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Co-op living could be an option for Madison's homeless
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Co-operative living could help address Madison's homelessness crisis, according to a community briefing hosted by the Affordable Housing Action Alliance Tuesday evening.

Michael Carlson of the Madison Community Co-operative floated the idea at the discussion, which brought together funders, activists and homeless individuals.

The Madison Community Co-operative, established in 1968, is a federation of 11 housing co-operatives in the Madison area.

Carlson said the co-operative model is "uniquely situated" to provide a community for individuals who are low-income or who have no income. He described co-operatives as "fraternal-type housing," where members have their own bedroom but share common areas.

Co-operatives are community based and community supported and aim to include individuals who are most deeply in need, he added. While the federation owns the properties, members manage them democratically.

"It's deeply affordable due to the pooling of rents," Carlson said at the panel.

Members set a budget each year and can pay as little as $280 per month for rent, food, electricity and basic household items, Carlson said. Madison Community Co-operative owns all 11 properties, so members pay the federation directly, rather than contributing to a mortgage, he said. The federation is taxed as a 501(c) charitable organization, paying an estimated $12,000 a year in taxes, Carlson said.

Madison Community Co-operative provides education and outreach to help members with home maintenance. Members are required to spend 1.5 hours per month on home maintenance, and must also attend house meetings and membership meetings.

Carlson said that success can come to those who are given "the tools to manage their own lives."

His presentation brought much excitement to the room, which had been subdued by the sad testimonies of former Occupy Madison participants.

"We became a family that is pretty much shattered," Sophia Martinez said of the Occupy Madison community that was forced in May to leave the old Don Miller site in the 800 block of East Washington Avenue.

Daniel Callahan described how being a part of the movement created a sense of community where people could share such resources as food and water.

In a brief interview after the panel, advocate Heidi Wegleitner, who led the evening's discussion, compared the philosophies of the Occupy movement and the co-operative community. She said "just that minimal level of security and community" provided by the Occupy encampment was beneficial because it provided a place of "mutual support."

"If we can help bring some partners together, maybe there are some things that we can do as a community that doesn't require us to empty our entire piggy bank as a county," Wegleitner said.

Carlson said he believes the co-operative model could be adapted to other living situations, including single-family homes.

"I think what we've learned is that [Madison Community Co-operative] has resources and would be a great community partner for folks who are interested," Wegleitner said after the panel.

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