By Don Procter
The idea of renting an apartment with roommates is not new, but a crop of developers is putting a different spin on the concept.
The new rental model is partly built around affordability but it also offers residents social connections that they wouldn’t get in a traditional rental.
“Co-living is as much a lifestyle choice as a product today,” says Anil Khera, CEO and founder of Node, a global developer that will soon start construction of its first Canadian co-living apartment in Kitchener, Ont.
“It is tackling housing affordability issues, tackling isolation (loneliness) issues and tackling lifestyle flexibility (by incorporating plug and play residences),” says Khera.
Node’s CEO, who believes it will represent “a real shift” in how people choose to live in rentals, says the day is coming when many rental buildings in cities will have to offer co-living space to stay competitive.
Khera says while co-living is not exclusive to young people, it cashes in on the movement of upwardly mobile people moving to different cities for jobs. “Our cities are not being competitive if they don’t offer quality lifestyle housing solutions. If you want to attract the best people to Toronto . . . how do you expect them to stay and want to contribute?”
Not all of the apartments in Node’s Kitchener project will be shared accommodation but residents will have a communal recreation lounge, co-working spaces and a common outdoor patio with views of the city. But the development, which will be completed in 2021, goes a step further: it will have “community curators” assigned to organize events around the building’s amenity spaces, helping tenants connect with each other, says Khera.
Node’s residents want a “turnkey apartment solution” with a sense of community, he says, noting that his company has co-living units in seven cities in Europe and the U.S. and has expansion plans to 30 cities.
Another developer is proceeding with a 24-storey, co-living rental building in Ottawa. A partnership of New York-based Common with Toronto’s Dream Unlimited Corp., the project will be on a 34-acre mixed-use development called Common Zibi on the Ottawa River in downtown Ottawa.
Common will supply 252 beds in three- and four-bedroom suites, with the largest suites about 1,200 square feet. The apartments will be 20 to 30 per cent less than comparable rentals in Ottawa, says Brad Hargreaves, Common’s CEO and founder.
Each suite will provide “private nesting space” for tenants (private bedrooms, many with bathrooms), spacious common living rooms and building amenity spaces such as lounges and workspace, he says.
Hargreaves founded Common four years ago in New York City to address the growing market for shared accommodation.
He says 25 million people in the U.S. live with roommates. “You look at the existing (living) options and the challenges those people face . . . A significant number of them are excited to see a new co-living situation come to the market.”
Skyrocketing rents is one reason for the surge to share digs but Hargreaves adds other reasons such as people delaying marriage or choosing to reside in high-density inner city neighbourhoods where traditional apartments are in short supply.
And it is not just young people sharing roofs, he says. Many tenants are in their 30s, some even in their 40s.
“We saw an opportunity to create a better experience of living with roommates . . . to keep the social environment and affordability but get rid of as many of the annoyances as we can control.”
Those annoyances include a dirty apartment – the main reason for tenant disputes, Hargreaves says, noting that Common cleans suites weekly. Common also provides Wi-Fi throughout each building, and it even shares kitchen and bathroom supplies (paper towels to toilet paper) because it is “a huge source of roommate disputes” in traditional shared arrangements. “One person is always the one going out and buying the toilet paper.”
Other issues Common controls include lease arrangements, utility bills and rent cheques so no one tenant carries all the responsibilities. “There are a lot of details we do to make their living experience better,” says Hargreaves.
Common has about 1,000 beds in 30 co-living buildings in seven cities. The median age of tenants is 30 and 85 per cent of the residents work in a traditional office. “They are not students, or freelancers working from home.”
Hargreaves says while most members are on a 12-month lease, a three-month stint can be signed. “But we’re looking to create a long-term community; we don’t really serve transients.”
If a tenant doesn’t like his or her roommate they can transfer to another room in a different suite, says Hargreaves.
Along with advertising through social media for residents, Khera says Node engages corporate Realtors and some traditional brokers who fit the profile of clients looking for more than just an apartment to rent. “Some of the smart agents are looking at how they can help . . . maybe even to assist with roommate matching. There is a need for more value-add.”
“I think more Realtors are seeing what Airbnb has done on short-term rentals and you are extending that concept further along on long-term rentals,” Khera says.
In the U.S., Common leases its buildings in-house. The company’s marketing, sales and leasing teams act as brokers, working directly with renters to pair them with the co-living home that is best for their needs. Common receives 15,000 applications every month for membership. “Demand is high,” says Hargreaves.
Both Hargreaves and Khera have Toronto on their development radar. Common is looking to add 500 beds in Toronto next and Node is currently looking for projects in Canada’s biggest city.
“We’d like to do a lot more in Canada,” says Khera.