A 21st-century version of dormitory living for adults is emerging as a way for city dwellers to deal with expensive real estate, social isolation and environmental pressures.
It’s billed as co-living – the residential equivalent to co-working spaces – though there are parallels to older concepts such as boarding houses or university accommodation.
In the past six months co-living spaces have opened up in Stanmore and Newtown, with Paddington coming within weeks, and Glebe and Randwick slated for 2020.
Rebecca Dracup, an environmental engineer at Stantec-owned Wood and Grieve Engineers, said co-living was a growing trend around the world.
“Millennials are very much drawn to this, those with some disposable income, out of university but craving the social aspect they used to get in their university college or share house,” Dracup said.
Co-living spaces typically feature private rooms and large common areas. The prices are similar to market rent or higher but include all utilities and internet, with flexible terms for both short and long-term stays.
The concept has taken off in Europe, Asia and North America with big co-living operators including WeWork’s WeLive, Common, The Collective and Vanke’s Port Apartment. Communal living, complete with hydroponic gardens and rooftop air turbines, even features in a new blockbuster video game, Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, set in Washington DC amid societal and environmental collapse.
Last October, UKO opened one of the first co-living sites in Australia in Stanmore, in Sydney’s inner west. The company is planning to open a second building in Paddington near Centennial Park within weeks and is hoping to announce a Melbourne site soon.
Other co-living operators include Urbico is planning to open sites in Glebe and Randwick in 2020 and Caper Living, which opened a building in Newtown in January and has other inner west properties in the pipeline. Caper Living is looking for new properties in Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth and Adelaide.
UKO chief executive Edward Fernon said co-living attracted people from all age groups and ethnic backgrounds, with many business travellers using it as an alternative to serviced apartments.
“We thought we would just end up with Millennials and young people but we’ve had people in their 60s,” Fernon said.
UKO Stanmore has 33 double rooms, each with an ensuite bathroom and kitchenette, a shared courtyard with bean bags, a barbecue and herb garden, a larger communal kitchen and dining room, a laundry room, on-site parking, communal bicycles, free GoGet membership and an optional cleaning service. The venue has a host who runs optional social events such as community dinners, movie nights and yoga classes.
Fadzai Manungo, 23, moved into UKO in January after moving to Australia to study medicine. Manungo, who grew up in Zimbabwe, lived both on campus and in a share house while at university in Minneapolis in the United States. She had never heard of co-living before UKO but was enjoying the experience.
“You get to have your own personal space but you’re not too isolated,” she said. “I like that I get to pick and choose – nothing is forced on me when I feel like I need quiet time.”
Fernon, who competed in the modern pentathlon at the London 2012 Olympics and ambassador for mental health charity the Black Dog Institute, said co-living served a social purpose.
“It’s well known that the quality of people’s relationships determines their health and their mental health,” he said. “From the point of view of population growth and urbanisation, developers have been focused on building more and more apartments, they’ve been focused on creating places where people sleep, not places where people live.”
The company is developing a UKO Family product at a site in Glebe, which would create a community for single parents and couples with young children, with childcare on site.
Dracup said co-living offered environmental benefits, since a traditional apartment was about 70 square metres, while a co-living apartment was more like 30 square metres with access to communal space.
“There’s the potential for lower land use, less material used in construction, shared facilities that will again reduce the consumption of electricity and water, and more efficient utilisation of space,” Dracup said.
“Those communal spaces are likely to be used for more hours of the day than a typical apartment or house.”
The business of co-living
Most co-living spaces in Australia are governed by boarding house regulations. However, co-living could be a good opportunity for the nascent built-to-rent sector.
Overseas it is quite common for developers to become landlords after construction, giving renters access to much longer leases and professional management.
Fernon said tax laws hampered the build-to-rent sector in Australia because there was an incentive for developers to sell stock and recoup GST.
He said Labor’s plans to reduce the tax on managed investment trusts in build-to-rent sector from 30 per cent to 15 per cent would help, bringing residential property in line with commercial property.
With the property downturn, a number of developers had half-sold their buildings, but Fernon said UKO would only consider co-living spaces at sites where it controlled the entire building, either owning it outright or through a long-term lease.