COLIVING IN POST-PANDEMIC LA

By Mina Jun

Illustrations by Meeghan Lee

We often are asked about our many Co-living projects. What are are they? Who are they for? What advantages are there?

As LA emerges from the pandemic, it’s clear that the past year will leave lasting changes. The prevalence of remote work means many people are looking for better living arrangements, whether it’s a dedicated work space or the flexibility to move around. This is coupled with a desire for more community, so it’s no surprise that there’s been a growing interest in coliving. 

The concept is living quarters for 3-5 roommates that share communal spaces, such as a living room, kitchen, and outdoor areas. Each tenant may their own bedroom, with either a private or shared bathroom. It’s an affordable option for people who desire a comfortable space and a sense of community. 

While it may seem like a new phenomenon, some variation has been around throughout history. Today’s coliving just happens to be more stylish, often in hip neighborhoods, and catered to a younger generation. It’s common for the typical coliving space to be full of young professionals, creatives, and tech workers. Coliving could reshape the way we think about housing and work in the future.

Post Pandemic Life

Post Pandemic life has reshaped the housing market and consumer needs. Record house prices and increasing rent means people are exploring affordable housing options. The pandemic has shifted moving trends in the US. With some sort of remote work now a permanent part of the office, fewer people see the need to live near city centers or near their work.  When you take a work commute out of the equation, it opens up a broader area of where people are able to live.  If people move away from the top rental markets, it decreases the demand for housing in dense areas. 

Affordability

Home prices in Southern California have never been higher. The median cost of a single-family home is up more than 20% since April 2020.  And while the price of renting fell across the US during the past year of the pandemic, they are now rebounding. Home prices and rental prices are linked, but, more notably, the two continue to increase in price because the market cannot meet the public demand.  In order for housing costs to become more affordable, you need to decrease the demand.  One way to do so is by creating more housing.  

By enabling housing for more people within a smaller footprint, coliving relieves the pressure of increasing demand.  Because common areas like the living area, kitchen, and work areas are shared, it requires less square footage overall to house five people as opposed to if they were each in separate units.  Less square footage per resident also brings down the cost of construction, which can lead to more affordable rent.

Living Alone

Living alone is becoming less accessible with the current rate of debt versus rate of wage growth.  As of July 2021, the average price to rent a one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is $2.6k. A budgeting rule of thumb is spending 25% of your pre-tax income on housing, which means you need a salary of $125k for this apartment to fit your budget. Unfortunately, the median individual income in Los Angeles is less than $30k. 

According to Pew Research Center, there was a large increase in the share of young adults living with their parents during Covid.  It was the first time since the Great Depression that the majority of young adults lived with their parents.  Renters are forced into affordable alternatives because of the inaccessibility of living alone.  As it becomes increasingly difficult to find affordable housing, there will be more pressure on the real estate market to find new and innovative ways at affordable housing. 

Communal Living

People are tribal by nature.  They thrive in small group settings and long for a sense of community, where they can build relationships and familiarity in their immediate surroundings.   However, the pandemic left a huge number of the population feeling lonely and isolated from a lack of social interaction.  Even for recent transplants in a big city, finding a sense of community and belonging can be challenging.  

Communal living encourages socialization and collaboration, where people from various backgrounds with similar interests can come together.  The coliving model embraces this by allowing residents to socialize, just through ease of proximity and also through organized events through the operating companies. The people you live with are drawn to this living environment for similar reasons: learning and growing from the people you encounter on a daily basis.

A Place for Coliving

Coliving is addressing density issues by allowing more people to live comfortably in less square footage.  Having denser cities doesn’t have the best connotation, but it inevitably yields more affordable housing. Coliving developers achieve this through lower construction cost and less personal space than a more traditional living arrangement. 

If the coliving complex is offering low income to extremely low income housing, it can further reduce the cost of construction.  City planning and housing departments offer several incentives for builders to increase density, such as a reduction in the parking spaces required, increase in the number of units allowable, and so forth. The coliving model can house more people (more rent) with less built square footage per inhabitant, which also enables operators to charge less rent per inhabitant.  

Coliving is trying to offset a smaller personal space with thoughtful common areas and higher-end amenities, at a price lower than a luxury apartment. It also offers ease. A coliving company/residence facilitates the search for roommates, furnishings, bills, cleaning, and offers a flexible contract.  It also avoids the stress of searching for an apartment in the top rental markets, where it can be incredibly competitive and have dozens of other people vying for the same listing. Coliving is a way to have the independence of living on your own without having to deal with the less glamorous aspects of it.  

In essence, it is like living with 4 or 5 roommates without worrying about splitting the bill or a person being late on rent.   Think college dorms or coops, but polished and refined for the young professional.  Surely, that type of housing isn’t for everyone.  However, it simplifies all the logistics, fulfills a social need, while aiming to be more economical for the average young professional. 

After enduring over a year of lockdown and working from home, there is an overarching desire to start something new and a need for socializing and community.  For those that want to experience living in a new city without the hassle of moving, imagine being able to move to a new city with just some essentials in a suitcase.  Once again, coliving is highlighting ease.  Through the coliving model, one can easily find a pre-furnished apartment, roommates without the unpleasant vetting process, and skip the awkwardness and loneliness of not knowing anyone in a new city.

While it may sound idealistic that coliving is aiming to alleviate all the growing pains of the housing market, it does serve a purpose for and appeals to a niche market.  Coliving is striving to provide a solution for density and affordability in the rental market. It addresses a shifting job market and provides a structured community for those in unfamiliar environments. The challenges with housing are quite daunting; and coliving is a growing sector, but still just a small fraction of the housing market.  Whether this model gains more traction and how much of a dent in housing it makes remains to be seen. 

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