Like so many others, the course of my freshman year was filled with an undercurrent of housing anxiety. Where would I go after the dorms? What if I couldn’t find a place? At the suggestion of a Berkeley alum, I decided to open up the Berkeley Student Coop website and send in my application. And, as the year came to a close, I got an email saying there was an open contract for Casa Zimbabwe. So I trucked over my stuff from its summer storage, and the rest is history. As the end of the semester looms near, I feel as if I have finally experienced enough of the co-op I live in to write an informative review.
How it works
There’s a lot about the co-op system that I didn’t fully understand until I moved in. So, here’s the basic idea. You pay $4131/semester (about $1,032 per month) for most of the co-ops, which includes room and board. The “board” part is one of the most significant reasons co-ops are a great deal. In Casa Zimbabwe at least, room and board means unlimited food (without having to grocery shop) and access to basic health items. Fresh dinner is cooked by a member of the house every night, and I cannot overemphasize how good these dinners are.
The house is entirely student-run and sustained, which comes with its pros and cons. Each member must work five hours a week doing various tasks for the house. These jobs include cleaning, cooking or managerial positions. There are also some paid positions and opportunities, which pay in the form of a direct (untaxed!) reduction from your rent. Additionally, throughout the semester, each student must complete five home improvement hours (projects, larger-scale cleaning), five weekend hours (work shifts during parties and other events) and two hours of cleaning pots. It sounds like a lot, but for the price, I’d say it’s very much worth it. Additionally, the house has a weekly council in which house matters are decided. Each member has a vote and all motions are decided democratically.
I will say, the space can be quite overwhelming at first. The walls are covered in multicolored murals and drawings that I have grown to love. The house is quite large, with two common areas, two roofs, a balcony and four halls on each of the two sides of the building. The kitchen is large and industrial, and things can be hard to find at first. But, despite an initial two weeks of getting lost, I ended up being to navigate it with ease. Being a house run by students, things can get kind of messy sometimes. But, honestly, on a day-to-day basis, it’s not as bad as people had made it seem. As long as people complete their work shifts, the bathrooms are pretty clean. Frankly, I have more horror stories about the dorm bathrooms than I do about the CZ bathrooms. Of course, if you’re the type of person who needs a neat, organized space, I would not officially recommend CZ. But for people like me, who thrive in a little bit of chaos, the vibrancy of the space can be a major plus. I love being able to paint on my bedroom walls, and I feel like every time I explore the house I discover something new.
Rooms are decided by co-op points (1 earned per semester) and lottery. Don’t be scared of triples though. I live in one now, and as someone who previously lived in a Unit 3 triple, I feel like I’m living in the lap of luxury. It’s at least twice, maybe three times the size of a dorm triple, and there’s more than enough space for each person.
The location is great, too. I dreaded living in Northside, but it’s so close to campus that any pain caused by closing at 8 pm is very mush assuaged. It’s only a 10-15 minute walk to Southside, 20 minute walk to frat row and 10-15 minute walk to most areas in downtown. Plus, Northside is beautiful, quiet and has spectacular views of the bay.
The social life
I’ve found that the social life in CZ is what you make it. You can be as involved or uninvolved as you would like. However, if you are not a person who enjoys partying, it can be a little more difficult to bond with other members of the house. While not exclusively true, many of the major house events include drugs or alcohol.
There seems to be a divide between those who live in CZ just to have a house and those who live in CZ because they love the environment. If you don’t want to be around people all the time, you really don’t have to. However, the walls are not incredibly thick and you are likely to still hear the EDM bumping from your room, which can lead to a bit of FOMO.
I, however, love being able to walk into the kitchen at 2 am and hang out with people drunkenly making pasta after a night out. There are golden moments in the house in which you feel truly connected to those around you, and those are the moments I love. If you talk to the right people, it is very possible to create a sense of community and a space for yourself within the social scene of the house.
How to apply
If this sounds interesting to you, I’d highly recommend applying! To do so, simply go to the BSC coop website and click the big red apply button. Spots fill up fast, so try and apply before winter to get in Fall 2023. Priority is given to EOP and transfer students, as well as students who already have co-op points.
Well, there you go! I hope I’ve given any potential Czars (CZ residents) a better insight into the house. The articles and videos online don’t quite do it justice. It’s not for everyone, though, so I’d highly recommend doing a quick tour and talking to some current Czars before signing a contract. Despite the initial overwhelming nature of the place, I am now quite happy to be a Czar.