• It’s thought 70% of people will live in cities by 2050. Co-living could offer sustainable, affordable housing options for many.
  • The world’s loneliness and mental health crisis is being exacerbated by the pandemic.
  • Communal living can provide companionship for those who don’t want to live alone.
  • Studies suggest living with others can help anxiety and improve mental wellbeing.

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on a trend that’s catching the eye of more and more city dwellers – co-living.

Accommodation designed for multiple individuals with shared facilities, such as work and cooking spaces, has been on the increase for the best part of a decade. When rising property values priced a lot of young professionals out of the real estate market, many turned to sharing the cost burden with strangers.

Now, as the pandemic prompts governments around the world to issue stay-at-home orders, could communal living help lessen the side-effects of lockdowns, especially anxiety and loneliness?

“Co-living is an opportunity to live in your own private place but still be part of a ‘family’,” says Jaimee Williams of SPACE10, IKEA’s “research and design lab” and co-organizer of a survey on perceptions of communal living. “Urbanization has led to unaffordable housing and, paradoxically, increasing loneliness.”

information showing the living preferences of people of all ages, in any life situation, from all countries
Here's what the majority of people across the world have in common when it comes to co-living.
Image: One Shared House 2030

Sharing the load

Respondents to the One Shared House 2030 survey said the ability to socialize was the biggest benefit of co-living. The survey also had something to say about the notion that the trend is only for the young: elderly respondents identified the concept as a good means of staying close to people who could help them in an emergency, among other things.

“Communal living has moved on from communes and sharing meals,” says Irene Pereyra, co-founder of New York-based design agency Anton & Irene, another co-ordinator of the survey. “What’s nice is that everyone who answered our survey would be willing to share at least one thing.”

Co-living is not a new concept – students and groups of friends have been sharing homes for decades. But it’s gained wider traction as housing has become increasingly unaffordable, particularly in the world’s largest cities.

Developers are now creating shared homes in the mould of co-working companies, offering co-living as a service.

In these premises, people buy or rent part of a living experience, rather than simply a space in a building.

A global solution

Such ventures include the 16-storey LIFE micro-apartments in Seoul. Many people have been priced out of the South Korean capital by the high cost of housing.

The building has 140 rooms, each with a private kitchen and bathroom, and shared living areas that include a workspace, kitchen, lounge, gym and rooftop garden.

Nest, in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, meanwhile, is run as a non-profit by its residents and has a focus on supporting entrepreneurs. And The Collective gives people the chance to live in a studio apartment with shared living and working spaces in London and New York.

But the trend is not limited to cities. Coconat – or “community and concentrated work in nature” – can be found in a village near Berlin. There are shared offices, a sauna and a swimming pond. Residents also get three meals a day.

Many view co-living as an answer to the global housing crisis, making dwellings more affordable. It’s also been proposed as a solution to making cities more habitable as they expand in the near future to contain an estimated 70% of the world’s population.

Co-living could also help reduce the strain on global resources, by pooling the use of carbon-generating utilities such as heating, energy and water.

Now it’s being given added momentum as the pandemic forces people to rethink their work-life balance.

While lockdowns have been a key tool in slowing the spread of coronavirus, the lack of human interaction and the anxiety surrounding the pandemic has had a dismal effect on mental health.

That’s been made worse as 93% of countries have interrupted or stopped delivery of mental health services during the crisis, a recent World Health Organization study found.

Research published in the journal BMC said co-living could have a beneficial impact on mental wellbeing.

“Our review indicates that the co-housing model can be positively associated with health outcomes through psychosocial determinants of health, such as increased social support, sense of community and physical, emotional and economic security, as well as reduced social isolation,” the report observed, suggesting the subject was so important that broader studies were needed.