Are we over-sharing (housing)?

Last Spring I caught wind of a project called ONESHAREDHOUSE, a self-initiated effort by superstar creative agency Anton & Irene. OSH explored concepts in coliving, inspired by Irene’s formative years in a Dutch lesbian co-housing arrangement (they also made a badass interactive documentary that you should check out). OSH caught the attention of SPACE10, a Copenhagen-based, IKEA-funded “future-living lab” that is tasked with detecting trends that might affect the furniture behemoth’s business in the years to come. One of those trends is “shared living,” and the two parties collaborated to make ONESHAREDHOUSE2030, a research project exploring the future of shared living.

SPACE10 was in NYC this last week and held an event the other night in Brooklyn, which I attended. Some takeaways:

  • Coliving is gonna get bigger in the near future. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but my hunch was affirmed by conversations with some serious people starting their own coliving ventures. I also spoke with several incumbent operators who have active plans and dollars to expand.  
  • Economic, racial, age, and cultural diversity in coliving—as it exists today, at least—is an ideal but not a reality. Though it promises more affordability for the missing middle, coliving is still pretty damn expensive for what it is (i.e. a roommate share, albeit a nice one). As such, it mainly appeals to urban millennial professionals, one of the few demographics willing to pay $1500++ for a small room in a biggish apartment. 
  • Coliving communities main appeal will be to transients unless there’s an ownership component. Someone at the event said that the average tenant lives in a coliving house for one year, leading to an ever-changing population. This is not a demerit from a business standpoint—there’s always a steady stream of new people moving into town. But it’s a demerit if you want coliving to be anything other than housing for newbs. Baugruppen—a peer-developed housing model found in Germany and Austria—offers direction for how ownership and coliving could work. It does not offer a solution, however. With one or two exceptions, shared development and ownership is illegal and/or complicated in the U.S. A new report has compiled some shared ownership models but most are still pretty fringe.  
  • It’s still not clear whether living with other people will ever move from being a price to a perk…which is fine. Most of the world colives. They share rooms, spaces, and their stuff. It’s called being poor. Coliving has gotten such buzz because wealth inequality has made it harder for middle and upper-middle-class folks (the kinds that write for FastCo and Vox) to afford to live alone—especially in cities—leaving them little recourse but to share. While the political injustice widening the wealth gap sucks, the fact that rich western folks—by far the world’s biggest resource gobblers—must start sharing is not the worst thing that could happen to the planet…and it could theoretically be the best.

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