The case for innovation in the housing market has never been stronger. Major urban hubs are in a housing crisis, with too few new units entering the market and prices skyrocketing. New York, for example, has added only 15,000 new housing units annually over the past five years, despite 100,000 new residents moving to the city each year. Homeownership among young Americans is at its lowest rate ever, with approximately 13% of people from 18 to 34 owning a home.
Coliving — a structured way of living with roommates — is a housing market innovation that addresses not just the need for more housing, but the difficulties and annoyances that face new renters. Coliving leases tend to be more flexible, with month-to-month agreements as the standard. In addition, many coliving programs include resources like weekly cleaning services and shared items such as paper towels, coffee and cleaning supplies in the monthly fee. Furnished bedrooms and common areas also make the experience of living with roommates easier, putting a greater focus on community with less conflict.
Common opened its first coliving home in Brooklyn in October 2015 with the goal of creating a better, friendlier housing experience. In the five months since then, our members have formed a tight community, and we’ve opened two more homes, always focused on building a better experience for our members. Here are a few of the most important things we’ve learned about building communities along the way.
1. Be a facilitator, not just an organizer.
When we opened our first Common home, we wanted to set the right tone of an active, participatory community, so we organized weekly potluck dinners and regular Common member outings to gatherings like Daybreaker. While our members enjoyed getting to know their neighbors at these planned events, they also had their own ideas of what they’d like to do as a community. One member wanted to organize a book club for the building. Another wanted to host a movie series.
To be fully supportive of all these ideas, we needed to step back into the role of a facilitator — connecting members and supplying a modest budget for member-run events — rather than organizing everything ourselves.
We embraced the messaging app Slack as our community management tool for all Common homes, which is perfectly suited to the spontaneous, member-organized events. It’s not only a fun and wonderful product to use, it’s also lightyears ahead of traditional property management community software.
2. Lay out the rules, but be flexible when it matters.
Officially, Common homes are governed by our Membership Agreement and Code of Conduct. This agreement lays out the rules of the road to avoid conflicts, resolve disputes, and ensure our members have the best possible Common experience.
That said, many of those rules are ultimately at the discretion of each suite of Common members. If a suite together decides, for instance, that’s it’s okay for someone to play music in the living room after 11pm, we’re not going to intervene and shut it down. But if someone in the suite complains, the rules enable us to assess the situation and help manage the conflict if necessary.
3. The best members are active participants.
A strong indicator of who’s going to be an engaged Common member is an applicant who demonstrates a strong desire to be an active participant in our community. While we have offered month-to-month agreements, we don’t want Common to be filled with transients: if someone simply wants a short-term place to stay by themselves, they’re probably better off in a traditional extended stay hotel or sublet than in Common.
On the other hand, we see thousands of people looking for community, people who are tired of anonymous glass high-rises and feel that getting to know your neighbor should be the norm, not a social faux-pas. For them, Common is a great option even if they don’t want to socialize all the time — after all, every Common member has a private room. We want our members to believe in what we’re building, and a desire to participate in the community is a great indicator of that.
4. Do the heavy lifting, but leave the fun stuff to the members.
In our first Common home, we not only supplied the suites with high-quality furniture — beds, dressers, couches, and nightstands — but also meticulously decorated each suite and bedroom. While this made for some very pretty photos, our members tended to be long-term members and therefore wanted to put their own personal touches on their homes.
Going forward, we’re still going to do the heavy lifting — vetting and supplying high-quality furniture that would be difficult for a member to move around on their own. But the decorations and nuances — the art, the knick-knacks, the coasters — should be the members’ choice, not ours. That’s the fun stuff, and we’ve learned we should leave it to our members.
5. Be open and avoid the stereotypes.
Common is not a hacker house. It’s not a dorm. Nor is it a commune, a kibbutz, or a hotel. It’s something new and different, which can be difficult to get across to everyone from partners to
journalists to prospective members. The solution? Invite people in. It’s impossible to think of Common as a dorm or frat house after seeing it and meeting some of our members, so the most foolproof way to tell the story of Common is to bring people in to see it for themselves.
Learn more about Common here.