Intentional community. Commune. Co-op. Village. Group home. Hacker house. All of these titles define different co-living and co-housing arrangements, both here in America and especially in places like Scandinavia.[i]
Despite our association of co-living with 1960s counterculture, various forms of communal living are in fact much older than that. As the Atlantic examined last year, living with just your immediate family, rather than your extended family and friends, is a pretty new trend in world history. Thanks to the industrial revolution, among other developments, only by the 1800s did “people began drawing a sharp distinction between family and friends when it came to who they lived with,” Ilana E. Strauss wrote. The idea of (only) dad, mom and the kids living under one roof was a 20th-century phenomenon. Out of this history, co-living and co-housing are making a national reemergence across different cities’ housing and rental markets.
It’s even here in Cincinnati, thanks to our co-living efforts at Kunsthous. This Deep Dive examines the current national co-living movement, why developers are investing co-living and why renters are flocking to the model. We also explore many examples of co-housing and co-living across America.
Co-housing vs. co-living
A quick note about co-housing vs. co-living. There are many co-housing arrangements in the U.S., and more continue to emerge. While co-living takes place in apartment buildings, co-housing occurs in clusters of single-family homes and tends to attract families who want to live in their own house but have quick and unavoidable access to shared areas, especially for meals and childcare. Co-housing is also used to accommodate elderly and disabled persons who live privately and separately but have a ready, built-in, close-by network of neighbors.
A good place to look for examples of this is through the Cohousing Association of the United States. Their cohousing involves intentional communities of 20-40 private homes centered around shared space. Right now, the Association reports that 165 of these communities exist across the U.S. “Each attached or single-family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen. Shared spaces typically feature a common house, which may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry, and recreational spaces. Shared outdoor space may include parking, walkways, open space, and gardens. Neighbors also share resources like tools and lawnmowers.”
Along with shared space, households plan community activities like shared meals, meetings and parties, and can organize services like clubs, child care and elderly care. The legal structure is typically an HOA, Condo Association or Housing Cooperative. Community activities feature regularly-scheduled shared meals, meetings, and workdays. Their emphasis is on privacy alongside community. In Ohio, the only registered one near Cincinnati is Grailville in Loveland, an “intentional community organized around affordability, sustainability and community.”[ii]
Another good resource on co-housing is the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC). FIC promotes intentional communities by “nurtur[ing] connections and cooperation among communitarians and their friends.” It is a nonprofit resource network that raises people’s awareness of how many intentional communities there are to join, and supports “a wide range of intentional communities, cohousing groups, ecovillages, community networks, support organizations, and people seeking a home in community.”
There are hundreds of homes and communities the FIC supports; most of them seem to be themed (usually environmentally, about sustainability, or about social justice) and somewhat similar to the Cohousing Association’s list of sites. Many of the FIC sites are rural but not all; some, for instance, are in Chicago and DC.[iii]
Alright, back to co-living – a few key aspects of co-living (outside of Cincinnati)
Co-living projects exist throughout America, especially on the coasts and in expensive (or increasingly expensive) cities.
Common threads for co-living in America:
- Less personal space and more shared space
- Short, non-traditional, flexible leases
- Amenities and services to make life comfortable
- Curated events
- The promise of interaction and hopefully friendship
Why do people want to live this close on purpose?
- Affordability (while not that much lower in certain cases, some co-living buildings do promise lower rents)
- Antidote to social isolation on a daily basis
- Idea of new friendships, especially diverse ones
- Ease of living (someone else is cleaning your room for you!)
While common space and events are emphasized as community-building exercises, co-living experiments outside of Cincinnati additionally sell themselves on:
- Convenience/comfort (being like hotels with stocked fridges, housekeeping and laundry services)
- Flexibility (with short-term leases that at times mimic hotels – i.e. you can just stay for a night or a week if you wish)
- Productivity (many of them emphasize co-working; many of them emphasize how productive tenants are because they’re able to travel to new locations, work remotely and be inspired by new people)
Other aspects of co-living nationally:
- Still expensive (for one, many co-living buildings exist in expensive cities but still, as described below, price points are still quite high even though the resident is living in a private bedroom or micro unit).
- High number of tenants per building (this isn’t true for all but for some co-living arrangements, the number of residents per building is in the hundreds).
- Targeting only young people (as their websites reveal, co-living projects almost exclusively have young people in mind for tenants).
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Co-living has really taken off on the East and West Coasts. Here are a few examples:
WeLive – NYC, DC
Number of Locations – 2
Disclosed Funding – $9.8 billion (WeWork)
Branching off from their other giant, co-working company WeWork, Adam Neumann and Miguel Mckelvey founded WeLive in 2016. With hundreds of tenants living inside WeLive buildings (one is on Wall Street above a WeWork; the other is in DC in Crystal City), WeLive offers short-term and long-term leases for studios, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom and 3+-bedroom spaces along with amenities like “mailrooms and laundry rooms that double as bars and event spaces to communal kitchens, roof decks, and hot tubs.”
WeLive spaces provide amenities as though they were hotels (linens, free wifi, free beverages, housekeeping, concierge) and come with a membership that includes events access and a mobile app.[iv]
Common – NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, DC
Number of locations – 14
Disclosed funding – $38 million
The brainchild of General Assembly co-founder Brad Hargreaves, Common offers “flexible, friendly shared homes” “by providing fully-furnished, month-to-month memberships” in Brooklyn and Queens as well as a growing number of other cities. Its leases are flexible, and tenants can easily move between buildings. Common offers housekeeping, spaces ready to move into, laundry and Wi-Fi—all included in the monthly rent.
Its community is built on both the communal spaces within the buildings (i.e. kitchens and such) and through curated events for the members. Common does not own any of its buildings but merely acts as property manager. As of this summer, the cheapest Common building is in Crown Heights and offers rooms starting at $1,340/month. At its most expensive building in Boerum Hill, rooms price at $2,143/month.[v]
Roam – London, Bali, Miami and Toyko
Number of locations – 4
Disclosed funding – $3.4 million
Roam is “an international network of co-living spaces,” with locations in London, Bali, Miami and Toyko.
It specifically targets location-independent folks who can and want to work in different places. Some of its buildings are historic hotels or larger old apartment buildings that can house a fair number of people. You book a private suite and then have access to shared living areas and co-working spaces; to stay somewhere for a week prices in around $1000.[vi]
Ollie – Pittsburgh, LA, Jersey City, NYC, Boston
Number of locations – 3 currently, 3 coming by 2019
“At Ollie, residents enjoy complimentary hotel-style conveniences, like high-speed wifi, access to premium television programming, a weekly tidy, monthly housekeeping, and a dedicated social club membership.”
Founded by Andrew and Chris Bledsoe, Ollie offers micro units and micro suites with “hotel-style amenities” and curated events like guest speakers, brunches and dinners. The promised hotel-like services include “communal lounges, pools, gyms, spa areas, juice bars, roof decks, and flex spaces.”
With multiple locations, once you’re a member, you can use any of the other ‘branches.’ Prices are still high though; at its first building—Carmel Place, NYC’s first micro-unit housing development—average rent for a micro-unit is $2775/month.[vii]
Bedly, NYC, Boston, Jersey City
Number of locations – 17
Disclosed funding – $2.7 million
Founded by Benjamin Chester and Martin Greenburg, Bedly co-living offers fully-furnished units with flexible month-to-month leases at various locations within NYC and Boston. Searching their website for a room is like booking an Airbnb.
You select a room that is available and book it hotel-style for a month. If you don’t like that room or your roommates, you can trade to a different location within your lease. Prices range from around $900-1300 per month. While rooms size up around 130 SQFT, like other co-living places, you have access to all the other common areas like kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms.[viii]
Pure House – Brooklyn, NYC
Number of locations – 1 (used to have 4)
Founded by Ryan Fix, Pure House is co-living at various buildings in Brooklyn. Tenants sign a 30-day lease and pay $1,600-4,000 a month for a private room and access to other common spaces. Amenities like laundry, housekeeping, massages and pop up dinners are key to Pure House; they serve to build community but especially to offer convenience to tenants. The $4,000-a-month package includes massage, yoga, fresh fruits and vegetables, personal coaching and wellness counseling. The short-term commitment of only one month is very appealing in a place like NYC where there are usually strict terms, credit checks and income rules.[ix]
OpenDoor – San Francisco, (soon) Portland, OR
Number of locations – 3 (2 more coming early 2018)
Disclosed funding – $150,000
Started by Ben Provan and Jay Standish, OpenDoor has a few houses in Berkeley and Oakland, California, all of which are historic single-family homes that they have renovated into co-living arrangements. Bedrooms are private but the kitchen, living room, bathrooms and such are shared. Some of them also have community gardens.
Of all the co-living projects on the coasts now, this seems one of the more down-to-earth, authentic ones.[x]
Commonspace – Syracuse, NY
Number of locations – 1
Co-founded by Troy Evans, Commonspace is “a ‘co-housing’ community on the fourth and fifth floors of a restored 19th-century office building” in Syracuse, New York. It is comprised of 25 micro-units, each equipped with their own kitchenette and bathroom, surrounded by (more spacious) common space area like a bigger kitchen, library, game room, lounge and media room (totally to 6000 SQFT).
There are currently 27 members. The rent per unit is $850 per month for 200 SQFT, though amenities are included in this price (spaces are cleaned 3x a week, for instance).[xi]
We think highly of co-living arrangements as, at least in theory, they are a more affordable, sustainable, human-scale way of living. That said, we recommend taking time to peruse some of the above-mentioned co-living startups’ websites. To us, many of them come across as staged (especially in their photos of their members) and inauthentic. If the whole idea is to bring people together, then why do so many of their photos look like forced or fake encounters between people?
Furthermore, their price points hardly make them affordable. But interestingly, none of them purport to offer that accessible or affordable of rents. Nor do they spend that much time talking about the community they’re building. What is stressed instead? Two words: convenience and flexibility. They’re intentionally appealing to young people with money and location-independent work who want a convenient place to live short-term that, on the side, allows them to meet a few cool people hopefully. Many self-identify as “like a hotel.”
How does that build lasting community?
We are bringing a different kind of co-living to Cincinnati with Kunsthous. All of our photographs are of real people who are getting to know each other through real, down-to-earth events like a meal. All of our buildings are historic structures in Cincinnati that we rehabbed with love. Our rents are actually more affordable.
If you want to live at a Kunsthous, please join our waiting list.
If you want to invest or partner with us, say hello.
We send out research like this every few weeks by email. It’s sexy and easy to read. Want in on it?.
[i] If you want more on co-housing abroad, we’ve been reading Dorit Fromm, Collaborative Communities: Cohousing, Central Living, and Other New Forms of Housing with Shared Facilities (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991).
[iii] http://www.ic.org/the-fellowship-for-intentional-community/; http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20150320/ISSUE03/150329991/is-communal-living-making-a-comeback; https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dcs-intentional-communities-put-strangers-in-a-house-joined-by-core-values/2013/08/31/7b1c01f4-0f3d-11e3-bdf6-e4fc677d94a1_story.html; https://coopdc.org/housing-co-ops/; http://chicagocoop.net/.
[v] http://www.brownstoner.com/real-estate-market/co-living-nyc-common-in-crown-heights-brooklyn/; http://www.fastcompany.com/3047371/general-assembly-cofounders-next-startup-is-a-co-living-company; https://www.common.com/; https://ny.curbed.com/2017/8/29/16222014/nyc-apartments-for-rent-co-living-common.