Qumbya is a Chicago housing cooperative. The cooperative is made up of three houses in the Hyde Park neighborhood: Bowers, Concord and Haymarket. All three are within a few blocks of each other. Each house has its own ambience and routine, but all three offer residents the opportunity to live in a shared environment. In each house, all members attend house meetings where matters of importance to the house are decided. Any issue regarding that specific house, from decorations in the common area to which new members to accept, can be decided at these meetings. Members from each house may also sit on the Qumbya Board of Directors, which makes decisions about the co-op as a whole.
Qumbya is a member of North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO), a non-profit movement of students and others active throughout North America to promote cooperative management and cooperative ownership of housing properties. The Qumbya houses are owned by NASCO Properties, which oversees basic management tasks such as paying taxes and dealing with lenders. Members of Qumbya benefit from the fact that no one is making a profit from the rent they pay. Benefits include lower rent, a community atmosphere, and the ability to make decisions in a democratic manner about how the houses are operated.
With these benefits come responsibilities, such as house chores, financial management, and recruitment of new members. These responsibilities are seen as an integral part of the co-op's community spirit, and members generally take pride in their weekly chores. Members can learn any skill they choose, including managing accounts, plumbing, electrical wiring, gardening and (of course) cooking.
Qumbya Co-op was formed in 1988 by a group of University of Chicago students who wanted to establish housing co-operatives in Hyde Park. In September 1988, the group rented a house, expanded to 15 members, and registered as a nonprofit with the name Qumbya. The name comes from the old song, Kum-bay-yah. The unusual spelling was chosen to ensure that there was no other Illinois corporation with the same name, so the incorporation papers could be processed in time to rent the house. The group tried unsuccessfully to purchase the house they were renting, and made offers on several other properties before joining forces with NASCO. In January 1990, Qumbya purchased the house now known as Haymarket House; NASCO established NASCO Properties in order to help Qumbya with the purchase, and went on to use NASCO Properties to help other student co-ops buy or maintain houses.
Bowers is located in an 1893 mansion. The house has a yellow brick, flat facade. At the time of construction, it was the only home for a considerable distance. The surrounding area comprised the mansion's grounds. The cooperative took its name from the house's former resident, Howard Bowers, a prominent figure in the Hyde Park community.
The house's three floors have been subsequently subdivided into 19 bedrooms and the cooperative has between 19 and 22 residents at a given time. Some interior rooms have been preserved as originally built, with plaster walls and the original molding. Others have been partitioned with drywall to increase capacity. Residents also share a common room, large kitchen and dining room, bathrooms, a tool room, bulk food room, laundry room, basement, attic, and back and front yards.
Bowers is home to both long term (6+ years) and short term (6 months) residents, about half of which are undergraduate or graduate students at Columbia College, University of Chicago, Harold Washington College, or University of Illinois-Chicago. As of May 2010, the youngest member is 18 and the oldest is retired, with the current median age being ~25.
Haymarket House is a cooperative household in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. Haymarket is the smallest and oldest of the three Qumbya co-ops.
Originally built as a farm house in the 1880s, the building was purchased in 1990 by the founders of Qumbya Co-op and NASCO Properties. Named in honor of the 1886 Haymarket Riot, the house was seen as both an intentional community and a locus of political activism. There was spirited debate about naming the house Qumbya House vs. Haymarket House vs. Emma Goldman House; the eventual decision was to keep Qumbya as the name of the overall co-op and name the house Haymarket House to honor the local history.
Haymarket welcomes residents of all ages and walks of life. The average age of members is around 25. Many of the residents are students, artists, musicians or activists. The total number of occupants is 15 (as of February 2010). Some members are associated with the University of Chicago and Chicago Theological Seminary, the campuses of which are less than a mile away.
While nominally consensus-based, the house is in fact more of a benevolent direct democracy. House rules, personal concerns, spending decisions, and social events are discussed at weekly meetings. Important issues, such as acceptance of new members, are subjected to a vote in which any resident may block. This voting system helps ensure that no excessively controversial or divisive measures are passed.
In addition to the rent that everyone pays to Qumbya for their rooms (approximately $365–540 per month, depending on room size), residents also pay $175 each month to cover food, utilities and maintenance expenses. Two treasurers maintain the house accounts.
Each resident has a chore, which they must perform at least once per week. Chores include cleaning, organizing the common spaces, buying food, and sundry other inglorious tasks that do not bear record on an encyclopedia.
The house is on a rotating cook cycle in which each resident cooks dinner or a weekend brunch twice a month (depending on the number of residents). Haymarket is officially vegetarian. This means that no house money may be used to purchase meat, although individuals may keep their own meat in the house refrigerators. Also, meals intended for house consumption are required to include a vegan option. Most food served is both nutritious and agreeable. There is also an extensive amount of baking and a surplus of cookbooks for consultation.