21st Street Co-op - House Cleaning Austin

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The 21st Street Co-op is a student housing cooperative in Austin, Texas housing 100 residents. It is part of the College Houses co-op system.

Located at 707 West 21st Street, the house is just a few blocks west of the University of Texas at Austin campus and Guadalupe Street (the Drag). The 21st Street Co-op offers a combination of suites, walkways, balconies and landscapes.



The five new buildings of College Houses were still under construction in August 1974 prior to the fall semester. William Tamminga, a popular Austin architect of the 1970s, designed and built the complex. The funding was provided by a loan from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Michael McHone, now a local real estate developer, was primarily responsible for securing the funding.

One hundred contracts for new members were signed and dropped off at the College Houses, Inc. offices located in the Ark Co-op. Room and board contracts for single rooms were $245 per month and a double-room was $135 per month. The Ark was 21st Street College House's "big sister", located 50-yards away.

With the new semester about to begin, all of the new members began showing up. The buildings still were not close to being ready. Contracts had been signed, so College Houses, Inc. rented some rooms at the former Brownstone Apartments as temporary housing. The Brownstone was half a mile away, six blocks north on Rio Grande.

Cold breakfast was available at the Brownstone. For almost two months everyone had to travel to the Ark for main meals. There were up to 225 co-opers coming to the Ark for dinner. Menus typically consisted of a vegetable, a salad, potatoes or pasta, a meat dish or a meat substitute, and a dessert. Textured vegetable protein (TVP) was introduced as a cost-cutting measure. In the past the co-op has hosted Food Not Bombs.

Later that year, the Democratic State Convention came to Austin. They had previously arranged to rent the whole Brownstone apartment building. Everyone had to vacate the Brownstone immediately. Since the new buildings were still not ready, some members moved in with friends and family. Some moved into the new, as yet unfinished building, which had no water or electricity. Showers were available on campus or with friends at the Ark.

The Kitchen Committee appointed Ann Hague to be the first Kitchen Manager. Ann went all over the city to buy the large appliances and all the tools needed to cook for and wash-up after a hundred co-opers. New wooden tables showed up. Before being used, the tables had to be coated with four layers of polyurethane. Each coat required a day to dry. Co-op volunteers had to sand the tables between coats and then carefully apply the next coat of polyurethane without causing bubbles.

In early November the buildings were officially opened. This day was celebrated at 21st Street College House for many years.

Closets had not been designed into the rooms due to budget constraints. So, College Houses, Inc. contracted Foursquare Furniture, owned by Roger Martin, to build really heavy, particle board faux closets to use as closets. It was left up to the co-opers to put them together, paint them and move them into all rooms--including up to the 2nd and 3rd floors.

The buildings were mostly dark red cedar with bright blue trim and lots of windows. There wasn't any landscaping. The walkways and stairs were very slippery and caused several accidents. They were treated to increase traction and reduce the problems.

There has been a safety fatality and some injuries at College House. One of the third-floor decks collapsed in 1987, seriously injuring three residents. During the 1980s, a resident working on the roof was stung by a bee. He went into a panic and fell off of the roof, and did not survive.

Solar collectors were installed on the rooftops. As with the Ark and later Taos, a soda machine was modified to sell beer. This was strictly illegal and never approved by TABC. In fact, there was much panic in the mid-1980s when a TABC agent's son became a member of the co-op. At 25¢ a bottle, it became necessary to make it an official house job to keep the money-making machine full. A lot of parties were funded with the proceeds of that original machine. No such machine exists at the co-op presently.

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Community structure


The co-op runs on a labor system. Each resident of the co-op does four hours of labor per week coordinated by the Labor Czar officership. Cooking, cleaning, and general house maintenance are a few examples of labor. Labor keeps the cost of living down as members fix and maintain the house themselves. Residents with a desire to invest themselves more into the co-op run for officer positions.

When College House opened there were 3 semi paid positions. The Menu Planner oversaw the menus that each cook submitted and determined what food supplied were needed. The Kitchen Manager ordered the food and kitchen supplies and oversaw kitchen operations. The Accountant collected rent and maintained the monetary accounts. Residents who filled these positions received a substantial reduction in their rent but were still responsible for weekly labor assignments. [Need description of paid positions in 2010]


General Membership Meetings are held every Wednesday at 7:00 PM, and Kitchen and Labor (K&L) Meetings are held every Thursday at 7:00 PM for house members to vote on new plans and actions concerning the house, as well as to review missed labor and interview new members.

21st Street Co-op - House Cleaning Austin Tx

House structure


The 100 members share furnished private and double rooms joined into small suites. Lofts are common in rooms. Each suite includes a common living room, kitchenette, semi-private baths with floor-to-ceiling windows opening out onto the front and back yards.

Other areas

The bike shed has been recently upgraded to house more bike projects and is a semi official extension of The Yellow Bike Project. A maintenance shed holds tools for needed maintenance. The "TV Temple" provides three-tiered seating for residents to watch television or movies. A computer lab affords residents internet access and printing capabilities.

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Currently, 97% of the population is made up of undergraduates. There is one PhD and two Master's students. Kid Harlem, the ultimate Master, lived there between 2004-2007.


The vast majority of residents come from English speaking countries. Spanish is spoken occasionally.

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