You’ll share this apartment with a stranger — but don’t dare call this space a dorm
The first step into a posh new apartment building near Marina del Rey feels like a mistake. There’s no lobby — instead the door opens to a lounge and kitchen.
The idea is to encourage mingling, which is part of the appeal of a building where tenants have their own bedrooms but share common areas with people they don’t know.
But this is not your typical L.A. roommate situation. The bedrooms are spacious, the living rooms are furnished — and the residents are often selected by the landlord.
Welcome to “co-living” in a time of sky-high rents.
The shared economy has transformed how we get around, how we travel, who sits next to us at the office and, now, with whom we share our private spaces.
Real estate developers like California Landmark Group, which owns apartment building C1, are pioneering a new way of living by primarily catering to young professionals and creative types who enjoy luxury digs but can’t swing the rent in desirable neighbourhoods such as the Marina.
And while stretching out on a sofa with a stranger may strike many as unusual, it is not much of a leap to people already comfortable with Uber and Airbnb, said Ken Kahan, founder of the Los Angeles-based development company.
“People get in other people’s cars and sleep in other people’s beds,” he said. “This is a natural expansion of the housing market in the shared economy.”
Co-living has the benefit of offering renters in search of social connection the chance to bond with new acquaintances in similar situations, but its fundamental appeal may be economic.
Individual tenants at C1 pay at least $2,000 a month in the nearly $40-million building, which just opened. But that’s still cheaper than comparative singles in the neighbourhood and $600 less than conventional studios also available for rent in the complex.
Typically, a co-living renter has a private bedroom and can spring for a private bathroom, but shares the kitchen, living room and other communal spaces. Units are furnished — sometimes at an Instagram-worthy level — and the rent usually includes services that aren’t covered in other apartments, such as utilities and Wi-Fi.
C1 even offers Netflix and maid services to head off squabbles over whose turn it is to vacuum the floor and scrub the sink.
Co-living complexes have grown fairly common in European cities such as Berlin, London and Dublin, Kahan said, and are now springing up in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other American urban areas.
They come in different iterations. Some companies contract with landlords to refit entire buildings or carve up individual units so that a two-bedroom might fit additional tenants who squeeze into bunk beds or live in a partitioned living room.
Developers such as Kahan are taking the next step: building from the ground up and foreseeing a time when co-living is a new property category, like assisting living complexes designed to serve the growing numbers of wealthy seniors.
For now, though, co-living is still in its infancy and is considered somewhat experimental. But if the small developments emerging in trendy housing markets like Marina del Rey, Venice and Echo Park succeed, more will probably follow.
Another co-living housing developer, Anil Khera, sees a link between co-living and the upmarket student housing complexes that have sprung up around campuses in recent years. Those have formed an established new property category that is a leap beyond the spartan dormitories and cracker-box apartments of college students a generation ago.
Complexes near USC and UC Irvine, for instance, offer luxuries such as 24-hour fitness centres, tanning booths, billiards, barbecues, and resort-style pools with cabanas. Furnished units come with granite countertops, big-screen HD television sets and ice makers.
“You have millennials who have grown up in pretty fancy purpose-built apartments,” Khera said, and are unaccustomed to “slumming it” in old, unfurnished units once out of school.
Khera, a former executive at global private equity real estate firm Blackstone, in 2016 founded a co-living company called Node as it became apparent that millennials valued travel, memorable events and friendships over possessions.
“The aspiration for the new generation growing up globally connected on Instagram is about experiences and connections,” he said. “That’s the stuff that’s cool.”
Promotional materials for Node’s new Echo Park outpost boast that its two 1920s-vintage bungalow court complexes are “Instagram ready,” featuring “curated” furnished interiors with designer kitchens that include retro-looking Smeg Italian refrigerators that retail for about $2,000.
Node, based in London, looks to convert old housing representative of the historic architectural style of its locale, such as a brownstone in Brooklyn, a 200year-old Georgian Square housing complex in Dublin and the bungalow courts in Los Angeles.
Not all of the Echo Park units, which start at $2,850, are co-living. Many of them are meant for a single person or a couple. The close quarters of the bungalow court layout instill an aura of community, however, and Node envisions residents interacting with the encouragement of a “community curator” who will help people find roommates and arrange group events such as concerts and cookouts.
Starcity chief executive Jon Dishotsky launched the company in 2016 in San Francisco, where it developed its first coliving building, after polling young middle-income urbanites about how they were dealing with high housing costs.
The majority, he found, coped one of three ways: by commuting long distances from cheaper neighbourhoods, by squeezing into small apartments with multiple roommates or by spending as much as 70 per cent of their income on rent. There was no solution on the supply side of the equation to a “hair on fire” situation on the demand side, he said.
Aside from the recent college graduates or other young people early in their careers who view co-living as a “lily pad” to land on before working their way up to more expensive, conventional housing, the model attracts a second group, Dishotsky said.
He calls them “restarters” — people between 30 and 50 who might be coming out of a divorce or are otherwise launching a second act in their lives. “Maybe they had a house and a family and want to be taken care of instead of taking care of other people.”
The C1 apartment complex by California Landmark Group in Marina del Rey.
Ken Kahan, founder and president of California Landmark Group.
The roof of the C1 apartment complex features a pool and lounge area.
The kitchen and dining area in a Node bungalow.
The sunroom in a Node townhouse in Los Angeles.