It offers small private rental units with only a bedroom and shared bathroom. Occasionally, these units come with an attached bathroom as well. Communal spaces like kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms are extracted out from the apartments and larger facilities like shared kitchens, social lounges and recreational amenities are provided instead. This allows for a reduction in the overall area of individual apartments and consequently, creates possibilities of lowered rents. Such apartments often come furnished with a bed, wardrobe and a work desk, and almost always include Wi-Fi and utilities. The building management sometimes also offers housekeeping services and catered functions. Besides, the tenants can enjoy multiple amenities such as common living rooms and kitchens, laundry rooms, fitness rooms, game rooms and co-working spaces. This model benefits developers as well by enabling them to lease more units within the same overall floor area of the building, when compared to the traditional housing models where private living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms are provided within each unit.
Co-living, however, caters to a niche within the demographic. The renters of such units are typically young professionals and newcomers looking for independence, affordable short-term leasing opportunities, or a place for social engagement. These tenants typically move out with professional career growth or for the development of their personal lives. This transient population with an unpredictable duration of stay creates inconsistent periods of low occupancy and constantly challenges the management to find ways to make this housing model profitable for the owners and developers. In order to make itself profitable and sustainable in the long term, this model certainly needs a revamp.
One way this problem can be addressed is by offering a hybrid between the co-living and traditional rental model with a range of unit types within the same building and a choice of short- and long-term leasing, or even homeownership. Unit types may consist of micro-units (with only a bedroom and shared bathroom), mini-units (with a bedroom and an attached bathroom), standard units (with a bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen), as well as premium units (with a living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen). The premium units could be offered with 2- and 3-bedroom options as well. By designing these different unit types in proportional modules, they could be combined or sub-divided with minimal construction intrusion using components such as sliding partition walls, prefabricated kitchens and bathrooms, and removable wardrobes. A slowdown in demand for one unit type could be compensated by the other, which would provide more economic stability to the management. This model would also lessen residential segregation by serving a varied range of age groups and being more inclusive of varying demographics or socio-economic backgrounds. The tenants may upgrade to bigger rental units or have the option to even buy apartments within the same building as they progress in their professional or personal lives while living in the same community. This would provide lasting tenancy for the developer as well.
Meticulous interior design and planning strategies can allow for even more flexibility and choice for the tenant. For example, a bed can turn into a couch, a kitchen counter can double up as a work desk or sliding partitions can convert a living room during the day to a bedroom at night, and so on. Offering the choice of furnished or vacant apartments would leave room for personalization, thus promoting individuality. The feeling of ownership could also be bolstered by forming inclusive policies such as voting rights on operational decisions and budgets, to name a few.
This hybrid model may also sustain better in the current age of social distancing and remote working, as it offers more flexibility for all parties involved as compared to the current co-living model. The long-term impact of COVID-19 still remains unknown, nevertheless, the present pandemic scenario is arguably presenting a challenge to survival of the co-living model since it relies heavily on social interaction and sharing. A holistic approach is required to incorporate pandemic friendly measures and build a sense of safety and belonging among residents. This can be achieved by creating active communities within the buildings that organize virtual social gatherings or mental health check-ins for people facing loneliness and isolation. On-site staff can provide support to tenants for shopping trips, food deliveries, or medical assistance. Shared co-working spaces are part of most co-living developments and can offer ‘work from home’ facilities with superior health safety protocols. Co-living can certainly survive in its modified form if it steps up and incorporates strategies to adapt to changing needs, create a feeling of ownership, offer flexibility, and provide long-term opportunities.
About the Author:
Saurabh Goenka is an architect with expertise in designing mixed-use residential skyscrapers around the world. He is currently a senior associate at S9 Architecture, a renowned architecture firm in New York, USA.
CONTEXT Contributing Editor:
Dr. Kishwar Habib, Mitacs Elevate Post Doctoral Fellow, The University of Alberta, AAA Intern Architect, Manasc Isaac Canada.