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Living History Project

A Collective History of Student Engagement at UC Santa Barbara

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Santa Barbara Student Housing Cooperative

The Santa Barbara Student Housing Co-ops [SBSHC] was started in 1976 by a group of students at UCSB concerned about housing rates and slum conditions in Isla Vista. The students decided to form a cooperative to master lease buildings, thereby lowering rates and giving members greater control over the quality of the housing they occupied. The co-op was incorporated as the University Students' Rochdale Housing Project (USRHP), named after the Rochdale Co-op in England, which is recognized as the first successful modern consumer cooperative.

The USHRP co-op opened its first leased building in the fall of 1977 at 6520 Cervantes. The building had 31 one-bedroom apartments and held 61 members. The second building that the co-op master leased was at 6503 Madrid, and is still in the co-op’s possession to this day. By the fall of 1980, the co-op had master leased seven buildings and housed almost 200 members.

USHRP passed a major milestone – the purchase of its first building. The co-op bought 6503 Madrid, which it had previously master leased, and named it after Patti Newman, one of the co-op's founding members and one of the first Executive Directors. Newman House comprises of 9 one and two-bedroom apartments. During the early 1980's the co-op continued its strategy of expansion through master leasing, eventually housing 480 university students and staff. The co-op's own staff grew quite large in order to accommodate a range of activities from building maintenance to member education.

USHRP purchased its second building, the Manley House. Manley was the co-op’s first group house, meaning members slept in bedrooms and worked together to organize the rest of the common household. The building is named after Steven Manley, an active co-op member who was killed over summer vacation while fighting forest fires in Los Padres National Forest.

At this point, the co-op's history takes an ominous turn. USHRP became engaged in a lawsuit with one of the property owners from which it leases several buildings. After a legal battle of several years, the co-op ended up losing the lawsuit, quite a bit of money, and many of its master-leased buildings. Eventually, USHRP ceased master-leasing altogether, and operated only the two buildings it owned: Newman and Manley. Although the lawsuit caused a lot of changes at the co-op, and a great deal of financial trouble at the time, the co-op is now in a financially stable position and is looking ahead to the future.

The members of the co-op voted to change its name to "Santa Barbara Student Housing Co-ops," (SBSHC) in order to be more descriptive of its activities and to emphasize its relationship with the UCSB campus. The co-op also began a management arrangement with the North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO), an umbrella student co-op organization. NASCO provided SBSHC with an executive director that also served as the West Coast Developer and combined consulting efforts to get the co-op back on it’s feet.

The tireless work and dedication of co-opers led to the acquisition of Dashain House. As a themed vegetarian house, Dashain was the first building within the co-op to have it's own meal plan. Initially it was going to be called the House of Seitan, but Dashain sounded friendlier as it also paid homage to a house pet. Dashain maintains its own garden space out back, at one time hosting a family of chickens. The house has nine bedrooms and three bathrooms. Dashain has traditionally never had television in common space.  

The co-op bought Biko House in 1997.  Named after Stephen Bantu Biko, founder and martyr of the Black Consciousness movement in South Africa, Biko is SBSHC's "People of Color" themed Co-op. Biko's theme provides a safe, respectful space for people of color in predominantly white campus community. Biko house has twelve bedrooms and six bathrooms. Its kitchen is large and spacious, with industrial-strength cooking facilities and a stocked pantry. Biko has a mandatory meal plan that always offers both meat and vegetarian/vegan options. 

The garage space out front functions as an all-purpose community space for meetings, music, art exhibitions and dance. The Biko Infoshop is run by donation only, and is run and operated by house members. If you are interested in booking an event at the garage, please email bikogarage @
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