Millennials in New York are known for living in a state of perpetual brokeness - between student loans, $20 nightclub drinks and $15 avocado toast, it's easy to understand why 70% of millennials have less than $1,000 in savings.
Now we can add expensive, glorified closets to the mix, as the Wall Street Journal reports.
30-year-old marketing manager Scott Levine lives in an $1,800 per month, 98-square-foot room in a postage-stamp of an apartment - "basically, a kitchen" - with two roomates. Every week, someone from Ollie - his property manager, stops by to drop off towels and toiletries.
A “community-engagement team” at Ollie helps plan Mr. Levine’s social calendar. A live-in “community manager”—sort of like a residential adviser for a college dorm—gets to know Mr. Levine and everyone else living on the 14 Ollie-managed floors of the Alta LIC building, known as Alta+, and finds creative ways to get them engaged in shared activities, like behind-the-scenes tours of Broadway shows or trips to organic farms. -WSJ
"Life in general can be a bit of a headache," says Mr. Levine. Thanks to Ollie, he adds, "Everything is done for you, which is convenient."
Ollie's business model is all about convenience and roommates - usually single people in their 20s and 30s who have all amenities provided for them, while sharing a kitchen and common area.
For city-dwellers accustomed to living cheek-by-jowl with people whose names they’ll never bother to learn, this might seem strange. But for young people still forming their postcollege friend groups—in an era when participation in civic life is down and going to a bar can mean huddling in a corner swiping on Tinder—it makes sense. So much sense that people put up with apartments so small they’re called “micro.” But hey, free shampoo. -WSJ
Meanwhile, startups such as Ollie and Common are competing with big-city real-estate developers. Common manages 20 co-living properties in six cities where roommate situations are more common, such as New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC. They have approximately 650 renters according to CEO Brad Hargreaves.
"Our audience is people who make $40,000 to $80,000 a year, who we believe are underserved in most markets today," Mr. Hargreaves says.
Other startups are managing existing homes and apartments, "Airbnb-style" as the WSJ puts it.
Bungalow, which just announced $64 million in funding, wants property owners to offer space to “early-career professionals” looking for a low-maintenance place to stay. It charges rent that’s “slightly higher” than what it pays those owners, a company spokeswoman says. It currently maintains over 200 properties—housing nearly 800 residents—across seven big cities, says co-founder and CEO Andrew Collins.
As with Common and Ollie, Bungalow advertises that it furnishes the common areas in its homes, installs fast free Wi-Fi, and cleans them regularly. The company also organizes events and outings to help you “build a community with... your new friends.” -WSJ
One of the underlying aspects of the co-living startup models is a technology platform that both advertises to prospective tenants and takes care of their needs once they're living on-site. Ollie's "Bedvetter" system, for example, shows apartments to potential tenants - and shows who's already signed up to live there with links to their personal profiles in order to match roommates. Bedvetter also matches people into "pods" of "potential roommates" before they begin an apartment hunt.
"It’s like online dating," says Levine - while his roommate, Joseph Watson, 29, compares it to eHarmony or Match.com vs. Tinder, as it's designed for long term pairings.
While millennials in New York and other urban areas scramble to make ends meet, developers are making hand over fist on the co-living movement - even though the renters themselves are paying less than they would for a private studio.
The Alta LIC building also has conventional apartments, but the co-living units are filling up faster, says Matthew Baron, one of the Alta LIC building’s developers. What’s more, he adds, he can get more than $80 a square foot for Ollie units compared with around $60 a square foot for the others, even though the Ollie ones are on the lower, less-desirable floors. -WSJ
Another complication with co-living arrangements is tricky community management. L.A.'s PodShare, for example, vets potential tenants beforehand - however issues with problem tenants are unavoidable. "We’ve hosted 25,000 people at this point, so there’s bound to be some problems," says founder Elvina Beck.
Common building tenant Teiko Yakobson said that the "community vibe broke down after Common eliminated the paid "house leader," complaining that "We all just became strangers, and it was no better than living in any other apartment." Common instead replaced the program with "centralized" community managers at the corporate level - which Hargreaves says is "more coherent" for them.
It's not all bad, however...
When it does work, co-living can re-create the kind of communities tenants seek online—ones grounded in common interests and shared socioeconomic status.
Mr. Levine, who not only lives in a co-living building but also works in a co-working space—and in whose social circle most people do either one of those or the other—is aware that, while this isn’t for everyone, he is hardly a standout. “One thing I’ve heard before is that I’m a stereotype of a New York millennial,” he says.
Just make sure you have earplugs in case your roommate is able to get laid in their respectively expensive, tiny room.