UW-Madison’s last student housing co-op teams up with Madison Community Cooperative to relocate to Langdon Street in 2023.
The Zoe Bayliss Women’s Cooperative, the sole surviving student housing cooperative at UW-Madison, has found a new home for the 2023-2024 school year. It’s all thanks to a partnership with Madison Community Cooperative (MCC), a non-profit that provides low-cost cooperative housing for low- to moderate-income people including those from underrepresented and marginalized groups.
This spring, Zoe Bayliss will move into its new location at 636 Langdon St., which Zoe Bayliss president Angela Maloney says is “the closest to campus you can get without actually being on campus.”
“The house is such a great location,” Maloney says. “We can pretty much keep the same size of our co-op as it was before and offer the same rents as before. So, it worked out pretty perfectly.”
While it did work out in the end, the process has soured the co-op’s relationship with the university. After UW-Madison announced that the Zoe Bayliss Cooperative building at West Johnson and North Park Street would be torn down to make way for a new Letters & Science building, Maloney hoped the university would provide some assistance.
The university did offer Zoe Bayliss the option of relocating to one floor of a more conventional dorm, Phillips Residence Hall. Maloney says this plan would have raised the rent the cooperative was paying to the university by $40,000. The location was also further away from central campus, and “wasn’t really feasible for our community and wouldn’t really offer any long-term sustainability.”
“We knew that probably in five or 10 years they would move us again,” Maloney says of the Phillips Hall option. “It just wouldn’t be the same, and wouldn’t have provided for us the things that we need. So it was a no-go.”
Maloney was frustrated that the university, which makes renovation and rebuilding plans five to 10 years in advance, didn’t have a viable plan for the co-op.
“It wasn’t until we came to them and started conversations with them about needing a place for our community to go, that they even started thinking about it,” Maloney says. “[The university] eventually did come up with the offer that, in my eyes, was more of a checklist item. ‘We offered them something, they refused it, so now we’re off the hook,’ rather than actually wanting to provide for our community.”
UW-Madison spokesperson John Lucas tells Tone Madison the university had been “meeting with Zoe Bayliss leadership for multiple years” about the move, which Maloney (who is, again, the co-op’s president) disputes.
Lucas says the university “explored a variety of options to find a new home for the community” but Maloney showed Tone Madison emails from university officials saying that “space in a [Division of] University Housing operated building will not be possible,” and “there are no options on campus,” and suggesting the co-op “look for space in the private market.”
Lucas says the university’s plan had been to renovate Phillips to be more conducive to cooperative living and their rate increase was because the new location would’ve had a 12-month lease.
“The Zoe Bayliss community opted to reject the University Housing proposal and to explore outside options,” Lucas wrote. “This was the community’s choice to do so. But to say the university didn’t engage or provide options is not accurate.”
Maloney started going to Madison Area Cooperative Housing Alliance (MACHA) meetings last winter, after Zoe Bayliss had learned its location would be torn down, to see if any other housing cooperatives could help. Maloney connected with DaMontae January, membership coordinator at MCC, and the two organizations clicked.
January points out that MCC, like many of Madison’s co-ops, started out as a student cooperative to provide affordable student housing in the 1960s, something they’re happy to continue doing today.
“Everyone sees what the housing market looks like in Madison right now, and even though they’re building all these high-rises and mid-rises, they’re very expensive,” January says. “As someone’s trying to get their education and doesn’t want to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loans and doesn’t have all that savings, it keeps the living costs low as well as having a little bit of community.”
Additionally, Zoe Bayliss is home for a lot of international students, providing opportunities for them to build connections and friendships they might not have in other types of housing.
“If you’re coming to Madison, and it’s the first time being away from home, I feel like that’s the biggest piece: building community and having that built right into your housing,” January says. “That’s not always the case when you have apartments. You might see a couple neighbors, but you’re not sitting down at the meals with them and discussing classes with them.”
“Compared to working with the university, [MCC] has really been a breath of fresh air from the start,” Maloney says. “Right from the start, it was so clear that MCC had the same values as Zoe Bayliss. They prioritized providing as affordable as possible housing to residents. And when we started talking to them about needing a place to live, they were on board right away to do everything they could to help us.”
636 Langdon St. was built for sorority housing in 1928, and operated as a sorority for 40 years. Then, in the ’60s, it was converted into cooperative housing run by an independent cooperative that eventually joined MCC.
In 1980, the property’s private owner put it up for sale, which resulted in MCC and a private developer getting into a bidding war to determine the future of the building. People were concerned that a real estate developer would divide the house into smaller units and alter its chateau-inspired architecture.
“MCC won out,” January says. “People liked the fact that it wasn’t going to get chopped up. It would preserve the history of the house and its look.”
MCC kept the house operational for three decades, but once the heating system failed and everyone had to relocate, the organization decided it was time to give the building some needed upgrades.
In addition to its location, size, and lease terms, Maloney says she and the other Zoe Bayliss members are excited to trade in their current drab dormitory for a house with multiple shared spaces that they plan to convert into study rooms, game rooms, movie rooms, and more.
However they end up setting up shop this spring, Zoe Bayliss has assurance that they’ll be able to stay at 636 Langdon for as long as they like. MCC’s rules state that a cooperative will only move out when everyone in the cooperative agrees.
“It’s not like they could just decide that they want a different co-op or they want to build something else there,” Maloney says. “We’re excited that that provides us a lot of security so that we won’t have to go through the situation that we’ve just gone through again. [MCC] has been really awesome, and we’re very excited to become part of the community.”