Co-Living: The Solution to the Housing Crisis, or an Overpriced, Over-decorated & Overrated Gimmick?

Co-living and housing crisis

-By Jessica Carnwath, Town Planning, Recruitment Consultant-

You may remember the rise of Co-working a few years ago, where millennials found themselves stuck in communal offices with a ping pong table, a beer tap, and big Instagrammable slogans on the wall (thanks WeWork). Well, Co-working has given way to the newest trend; Co-living.

What is Co-living?

Based on a similar concept of shared space and community, Co-living developments are often a collection of very small rooms with very nice facilities. This can be anything from an on-site gym, a spa, a cinema, and a bar, with regularly held events for the community.

The thinking behind it is simple; it’s a space for people to live and socialise conveniently, with shared kitchens and living areas that are far more high-end than the grotty little kitchen you’ve been sharing with your 6 housemates in your flatshare designed for 4 people. Now you’ll have 30 housemates but also a cinema. 

Co-living and housing crisis

Benefits of Co-living

Co-living does undeniably have a number of benefits, as Andy Somerville of Nexus Planning points out, it’s great for young professionals. ‘It provides a space for young professionals to be around other people of a similar age and circumstance, a community, with access to really good facilities’, says Andy, ‘people are getting tired of increasingly terrible house-shares with increasingly high rents’. If you’re a young professional moving to a new city, without any connections and no clear idea where to move, choosing a Co-living arrangement removes the stress of flat-hunting, ensures you’re surrounded by other young people and helps get you settled.

A study in The Times even suggests that these properties can help ‘encourage stronger communities and reduce loneliness and isolation among young people’. The Collective (one of the most prominent Co-living developers currently operating) claims, ‘our mission is to build and activate spaces that foster human connection and enable people to lead more fulfilling lives’. Given the rise of very similar high-end student accommodation, it seems like a natural transition; students developing into young professionals will likely feel comfortable stepping into a similar lifestyle in their early career.

Can Co-living alleviate the housing crisis? 

But some hope that it might offer the solution to more than just youth isolation; ‘living with strangers holds the key to the housing crisis and loneliness’ (The Times). It’s argued that Co-living developments could help address the shortage of affordable homes for first time buyers, easing the push to convert family homes into crammed HMOs or small flats.

The trickle-down effect of providing ‘Rentysomethings’ with alternative housing is that it alleviates the pressure elsewhere in the housing industry, making family homes more accessible and affordable in the long run. Whilst Co-living arrangements lack the permanency of a long term home, they will hopefully provide a bridge, allowing young people to live socially, flexibly, and to a high standard, before entering the period of their lives where they might want to settle down and establish a home. At this stage, the theory is that family homes will be more widely available as the rate of conversions will have fallen. 

Co-living and housing crisis

Cost of living in a Co-living space

On the surface this all seems great, but there are pitfalls to promoting this way of living to the expense of more traditional house-shares. For one thing they are expensive – to live in London in one of The Collective’s single ensuite rooms at a standard rate, you will be forking out £1,083 a month. This makes them open to only a very specific demographic; wealthy young professionals. Emphasis on wealthy. They tend to be high end, with a very cultivated aesthetic that makes them more marketable – stick in a couple of houseplants, a feature wall, and a load of art deco benches instead of chairs, and you’ve got yourself a £1,000-a-month room. For many young people living in cities is not affordable.

This potential for a price increase has not gone unnoticed by developers and landlords – Gareth Giles, Director at Whaleback, has seen a notable increase in the number of Co-living developments coming through in Brighton. ‘By rebranding slightly and creating lots of small rooms with a larger communal space and a nicer finish’, says Gareth, ‘landlords can suddenly charge closer to £600 rather than the £400 they would have got for rooms in a traditional HMO’.

We can only hope that the sudden rise in more pricey Co-living properties in a prominent uni town won’t be replicated across the country, pushing up the prices of student and young person living. 

Promise of community

More traditional house-shares do tend to be expensive, however, the promise of community that makes the price tag of a Co-living space more appealing doesn’t necessarily track out. As Gareth points out, the expectation of a young buzzing community doesn’t always live up to expectation – ‘with the large, purpose-built Co-living developments, there’s a high turnover so a sense of community doesn’t have a chance to build’.

Whilst you may make some good friends, the underpinning ethos of community and communal living doesn’t deliver. Unlike living in a house-share run by a private landlord, living in a Co-living development complex comes with behavioural rules and regulations, similar to living in university halls.

It may become suffocating to feel constantly monitored, and with fully staffed facilities, is there something a little infantilising about encouraging young people to remain catered for into their adult lives? Good intentions for community spirit aside, promoting a lifestyle that delays young people from having to learn basic life-skills is bound to have long term impacts. 

Co-living and housing crisis

One thing we can agree on…

Despite this, both Andy and Gareth agree that there is a place for Co-living developments in today’s market. ‘There is a bigger and stronger trend at force here’ says Andy, ‘it comes down to quality and convenience’.

For the most part, the industry feels pretty positive towards Co-living and the potential development opportunities it can bring. Can it offer a solution to the housing crisis? Certainly not. What it can offer is a trickledown effect that will decrease the amount of larger homes being converted into multiple occupancy dwellings, freeing them up for families.

In terms of becoming the new norm for young person accommodation, I don’t see it happening. The expense is a barrier for most young people, alongside a desire to get more independence away from catered living. Particularly in cities heavily populated by young professionals and students, promoting a form of development that targets specifically wealthy demographic runs the risk of alienating many young people and leaving them with fewer places to go. There may be a place for Co-living developments in our cities, but it cannot be at the expense of often more accessible house-shares. 

If you would like to speak to Jessica regarding opportunities within Town Planning give us a call on 020 7766 9000 or check out our newest jobs here.

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