Coliving: a new lifestyle

Zona común de un edificio de coliving en Madrid (Foto: Urban Campus)

A common area in a coliving accommodation in Madrid (Photo: Urban Campus)


To help make ends meet, many people, old and young alike, are looking for creative ways to live in the city. Many wind up sharing: that magic word of our times that’s now applied to everything from urban mobility and work to housing. If you can share a car, why not a house or an office? Sharing with other people is only going to become more common.

A number of recent social and economic circumstances are prompting us —and sometimes forcing us— to accept changes in our way of life. In the days of stagecoaches or horse carriages, travelers shared a narrow and uncomfortable compartment throughout what were oftentimes long and tiring journeys. Now, it’s us who’ll be sharing the long and windy journey of life with others.

What was once the norm is now novel. Besides everything in our lives becoming more organic thanks to that trend, they’ll be a lot more sharing going on too, including when it comes to housing options. Most recently, we’ve seen coliving gain traction, hanging on the coattails of the all-too-successful cohousing and coworking, highlighting a growing interest in new formulas which reinvent our living and professional spaces.

The difference between the three concepts is that coworking consists of sharing your workplace; cohousing, your permanent housing, and coliving, the occasional, short-term residence, with spaces that adapt to different profiles and especially, to the needs of mobile workers, remote employees or the so-called digital nomads, who are today in London and Dubai tomorrow.

Sharing is cheaper

The idea of coliving caught on in the United States, and from there it was exported across Europe and Asia. It’s on the rise. For some young people, it combines work and housing in one place, where they can share experiences within a community. Since city living is expensive, millennials will give up renting a better, larger apartment on the outskirts of the city and look for this type of shared housing set-up to enjoy having everything at their fingertips: commerce, entertainment, etc.

Coliving solutions integrate bedrooms with private bathrooms (safeguarding privacy minimums), and a series of common or shared spaces: a kitchen, living room, laundry area, gym… even work spaces where entrepreneurs can brainstorm in community.

The popularity of coliving is influenced by the fact that increasingly more people live alone, along with high housing prices

For older generations, people in good health and years ahead of them, there are also shared solutions out there, although they leave ample room for improvement. In recent years multi-generational living programs have been developed for older people who live alone and university students who need affordable housing. There are also older people who already live together, helping them achieve a healthier lifestyle. Some companies, such as A Place for Mom, have specialized in helping people find housing solutions for their older loved ones.

For those who live alone

But the fundamental change that coliving introduces, perhaps the most interesting and novel aspect of it from a social point of view, is that it offers a housing option formula that enables the sharing of finances, along with rules for peaceful living among housemates.

If we analyze the success of coliving, we’ll see that in recent years several factors have aligned, bolstering its probability to take off. On the one hand, more and more people live alone, both old and young. According to the vice president of the European Commission for Democracy and Demography: “A third of European households are single-person, people who live alone and do not have children. It is not only about older people but also about young people. In Spain or Bulgaria different generations live together, but in France or Finland it is not like that”. The fact that, according to the United States Census Bureau, approximately 28% of people over 65 live alone, further emphasizes the reality.

On the other hand, with exorbitant housing prices, many have been left out of the homebuyer’s market. And on the other, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of people working remotely, at least part time. According to a Gallup report, remote workers make up 43% of the labor force in the U.S.

Undoubtedly, each country’s culture plays a part in the success of coliving there, but it’s increasingly seen as a new trend or lifestyle. Young people have proven to be more open to this type of accommodation, which requires less commitment as there’s no set lease agreement. Older folks are more inclined towards integrated living communities, where events and places to socialize are also offered to encourage communication between residents, offering a solution to unwanted isolation.

Different recipes

This phenomenon has been gaining traction throughout a large part of the world, though oftentimes with a variation or two. For example, in more than 80 North American cities, starting with the most expensive cities like New York or San Francisco, coliving experiences have already been in operation for a long time. Companies like PadSplit convert single-family homes or apartments into shared housing and have gone from 770 to 1,000 units in a very short time period. To get an idea of the costs, in Atlanta (USA) the average rent for an apartment is $1,400 per month, a figure out of reach for people with an annual income of less than $35,000. Shared housing, on the other hand, costs about $600 a month (which includes furniture, utilities, Wi-Fi and laundry expenses), offering people lighter rent loads and allowing them to save up to buy a car or their own apartment.

Some coliving solutions have an in-house leader, who organizes activities for residents

The Collective offers another interesting example. The company rehabilitated a building (Old Oak) in west London, a 20-minute metro ride from downtown, to create small studio apartments with bathrooms and kitchens. The monthly rent ranges between the equivalent of 1,000 and 1,300 euros (depending on whether the kitchen is shared or private). They only welcome employed people, couples included, and offer common spaces for whatever mood residents are in, from morning yoga and after-work ping-pong matches to dinners organized around different themed dining rooms and reading a good book in the building’s library.

Similarly, Urban Campus launched its first coliving building in Madrid in 2018 with capacity for 74 young professionals. For 850 euros a month, in addition to a 12-28 m² studio with a private bathroom, residents have access to shared spaces: a kitchen, gym, small movie theater… The company currently has five residences operating successfully throughout the city and, in the next five years, it’ll open 30 more spaces in large European cities. In Pantin (Paris), it’ll open a 4,200 m² building with 110 studios (each approximately 24 m²) targeted towards people between 25 and 50 years old looking for privacy, but who also want to belong to a community where they share a lifestyle, culture and interests.

On the other side of the world, in downtown Dubai (UAE), with a different coliving recipe, the company MAG Developers opened a luxury residential tower in 2020 (MAG 318), which includes 439 small apartments (of 1 or 2 bedrooms) and magnificent shared facilities: a combination of professional, commercial, gastronomic, leisure and entertainment services.

Community manager

As they cater to all sorts of lifestyles and tastes, the main differential value of coliving is the opportunity it presents to be part of a diverse community that, in some cases, is even led by a community manager. The community managers are responsible for organizing monthly activities, whether that means a night out to the movies, a kayaking day trip, or attending a cooking class or a wine tasting. To optimize operations, the facilities are oftentimes equipped with a digital platform that, in addition to keeping everyone connected, collects technical information through sensors. For some, coliving is the answer when emergency housing is needed during a difficult time, or a way to save; and for others, it means not worrying about cleaning, moving furniture, or paying utility bills.

With the high rental prices in major urban areas, coliving is serving as a catalyst in the real-estate market, attracting the attention of a growing number of investors. While coliving facilities compete with hotels and hostels when it comes to prices, it’s the community they offer that sets them apart. However, living together isn’t easy, which may be why the duration of a coliving lodger’s experience is often shorter than anticipated or interrupted soon after it begins.

Nonetheless, in the Age of Individualism, it doesn’t sound all bad. Some, as a result of the trend, are left wondering: Will this tendency towards living in community become a long-term shift in the way humans live? Or is it simply the result of capitalizing on a trend, with a good product and a higher return investment than housing development?

Antonio Puerta López-Cózar

Translated from Spanish by Lucia K. Maher

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