Elaina Marshalek, BSC President and Operations Research / Conservation Studies double major at UC Berkeley states, “With rising tuition and the second most expensive student dorms in the country, it is critical that students have access to affordable student housing near campus. We have found that, at a time with increased economic difficulty paired with rising costs surrounding student life, a student-owned and student governed cooperative model ensures the best interests of its student membership.”

A number of factors contributed to the projected surplus for 2012-2013, but the most notable factor is an increase in summer occupancy at the room and board houses, a decision made after significant research that included a collaboration with a team from the Haas School of Business’ nonprofit consulting class. As a cooperative serving its 1250 members, the membership benefited from the surplus via a rate reduction.
Even with reduced member rates, the BSC continues to innovate in low-cost, high-quality, cooperative housing. This summer the BSC will retrofit Sherman Hall, a 1920s-era building housing 40 students, bringing it up to modern earthquake safety standards. Since 2004, the BSC has invested $16.6 million into seismic retrofits, and the current budget continues to dedicate $300,000 annually to that effort. In addition to contributions from the membership, Co-op alumni donated over $200,000 last year specifically for seismic retrofits.

Since its founding in 1933, the BSC has provided affordable housing to over 75,000 students. With an annual budget of $10.1 million, the BSC houses 1250 students, provides over 150 part-time student jobs, and is the largest student housing cooperative in the USA. Says Marshalek, “The BSC has served as a cutting-edge model for student cooperatives, and has provided management advice, financial assistance, legal and insurance referrals, and sweat equity to a number of student-run co-ops that are in the process of developing or sustaining themselves through challenging circumstances, supporting students at UCSC, UC Davis, Stanford, UC Merced, the University of Michigan, and beyond. We have seen a growing need for affordable student housing in California and across the country, and have seen the value of the cooperative model in offering solutions to today’s economic problems.”