• November 29, 2021

1 House, 40 Roommates? During Covid, Co-Living Adds Up

Co-living is largely a millennial trend, but the oldest of those millennials are, like Green, just shy of 40. “There’s a big misunderstanding that co-living is an extension of the student housing or dorm experience,” says Brad Hargreaves, the founder and CEO of the co-living startup Common. “People in real estate who think about this say, it’s great for a 22-year-old, but our median age is around 30.” Cushman & Wakefield’s data has found that the average age of co-living residents is between 24 and 32, and as high as 37 in cities like San Francisco.

Rather than emphasizing communal kitchens and bars, Common’s bread-and-butter are its co-living units: beautifully furnished, self-contained three- and four-bedrooms with all-inclusive utilities, Wi-Fi, and cleaning services. It manages entire apartment buildings, and half of its units are single-family occupants. The mixed approach has allowed Common to scale. The startup currently manages 3,500 units with another 17,000 signed and under construction; it has expanded into 26 cities. Most of that growth has come over the last 18 months, with an extra boost this year. “We’ve really hit an inflection point,” says Hargreaves.

Co-living spaces aren’t always the cheapest option available. “You can always find a three-bedroom walkup with no elevator, no air-conditioning, and no dishwasher for less,” says Cushman & Wakefield’s Tjarksen. But in terms of new construction, Tjarksen says, co-living often remains the most affordable choice in urban areas. A Cushman & Wakefield report from last May found that co-living buildings further subsidized rent with amenities like housekeeping services or inclusive utilities, “which in the aggregate represent as much as a 20 percent discount to living alone.”

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While discounted rent is part of the pitch, most co-living startups are trying to do more than just offer a deal. Open Door, founded in 2013, currently operates 12 co-living houses on the West Coast, each with its own unique traditions. “We’re not just trying to put butts in bed,” says Jay Standish, Open Door’s cofounder. “Living in community can be one of the most profoundly impactful growth opportunities for many of our residents. That’s our product.”

Standish lives in one of Open Door’s houses, a 6,000-square-foot Oakland mansion called the Euclid Manor. Its dozen residents eat dinner together in a wood-paneled dining room; they share bicycles and camping gear. When roommate squabbles arise—a problem with the cleaning schedule, or the communal groceries—Open Door can step in. “We’re available for community support, to help with interpersonal snags, and just generally keeping tabs on things to help things go smoothly on all levels,” says Standish.

Because each of Open Door’s houses are unique, the residents self-govern. When Oakland residents were asked to shelter in place this spring, the Euclid Manor housemates made their own policies around guests, travel, and hygiene. Some of Open Door’s residents moved out in recent months, citing lost jobs or health concerns, but new residents have also moved in. “When it goes really well, it’s because there’s something more than just housing,” says Standish.

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