In a rapidly changing housing market, co-living has emerged as a solution that addresses renters’ evolving needs and their growing desire for flexible, community-centric living arrangements.
One of the main reasons why the co-living concept is becoming increasingly popular is its affordability. This is particularly significant in expensive city areas where housing costs are skyrocketing. Furthermore, the pandemic has also had a significant impact on the housing market and has highlighted the need for more secure housing options.
“Co-living can address this need by providing on-site management and security, and by offering shared amenities that foster community and social interaction while still providing residents with a sense of privacy,” Mark Bittoni, principal of Bittoni Architects, told Multi-Housing News.
In the past, the real estate industry faced difficulties in shifting its perspective to understand that Millennial renters were more interested in the overall living experience rather than just the cost per square foot of their apartment. Deborah Smith, co-founder & CEO of The CenterCap Group, remembers discussing with institutional investors a decade ago the idea of trading apartment space for social amenities and communal space within an apartment building.
“Enter co-living, which builds on that idea. At its core, co-living is formalized room-mating—it is people living together and sharing an apartment,” said Smith. “They may know each other, or they may not. Not a new concept. The packaging, leasing metrics, marketing and operations may be different, but there is real value to bringing new ways of doing things to the industry,” she noted.
Projecting a sense of community
Tripalink, a co-living and residential property operator, is reshaping urban housing in Chicago. With furnished apartments, flexible leases and premium amenities, the company has been providing affordable, community-focused living since 2016, managing more than 8,000 beds across major U.S. cities.
Its latest venture, Structured Development’s Post Chicago, stands as the Midwest’s largest co-living development. The pet-friendly property includes 107 fully furnished residential units and 19 unfurnished apartments, and caters to diverse preferences, with rents starting at $1,375 per unit.
With Post Chicago, Tripalink now manages 473 beds in Chicago, but has several other projects in the pipeline, bringing its estimated number of beds in the market to 1,000 by the end of the year.
The co-living space operator strives to elevate the resident experience through a range of distinctive features. Its AI-powered technology streamlines the initial search process, while smart home innovations like automated temperature control, lighting and smart locks enhance convenience and energy efficiency. The addition of hotel-like amenities, high-speed internet, community events, regular cleaning services and flexible short-term leases further enriches the offering.
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On the West Coast, Bittoni Architects recently designed a co-living project on Centinela Avenue in Los Angeles. Located just north of Ballona Creek, a nearby bike path makes several stops along the coastline—accessible from downtown Culver City to Marina Del Rey and all the way to South Bay’s Huntington Beach—creating an ideal living arrangement for Los Angeles renters with less access to transportation.
In designing 4981 Centinela, the company considered traffic noise—from the nearby Marina Freeway—when creating the building’s front facade, which was built with more solidity. The street-facing facade is thickened along bedroom walls and the articulation is used to create relief on the exterior envelope.
Similar to the additional co-living properties that Bittoni Architects designed throughout Los Angeles, 4981 Centinela was created not only to provide more affordable housing for city renters but also to build a community-oriented multifamily home with enjoyable shared spaces. Along with the common-area kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms and laundry facilities, the property features a shared rec room, courtyard and furnished rooftop deck with ocean views.
“Unlike traditional multifamily housing, co-living emphasizes smaller personal living spaces and larger shared areas to foster collaboration,” Bittoni noted. “Additionally, co-living prioritizes community-driven amenities such as social events, workshops and on-site staff, in contrast to individual-centric amenities found in typical multifamily setups,” he said.
The personal space debate
Creating co-living spaces that strike the right balance between fostering community interaction and offering private areas is essential. Achieving this equilibrium requires careful design and layout considerations. Architects and planners must thoughtfully plan communal areas while ensuring individual residents have secluded spaces, as well. This delicate process involves harmonizing shared spaces with personal privacy, resulting in a living environment where residents can both connect with their community and enjoy their personal space.
While community-oriented spaces are a must in co-living properties, Bittoni Architects approaches its designs with the understanding that residents in co-living developments often spend more time in their own bedrooms than those who live in single-family homes. With this in mind, the architects aim to design bedrooms with large windows that let the sun flood through. When permitting allows, they also add balconies to bedrooms that sit along the exterior for renters to enjoy fresh air in privacy.
Within Tripalink’s properties, units can be divided into as many bedrooms as possible with a community hub being the heart of the co-living space. This area can include shared kitchens, dining spaces, lounges, and recreational areas where residents gather to interact and socialize. While communal spaces are essential, there is also a high consideration for privacy in bedrooms. Each resident has a private space where they can retreat, and the company ensures adequate soundproofing, lighting, space and thoughtful placement of bedrooms.
Besides privacy, other misconceptions about co-living include community compatibility, legal hurdles and limited family-friendly options. Additionally, managing turnover, security and lease flexibility can also pose challenges.
“To address these issues, thoughtful design ensures privacy, community engagement efforts foster compatibility and advocacy works to address legal and regulatory hurdles,” said Josh Reyes, senior business development manager at Tripalink.
Overall, being proactive and minding inclusivity are key to ensure co-living models provide attractive and diverse housing solutions for a wide range of renters, according to Reyes.
All in all, this niche sector still has some work to do in its evolution, Smith believes. But the growth potential is huge if co-living operators continue to come at their product offering as a renter-centric model.
“Co-living operators spend a lot of time and energy analyzing what their tenant-addressable market wants, and how best to serve that demand,” Smith said.
She believes the apartment industry in general has a lot to learn from the business model of one of the largest co-living providers in the world, and how it thinks about the tenant experience and growth avenues. Smith worked with Common Living for years, including through its merger with international co-living operator Habyt earlier this year. The CenterCap Group acted as financial advisor to Common Living in the merger. The combined entity now operates more than 30,000 units across 40 cities and 14 countries—from co-living and studios to traditional rental apartments.