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With the rise of the sharing economy, it was only a matter of time before shared living became a trend. Generally defined as private, furnished rooms or apartments with shared community spaces such as living room, kitchens, dining areas or even bathrooms — it's also known as cohousing or coliving.

Whatever you call it, shared living has become a popular and affordable living alternative to renting or buying a home, while still allowing the residents to be part of a community.

Difference Between Cohousing and Coliving: Intent

Cohousing is focused on community and connection. According to the Cohousing Association of the United States (Coho/U.S.), "Cohousing communities are intentional, collaborative neighborhoods created with a little ingenuity. They bring together the value of private homes with the benefits of more sustainable living. That means residents actively participate in the design and operation of their neighborhoods, and share common facilities and good connections with neighbors."

Alice Alexander, executive director of Coho/US stated, "Cohousing allows us to support each other in sharing life's challenges and also allows us to celebrate together the joys of life."

Coliving, or shared housing, is a slightly different take. Coliving is more focused on finding ways to get around the high cost of living in dense urban areas such as New York; Boston; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C. and the Bay Area. Similar to co-working spaces, coliving features shared living spaces that are substantially more affordable than renting or buying, particularly in startup and tech markets where the cost of housing has skyrocketed beyond affordability and has traditionally kept younger generations living at home with their parents.

What Is Affordable Housing?

What exactly does affordable housing mean? The answer, according to the federal government, is pretty straightforward. "Affordable" housing should cost a family 30 percent or less of its median monthly income, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The reality, as HUD notes, is much different. "An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing. A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States."

One of the most expensive cities in the United States is San Francisco, where the median income is $78,000 a year — well above the national average of $59,039. However, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,552 a month, according to RentJungle.com, or $42,636 a year, meaning that a resident in that city would have to spend almost 55 percent of their monthly income on housing alone.

The data on rental affordability for very low-income families is even bleaker and has only worsened, according to a recent report from Freddie Mac. The report found that the number of affordable apartments available for very low-income families across the United States fell by more than 60 percent between 2010 and 2016. Increasing rents, stagnant wages, the growing demand for rental housing and rising construction costs were all cited as contributors to the rental affordability crisis.

A Trend with Mass Appeal

As affordable housing becomes scarcer in urban areas across the United States, shared housing has stepped up as a popular solution for thousands of people from every walk of life. The tradeoff? Lower rents, flexibility and a sense of community in exchange for actual homeownership and a lack of privacy.

It can be a particularly attractive option for recent college graduates who have relocated or those who are just starting their careers. "Most young professionals moving to thriving cities face a difficult choice between spending a big share of their income on renting their own place, or moving in with strangers in a shared house to save money," The Economist noted.

But it's not just millennials in big cities that are attracted to shared housing. "In states across the nation…the millennial generation's older, more socially conservative cohorts, including retirement-age baby boomers and their less numerous adult children, known as Generation X, are also experimenting with shared housing arrangements," according to the Christian Science Monitor.

A New Investment Opportunity

Investors and developers have taken note and there is a slew of startups entering this housing sector. WeLive, an offshoot of the co-working space WeWork, has locations in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York as well as Washington, D.C.

New York-based coliving startup Common has 4,000 members in 18 homes across four cities, while San Francisco's Starcity and Atlanta's PadSplit are focused on making housing more affordable and accessible to the middle-income demographic (think: teachers, police officers and hospitality workers).

Solutions to increase the supply of affordable housing options across the country are becoming more diverse and shared housing could be the future of real estate investing. Whether it's investing in a startup or contributing to a fund geared toward shared housing construction, a strong financial teammate and the right team of experts can help savvy investors wade through the many developments and opportunities happening in this sector.


To learn more, contact Rob Likes, National Director at Robert_L_Likes@KeyBank.com or 801-297-5811.

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