Living in one apartment with 10 others – for some a nightmare but for many the perfect alternative living model in times of a housing affordability crisis, mass urbanisation, and increasing loneliness. This article gives you an overview of what coliving is and why you might want to try it out for yourself.
History of Community Living
When you hear community living, the image that might pop into your head is of communes that were created during social movements in the 1960s. However, it is a much older concept. If we look back at human history, in fact, centuries ago, humans living as hunters and gatherers lived together in mobile camps to share their resources.
The idea of sharing communal space was also very common in the Middle Ages, as kitchens and other shared spaces were used by many various townspeople and tenants.
While the industrial revolution interrupted the concept of communal spaces, as a higher emphasis was put on privacy and private ownership during these changing times, coliving has been on a revival tour since the middle of the 20th century.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, boarding houses for young women existed to serve as “chastity belts” to protect the woman’s virtues. This changed when, in the 1980s, many coliving spaces were viewed as a way to rebel against the system. One example is Kollontai, a communal apartment in Amsterdam, where the woman shared a kitchen, bathrooms, and a garden. As it says on the website onesharedhouse, “Kollontai reflected the political climate of 1980s Amsterdam, which was brimming with social change”. With second-wave feminism and demands for equal rights by the LGBTQ+ community, many alternative lifestyles were getting more and more attention.
Hence in Sweden, about 50 cohousing units were put up in the 1980s and 1990s. And while it became less popular again later, the idea of sharing communal space is constantly re-emerging and is nowadays again in the centre of the housing debate.
Community Living Today
Coliving obviously changed over the years. Jonathan Andersson, Head of Community at PropTech Sweden and Co-Liv Ambassador, defines coliving today as follows: “It is shared housing, where profit driven and large scale operators facilitate members with the convenience of community, flexibility, and affordable living at great locations.” People rent a room or a single bed in these houses, and communal spaces like the kitchen or living rooms are shared between the tenants.
All over the world, operators create coliving spaces that vary in sizes, services, and overall type. There are, for example, community places where people only live for a short period of time, without a personalised application process. In other spaces, you apply and have to introduce yourself to the other tenants to see if you match.
As Jonathan tells us, coliving spaces increasingly attract millennials – young and oftentimes single people who “have difficulties to pay rent and usually want to be in the metropolitan areas around the globe”. However, co-living spaces are certainly not limited to this demographic; seniors and generally those who like to live with a bunch of different people enjoy them as well.
The Case for Co-Living
Many coliving operators allow tenants to live in these places just for a few months. There is no need to commit to a place for a long period of time. If you want to change cities for a while or accept a short-term job offer in another city, many rooms in coliving spaces come furnished so that “you don’t need to have your own bed”, Jonathan tells us.
Just as the leasing terms are rather flexible, some operators offer additional services like cleaning and laundry, which makes a stay there even more convenient. As Jonathan sees it, coliving is a transitional way of living. Before you settle down and have an apartment of your own, or potentially kids, coliving is the best way to enjoy a more flexible lifestyle.
Affordability & Who Lives There
You’ve probably heard about it already, but buying a house is not really an option for many young people anymore. Finding affordable housing is getting harder and harder, especially in metropolitan areas.
Community living is an affordable alternative way of living in city centres. Obviously, the prices depend on the coliving operator and additional services. But for the most basic spaces, you pay a membership fee and rent that includes furniture, utility bills, and other services as well.
With a growing industry of coliving and many operators springing up in various cities spanning the globe, the chance that a coliving space is located in the middle of a vibrant, urban neighbourhood is pretty high.
For many tenants who might choose to live in a coliving space for a short period of time, and as most of them are of a younger generation, location is key. To prove our point, here are some examples of co-living operators:
- 9Floor Space (Taiwan)
- Coho (India)
- Mokrin House (Serbia)
- Sun and Co (Spain)
- Cohabs (Belgium)
- Second House (Long Island)
- Swiss Escape (Switzerland)
You can also find many other coliving spaces on coliving.com, a booking platform with spaces in over 2,000 cities around the world.
Whether or not you lived with others during the pandemic in 2020, it showed us one thing in particular – we love and crave social interaction. If you spent lockdown in an apartment on your own, loneliness might have been a new constant companion for you.
“Especially during COVID, we have started to experience what it really feels like to be lonely.” Jonathan Andersson
Shared housing is an instant community. In Jonathan’s experience, this is especially helpful when moving to a new city and in countries like Sweden “where it’s difficult to integrate into Swedish friend groups”. You’ll always find people to cook or have drinks with. We certainly wouldn’t mind having spent lockdown with 10 other people instead of none.
Additionally, coliving can make family life easier, as a cohousing development in Madrid shows. As probably all parents agree, it takes a village to raise a child. This idea put into action in this cooperative housing apartment block is one where tenants take shifts of childcare. One family babysits, the others enjoy some free time. Joint school lessons and game nights, as well as the block’s own bar and consumer group, make the parent’s lives much easier.
Different Types of Coliving
There are many different definitions, types, and models of community living. As we already mentioned, different operators might have different models of co-living.
And even though the coliving community is dominated by millennials, there are alternatives for older people as well. Färdknäppen, an apartment house in Stockholm, offers a home to people “who have reached ‘the second part of life’”. Though not exclusively for elderly people, those living in the apartment house enjoy life together in plenty of communal space as they grow older.
Additionally, worth mentioning are eco-village models. People living in those villages grow as much food as possible on their own, use renewable energies, and sometimes even use their own money to help small businesses. Next to the ecological focus, the community is emphasised and the villages are designed through participatory processes.
Interested to try out coliving? Well, be aware that living under a roof with a lot of people can be intense. As Jonathan puts it, self-awareness is important. “Don’t just know what you need but be aware of other people’s needs.” Also, remember that everyone needs a little time on their own once in a while.
“You need to prioritise being lonely and being very intentional about your alone time.”
If you are planning on creating a coliving space on your own, here’s some advice for you. Check out Co-Liv, a wonderful network of coliving professionals where you can find expert knowledge and like-minded people to help you.