Swap Commuting for Community

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The housing crisis seems to have hit a brick wall, with most of the people able to knock it down being those in governmental power, or those who hold economic authority over the property market - like existing landlords. However, there seems to be a revolution bubbling beneath the surfaces of big cities, and it’s coming in the shape of company. We’re not just talking the micro solution of getting a roommate, we’re talking about the macro-level of joining a community.

Take your average new-build tower-block of apartments, add yoga classes with your neighbours, a dog cleaning station and dinner at a large dinner communal table. These blocks, which are “marketed to young professionals, are becoming more like retirement villages or hotels. They come with all-inclusive bills, organised activities, a maid to change your bedsheets, and with no dodgy buy-to-let landlords in sight.” (1) The floorplans are designed in such a way that encourages sociability, too, by “making residents walk past communal areas to get to their apartments.” Everything is an impromptu social occasion, with one block boasting “a laundrette complete with disco ball, where you can switch on music and lights while washing your whites.” (1)

There certainly is a gap in the market for something like it. “Knight Frank has forecast that investment from institutional investors in the build-to-rent sector will grow from £15bn in 2015 to £50bn by 2020.” (1) In addition, “The no-strings, all-bills-included lifestyle taps into the millennial trend of transience and not owning anything. Merchant cites the facts that the average age of marriage has gone up from 20 to 29 in 40 years, and 91pc of millennials say they will be in their current job for less than three years.” (1)

So whose idea was it anyway? Well, the concept, albeit lacking posh yoga classes and dog cleaning stations, has been around for some time. An article in the Independent, posted in November 2011, suggested that coming together could be “the solution to our housing crisis.” (2) The research showed that “There are groups of people all over the country who are proposing a myriad of alternatives. Co-operatives, co-housing models, or intentional communities, might sound like buzz-phrases better associated with 1960s California than 21st-century Britain, but an interest in communal-living projects is growing. As recent graduates, young families and older people find themselves priced out of the housing sector, the idea of harnessing a community’s resources and buying power no longer seems like a hippie dream, but an increasingly urgent imperative.” (2)

The two market leaders in London seem to be “the Collective” and “Fizzy.” (1) The former claims its focus to be “a genuine sense of community, using shared spaces and facilities to create a more convenient and fulfilling lifestyle,” with buzzwords like “Quality”, “Convenience and “Community” placed on their homepage. (3) Their success is demonstrated in the number of projects they have: one in Hyde Park, King’s Cross and Notting Hill, all of which are fully booked, and others around London with limited availability. The Collective also boasts a cosy looking blog, with articles entitled “The Loneliness Epidemic: Why We Need Co-Living.” (4) Written by Grace Waters, a tenant at the Collective’s Old Oak building, the article recounts that upon moving to London, Waters found “that finding a room would be easy, but finding a home not so much.” But Waters gets to the root motivation the project, in saying, “Let’s talk about loneliness - word on the street is that it’s an epidemic, hurting young people (18-34s) the most. A 2013 survey by ComRes found that 52% of Londoners felt lonely, making it the most lonely place in the UK. Other research has suggested that London is the most lonely city in Europe, too. I’m ready to believe it…Old Oak development is such a powerful thing. They’re not trying to solve the housing crisis, or reinvent the wheel for the sake of it; they’re trying to create a way of living that provides people with connection – to other people, to opportunities, to moments worth remembering.” (4) And therefore, Waters positions the notion of co-living as more of a social revolution as opposed to an economic one. It truly is about re-connecting the inhabitants of the 21st century; providing a space where it’s normal to be a little dependent.

From a social aspect, this echoes something the managing director of the Cohousing Company, David Michael, wrote in the 2011 Independent article previously discussed: “There is a feeling in this country that being an adult is about being autonomous.” (2) The Collective challenges this stereotype and provides a helping hand from shared kitchen space to room-cleaning and linen changes. (5) However, this idea has its fair share of doubts. Critics worry that these new developments are “coddling” millennials, though the head of the private rental sector at Quintain responds in saying, “It’s not so much that we’re pandering to millennials but treating real estate as a consumer good.” (1)

“It’s kind of culty,” admits Reza Merchant, founder and chief executive of The Collective. She continues, “You have the chance to meet [your] future business partner, husband, wife, friends for life, it’s powerful.” (1) Though it comes at quite a high cost: “a tiny 150 sq ft ‘crash pad’ is £1,000 per month; part of this is buying into the community which Merchant says residents get immersed in. (1)

Fizzy, on the other hand, is more focused on the economic benefits of the development, with less chat about the social side on their website and more about the “Sparkly new flats in well-connected locations” which are “within walking distance of transport hubs.” Their glossy website boasts a tagline along the lines of “reinventing renting.” (6) However, if this is the case, then why are the projects so expensive to become a part of? There seems to be no revolution at all, only a reinforcement of London’s existing high prices for tiny spaces. For example, Fizzy’s new development in Lewisham, just opposite the DLR station, offers a 539-599 sq. ft. 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom for £1340 a month. (7) Though, just down the road, is the brand new Thurston Point development, where, for a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment with views of the London Eye and a walk downstairs to Asda, you only need to pay £1250. (8)

The so-called revolution doesn’t just stop at living, though. There’s an added concern about “the green agenda” and “work-life balance,” which has been recently combatted by living and working under one roof. (8) A company called WeWork, for example, “has nine buildings in central London and is soon to launch a WeLive project, with apartments above offices. For residents and workers, it will operate like a private club, with member benefits and social events. Fitness classes, communal dinners, cleaning and laundry will be co-ordinated through a mobile app.” (9) The foundation for the project was “population pressure” and the strain on London’s transport system. Thus, “city planners believe integrated schemes like this have a huge part to play.” (9)

And so, for combatting loneliness, or replacing commuting with community, it seems that there are options on the horizon, and they’re snowballing into availability. But in light of our housing crisis, we must think twice about such projects, just in case plush marketing schemes are parcelling the same-old over-priced tower blocks and addressing them to the lonely hearts club of London.

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property investmentSources

  1. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/renting/generation-rents-new-home-yoga-classes-a-dog-cleaning-station-an/
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/property/house-and-home/come-together-could-communal-living-be-the-solution-to-our-housing-crisis-6260020.html
  3. https://www.thecollective.co.uk
  4. https://www.thecollective.co.uk/collectivist/living/the-loneliness-epidemic-why-we-need-co-living
  5. https://www.thecollective.co.uk/coliving/faq
  6. https://www.fizzyliving.com/
  7. http://www.fizzylewisham.com/the-flats/1-bed-furnished
  8. http://www.lqgroup.org.uk/sales-and-rentals/our-properties/1291/thurston-point/
  9. http://www.homesandproperty.co.uk/property-news/buying/new-homes/londons-new-livework-flats-coliving-is-the-capitals-new-property-trend-as-shared-spaces-slash-costs-a99931.html

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