Co-living is far from perfect. Some people come and go with little sense of commitment or attachment to place, and others hardly know they have been there.

The proportion of households in the private rented sector (PRS) in the UK is set to grow by 24% by 2021. One in four people will be renters rather than owner occupiers, and will also mostly be young, as those over 60 are more likely to own their homes outright.

The quality of PRS houses in the UK is notoriously poor. Unlike Germany and Switzerland, where the size of the private rented sector is significant, UK tenants live in badly-maintained properties. Indeed, conditions are worse than all other housing tenures: 33% of private rented homes fail to meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard.

A shortage of supply of private rental houses, coupled with high demand, means that PRS landlords are also invariably powerful. Our research suggests that they often enter properties unannounced, use them as their own personal storage facilities, and sell them at short notice.

Lacking a sense of ownership or security, tenants have complained that the PRS housing model is broken and are calling for a new type of housing that gives them the freedom and autonomy that they currently lack. Enter co-living.

Co-living provides tenants with an alternative to mainstream private rental sector accommodation.

First, co-living spaces are run on the basis that housing is a service. Many include a 24/7 concierge as standard. This adds a layer of convenience that is not always available to PRS tenants.

Second, they are operated on the basis that the residents are treated as a community. This shift away from individual enterprise associated with the 1980s housing policy to collective goals associated with the 2010s sharing agenda is attractive to millennials but also individuals in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s.

Third, co-living spaces are managed in a comparatively open and transparent way. Individuals are encouraged to have a voice and to contribute to decision-making in a modest but effective manner — through events such as ‘town councils’.

However, the co-living model is far from perfect. Individuals complain that the high turnover of occupants in these spaces means that it is often difficult for those who live there longer-term to create cohesion. Some tenants come and go with little sense of commitment or attachment to place and with minimal involvement in decision-making, and other tenants hardly know they have been there.

Here are some of our recommendations for designing more effective co-living spaces from the perspective of the end-user:

  • Length of Tenancy: There is a preference for long-term rather than short-term tenancy agreements. As in Germany and Switzerland, assured tenancy agreements give tenants a sense of permanency, which fosters responsibility and attachment to place, leading to the shared sense of belonging that is necessary for effective co-living.
  • Style of Management: There is a preference for bottom-up rather than top-down decision-making. The owners of co-living spaces need to provide tenants with a service that suits them. Today, tenants are looking to be involved in the running of the space at a high level, which requires management to be even more transparent.
  • Quality of Design: There is a preference for having a good experience over living in a nice space. Co-living spaces are often designed to resemble a serviced hotel, and finished to a high specification; however, tenants actually like simplicity — they prefer to focus on quality of experience in the space rather than the quality of the space itself.
  • Layout of Building: There is a preference for moments of intimacy rather than mass publicity. At the moment, there is emphasis on large networking events and providing individuals with opportunities to mix at regular intervals; however, tenants complain that they struggle to find the opportunity to be intimate and generally prefer socialising in smaller groups.

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