What the fate of Zoe Bayliss Co-op means for affordable student housing – Tone Madison
UW-Madison’s newest student housing co-op faces demolition amid rising rents and increasingly difficult-to-navigate campus life.
Photo: A historic exterior photo of the Zoe Bayliss Co-op. Photo via UW-Madison Libraries Digital Collections.
UW-Madison students looking for affordable housing have occupied the sturdy Zoe Bayliss Co-op building at the corner of West Johnson and North Park streets since 1955.
As the 2021-2022 school year draws to a close, next year’s occupants could be the last of the co-op. University officials plan to demolish the building and nearby Susan Davis Hall to make way for a new building for the university’s College of Letters & Science. Construction is expected to begin in 2023. Chancellor Becky Blank announced plans for the 26,000 square foot building in October. The new Letters & Science building is estimated at $95 million, with a large portion, $60 million, coming from state and government funding. The rest is raised through private university donors. Former brothers Marv and Jeff Levy, long-time investors in athletic and academic facilities on campus, donated $20 million to the project, and the building will be named after their parents, who were also alumni. The soon-to-be-built Irving and Dorothy Levy Hall will turn the page on the often maligned brutalist maze known as the George L. Mosse Humanities Building.
Zoe Bayliss, 915 W. Johnson St., is Wisconsin’s newest student housing co-op. Its inhabitants are mostly women.
“I myself came because it was affordable, but also because I knew I liked living in a community setting,” says Zoe Bayliss President Angela Maloney, summarizing the factors that drew the most co-op residents over the decades.
Zoe Bayliss residents pay about $5,000 to live in the co-op from August to May, or about $500 a month. This investment doesn’t just cover housing – the co-op provides an on-site chef, a well-stocked refrigerator and pantry with basic foods, and the opportunity to participate in democratically run housing. Its governance structure includes a president, five executive positions, and a board of directors made up of former and current residents.
It’s increasingly difficult to find that kind of deal in Madison, whether in the UW-Madison housing system or in the city’s rapidly gentrifying private rental market. Prices for UW-Madison dorms range from $6,500 per academic year for a shared triple room to $9,200 for a single private room. These prices do not include UW-Madison dining options, a requirement for living in the dorms, which cost an average of $4,500 for an academic year.
Affordability is a mixed bag for college students, as shown in a 2020 UW-Madison Geography Department study. Respondents cited affordability as a priority, and 62.9% told researchers they were looking for rents between $500 and $749. The study authors analyzed local market rent figures and found that “on average, an off-campus room costs a student $938.23, but the majority of students are only willing to pay in the range from $500 to $749. Therefore, the median value of housing prices in Madison exceed those of student price range preferences.” The housing market is especially difficult for low-income UW-Madison students.
Students who decide to live off-campus are torn between an older housing stock that often needs repairs or renovations and increasingly prevalent “luxury” housing. The same scenario is playing out across Madison’s rental market, pinning tenants between rising rents and low vacancy. Luxury monoliths such as The James and The Hub have appeared over the years, and in 2020 the developer behind these projects submitted plans for a Langdon Street Hub II, which promised VIP treatment for early students tenants, much to the chagrin of UW students. . The Madison city plan commission rejected the project in March 2021.
A displaced future
The Zoe Bayliss Co-op has offered increasingly scarce shelter from this tough rental market. Maloney, a junior international studies and nonprofit leadership student, says Zoe Bayliss is unlike any other living situation on campus.
Maloney says that if she could no longer live at Zoe Bayliss, she would not be able to afford to live on campus and would be forced to seek private housing in Madison.
“The UW-Madison rental market is becoming very unaffordable for students,” Maloney says. “So it would be very difficult for me to find a place where I could afford to live.”
Maloney says many Zoe Bayliss residents are international students who come to college without the social ties or familiarity with Madison that would allow them to share a lease in the private market. She says current residents have expressed gratitude for the interconnectedness of the co-op, something they lacked when living in the dorms and taking distance learning classes.
In a statement, Brendon Dybdahl, spokesperson for UW’s Division of University Housing, said Zoe Bayliss had known about the impending demolition for several years and that the university had engaged with the co-op to find new locations.
Dybdahl says the university has offered to house the co-op in one of its current residences. Maloney says the co-op is not open to this, as it would place limits on the co-op’s operations and independence.
The University Housing Division has yet to set room and board rates for the 2023-2024 school year. Dybdahl says if the co-op moves inside a conventional dormitory, rental rates would be higher than what co-op members currently pay, but lower than what other residences currently charge. Dybdahl says UW guesthouse and room rates historically increase about 2% to 4% each year to keep up with annual cost increases.
When asked what options exist for low-income students looking for university accommodation, Dybdahl replied Your Madison that University Housing only oversees UW-owned residence halls and graduate apartments, and cannot speak for the private market.
“[University Housing works] closely with the Office of Student Financial Aid, which helps low-income students find aid programs that often include room and board costs for on-campus or off-campus housing,” says Dybdahl.
Dybdahl says the Bayliss Cooperative is also welcome to explore privately run spaces near campus.
“The hope is that the co-op will get a new home for its community well before the 2023-2024 school year so that its program can remain vital,” Dybdahl said.
Leaving a mark in the history of housing cooperatives
The three-story building, named after the university’s late vice-dean of women from 1928 to 1943, opened in the fall of 1955 with a starting cohort of 50 students. A March 1956 issue of Capital time reported that in the face of rising enrollment and a lack of funds to support affordable housing, the university was exploring cooperative housing models for students.
The Dave Schreiner House, a sister facility to Zoe Bayliss at 123 N. Orchard Street, was established in 1962 and lasted just six years as a co-op until it was converted into graduate student housing , still in operation today.
According to the Division of University Housing, four student housing co-ops were built in the 1950s. Today, Zoe Bayliss is the only one left. Susan Davis Hall, a nearby residence also slated for demolition, was also once a co-op.
Zoe Bayliss inspired the creation of the Madison Community Cooperative, a nonprofit federation of housing co-ops, said MCC Membership Director DaMontae January. (Zoe Bayliss, as a member of UW-Madison, is not part of MCC herself.)
Founded in 1968, MCC currently operates 11 homes in the city center and the Near East. January says MCC’s primary mission is to keep rents low, keep housing affordable, and provide a sense of community to its members and the co-op community as a whole.
The cooperative approach to housing can do little to insulate tenants from the pressures of the housing market in general. January says co-ops looking to become fully independent by buying their property have seen property taxes and purchase prices rise in the Madison area. This price increase makes ownership, even for a group of several people, an obstacle.
January says even renovating older, affordable homes can cost people a lot, as renovations and updates to make properties suitable for co-op living are expensive.
As rents rise dramatically, Madisonians looking for affordable housing must look further and further from the city’s central core. Housing co-ops can follow suit, but only at the expense of many of the amenities that make co-op life attractive.
“You’re now moving to the outskirts of Madison,” January says, “so you’re no longer near convenient bus routes, your jobs, and things like that.”
While the fate of Zoe Bayliss is up in the air, January says the co-op could get together with other co-op housing units in the area to locate a new property, organize a fundraiser or even approach city officials to help. slow down or halt the planned demolition of UW. their construction with a “unity is strength” approach.
“One of the cooperative principles is to cooperate with cooperatives,” says January. “So get together with each other, seek help.”
January indicates that Zoe Bayliss is invited to apply to become a member of the MCC.