Kimberly Garmany: College Houses

 Photos by Shea Garner

Photos by Shea Garner

1) WHO ARE YOU? TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF, HEY, EVEN BRAG A LITTLE.

Kimberly Garmany currently serves as the Development Director at College Houses and as a Board Director for the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA). College Houses is a group equity non-profit cooperative student housing organization that serves 532 members in Austin, TX, while NCBA is the trade association that advocates on behalf of cooperatives in the United States. It was during Kim’s time as a student co-oper at 21st Street Co-op that she discovered and fell in love with the versatility and benefits of the cooperative business model.

Throughout her professional and volunteer life, Kim’s mission has been to help people overcome barriers to a stable and prosperous life. She’s provided quality, affordable childcare to those in need, been a mentor to at risk youth, assisted seniors with transportation, raised funds for first generation college students, and continues to be a passionate advocate for affordable housing and dignified work for all.

2)  TELL US ABOUT THE WORK YOU ARE DOING AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT.

Cooperatives have been at the center of my world for the past fourteen years. In 2001, I began my relationship with College Houses as an incoming freshman at the University of Texas in desperate need of affordable housing. During my four-year membership at the 21st St. Co-op, I developed leadership skills by organizing social events, serving as a house meeting chairperson and Treasurer, and helping new members get settled as the Membership Coordinator.  The opportunities and experiences from my time as a student co-oper have shaped the person I am today, which is evident in my career choice.

"...Our co-ops are learning organizations where members can explore their place in a community, while developing their sense of self and their distinct voice."

The student co-ops are such a unique place to spend your college years because there is a magical sense of independence and autonomy, while being supported by a safety net, of sorts. Recently, one of our alumna described her experience in a co-op as a transition between college and the real world, and I tend to agree with that sentiment. I feel like our co-ops are learning organizations where members can explore their place in a community, while developing their sense of self and their distinct voice. Democratic decision-making mixed with hands-on management of day-to-day operations in our co-ops provide members with real world, relevant life skills that will stay with them forever.

An even more tangible benefit of cooperative living is the affordability that comes with pooling resources. Most of our co-op houses include rent, food, utilities, and internet at half the price of on campus dorms. In a city that is rapidly becoming out of financial reach for many, the services that College Houses provides are very relevant and increasingly important. Each year, we see our waitlist increase, with more and more people in need of an affordable option for housing.  

3) WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME CHALLENGES IN PURSUING THIS WORK?

The biggest challenge I see in my work is making sure we provide our members with the highest quality housing at the most affordable rates. Four of our five buildings are over 40 years old and in need of major repairs. We’ve started seeking outside funds to complete capital improvements, but the pursuit of funding is competitive in Central Texas. It’s a difficult balancing act of prioritizing projects and planning for the unexpected with a limited budget.

The turnover rate in our organization can also be a challenge. Most members stay between 2-4 years while they’re in school and then move on. A lot of time is spent educating new members and officers on the roles and responsibilities in the organization. It can sometimes be difficult to carry out a multi-year initiative with members that might not be around to experience the benefits.

4) WHERE AND HOW CAN WE SUPPORT YOU IN YOUR QUEST?

We are participating in Amplify Austin for the first time this year, so people could directly support us by donating to that campaign, or sharing the information for the campaign. Additionally, readers could take some time to learn about and explore the cooperative business model. In the future, this model might be just the solution you’re looking for!

5) WHO INSPIRES YOU?

My son, Gatlin, is my inspiration. When I think of why I want to help the co-ops succeed, it’s so his and future generations can enjoy the transformative experience of living cooperatively.