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In New York, Co-Living Spaces Create Options for Singles, New Arrivals

Finding an apartment in New York City has always been a daunting prospect for both newcomers and local residents, particularly if they're young and single.

"New York City has so many single people. Almost half the population does not live with a spouse or partner. It's a very non-traditional city," said Sarah Watson, deputy director of the Citizens Housing & Planning Council.

For many singles — whether recent grads, new arrivals to the city or locals with modest incomes — the costs associated with finding and renting an affordable apartment have led to non-traditional methods of securing one. Scanning online Craigslist ads and moving in with strangers has practically become a rite of passage.

"The Craigslist market of meeting strangers and creating a household instantly happens everywhere, but it's really often illegal," Watson said. "The person on the lease ends up taking all the money from the people who share; there are often subdivisions of legal spaces, often sometimes not even residential spaces."

Sense of community

Now, new co-living arrangements have entered the marketplace, minimizing the stresses associated with apartment hunting while simultaneously fostering a sense of community among residents.

Brad Hargreaves founded Common — co-living spaces housed within three residential properties in Brooklyn, New York. Members typically live in a suite with two to four others and have their own small bedroom — between 30 and 45 square meters — while sharing larger communal spaces like fully equipped kitchens, lounge areas and outdoor spaces.

The proximity of residents to each other affords many opportunities for socializing, and residents are encouraged to mingle.

"Many people coming from outside the U.S. want to make American friends. They want to get to know people and, unfortunately, many apartment buildings in New York are really anonymous and it's really hard to get to know your neighbors. So we really bridge that gap," Hargreaves said. "We do potluck dinners every Sunday night; there are regular meet-and-greets, and our members have set up events ranging from book clubs to movie nights."

Members pay a monthly fee that includes weekly cleaning services, kitchen and bathroom supplies, WI-Fi and utilities. All furnishings are provided.

"Someone can move into Common bringing only their clothes,” Hargreaves said. “They don't need to bring furniture; they don't need to bring bedding. We even supply a Common toothbrush."

Roommates “often end up fighting over a lot of basic things that are fairly easy to solve, like who cleans the dishes? Who goes out and buys the toilet paper, paper towels and the soap?” he added. “There are so many basic things that can actually be pretty easily solved by a management company and a developer that is thinking about the needs of roommates and the way people live in a major city like New York."

Cost of convenience

Convenience comes at a cost, however. Memberships start at $1,800 a month for a bedroom in Common. A similar co-living operation, WeLive, recently announced plans to launch spaces in New York and Washington, D.C., where beds in shared units start at $1,375 and $875 a month, respectively. Both Common and WeLive offer the option of renting month-to-month.

While the need for living arrangements dedicated to singles is undeniable, housing advocates warn that these co-living spaces may be skirting housing laws and codes.

"You're really coming up against legal and fire safety structures, because there is so much demand for single adults trying to find someplace that suits their needs in New York City," Watson said. "You can't have more than three people together who aren't related sharing an apartment, and a lot of the shared models do seem to be pushing the boundary of that occupancy rule."

Watson points to developers like Stage 3 Properties, which has designed New York City's first micro-apartment units. By taking pains to comply with the city's current housing codes and regulations, Watson believes the likelihood of future micro-apartments being developed will be greater, as current housing codes are likely to be revisited and receive more political support.

"The need is there. I think skirting the legal structure is not a positive way forward because it will annoy politicians rather than engaging a real dialogue about how we can move forward with these models,” Watson said. “I think it's very important to do it within the rules that exist, to showcase how important these models can be in the housing marketplace."