By the mid-1970s, the four buildings at 839-847 Williamson Street had been longtime eyesores in the Willy Street neighborhood. The absentee landlord owner of all four properties had notoriously neglected the houses for years, letting them run down so badly that the City of Madison once took the rare action of ordering the owner to have them re-painted. He retaliated by having all four streetfronts done uniformly in a disgustingly-ugly shade of yellow paint. Known thereafter as the ďFour Yellow HousesĒ (or, less politely, as the ďFour Yellow DogsĒ), the condition of the houses continued to deteriorate.
Of the four buildings, two had originally been built for the Biederstaedt familyĖ843 Williamson in 1881 & 847 Williamson in 1899; before then, the Biederstaedt family had been living above their grocery business in the two-story brick building at 851-853 Williamson (now a Madison Landmarks building) at the corner of Williamson and Paterson Streets. Of the other two co-op buildings, 841 Williamson was constructed in 1896 and 839 Williamson in 1907.
Ridge Side Co-op Created. In 1979 the Madison Development Corporation purchased all four buildings, in conjunction with Common Wealth Development (Willy Streetís local development corporation), the City of Madisonís Planning & Development Department, and Design Coalition (a Willy Street architectural firm). These groups then developed the properties into Ridge Side Cooperative, a limited-equity cooperative with a total of nine apartment units.
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The Ridge Side Co-op began operation in March 1981 with the mission to serve as a new co-op housing model for the city, one structured to provide affordable apartment-style living for people with low and moderate incomes, while providing home-owner tax advantages to the co-opís members, in order to bring more residential stability to the Willy Street neighborhood.
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Altogether within the four buildings owned by Ridge Side Co-op, there are nine co-op units of varying sizes, including two apartments that are one-bedroom lofts, two apartments that have three bedrooms each, and five apartments that have two bedrooms each. Two of the co-opís units are accessible to people with disabilities.
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Each co-op apartment possesses one vote on the co-opís board of directors (out of nine votes altogether. This board operates the co-op and sets all of its policies, including such important decisions as acceptance of new members and development of the co-opís annual budget (which in turn determines the monthly carrying charges to be paid throughout the year by the nine units in the co-op).
The co-opís four main governing documents, with which every member of the co-op needs to be familiar, are: its Bylaws; its Occupancy Agreement; its House Rules; and, its Articles of Association. As the Ridge Side Co-op is set up as a cooperative in the State of Wisconsin, it is governed by Chapter 185 (entitled, ďCooperativesĒ) of the Wisconsin State Statutes.
Ridge Side Co-op is committed to the right of equal opportunity for all and strongly supports the Equal Opportunities Ordinance of the City of Madison.
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Upon joining, a new member gets the right to occupy a particular co-op apartment unit in its entirety within Ridge Side Co-op, unlike the student housing co-ops so well known to Madisonians (where a member has a private bedroom only and shares all other living spaces within the building of the co-op). Neither is Ridge Side Co-op a ďco-housingĒ situation where all members of a co-op share their meals in a common area. Ridge Side Co-op is more like the living arrangement of a condominium association because the co-op memberís personal household occupies the whole of one of the co-opís apartment units.
Each building has a first-floor apartment and a second-floor apartment, except for 839 Williamson which has two apartments on its second floor (one in the front of the building along the street and one in the back). Each of the co-opís apartments, except one, has its main entrance in the rear of the property where an open courtyard helps mitigate the effects of Willy Streetís high volume of traffic. All areas outside of each memberís own apartment is shared space for all members to use equally; this includes the basements, patios, flowerbeds, vegetable garden, and other green space. There co-opís parking lot has only one parking spaces for each of the units.
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To join the co-op, a downpayment is required. Known as the ďtransfer value,Ē the dollar amount for this varies among the units, primarily dependent upon the amount of square footage contained in each apartment, but also, to some extent upon how often membership in an apartment has turned over since the co-op began; currently, the transfer values for the nine units range from approximately $1,500 to $3,000.
In order to ensure that Ridge Side Co-op continues to be able to offer affordable prices for its future members, the co-op has a very restricted limited-equity formula providing a MAXIMUM return on the memberís transfer value upon joining the co-op of ONLY an additional 5% simple interest for each full year of residence in the co-op. In other words, the maximum transfer value to which a departing member will be entitled is the sum of:
1) the dollar amount of the transfer value the member paid upon joining the co-op; PLUS,
2) five percent simple interest on that initial transfer value sum for each full year of the memberís residence in the co-op.
Obtaining the maximum transfer value allowed upon a memberís departure is, of course, contingent upon the apartment having been well maintained during the memberís tenure.
A zero-interest loan program is available to new co-op members with low incomes to borrow up to three-quarters of the required transfer value to join the co-op.
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Home-Owner Tax Advantages
An important financial component of Ridge Side Co-opís operation is that the co-op passes along to its members some of the same types of tax advantages enjoyed by an owner of a private home. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service allows members in co-ops such as Ridge Side Co-op to deduct on their personal income taxes their apartmentís share of the total mortgage interest and the property taxes paid by the co-op. At the end of each year the co-opís treasurer determines the dollar amount to be allocated to each unit for tax purposes using the same "proportionate factor," a formula based upon the square footage contained within each of the apartments. This same ďproportionate factor is used to calculate the monthly carrying charges to be paid by each of the nine units in the co-op after the co-opís annual budget has been set each year.
Additionally, due to the structure of cooperatives, there is considerably less personal financial risk to each member in a housing co-op, compared to someone who owns a share in a condominium association.
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All four buildings were given completely new floor plans during the 1980 remodeling and practically everything else throughout the apartments was done anew as well, including plumbing, electrical wiring, walls, ceilings, floor coverings, siding, windows, doors, kitchens, baths. Throughout the interiors, natural oak trim was used around all windows and doorways. The utmost in energy efficiency at the time was provided by wall insulation with high R-values, triple-glazed windows, and caulking around all openings to the outdoors.
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In general, the co-op is responsible for maintaining all the operational systems involved with the co-opís property, such as the electrical wiring, plumbing, furnaces, water heaters, water-softeners, etc. Maintenance of these physical systems is one of the major continuing challenges faced by the co-op (just as it is for a private homeowner).
Since the co-op provides an individually-controlled furnace and water heater for each co-op unit, members pay for the gas & electricity usage of their own apartment.
Co-op members must supply their own stove and refrigerator for their apartment; these appliances, however, can often be purchased from the member moving out of the co-op.
While the co-op pays the entire water & sewer bill for the property and provides laundry hook-ups in two basements, the co-op does not have any washers or driers. Any co-op members wishing to make use of the co-op laundries must supply their own washer and dryer, but often members from two or more apartments will split the cost and share the use.
Members are responsible for decorative matters within their own apartment, including painting, carpets, window coverings, etc.
Meetings. All members need to attend and participate in the monthly meetings of the co-opís board of directors to ensure consistent communication throughout the co-op and the best decision-making possible on behalf of the co-op. Attendance is also imperative for any special meetings called, of course, as these will deal with important matters, such as interviewing a potential new member.
Monthly Work Required. Because running the co-op entails a lot of different tasks throughout the year, each co-op member is required to contribute ten hours of labor each month during March through November and six hours each month during December, January and February. This monthly contribution of work is another key component ensuring that Ridge Side Co-opís monthly carrying charges stay within the reach of people with low and moderate incomes and that Ridge Side Co-op continues to meet its mission to provide affordable housing within the Willy Street neighborhood.
Co-op work that needs to be accomplished include the everyday variety throughout the year, such as mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, filling water-softeners, changing furnace filters, taking minutes at co-op meetings, keeping the co-opís financial books, serving on co-op committees, etc. Larger maintenance projects, such as refreshing the buildingsí painted trim or re-building a porch, are planned to take advantage of the Ďmilderí temperatures experienced during Spring, Summer and Fall in Madison.
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