- Associated Press - Sunday, December 13, 2015

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - With three stories and some 10,000 square feet, the James Russell House at 535 E. Fulton St. is a mansion. And for about $400 per month, plus another $90 for food and $25 for utilities, it could be your house.

Yours and two dozen housemates.

You get your own bedroom - there are 24 of them in the house, split up among eight separate suites. You get a little kitchen and a bathroom or two to share with your suite mates. And, on the main floor, there’s a common kitchen with a commercial cooler for a fridge and bulk food dispensers.

“Nobody told me to wipe this counter down right now, but it looked dirty,” said Derek Copp, 27, a shareholder in the three-year-old housing cooperative, going around the kitchen with a cloth. “I’m all about community-organized fun and efficiency.

“There’s a camaraderie of being part of this. There’s 25 people here. You never get bored because there’s always something to do or at least someone to talk to.”



Cooperative housing is one tack Grand Rapids is taking in its pursuit of more “affordable” housing. A housing plan coming up for approval emphasizes that there should be a variety of housing types and ownership models available in the city, including cooperative housing that “may become a compelling option for seniors as they become a demographically larger population.”

That current city zoning does not define cooperative housing “sends a message they are either unknown or unwanted,” states the plan. Grand Rapids City Commission was set Dec. 8 to hold a hearing on several zoning changes, including the addition of a “cooperative” housing definition:

“A residential occupancy where 100 percent of the ownership is held by a cooperative corporation … for the purpose of household or group living, where the residents typically share common areas and cooking, dining and maintenance duties.”

As the zoning process proceeds, the James Russell House co-op is seeking city approval to remodel an office building at 1225 Lake Drive SE into a 13,000-square-foot, 31-bedroom residence. A city hearing on that could come in January, and some neighbors are leery.

Nearby residents at a November hearing on the city’s housing plan voiced concern about how a housing co-op in Eastown would impact the neighborhood.

“There’s paranoia running wild,” said James Russell “Jim” Jones, who owns the house at 535 E. Fulton and wants to buy the building on Lake Drive. He plans to apply for a city permit next month.

The average rent at the proposed Lake Drive co-op housing would be a little under $400 per month.

It was Jones’ son, Erik, who started a dining co-op years ago after a big Thanksgiving gathering. The experience of a large group of people eating together “moved me,” said Erik Jones, 27, standing inside the James Russell House’s dining room, where a blackboard with a weekly dinner schedule and a collection of beer steins occupy one wall.

The dining co-op evolved into the housing co-op.

“I had this vision of a for-sale sign outside a mansion,” Erik Jones told The Grand Rapids Press (https://bit.ly/1PRX44I ). “(We came across this house and I thought) ‘Wow, we could fit 20 people in here and it’d probably be pretty affordable.’”

Erik Jones now lives at 300 Madison Ave. SE with his family in co-op housing also owned by his father.

Jim Jones, who has managed cooperative student housing in the past, bought the Fulton Street house in 2012, with plans to phase the property into co-op ownership. For $50, residents can buy a share in the co-op and get a vote at house meetings.

Residents also commit to work around the house 12 to 16 hours per month.

“The reason it works is because of the community that’s built,” Jim Jones said. “You’ve got meals that you eat together. You’ve got work that you share.”

And you’ve got roommates: 25 of them, each with a different perspective on the world. Pete Holtrop, 43, said he has lived in some bad situations. Two years ago he moved into the James Russell House and “felt something.”

“I didn’t know what I felt, but essentially what I feel is why I’ve stayed,” he said. “I felt a community that would give me a niche and help me to clarify myself.

“We’re doing the individualism and the collectivism here. We’re doing the practical things (of life), but we’re also doing something deep and philosophical at the same time.”

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Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, https://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids

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