coophouse

Past, current, and future members of the house gathered this past Valentine's Day. 

For one group of Penn students, social justice and sustainability play a leading role in their lifestyle.

The Penn Haven Housing Co-op, located on Woodland Avenue, is a vegan cooperative living community that values local engagement and conscious living.

College senior and Penn Haven resident Tiffany Lu said co-ops such as Penn Haven are created to provide students an alternative way of living on university campuses.

“[Penn Haven] was initially created as an alternative to, for example, Greek housing on campus,” Lu said. “A lot of people are choosing to live in Greek housing for the community off-campus, but for people who’re not necessarily attracted to Greek community, we are like an alternative lifestyle where you still live with people.”

Haven is an acronym for “Home, Activity, Virtuosity, Environmentalism and Non-Hierachical structures” — mantras that the co-op strives to achieve on a daily basis.

Dedicated to affordability, Penn Haven offers a relatively inexpensive housing option, with an average monthly rent of $540, and their 2014-2015 monthly budget — which accounts for food and utilities — is $120.14.

Lu and College senior Kenna O’Rourke are both residents of the house. They agreed that Penn Haven helped them find their community at Penn.

“By creating the space, we learn from each other and become more educated about certain issues,” Lu said.

O'Rourke agreed that Penn Haven has helped her find her niche.

“The co-op made me grow a lot as a person,” O’Rourke said. "We’re not homogeneous, and there’s a skill-share and knowledge-share in the community.”

Currently, the house has 10 residents, eight of whom are Penn undergraduates. Though the house is co-ed, this year all residents are female.

Students living in the house also take on several responsibilities each week. There is a one hour mandatory house meeting during which members discuss housing logistics and share their opinions on different topics.

“There are two facilitators during each meeting, making sure everyone’s voice is heard,” Lu said, adding that the residents rotate through the role so that everyone has an opportunity to express their opinions.

“We’re a consensus driving community. We ensure that no one person’s voice is stronger than the others',” Lu said.

Penn Haven is also very democratic when it comes to decision making. “We vote on important issues,” O’Rourke said.

Members of Penn Haven also take on different roles related to their interests. While some students act as supplemental food shoppers, others work on outreach and programming related to the co-op.

Moreover, members of the house prepare four vegan home-cooked dinners each week, and each student usually cooks once a week with a cooking partner.

“It’s great; we have a lot of skilled cooks,” O’Rourke said.

Penn Haven is currently not affiliated with Penn. However, both Lu and O’Rourke believe that the school could do more to help the community, mentioning that other schools across the nation have provided support for similar organizations.

“The universities either give them grants or help them purchase houses such that they own the houses — that makes a huge difference,” Lu said.

“In the past, co-ops have faced incredible financial stresses,” O’Rourke added.

Penn Haven lacks support from the administration. Members believe Penn could do more to help the group financially and otherwise.

“We just became a non-profit housing co-operative, and it takes us time to navigate the tax system,” Lu said.

“We’re a bunch of students filing out tax forms with no external help,” O’Rourke added.

As one of the few housing co-ops near Penn's campus, members think more like-minded communities can be created. 

“One of my personal dreams is to have several housing co-operatives at Penn," Lu said, “so people who are looking for an alternative housing or wish to have a different kind of living can experience that.”

Students who wish to live in Penn Haven need to fill out an application that opens in the fall, which asks questions related to social justice and values.

“What we’re looking for are people who are really interested in our values,” Lu said.

Overall, O’Rourke and Lu have enjoyed their alternative living experience.

“We also super socially conscious, and we laugh a lot,” O’Rourke said. “It’s a fantastic community”

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