Could co-living be the missing piece in the UK housing puzzle?

Between increasing house prices and the millennial predisposition to choose experiences over things, home ownership continues to slide further down the priority list for many young adults living in urban areas.

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Co-living, with its communal spaces and perks, ranging from networking evenings to cinema screens, offers an increasingly enticing alternative to other forms of renting.

Amidst a significant housing shortage in the UK, this new model provides a high concentration of bedrooms alongside shared kitchen, bathroom and lounge spaces, built on the foundations of community, convenience, connectivity and flexibility.

Offering a social and affordable place to live, co-living is appealing to everyone from graduates to entrepreneurs.

Following in the footsteps of co-working environments, these spaces are attracting millennials, whose shifting attitudes towards consumption and living have reshaped the economy over recent years.

Just as Uber and Spotify have turned the traditional methods of hailing a cab or listening to music on their head, co-living offers a way to enjoy the benefits of living in a modern space without being tied down.

With increases in rent showing no signs of slowing, a commitment to co-living spreads a clear message that cities are ready to welcome people not only to work but also to live.

This helps cities to retain graduates and attract talent, crucial for any city.

What is more, co-living presents an attractive option for occupiers, with the potential in turn to free up larger, family-sized homes for those growing families who might otherwise have to move outside the city.

While it comes as no surprise that London is currently leading the charge in this new approach to housing, other cities around the UK, including Birmingham, Bristol and Glasgow, as well as a number of European cities, are set to follow hot on its heels.

There are inevitably some challenges for developers when it comes to providing a successful co-living offering.

At present, there is very little policy guidance specifically relating to co-living.

The approach varies from local authority to local authority.

The Draft London Plan is currently the only policy to define this new breed of large-scale purpose-built shared living. In turn, establishing a sui generis planning use class, which exempts co-living developments from the historic planning rules but imposes appropriate new space and amenity standards, would be a welcome step.

For developers, co-living has to work economically to be viable.

Balancing operational risk and responsibility, pitching an offer that is affordable for the marketplace, maintaining high standards and making a decent return are not as easy as may first appear.

Equally, from a management perspective, it is vital that the technology on offer is continually kept up to date and in good working order.

With large numbers of people living in close quarters and sharing communal spaces, a robust management plan will be essential to the success of these developments.

It is likely that, in the short term at least, co-living developments will work best in areas where there is a real need for an alternative to the current market, whether that be due to the number of people looking for good quality accommodation, the inability to secure short-term flexible rent or rising rental prices.

Ultimately, co-living will complement the private rented and build to rent sector – offering an affordable, good quality, social lifestyle in a central location, with the bonus of easing pressures on other areas of the housing market.

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