COUCH provides affordable, communal housing

Residents+Jada+Fulcher%2C+Kei+See%2C+Jacob+Dixon%2C+and+Anri+Brod+spend+their+free+time+in+the+living+room+of+Harvest+House+on+Saturday.+Harvest+House+is+one+of+three+houses+a+part+of+COUCH+CO-OP.%0A

Sydney Laput

Residents Jada Fulcher, Kei See, Jacob Dixon, and Anri Brod spend their free time in the living room of Harvest House on Saturday. Harvest House is one of three houses a part of COUCH CO-OP.

By Faith Allendorf, Features Editor

In Urbana at 702 W. Washington St. sits a large, white house. In the warmer months, the building, comprised of three stories and 14 rooms, is surrounded by greenery. Upon entering through the front door and small deck, you are greeted with the many faces of the Harvest House.

In the early 2000s, a group of cooperative housing renters formed COUCH, the Community of Urbana Cooperative Housing. COUCH is a nonprofit organization that offers low-cost communal living.

Harvest House — originally called the Summit House —  is vegan and vegetarian friendly. There are currently 11 residents.

Jake Dixon, Harvest House resident, explained that the house focuses on being environmentally friendly.

“We focus on sustainability,” Dixon said. “We’ve had harvesters in the past who got our energy to switch to all wind power, which we try to get all of our electricity from. We, like other coops, have a compost system.”

Dixon explained that living in the COUCH co-ops is financially sustainable. The average rent per room is $350 plus $215 for utilities and food.

Kei See, an exchange student in Engineering and a resident, explained how the house finances groceries.

“We put the utilities (money) into one account for the house, and we just buy food and stuff from that account,” See said.

See also said that COUCH has a board that communicates with NASCO, which finances the properties.

Michael Dzianott, senior in ACES, explained the duties of the board. He said it is comprised of members from the three houses. The board makes decisions on issues such as leases and resident acceptance.

There are also volunteer positions that coordinate events within Harvest House. See, along with Jada Fulcher, senior in Media, are social coordinators.

“We plan events,” Fulcher said. “We do like, yoga nights, quiet reading time, but we’ll get together and read books together.”

“In general, people just hang out and watch TV and movies,” See said.

Dixon also explained that before the pandemic, the three houses did more community outreach events at places such as The Red Herring.

Richard He, senior in LAS and FAA, gave examples of some events Harvest House still does with the other two houses COUCH operates: Brooks and Randolph.

“The past Halloween was hosted at the Brooks House,” He said. “We dressed up and had snacks and talked and watched movies together. We’ve also had Thanksgiving dinner together and Christmas dinner.”

He also mentioned that the houses participate in community brunches and festivals.

Another coordinated aspect of co-op life is chores. Residents are expected to cook at least once a week as well as clean. There is a calendar board to sign up to cook. A labor coordinator oversees chore delegation.

“When you move in, you pick your top three (tasks) that you want to do,” Fulcher said. “You can pick whichever day you want to do it as long as it gets done within the week.”

Reflecting on how living in a co-op impacts them, Fulcher brought up a story. They explained that once the house received an unexpected visitor who claimed he lived in Harvest House 14 years ago. The visitor went up to a wall of memories and pulled off a picture of his child. He had met his wife while living in Harvest House.

“We basically have artwork from many years ago for people who lived here,” Fulcher said. “It’s like a whole buildup of traditions and traces of people who have lived here.”

To Dixon, living in the Harvest House turns friends into family.

“Oftentimes, you’ll come here, you’ll meet a good friend, and you’ll oftentimes want to stay because you know that you’re just in this good space,” Dixon said.

Dzianott agreed and said that living in a space where you are a community is what drew him to the house. He desired connections he could not get in his last living situation.

“I found COUCH, and they said that they were all about cooking meals and sharing chores,” Dzianott said. “Having a more intentional community-based place to live, I’ve really found that here.

“I wouldn’t have met any of the people in the house had I not been living here. But other than that, people from different majors, people from different countries, people from around town; I wouldn’t have met any of these wonderful people if I hadn’t chosen to live here, and I feel like that’s really a blessing.”

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