Every now and then among the mountain of tweets, press releases and news stories touting the next startup that will disrupt an industry, there appears to be one that, if it succeeds, actually has the ability to change the way an industry is organized — and, based on the import of that industry, change society.
Brad Hargreaves is the cofounder of General Assembly, a company he left six months ago. His new project is Common, a co-living company that plans on renting vacant buildings and transforming them into month-to-month communal apartments.
The value proposition is that communal apartments better fit the market demands of modern life than the old way of living, in which each person has their own kitchen, back yard, living room and was locked into a yearlong lease. Young workers in major cities, are not well-served by the housing market, Hargreaves says.
“One of the challenges is that these cities have a big mismatch between supply and demand for housing. I saw the New York problem first-hand,” he said. “Our students [at General Assembly] would come and typically wouldn’t qualify for a lease and would end up going to Craigslist and would rent a space from a stranger. Some of those are great and some were really, really bad.”
The plan is for Common to open its first 20 units in Crown Heights in October. Each member will have their own bedroom, and the kitchens, living rooms and common areas will be shared by everyone. The rents will be between $1,000 and $2,000. Communal household products will be provided, as will cleaning services. Common will organize group events, such as a regular Friday night potluck dinner.
Common is not the first company to have this idea. The coworking leviathan WeWork is planning a co-living space, under its co-living imprint WeLive, in Arlington, Va. The facility will be attached to a WeWork and will have 216 units. An early coworking pioneer, Indy Hall in Philadelphia, has been slowly working on a co-living project for years, though it hasn’t come to fruition yet.
A more radical version comes from New York dilettante Bruno Haid, whose company The Caravanserai plans on creating modern co-living houses in Mexico City, Lisbon and Ubud, an island in Indonesia. Haid recently wrote a very interesting Medium manifesto about the future of housing (spoiler alert: it’s co-living):
If done right, the kitchen is only one example of a superior communal experience. Better than the current approach of cramping a fifty unit building with the same stuff fifty times over. The money for fifty toolboxes gives you a 3D printing workshop dream come true. Fifty cheap audio gadgets get you a small music studio. What about an in-house yoga studio or movie theater?
Again, this isn’t just a question of convenience. It’s an existential one. Because the only proven correlating factor leading to a longer life isn’t butter vs olive oil. It’s how social we organize our lives.
At the same time, the only company that’s tried co-living so far has failed. The San Francisco and New York-based Campus will close down its 150 units by the end of August.
“Despite continued attempts to alter the company’s current business model and explore alternative ones, we were unable to make Campus into an economically viable business,” founder Tom Currier wrote in a terse June statement.
For all the talk of changing traditional housing habits, and the demands of the new, on-demand economy, something sounded familiar. I thought I’d recalled and older arrangement where mobile workers live for however long they need, where each has his own bedroom, and where kitchen, living room and other spaces are communal, and some amenities, like meals are provided. I opened up chapter three of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, where Ishmail enters Peter Coffin’s Spouter Inn.
Brad Hargreaves wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Common as a boarding house.
“We certainly don’t call it that but there’s a lot of inspiration you can take from living arrangements from over time,” he said. “Boarding house conjures up a lot of images, not all of them positive.”
With $7.35 million in fresh capital, Hargreaves hopes to build a successful short-term living model for the digital age.-30-