With one all-inclusive monthly figure to pay, freedom from onerous rental contracts and the promise of a vibrant lifestyle, co-living is a very compelling proposition for Generation Rent – all the more so in a post-pandemic world.

Jo Cowen

The number of developments planned and in the works reflects confidence in the sector. Manchester alone has had up to £450m of investment deals agreed for co-living apartments.

Consumer demand also seems to be on the up, with recent analysis from Built Asset Management showing a 300% hike in July and August in renters leaving single accommodation for co-living, compared with pre-lockdown levels.

However, one of the reasons for the increase in co-living schemes is that the sector operates within the largely unregulated gaps of planning laws. ‘Unique’ or ‘sui generis’ developments don’t conform to standard housing classifications, so there is leeway when it comes to space standards.

This means that while co-living often offers attractive amenities, it also often comes with painfully small living spaces.

It is important that the housing crisis in the UK, and London in particular, should not become a subtext for people having to settle for less and legislation and planning laws must be tightened up in this respect. That said, space isn’t the main incentive for those seeking to live in a co-living home, with socialising being the key driver.

This, plus rising consumer costs, stagnated income levels and a shift to people choosing a partner later, or not at all, mean traditional co-habitation models don’t always apply. If you add the circa two million-plus freelancers and multi-hyphenate approach to work; unobtainable property prices; the prospect of further lockdowns and growing social isolation, co-living looks an attractive lifestyle choice.

The allure of attractive amenities often comes with painfully small living spaces

Co-living might be more financially viable for those looking to rent, especially in a time of economic uncertainty. But these changes in rental behaviour don’t highlight co-living “pulling” consumers to the product, rather external factors “pushing” them towards the option.

The pandemic has caused the industry and society to reassess what homes need to provide. One challenge for architects and designers is how to ensure people still feel like they live in a community.

People need to be at the heart of every decision. Developers looking to build a sustainable future for their product must prioritise culture above all else.

Collective and Common are doing this well, delivering a high-quality designed product with culture, community and wellness at the core and creating environments to bring like-minded people together.

For someone to feel like they are living in their own home, they need to have control over how the place is run, or at least the values and culture need to represent something they want to be part of. Many co-living concepts are entirely dictated by the developer, giving residents no say. For a culture to develop and thrive, you need to take a longer-term approach.

The belief that cities should thrive on creativity, innovation and progress, giving the younger generation the opportunity to live comfortably, will pave the way for co-living to flourish. As the economy starts to be rebuilt, the co-living model will need to be reassessed to reappraise the quality of life of its residents, creating an environment for culture and community to grow organically.

Jo Cowen is chief executive of Jo Cowen Architects