Since 1936: Cleveland’s Student Housing Co-operative
In The Beginning: THE CLEVELAND CO-OPERATIVE HOUSING ASSOCIATION
A personal recollection by Oscar H. Steiner, September 10, 1988.
“The economic crash of 1929 was not unlike a war, except that the devastation did not include bloodshed. People were out of work; others losing their homes as well as their jobs. The devastation was widespread throughout the nation. This was back in 1932. A few of us were discussing the impact it was having. “One of those in the group was on the staff of the Social Studies Department at Western Reserve University. She mentioned that some indigent or semi- indigent students were compelled to drop out because they could not meet the expenses involved in both tuition and dormitory expenses. Mention was made of one student who had just been compelled to leave school when he had less than a year to receive his doctor's degree.
“Somebody suggested that possibly these indigent candidates for a degree might be helped if the problem of room and board could be reduced sufficiently and provision made for them to find some kind of spare time work and compensation.
“There are so many vacant houses. Why wouldn't it be possible for a group of these youngsters to rent a house, buy their own food cooperatively and get by that way? It appears that one of the individuals (names back one-half century unfortunately have left me) knew of a house that was being vacated and, in the course of discussing it with the owner, found he was receptive to the idea of attempting something that would be professional, bring in a nominal rent. As I recall, he [the owner] was an instructor transferring over to another school or going on an extended trip to Europe. Perhaps he might be interested in renting the space furnished.
“The idea was brought back to the group that met periodically. In the office of the secretary was Lewis Drucker. Lou was a personal friend - a charming individual always with a cheerful smile. He was later to become a municipal judge, but passed away a few years later. “It was suggested that the instructor in the department [the house’s owner] discuss this in class. Perhaps a handful of students could get together. Reference was made to the successful application of the co-op principle in England named the Rochdale Co-operative.
“It [Rochdale] was thriving to the extent where they had large warehouses, with membership that ran into the hundreds and perhaps even thousands. Food, clothing and other items were handled, and savings in the form of dividends made it a successful institution.
“Our next step was a meeting of some eight or nine students. The idea of being able to obtain their degree which was almost in their grasp was one to be seriously pursued. A few hundred dollars was gotten together. The house was rented, the students were pledged to do all the work themselves - cleaning, minor repairs if needed, purchase of food, cooking responsibilities. In short a self-contained going institution was devised. This was in 1933. Applying the old principle of "necessity is the mother of invention" the program worked.
“In 1937 the owner of the home and furnishings was confronted with a problem. He was not returning to the local teaching institution. We worked out a plan whereby on something equivalent to a land grant contract we continued to pay rent with an additional sum each month to be applied to the agreed purchase price. By this time the program was stabilized and rooms had been converted so that the number [of student residents] in the program was now well over a dozen and the payments on the house were sufficient to satisfy the seller. This was 1937. A Constitution had been drawn. The Cleveland Co-operative Housing Association came into existence.
“The Constitution provided that there would be an advisory board, including those who had initiated the idea and were interested in going along. The actual operation was spelled out in the Constitution with duties assigned to each member. The House was known as The Roosevelt Student Co-operative Housing Association, [and informally as] The Roosevelt Co-op, or Roosevelt House.
[The members continued to pay for the building. On May 21, 1945, they formally incorporated in the State of Ohio as The Student Co-operative Housing Association, a not-for-profit organization, paid off the landlord and received the unencumbered deed of ownership to the Cornell property on June 11, 1945.—ed.]
“At one stage an attempt was made to expand the program, but vacant houses were not as plentiful, costs had gone up. A second house was rented in Cleveland Heights, but the plan had to be abandoned. “It was in the year 1971 that we were confronted with the problem that had to be resolved. The house which we now owned free and clear was literally worn out. Repairs were becoming a formidable problem, involving such things as roofing, plumbing and painting, all of which were heavy expenses. Perhaps, because I was among the younger or one of the few survivors of the initial group, the responsibility came upon us few to see if the problem could be resolved and how.
“One of the old beautiful mansions which was now part of the campus of the consolidated two institutions - Case and Western Reserve - now known as Case Western Reserve University, had been incorporated with custodianship of the properties on the campus managed by the corporation known as University Circle, Inc. (UCI) a non-profit agency. “We discussed the matter with them and referred to the fact that our house located on Cornell Drive, just east of Euclid Avenue was no longer subject to repair. They pointed out a few homes that were available including one on Bellflower Road. This was now on the extended campus which also included institutions such as Cleveland Museum of Art, Severance Hall and schools such as Cleveland Institute of Music, Cleveland Institute of Art, among others. The Bellflower house was larger and could house up to 25 students. The house on Cornell which we were compelled to abandon was scheduled to be torn down for a parking lot, and the street and surrounding area [devoted to institutional] buildings.
“A plan was made whereby UCI would take the Cornell house in trade on the purchase price of the house on Bellflower, involving a sum of money which I was able to underwrite and turn over to The Co-op free and clear with furniture. University Circle, Inc. agreed to check over the Bellflower House and make all necessary repairs. [At this same time they re-organized under a new name, The Cleveland Student Housing Association Inc., a not-for- profit 501(c)(3) corporation, like its predecessor.-ed.]
“By an order of the Co-op Board the new House was named after this writer – The Oscar H. Steiner House. It has flourished, maintained itself, and has built up a reserve to take care of major repairs. Its success has resulted in the membership periodically bringing up the question of establishing a second house. The matter is under continuous consideration. “A happy footnote involves a telephone call which the writer received from a successful Cleveland individual who stated that he had been a member of the House back in the 40's and that they were having a House reunion. They had heard about the Oscar H. Steiner House and would like to establish more formal connections. There was something around twenty people who came to Cleveland from as far away as Hawaii because of a sentimental interest in a reunion of old friends.
“This type of reunion more than parallels school class reunions, inasmuch as members of the House were living together, working together, paid bills together and developed friendships which obviously - living under the same roof - would run deeper. There was a meeting of the present group in August, 1988, and a determination was made that reunions would be held in the future.”