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Dorms For Millennial Grown Ups: The Growing Co-Living Trend

In cities across the U.S. co-living startups and community-minded Millennials are creating a growing trend…

Some Millennial trends can be exaggerated, so even we were a tad skeptical when we heard that twenty and thirtysomethings were taking on modern commune living. But the evidence is mounting that co-living is actually a thing.

Called “dorms for grownups” by some, spaces are popping up in major cities across the U.S. that bring Millennials together in group living. The idea behind most is that traditional apartment buildings are solitary places, and young urbanites today are looking for more community—and the amenities that go along with being part of an organized group. Residents of co-living spaces have their own rooms, but share common areas like living rooms and kitchens, fostering a sense of belonging. Group activities are also a common part of the co-living experience, giving some a built in friend-group in an unfamiliar city.

A growing group of startups are betting that this generation wants to live with a sense of community, and are fueling the co-living trend. In downtown Syracuse, the community living startup Commonspace is currently being constructed. The 300-square-foot microunits will have separate inhabitants, who all share a chef’s kitchen, game room, and TV room. A “social engineer” will facilitate group events and “maintain harmony” among the residents, who will take part in weekly group activities. The company’s site explains, “Commonspace is a new way of living, working and making human connections. It is no less than revolutionary in its simplicity, but perfectly aligned with the human spirit. We are all social creatures, and the best versions of ourselves are expressed when we do so in a group.” Common (sense a theme in names here?) is another startup with two co-living buildings in Brooklyn, New York. Common community members (they call themselves a “community of passionate and creative people who live, work, and play together”) enjoy organized social activities like weekly dinners and meet and greets, along with perks like free onsite laundry, shared household supplies, and weekly cleaning services. Leases are flexible, so no long term commitments are required for members, opening the co-living experience up to those who are in cities temporarily, or just want to test out the experience. Created by the co-founder of General Assembly, Brad Hargreaves, Common raised $7.35 million in 2015 to expand their flexible housing model to more U.S. cities. Hargreaves told TechCrunch of his new venture, “’How do you create a community-driven alternative to what’s available today, which is basically signing your own lease to take your apartment or going on Craigslist and living with people you don’t know? We’re creating a third option with shared housing.’” The themes that many co-living spaces seem to share are built-in inclusivity and the idea that living as a group is inherently better than living alone—a very Millennial point of view that might make some Xers squirm.

Other established companies are looking to expand into the co-living space. WeWork, one of the rising stars of co-working, has announced that their co-living concept WeLive will be a major part of the brand’s future. WeLive is reportedly planning to establish communal living spaces in cities on the West and East coast, including a 27-story office building in lower Manhattan and a five-story penthouse in San Francisco. The WeLive spaces will feature micro-apartments and will cater to the same entrepreneurial young people that have made WeWork a success. According to one report, We Work expects that WeLive will be 21% of the company’s revenue by 2018.

Buying into an established group of people who share your interests is another possible perk that Millennials see in the co-living model. Some co-living spaces are themed to attract members with common passions and pastimes. In a piece exploring the “modern commune” phenomena, Refinery29 writer Alden Wicker lived in the Williamsburg co-living apartment Pure House. She wrote, “One commune in the Financial District, The Loft, seems to revolve around drinking and other bro-tastic activities. Pure House sounds a bit more like me. It offers the opposite: fresh juice, discounts on activities like yoga at its event space in Williamsburg, plus spontaneous dinners and brunches in a positive community of like-minded, creative people.” Wicker also notes some of the potential downfalls of entering into a co-living community with only like-minded peers. Though the built-in social group is surely attractive to a young person on their own for the first time, it could also foster a bit of an “unhealthy” echo-chamber and keep some from interacting with those who might offer differing points of views, or from having the experiences that teach you lessons you need to learn on the way to adulthood.

For some Millennials though, co-living could just be about convenience—or be a by-product of overfilled cities. Young adults are continuing to flock to metropolitan areas, and finding appropriate living spaces can be a challenge. Micro apartments and co-living could be a solution. My Micro NY is creating New York City’s first micro apartment complex, and possibly the future of urban living: a building containing 55 units ranging from 260 to 360 square feet. The apartments were designed to avoid a claustrophobic feel and will come with kitchenettes, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, ceilings over nine feet high, balconies, and big windows. To make up for that small space, a public meeting area, café, common rooftop garden, laundry room, residential storage space, bike room, and fitness space are shared by building residents. Although the units are now absurdly expensive, with studios leasing for around $2,000 to $3,000 a month, housing advocates say that the model could open up many more reasonably priced living options.