Now we’re Spartan Housing Cooperative. Still the SHC!

A note from our Co-op President, Erik Berg, explaining our name change:

Prior to SHC was the Inter-Cooperative Council, a loose federation of the co-op houses associated with the student government of MSU. As this began to crumble in the ’60s, the need for a stronger, incorporated federation led to the organization of the Student Cooperative Council in winter of 1969, but for legal reasons at the time, the State rejected that name. So, May 1969 saw the successful incorporation of the “MSU Student Housing Corporation, Inc.” Unfortunately, because the people involved at the time were mostly students who left for the summer, this quickly faltered. It wasn’t until two years later when new co-opers revived the idea, the houses transferred their property and leases to SHC, and we really began.

Believe it or not, a lot of things have stayed the same throughout 50 years. An immediate issue was the name. The 1969 group was almost all MSU students, but the 1971 founders were a mixed bag. Despite being a misnomer, they kept the name on file with the state to avoid the hassle of changing our Articles of Incorporation and/or re-incorporating. This backfired when our application for 501(c)(3) federal tax exemption as a non-profit was summarily denied — it seemed that we were only operating for the benefit of our members as MSU students. Several appeals and attempts to reapply failed, and a combination of high member turnover and poor record-keeping has meant that we still don’t have federal tax exemption all these years later.Debate over renaming persisted for decades, although the only successful change came in 2002 when we realized that State law had changed to allow us to use “Cooperative” instead of “Corporation.” Since then, the non-MSU Student membership of SHC has grown, and three community co-ops have joined the federation. Plenty of possible names had been suggested, but it wasn’t until 2016 that then-VPE Jessica Sietsema suggested “Spartan Housing Cooperative, Inc.” to the Board of Directors. It didn’t gain any traction initially, but by 2019 it had grown on the Board. “Spartan” doesn’t sever our ties with the University community, but no longer implies our membership is MSU Student-only by removing “MSU Student” — and removing “MSU” alone stops external orgs from assuming we belong to the University (seriously, this is the norm, not the exception). “Spartan” is already used by a lot of local businesses as a brand motif, and importantly, it allows us to remain the “SHC,” just as we have for half a century. But “Spartan” does have meaning not in reference to the University or ancient Sparta. Googling reveals a wide variety of definitions; here are a few to give an idea:

-Firm in purpose or belief; characterized by firmness and determination. Possessing courage and resolve.

-Sternly disciplined and rigorously simple, frugal, or austere. Resolute in the face of pain or danger or adversity. Practicing great self-denial. Brave; undaunted.

This new name was seriously considered for over a year, until the Board moved to put it to a vote of the membership last March, in tandem with other changes needed to file for tax exemption once again. In addition to simply voting to change the name, we needed to amend the Bylaws, which requires a majority vote of the membership in a referendum, and the Articles of Incorporation, which requires two-thirds approval by the full membership, not just those voting, to amend. In the end, the Bylaw changes passed with 91% approval, while the updated Articles of Incorporation passed with 81%, but fell 16 votes short of the two-thirds approval necessary.

So, what are we to do? The Articles can’t be changed without this member vote, but the name in the Bylaws had to be updated. Additionally, the name change was clearly desired, despite turnout being a hair too small. After a discussion with the Board of Directors, a solution was decided.

In short, we’re able to compromise by legally operating under an assumed name. By filing a DBA (Doing Business As) with the State, we’re able to make the change even though our Articles of Incorporation still include “MSU Student Housing Cooperative, Inc.” and “MSU Student Housing Corporation, Inc.”

What does this mean for us as members? Not much. Nothing is changing operationally, and the co-op’s still called “SHC.” If you’ve read the April Pine Press, you’ll notice that it now sports “Spartan Housing Cooperative” on the back cover. Things printed going forward will use the new name, although plenty of existing merchandise (including the t-shirts we all just got) will advertise what we’re used to. Our website is being updated to reflect the change, as will our entire digital presence. But the same cooperative ideals and mission to expand low-cost cooperative housing we’ve carried throughout our storied past will remain unchanged as we look toward our promising future.