The Surprising Boom in Pandemic Co-Living

  • Experts expected the pandemic to potentially deal a death blow to co-living, amid social distancing and fears of proximity to others.
  • But as the pandemic stretched on, growing demand for a sense of community to battle loneliness has spurred a surge in co-living. The industry is now poised to expand exponentially.

When Caroline Lee moved to San Francisco in September 2019, she was surprised by how difficult the “grind to find a rental property” was. The 27-year-old marketing executive ended up moving into a co-living building — a set of rooms with shared common spaces like a kitchen and lounge. Then the pandemic hit. 

As millennials rushed out of cities and back to their parents’ homes, the housing market went haywire. Rents plummeted in major cities around the country. Diggz, an apartment-search website in New York, reported a 35 percent decline in co-living inquiries in March 2020. Amid social distancing and growing panic over physical proximity to other people, some experts predicted the pandemic could cripple co-living as a residential phenomenon.


Gil Hirak (R), head of U.S. operations and community of Quarters speaks with a colleague on the roof top of Quarters Co-Living in the Lower East Side, New York.


Yet instead, the fear of growing isolation and loneliness has led to a surprising resilience in the co-living space, sparking a surge in development. The number of beds in co-living buildings in the U.S. has risen through the pandemic and is expected to rapidly expand — there are about 7,800 at the moment, but another 54,350 are in the pipeline, according to real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. The company found that fewer people left their co-living setups during the pandemic than people who vacated apartments. Co-living company Treehouse saw applications rocket as many people searched for a built-in, ready community for the new era of work-from-home. 

“It has helped me build trust and a sense of community,” says Lee. 

It also can help build your bankroll: Co-living can be upto 30 percent cheaper than apartment housing. And Treehouse and Common boast that their accommodations breed creativity and community by bringing interesting people together. 

Renters come to our co-living buildings for lower prices and convenience, and they stay for the community.

Eric Rodriguez, Common

Still, at the start of the pandemic, social distancing while co-living seemed like an impossible task. Sharing a communal bathroom, kitchen and other common spaces isn’t an obvious choice during a health crisis that spreads from person to person. 


A worker of Quarters uses her laptop in the community living area of Quarters Co-Living.


But co-living communities stepped up to the plate. In Lee’s apartment, she and her roommates established a kitchen schedule and set firm rules about who was allowed into the communal spaces. She spent as much time as possible in her bedroom. Across America, co-living held on as a concept and is beginning to prosper again. 

Eric Rodriguez, vice president of operations for Common, attributes co-living’s appeal to the creation of community. He notes that their building occupancies have bounced back to pre-pandemic numbers. Not only that, their buildings have waitlists, and they plan to open 15 new buildings in the coming year. Tedi Dorman, an executive assistant at Treehouse in Los Angeles, explains that they “sell a lifestyle” that focuses first and foremost on fostering community. 

“I always say that renters come to our co-living buildings for lower prices and convenience, and they stay for the community,” says Rodriguez. 

One of the major benefits of co-living is that many companies offer short-term leases, often three or six months long, which make it easier to commit to housing — especially at a time when the work-from-home situation is evolving. It is a lower-stakes way of moving to a new city: If you hate it, you can move on with minimal difficulty, especially since your room is fully furnished, as are common spaces like the kitchen. The move-in process is relatively effortless, and if, for some reason, you don’t fall in love with the community, the move-out process can be easy too. Dorman feels that above all else, co-living survived because of people’s desire for community, and that Treehouse saw such an increase in applications because people still want to find a home with others, even with social distancing at play. 


The Treehouse co-living community in Hollywood, California.

What’s next for co-living? Well, for starters, a renewed focus on building community. Companies will focus on creating spaces where social distancing measures are easier to implement. And for young people, the fact that co-living is much more affordable than apartments makes it an attractive option for those looking to rebuild their lives from the pandemic’s chaos. 

Dorman is excited about getting back to holding events and programs at their space in Los Angeles. For Lee, co-living during the pandemic helped her build trust and a sense of community with her roommates. Sure, she doesn’t plan to stay in a co-living space forever — when the pandemic passes, she hopes to move on. But when she does, there will surely be others ready to take her place.  

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