Coliving: Dorms For Adults

One way of looking at the coliving trend, which is providing inclusive housing for younger people launching their careers in big and exciting — but expensive — cities, is “adult dorms,” a grownup version of upscale college dorms.

The basic concepts are the same, private bedrooms and bathrooms and communal dining, work and play areas, but the coliving facilities proliferating in the magnet cities are like college dorms gone to graduate school.

“We’re elevating lifestyles through what we think of as the three Cs: convenience, comfort, and community,” said Chris Bledsoe, co-founder of the coliving company Ollie — which is a word play on “all inclusive.”

Coliving is based on renting a bedroom in an apartment and sharing cool amenities with other, like-minded residents, all at below-market rates. The concept appeals to younger people, including recent college graduates, who want to live and work in magnet cities like New York and San Francisco.

The tech, finance and other sectors offer good jobs paying well in the most desirable cities, but the cost of housing is a huge issue. Demand for housing is outstripping the supply and rents are soaring, forcing many residents in the early stages of their careers to share small, rundown apartments.

Coliving, also spelled co-living, takes the sharing experience to a much higher level than living in an overpriced dump with a couple of strangers. Coliving spaces provide residents with designer furniture, linens, Wifi, large screen TVs, fully equipped communal kitchens, work spaces, a host of fun activities and compatible roommates for less than it costs to rent comparable apartments in the same city. Some feature dog runs, allowing residents to pamper their pooches.

The term coliving is generally used to describe this new perspective on urban living, but leaders of some companies in the field prefer to call what they’re doing “community living” or “social living.”

Ollie at Carmel Place, a coliving community in the Kips Bay neighborhood on the East Side of Manhattan, tells prospective renters they can save $575 a month on a $2,775 micro studio. The cost of amenities such as furniture, weekly housekeeping, premium TV programming, Wifi, community events, social club and utilities is included in the rent. Those would be add-ons in conventional apartments.

“We aim to be about 20 percent below luxury new construction,” said Brian Koles, brand and experience director of X Social Communities — X for short. “On top of that, we think we’re delivering a 30 percent better value or more because of the amenities. For example, you don’t need to join a gym because our gym is amazing. In addition to the rent being less, you’re getting a lot more for your lifestyle.”

X, a subsidiary of the major New York-based developer Property Markets Group, has a 120-unit coliving building called X Logan Square in Chicago, and is rapidly expanding into Brooklyn, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Denver.

“We prefer to think of it as social living,” Koles said, “meaning you have your own private space, but you live here because you want to live most of your life in common areas with your neighbors, having fun or doing work, and just generally doing well together.”

Coliving is nothing new. There is a long history of people living in sharing communities like those fancy college dorms. Israeli settlers living in kibbutzes made the desert bloom, communes in the late 60s and early 70s housed hippies sharing similar values, and around the 1840s, utopian communities flourished in the United States. But, those didn’t last long.

When Mark Zuckerberg was developing Facebook in Silicon Valley, he lived in a “hacker house,” an early term for coliving, with several employees.

The term “coliving” popped up in the San Francisco Bay area about five years ago as young entrepreneurs opened reconfigured houses featuring private bedrooms and communal spaces shared by all the residents.

Founders Ben Provan and Jay Standish launched their coliving company, called OpenDoor, when they opened The Farmhouse in Berkeley, Calif., in 2014. The building, a converted Victorian mansion, includes 16 bedrooms, a communal kitchen, vegetable garden, chickens, and jam sessions around a fire pit.

OpenDoor has opened two more coliving houses in the Bay Area and plans a total of 1,000 bedrooms by the end of 2018.

Common, based in New York, has opened 14 coliving houses with a total of 400 residents in Brooklyn, Queens, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Common plans to expand to 1,600 residents by the end of 2018.

Coliving startups typically convert old buildings, such as Brooklyn brownstones, to apartments that feature furnished bedrooms, private bathrooms, communal kitchens, lounges, smart TVs, Wifi, laundry rooms, cleaning services and other amenities. Common even has an arrangement with a resort in the Berkshires where residents can escape Brooklyn in the heat of summer.

The coliving model changed as the concept took off. Instead of startups opening adaptive reuse buildings, larger, well-capitalized companies like X are creating coliving subsidiaries and partnering with developers to construct new buildings, frequently high rises, with hundreds of bedrooms.

“Now we’re working with some huge developers,” said Sterling Jawitz, head of real estate partnerships at Common. “Upcoming buildings will be between 200 and 2,000 apartments.”

Common is reaching out to real estate companies. “Our partners are reviving urban neighborhoods around the country,” its website says. “Together, our ideas, projects, and events are helping build stronger, safer, and more vibrant communities.”

When entrepreneurs Chris Bledsoe and his brother Andrew decided to launch the coliving startup now called Ollie it took them three years to raise the capital they needed to make the business work.

“It was just a very emotional process,” Chris said. “We literally had 400 meetings over the course of a threeyear period from 2011 when we left our jobs to 2014 when we got our first yes. The answer that we were getting wasn’t no.

Nobody wanted to go first. Nobody wanted to be the guinea pig.”

Ollie’s first project, Ollie at Carmel Place, was an immediate success, and investors flocked to the company, fueling ambitious expansion plans. Bledsoe said Ollie is talking to about 50 developers about building as many as 35 new coliving projects.

“They feel like we’ve got the right product for the demographic that’s driving the urbanization trend,” he said.

Developers are building two Ollie high-rise coliving projects that will bookend Manhattan, a 15-story tower across the Hudson River in Jersey City, and a 43-story tower across the East River in Long Island City. The Long Island City building, seven minutes by subway from Midtown Manhattan, will house 426 residents in two- and threebedroom suites.

Given the popularity of coworking facilities in the big cities, it was inevitable that coworking companies would get into coliving. WeWork, the world’s largest provider of coworking spaces, has created a subsidiary, WeLive, that is developing combined work and living projects.

WeLive has opened two all-inclusive buildings, each housing 200 residents in studios to four-bedroom suites: WeLive Wall Street in the heart of New York’s financial district and WeLive Crystal City in Arlington, Va.

WeWork and a developer are building a 36-story mixeduse building in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. WeLive will operate coliving suites on 23 floors, and most of the rest of the building will be dedicated to WeWork coworking spaces. Other coliving companies are following suit.

“At X, we’ll double down on coworking space because we think probably about 20 percent of our residents will be working from home,” Koles said.

“WeLive members run the gamut from young people moving to a new city, to parents with small children, to commuters who want to cut down on their daily travel time, to retirees and empty nesters, and everything in between,” the company said in a statement.

Jawitz said 70 percent of Common’s residents are New York newcomers and 70 percent renew their leases.

James Jackson, 29, who moved to New York from Raleigh, N.C., lives at Common Herkimer in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

“Since becoming a part of Common, I, along with others, have thought more about how physical space affects the ways we interact with each other,” Jackson said. “In a community like ours, it facilitates interaction. The people and the ability to move in with only three bags and have everything else provided is why I live here.”

Services offered to residents by some coliving companies include butlers to run errands, on-site social concierges and community managers. The butlers run errands once a week such as picking up laundry or prescriptions, the social concierges schedule events that appeal to members, and the community managers live in the building and keep things running smoothly, Bledsoe said.

A concern for some people considering coliving is whether they will get along with other residents of the spaces they will share. The coliving companies use questionnaires and interviews to screen prospective residents and attract people with similar interests. Ollie has created an app called Bedvetter to refine the selection process.

“Bedvetter’s users can either search for compatible roommates, pooling their purchasing power to expand their list of available housing options, or they can first search for a place that interests them and then find other roommate candidates who have also expressed an interest in that same unit,” Bledsoe said.

As coliving companies develop high rises to house their residents, they are planning to put small businesses on the ground floor to serve both residents and neighbors, Koles said. X plans to contract with local businesses to operate coffee shops, bars, and cafes or food markets in the lobby.

Koles said X is planning to install swimming pools at warm weather sites such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale. The company bought, installed and refurbished an old railroad car in the courtyard of X Logan Square in Chicago.

“It serves as a gazebo and a center of social life outside the building,” Koles said. “We try to do something that is unique and appropriate to the location.”

X also reaches out to man’s best friend, putting in dog runs at its buildings. “Dog runs are a great place for our residents to socialize while they walk their dogs,” Koles said.

Coliving is obviously getting bigger and better, offering more and more to residents, but where does the phenomenon go from here?

“We think the scale of this is pretty endless,” Koles said. “We don’t see it as a trend. We’re building buildings to be around for hundreds of years, and we plan to hold them.”

John Van Gieson is a freelance writer based in Tallahassee, Fla. He owns and runs Van Gieson Media Relations, Inc.
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