Co-living spaces aren’t always the cheapest option available. “You can always find a three-bedroom walkup with no elevator, no air-conditioning, and no dishwasher for less,” says Cushman & Wakefield’s Tjarksen. But in terms of new construction, Tjarksen says, co-living often remains the most affordable choice in urban areas. A Cushman & Wakefield report from last May found that co-living buildings further subsidized rent with amenities like housekeeping services or inclusive utilities, “which in the aggregate represent as much as a 20 percent discount to living alone.”
While discounted rent is part of the pitch, most co-living startups are trying to do more than just offer a deal. Open Door, founded in 2013, currently operates 12 co-living houses on the West Coast, each with its own unique traditions. “We’re not just trying to put butts in bed,” says Jay Standish, Open Door’s cofounder. “Living in community can be one of the most profoundly impactful growth opportunities for many of our residents. That’s our product.”
Standish lives in one of Open Door’s houses, a 6,000-square-foot Oakland mansion called the Euclid Manor. Its dozen residents eat dinner together in a wood-paneled dining room; they share bicycles and camping gear. When roommate squabbles arise—a problem with the cleaning schedule, or the communal groceries—Open Door can step in. “We’re available for community support, to help with interpersonal snags, and just generally keeping tabs on things to help things go smoothly on all levels,” says Standish.
Because each of Open Door’s houses are unique, the residents self-govern. When Oakland residents were asked to shelter in place this spring, the Euclid Manor housemates made their own policies around guests, travel, and hygiene. Some of Open Door’s residents moved out in recent months, citing lost jobs or health concerns, but new residents have also moved in. “When it goes really well, it’s because there’s something more than just housing,” says Standish.
Eventually, some residents simply outgrow co-living. Rej Jenkins moved into Treehouse in December, making him one of its earliest residents. He likes the range of people he’s met there, and the convenience of making a latte in the resident café rather than having to walk down the street to get one. But when the Covid crisis hit and his girlfriend’s roommate moved out, he started spending a lot more time at her place, where he has more space to himself. “I like being able to come home and know that I put something in the kitchen, it’s still in the kitchen,” he says. He still stops by for Sunday dinners on occasion, but he hasn’t spent much time at Treehouse lately. “I’m 31,” says Jenkins. “I don’t want roommates.”