The Kansas City Business Journal recently published an op-ed about the affordable housing market crisis in KC. It highlights some new developments that may shift the balance of geared-to-income units from 23 percent to about 15 percent of downtown rentals.
To summarize, it talks about 5000 new market-rate apartments that are either under construction or in the planning stages, suggesting that a recently rescinded development tax credit program will kill the impetus to build affordable housing.
With rents sometimes as much as double what they were a decade ago, this could indeed be a looming crisis, resulting in a scenario similar to what has already happened in San Francisco, Austin, and other booming American cities.
Can co-living provide the affordable housing solution KC needs?
With such a serious issue looming on the horizon, a viable solution is in order. Co-living residences can provide such a solution, offering affordable, convenient shared accommodation that satisfies both supply and demand.
Hailed as one of the biggest disruptions in housing since the apartment building itself, co-living has attracted some big investment, despite mixed reviews regarding its success. Still, the concept is sound. If done right, it could provide the answer to KC’s affordable housing needs as well as giving developers a new platform to expand upon.
What is co-living?
In a nutshell, co-living is a collection of micro-units that share common spaces and amenities, electronics (televisions and such) and, occasionally, shared facilities (kitchens and bathrooms). Co-living sells itself as an all-inclusive business model that caters to students, low-income individuals, transient or seasonal workers, and any other individuals who would benefit from budget-friendly digs.
The units themselves are significantly smaller than a standard apartment—hence the similarity to micro-units—but would meet every human need and would be furnished and move-in ready, reducing the onus of investment on the part of the renter.
Co-living has its champions and its caveats. It purports to offer a higher standard of living at an affordable price, but that’s not often the case – at least not where price is concerned.
As one of the larger co-living providers in the US market, WeLive has not found the success it was after. From the outside, it resembles a social engineering experiment with its insular, arguably Orwellian community of residents who can move in with little more than the clothes on their backs. In reality, it caters to a very specific demographic, offering luxury amenities that are included in the rent – which is nowhere near “affordable” by any stretch. While it would probably be less expensive and more convenient than a comparable area hotel room, as a business model, it is definitely not designed for lower-income residents – which is likely the reason they have decided to halt any further expansion.
Adapting the co-living model to make shared living affordable
In other cities, developers are experimenting with co-living, but widespread viability still remains to be seen. The startups at the forefront of the movement have necessarily had to partner with local developers and landlords to manage the day-to-day.
Personally, I have been thinking about a concept that goes beyond co-living and micro units, one that would be a perfect addendum to this discussion. While each of these concepts shares similar themes, my idea is to expand on the micro-unit philosophy, leveraging creative, space-saving layouts and furniture that emphasizes economy, durability and value.
Co-living development opportunity
Closer to home, we have recently identified a development opportunity in Atchison, Kansas. We are currently seeking development partners for the historic Martin East Elementary School, near Benedictine College, in my opinion, an excellent location for a co-living accommodation.
Developers who have an interest in exploring the concept of co-living apartments in Kansas City or who would like to pursue the development opportunity mentioned above are invited to reach out to B+A Architecture.