Could Co-Living Help Solve Our Urban Housing Crisis?

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©. The Collective

Housing is really expensive in our successful cities, and young people in particular are finding it difficult to find or afford a place to live near where they work. That’s why co-living projects are popping up in cities like Los Angeles and Amsterdam. Now one of the biggest co-living experiments anywhere has opened in London – The Collective at Old Oak.

room interior

© The Collective

The tiny rooms start at £178 per week (US $236 or the equivalent in bitcoin), and every one of them has a tiny bathroom which still takes up a lot of space. But that’s what separates it from a college dorm – nobody really likes sharing bathrooms.

suite plan

© The Collective

Some have shared tiny kitchenettes; others have private ones. But the real deal is the stuff that is shared, the stuff outside the rooms. As the Economist describes it:

collective theater

© Collective

MONDAY is “Game of Thrones” night at The Collective’s Old Oak building. Millennials congregate in TV rooms around the 11-storey, 550-person block. Some gather at the cinema, lounging on bean bags decorated with old graphics from Life magazine.

A resident explains that she moved in because she wanted to be around people but not seek out roommates.

“I would call it a hipster commune, not a hippy commune,” she says. She particularly likes meeting friends walking home from the train station but says kitchen utensils often go missing. (With too many co-livers to be able to know everyone personally, CCTV is used in these areas as a guarantor of good conduct and cleanliness.)

© The Collective/ Library

There are quiet library-like rooms for work, dining rooms, big kitchens that residents can cook big meals in, the afore-mentioned cinema and of course, a laundromat, which the the Economist writer notes is the liveliest area in the building, “where residents mingle and watch TV as they wait for washing cycles.”


© The Collective/ Laundromat

A writer for Glamour magazine, who tried the place out, also liked the laundry, noting that “thanks to the addition of disco balls it's the place to be at The Collective.” She talks to one resident who says he is there because “ this is an ecologically and ideologically sound environment.”

And indeed, it does hit some TreeHugger buttons, being small spaces in an urban environment close to transit, with lots of shared spaces and even a tool library.


© The Collective

The Collective is 97 percent full, and the developer is building two more projects in London and is going to expand to Boston, New York and Berlin. He’s learned that the rooms should be a little bit bigger (that’s the main reason people say they are moving on) and The kitchens will all be in one place instead of being spread around the building (too much silverware apparently goes missing).

One property expert sees co-living evolving into a range of spaces for different stages of lives.

[Roger Southam of Savills] sees much more potential if co-living spaces can give residents slightly more private space, allowing them to attract people already living in cities. Starting from the smallest of rooms and working up may let co-living firms hit upon the perfect balance of shared and private space. Who, after all, doesn’t want a cinema in the basement?

© The Collective

There is a lot to love about this idea. One size doesn’t fit all and peoples’ needs change throughout their lives. And it shouldn’t just be for young people starting out; 27 percent of Americans now live alone, mostly younger and older people. Co-living might be a great solution for people of all ages.