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Can co-living do what the PRS does?

Wednesday 23 May 2018

Co-living is a form of housing that combines private living space with shared communal facilities. Unlike flat shares and other types of shared living arrangements, co-living explicitly seeks to promote social contact and build community. Co-living encompasses a diverse range of models, from co-housing mutual to options in the private rental sector.

Most co-living options in the UK are currently in London. Examples include The Collective in North Acton and Roam in Chelsea. Co-living is a similar template to modern student housing with a greater emphasis on communal areas, such as leisure facilities. The facilities can provide the trade-off for a smaller living space and are features that are unlikely to be present in a house share or self-contained flat. Furthermore, the rise in digital has resulted in modern renters having fewer physical possessions.

For prices ranging from about £1,000 to nearly £3,000 a month, residents at The Collective get an en-suite room and access to communal facilities such as a gym, TV room and kitchen. However, The Collective’s website says they “cannot accept people on DSS and/or JSA”, and there is no car park or extra storage space available. Furthermore, no pets are allowed. However, students and seniors are more than welcome if they share in the community’s values.

The Mayor of London says he wants to see a private rented sector that offers stability to tenants who want it, with lower costs and decent standards across the board. In his Draft London Housing Strategy, the Mayor plans to provide a package of support for new purpose-built private rented homes.

With loneliness, depression and anxiety on the rise, those who like co-living say it can help with affordability and access to housing, but also tackle social isolation. They argue it can improve sustainability, promote community cohesion and support local economic development and active citizenship. 

Across the country, people are waiting until later in life to buy their first home. The problem is especially pronounced in London, where just half of all properties are owner-occupied. Higher deposit requirements, tougher mortgage lending criteria, and rising prices are among the main reasons that many young people are finding themselves unable to buy a home.

Unless more drastic measures are taken to boost housebuilding, this trend is set to continue or even worsen. The affordability crisis is turning many into eternal renters, which has placed upward pressure on rental prices, so that even for renters housing expenses will account for an increasing share of disposable income.

Some of these options should include depoliticising the housing market and thereby offering greater policy certainty, encouraging ‘rightsizing’ by various incentives, making use of long term empty properties and revisiting the possibility of developing green belt land.

There is no doubt that action on numerous fronts is necessary to reverse or slow down the trends of rising prices and worsening affordability. Whilst, co-living could provide suitable accommodation for a very specific group of people with a very specific need, it is not the answer across the board in any way. For young people seeking high quality homes that provides them with flexibility and consistency it could be the answer whilst releasing more ‘conventional’ homes onto the market.