Co-living has been described as a 21st century version of dormitory living for adults that helps to address urban housing affordability, while reducing resource use and supporting social connection. Typically developed under new generation boarding house provisions, co-living provides rental accommodation in buildings that also include significant communal spaces. Some properties employ a dedicated community manager to help the community to thrive.
Image courtesy of Mark Shapiro
What is it?
A typical co-living property is an apartment building or large house that contains fully-furnished private studio apartments and shared communal spaces. Residents rent a self-contained apartment and get access to all of the communal spaces and activities. Communal spaces can include communal kitchen and dining rooms, courtyards, lounge rooms, laundries and study areas.
Traditional boarding houses, rooming houses or lodging houses sometimes have a poor reputation with the community. They conjure up visions of too many people crammed into a house that is not built for it, and of transient populations. The new generation of co-living properties are developed under boarding house regulations but aim to provide a modern, self-contained rental experience. Some are for-profit, while others provide social housing via housing cooperatives.
A great example is The Bondi Treehouse by Mark Shapiro Architects, which includes 38 studio apartments and retail in a modern sustainable design, with green facades and shared community garden spaces.
Many co-living properties employ a community manager who runs activities and organises classes and events. Rent usually includes utilities, cleaning services and access to activities.
Who is it for?
For-profit co-living models in Australia are marketed strongly to Millennials as a way of meeting their particular housing needs. In practice, co-living properties from Uko, Hmlet and others have attracted a diverse, intergenerational community of residents.
This type of co-living works particularly well for young urban singles who want the convenience of urban living but are not ready or interested in buying into the housing market. Rents are relatively high, reflecting the services offered, which means this is not necessarily catering to people with lower incomes.
Minimum stays are less than typical leases – one to three months – which provides flexibility for people with highly mobile working lives. Some co-living properties also have a maximum length of stay.
Social housing models of co-living can cater to a broader audience, often providing affordable housing for low wage workers, people on Centrelink payments and residents with special needs. A good example is the re-development of a house in Croydon by Common Equity NSW.
What makes it collaborative?
Co-living can be considered collaborative housing if it is designed to encourage social contact and managed in accordance with collaborative housing principles.
In for-profit models, community managers at the co-living property seek to build a sense of community through activities, classes and events in the communal spaces. As the studio apartments are often quite small, there is a strong emphasis on hanging out in the shared spaces. Residents do not normally play a role in the design or governance of the property.
In social housing models, having a housing cooperative involved provides an opportunity for residents to get involved in governance of the property.
In NSW all boarding houses fall under the Boarding Houses Act 2012, a regulatory framework that aims to ensure residents have adequate protections and living standards. New Generation boarding houses must meet the requirements of the Affordable Rental Housing State Environmental Planning Policy. Other states have their own requirements.