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Why it's important, how to improve it

Why occupancy is important

Why should you care whether ICC is full or not? Simple: When we have lots of members we have more income so room rates can be kept steady. But when there are lots of vacancies we make less money and that means that members have to pay more to make up the difference. Bad occupancy this spring could mean that room rates are $30/mo. higher next year.

Occupancy (keeping the houses full) is also important to houses themselves. The labor system in a house can easily fall apart if there aren't enough members living there to handle all the housework. Keeping your house full is key to keeping it running smoothly.

Is ICC too big? Do we have too many houses in order to fill them well?

No. When we have occupancy problems they're generally unrelated to ICC's size. As I write this in Spring 2004, occupancy is terrible and many members are quick to blame the fact that we recently added two new houses, 1910 and Arrakis. But the evidence doesn't support the idea that being smaller means better occupancy:

Just two years ago, in Spring 2002, we had occupancy problems just as bad as they are now. And that was with two fewer houses. This shows quite clearly that we can have occupancy problems no matter how few houses we have. Let's say that we had just one house, New Guild (or Avalon, or HoC). Would that mean our occupancy would be good? Probably not. Each of those houses has terrible occupancy, maybe 60-70%. If we owned just one of those houses, we might own a single house with 60-70% occupancy.

You might say that people who would have lived in the other houses would go to that one house if that were all that was available. But why would that house be the only one that's available? French House, Helios, Seneca, and the other houses don't just cease to exist if ICC doesn't own them -- somebody else owns them instead. And people can and would still live there.

The point is, if you have nine houses that are at about 80% average occupancy, and you sold three, then you just have six houses that were at about 80% average occupancy. Having fewer houses doesn't help. If you have nine rotten apples and you throw away three of them, then you still have six rotten apples.

People are confusing ICC owning fewer houses with there being fewer houses total in West Campus. They're two totally different things. If the number of available housing units decreased then sure, that would help our occupancy. But our merely selling our housing units to someone else doesn't change the number of housing units available. In fact, it probably makes it worse, as whoever we sold to would tear down the houses and build something with more units instead.

Bear in mind that Arrakis had been part of the ICC family and reasonably full for nearly 25 years before it burned down. It's not suddenly harder to fill just because it took a three-year vacation while it was being rebuilt.

Or consider 1910. For years we had our own houses, and 1910 was owned by somebody else. Did 1910 suddenly become harder to fill just because we own it? Hardly.

Probably the biggest reason why occupancy is bad this spring is that we opened a house in the middle of the long term. The fact that Arrakis opened in the spring meant that it was impossible to get people to live in it who already had long-term contracts elsewhere. In this case this did dilute the members from the other houses who are moving into Arrakis. But this is a one-time fluke; next year Arrakis will be available in the Fall, just like all the other houses.

Bottom line: when occupancy is bad it's for reasons other than ICC's size. If you sell off houses to try to improve occupancy then not only will you destroy ICC but you'll still fail to even solve the occupancy problem.


How much occupancy is "good" occupancy?

We typically budget for this much occupancy:

% Occupancy
Beds filled
Beds empty









In a typical 20-person house, 1 vacancy means 95% occupancy. (19/20 = 95%)

If a 20-person house has "only" 2 vacancies than it's not almost full, it's one person under budget, and costs us over $5000/year. If that vacancy is unfilled for a year that costs everyone in ICC $2.50 a month. Good occupancy for most houses is at least Full -1.


How much does it cost us when we have bad occupancy?

Here's how much income a single member adds, after taking out the cost of feeding them, based on 2003-04 room rates. (Average rate is $530/mo., minus $105/mo. for food.)

Income added by 1 member

Fall +Spring

Single bed (60% of beds are singles)


Double bed (40% of beds are doubles)




Remember that it works both ways: The above table shows how much we lose by being one member short.

Below is a similar table, showing how much income we get (or lose) for each percentage point of occupancy. (1% point is 1.88 members, since we have 188 total members when we're 100% full.)

Income added by each % point of occupancy

Fall +Spring

Single bed (60% of beds are singles)


Double bed (40% of beds are doubles)





Hey Bluejay, would you like to try that again in English? Like maybe a practical example?

Sure. Your command is my wish.

At the beginning of Spring 2004 we're at 78.5% occupancy, but we budgeted (planned for) 94% occupancy. So we're 13.5 points short. We see from the second table above ("Spring" column, "Average" row) that each point costs us $4200. So 13.5 x $4200 = $56,700. So if occupancy doesn't improve this spring, we can expect to lose about $57,000.

This wouldn't be accurate if the proportion of single to double vacancies was different from the 60/40% proportion of all rooms, but in fact we have 24 single vacancies and 16 doubles, exactly 60/40.

So how much does this impact room rates? There are a number of ways to look at it. If we consider this a $57k deficit that next year's members will have to make up, that means that room rates will have to go up by $29/mo. next year to pay for the deficit.

More on how to calculate the impact is in the related article, How much does an $X deficit raise room rates?


Okay, so if the problem isn't too many houses, why does our occupancy scrape?

There are any number of reasons why occupancy can be bad:
  • Members got better deals somewhere else.
  • Members thought they got better deals somewhere else.
  • Members didn't like:
    • Messy houses
    • Conflicts with other members
    • Having to participate in operating a successful house
    • Drama
  • Potential applicants don't know about ICC
  • Potential applicants think ICC is too:
    • Messy
    • Expensive
    • Radical
  • Nobody answered an applicant's email when they wrote to the house
  • When an applicant toured the house the other members didn't seem excited about the applicant living there


So how do we get better occupancy?

There are any number of ways to increase occupancy, limited only by your creativity.

Energize the membership

  • If everyone who already lived in ICC were enthusiastic about it, the houses would fill themselves. Members need to feel a sense of ownership. If they do then ICC will be full and successful. If they don't then no amount of marketing will compensate for the fact that the members don't really believe in their organization. There's more on this in the article about fostering a sense of ownership.

Getting the word out

  • Put "Rooms Available" signs in front of the houses.
  • Make a promotional video and put it on the web (currently planned)
  • Take out more ads in newspapers. Look at the picture ads ICC ran in the Austin Chronicle in the late 80's (archived in the office)
  • Advertise on the radio
  • Give out free ICC t-shirts
  • Get your website ranked high in Google (currently done)
  • Table on the West Mall (currently planned)
  • Flier at the student union and around campus
  • Talk to friends

Making ICC appealing

  • Keep rates as low as possible

Making houses more appealing

  • Assign the Membership Officer and others the responsibility of making the house more "new member friendly".
  • Make sure houses are clean and attractive when prospective members visit -- especially bathrooms and kitchens.
  • Make sure empty rooms are clean and functional.
  • Check with the office about new applicants, and invite them to dinner.
  • Answer the phone when it rings, it could be an applicant.
  • Return applicants' calls and emails promptly.
  • Have all house members be educated in the application process, so if someone shows up and asks how they apply the answer is something besides, "Uh......", or "You have to go to the office." Have applications on hand to give to prospects, or lead them to the house computer so they can apply on ICC's website.
  • Be genuinely friendly to interested in applicants when they visit the house.


  • Point out what makes ICC different from other housing choices (member-owned, democratically managed, community of cooperation)
  • Advertise the rate without food & utilities, and let the houses be responsible for their own food & utilities budgets. Even though everything is included people may see the ~$600/mo. price tag and get sticker shock.


  • Hold events to get people to come to the houses, such as a Free Tutoring Day.

Discourage members from leaving

  • Charge more for Fall-only contracts than Fall/Spring contracts. (Careful, this could backfire if people don't wind up signing for Fall at all because the price is higher.)


  • Survey applicants who decide against ICC, and find out why.
  • Survey members to find out why they leave, and what it would have taken to get them to stay.

Thanks to Silas and Suellen for giving me ideas for this page.

Last Updated: Jan. 2004

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