What The Heck Is “Co-Living” Anyways?

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7 minute read

February 12, 2020

How very appropriate that the last blog I posted before I found myself trapped in a hospital, without access to the back-end of my blog, and no post scheduled for Monday, was a “Friday Rant.”

Talk about ending on an angry note, right?

I honestly don’t know what my plan was for that night.

I was on showings at 10:00am on Superbowl Sunday when my wife called to say her water had broke, and that was surprising, since we both simply assumed we would have to induce birth, like we did with our first.

I didn’t plan on being in a hospital on Sunday afternoon and evening (not to mention Monday as well), so I hadn’t written a blog in advance.

However, in between timing my wife’s contractions, and arguing with the nurses about whether or not my wife was ready to give birth (she was, it turns out, since the baby came about twenty-five minutes after the last time they said, “You’re not very far along), I found myself reading countless articles on my phone, trying to pass the time.

I can’t tell you how often I have an idea for a blog post, or read something that would make for good fodder, and don’t write it down.  I email myself a lot, but not every idea hatched turns into a post.

I was doing laundry on Tuesday and reached into the pocket of a pair of jogging pants and found a piece of paper with words scribbled on it.  I could barely make out what it said.



What the hell does that say?

I tossed the paper aside, threw the jeans in the wash, and headed to work.

Literally in the lineup at Tim Horton’s a little while later, it dawned on me: co-living.

That’s what the messy handwriting said!

I wrote this down in the delivery room literally as my wife was giving birth.  I had read the article a couple of hours earlier, but never forwarded the link to myself.  Not wanting to forget the idea for a blog (which I do routinely…) I saw a pen and paper, and voila.  The mystery of this stupid piece of paper in my pocket is solved!

The article I read is called, “Is Co-Living The New Craigslist,” although that title makes little sense.

The heading reads, “Why Co-Living Is Becoming A Popular Option In Major Cities,” which not only explains the article better, but also explains the major take-away from the article.

Here it is, in full:



Is Co-Living The New Craigslist?
CNBC Personal Finance
Jessica Dickler

Cassidy Claire Risien, 34, is an actor and artist living in Los Angeles but, even with her day job as a spin instructor, her budget is tight.

Despite that, she lives in a newly renovated townhouse in trendy Venice, California — just seven blocks from the beach.

“I had been living by myself and it was no longer sustainable,” she said. In an online search for rentals in her area, she set the price range to its lowest setting and a communal living, or co-living, option popped up among the results.

Now Risien pays less than a $1,000 a month to live at Haven, a co-living community.

Co-living spaces bring together a group of people, likely strangers, in a shared space. Often, there are private sleeping quarters but the kitchens and work areas are communal spaces.

(Communal living space in California.  Source: Haven)

For many like Risien, sluggish wage growth and sky-high rents in many cities have made it unaffordable to live alone.

That’s partly why, since the Great Recession, more young adults are still living with their parents than on their own, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Many of us thought that during the recovery, as the job market improved, the share living with their parents would peak and start falling,” said Richard Fry, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center. “That has not happened yet.”

Meanwhile, the number of people living with an unrelated roommate has declined since 1995, according to Fry.

Even with record low unemployment, wages have barely budged, when adjusted for inflation, from prerecession levels, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Then there are the hefty student loan bills from school, which are at an all-time high, putting a severe strain on most millennials’ financial circumstances. Seven in 10 seniors graduate with debt, owing about $30,000 per borrower, according to the most recent data from the Institute for College Access & Success.

At the same time, the homeownership rate for the largest generation in U.S. history is lower than that of their parents and grandparents at the same age, according to a separate report by the Urban Institute, a policy research group.

Co-living is another alternative to sharing a home with mom and dad.

As rents continue to rise, more people are looking beyond websites like Craigslist for a shared living arrangement that offers lower costs and better perks. As a result, the number of co-living offerings has expanded dramatically in the last few years.

For instance, WeWork opened two locations under the shared-living brand WeLive in the U.S. Its apartments in New York range from studios to four-bedroom units, and typically cost less than similar buildings in the neighborhood.

In general, though, co-living tends to give you less personal square feet and a more flexible lease term.

Other companies like WeLive, including Haven, Common, Ollie and Quarters, use the same basic model of short-term rental contracts with shared common spaces and other incentives such as housekeeping, high design and a social atmosphere.

In some cases, the perks are so great that residents pay a premium to live there.

At Haven, the focus is on health and wellness, and residents are encouraged to share their specialty, whether that’s teaching a yoga class or cooking lessons in one of the four chef’s kitchens.

In return, the rent is reduced to $995 a month, including linen and towel service and streaming entertainment subscriptions such Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Haven’s CEO Ben Katz likens it to a private membership club — “like Soho House, but you live with us,” he said, referring to the exclusive, London-based 27-property club and hotel chain.

There are about 96 active members living among Haven’s four townhouses, with a communal courtyard. But here, there are no private living quarters. Rather, there are roughly four people to a bedroom and each have their own individual sleeping pod.

(Communal living space in California.  Source: Haven)

While that arrangement is not for everyone, Risien, for one, loves it. “I initially planned to stay for six months but I can anticipate myself staying for a long time,” she said.

“There’s a part of me that wonders how long I can stay.”



Is there a specific reason why we think this wouldn’t work in Toronto?  Or are there many reasons?

I’m putting words in your mouth, I know.

You didn’t say that it wouldn’t work.  I said that for you.

America, eh?  Land of opportunity, and all that.  They have their challenges, no doubt about it.  But in cases like this, you kind of have to hand it to them, because I just don’t ever see this working here in Toronto.

First and foremost, I feel as though the government would get in the way.  Whether it’s the government over-regulating so they can rake in tax dollars, or simply over-regulating because that’s what they do, I just can’t see this happening in Toronto.

And what would FairBnb and the like have to say about this?

Is this a matter of landlords being greedy, or is it landlords helping to come up with creative ways to solve a housing crisis?

An idea like co-living would have just as many supporters as it would detractors, because that’s just sort of how the world works in 2020.  While some people might laud the idea, and hold it up to be a modern-day solution for a persistent problem that’s remained largely unaddressed, others might continue to see the world through a vacuum and lament how things “should” work, or propose ideas that will never see the light of day.

Didn’t Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Tweet earlier this week that all Americans should be enjoying a standard 15-hour work week?  How, exactly, is that going to help the problems that their population faces?  How about a realistic, viable proposal instead?

Excuse the tangent, but so many of the proposals to address our “housing crisis” are top-down, long-long-term, and almost impossible to enjoy in the now.

I’m not suggesting that change should be immediate, solutions should be instantaneous, and we should focus on the short-term at the expense of the long-term, but rather it seems that, with respect to all major infrastructure issues over the last two decades, we’ve been so incredibly reactive, and not even remotely pro-active, that perhaps it’s time to switch gears.

Co-living would come with obvious pitfalls, no doubt about it.

But even as a person who makes his living selling single-family dwellings, I think it’s something worth discussing.

It’s not for me.  I wouldn’t co-live.  I wouldn’t advise people I know, necessarily, to co-live.

But the mere fact that it’s gaining traction in the USA, it’s already prevalent in Europe, and yet we have heard next-to-nothing about it here in Canada is a sign of what ails us.

Now of course, let’s not confuse my opinion on co-living with that of co-owning, since the scathing post I wrote about this subject, entitled, “The Friday Rant: This Is A Terrible Idea,” might make today’s blog confusing.

Co-Living and Co-Owning are two very different ideas.

Co-Owning is an awful idea for the very reasons that I outlined in that Friday Rant, specifically that most people aren’t financially and legally savvy enough to know what they’re getting into, nor is the dissolution of the arrangement easy or cost-effective, and I don’t like the idea that the government is proposing this as a measure to “help” with the housing crisis.

Co-Living is a framework for a workable short-term solution for renters, not owners.  The stakes aren’t as high for the occupant, and their financial exposure is limited to their monthly rent payment.  The duration is shorter-term, there are fewer soft costs, and the arrangement is easy to break.

With Co-Owning, you’re paying land transfer tax on the purchase, real estate fees on the sale, legal fees on both, and you’ll need a partnership or occupancy agreement.  You have to determine, in advance, how disputes will be resolved, and the illiquidity of the arrangement is perhaps the largest downside.

With Co-Living, there are no operational costs, transition costs, or fixed costs.  You’re simply responsible for your rent.  You don’t need to consult with a team of lawyers to enter into the arrangement, and you can up-and-leave in a heartbeat if things aren’t working out.

So let’s not confuse the two.

The word “co” is the only similarity that these two living arrangements share, as the ideas could not be more different.

There was an article in the Financial Post last year on this topic:

“Canada Gets First Big Taste Of Co-Living Rental Trend”

The article didnt’ seem to get many eyes.

There are only two comments online, and the irony is, they paint a clear picture of how people will disagree over what, exactly, co-living is:

The critics will suggest that this is just another way for private or institutional money to get into real estate, and that there are fewer single-family homes available as they become chopped up so that multiple parties can live in them.

I don’t disagree.

But we need to be in idea-mode to address the housing shortage, not mud-slinging mode, or self-pity mode, or false-promises mode.

We Live

There are worse ideas for Toronto, are there not?

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

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  1. A Grant

    at 6:24 am

    Wait. “Co-Living” is the new “roommates”? I honestly fail to see the difference. Did that for several years after graduating uni. Never thought to write a newspaper article about this new hot trend…

    I know there have been issues where I live related to developers buying larger homes and subdividing them to allow for as many bedrooms as possible. But the bulk of the article appear to focus on a typical “roommate” situation.

    1. Walt

      at 9:36 am

      Two different situations:

      1. Four people rent a vacant house together and share rent. They are all on title and all liable. The lease is for a minimum of one year.

      2. A property owner furnishes a home with everything down to the cutlery and linens, and offers rooms for rent to individuals for short or long durations.

      The Co-living option shifts a large portion of the responsibility from the tenants to the landlords.

  2. RPG

    at 7:51 am

    I agree with the FP commenter. If the private sector can assist the public sector without being asked, then that’s the system working. That’s natural supply to satisfy demand.

  3. M

    at 12:58 pm

    There’s a building at Dundas West and Bloor area called Sociable Living that is co-living. $1700/mth for a room and share rest of unit with 2 or 3 others I believe. Places look great but a bit expensive for long term. Not a bad idea if you just moved and need a place for a few months before finding a more appropriate long term lease.

  4. Libertarian

    at 1:12 pm

    David, I’m pretty sure you already wrote about this. I’m too lazy to go search your archives, but I seem to remember you having photos of co-living units in New York.

  5. condodweller

    at 9:31 pm

    I saw a documentary a while ago of a program in one of the Scandinavian countries (forgot the specific country) and that worked well and I thought was a great idea which also solved several other issues such as day care. They had what looked like multiple townhouses joined together sharing a kitchen. Grand parents lived in the same unit with their adult kids who had kids of their own. If there were 5 families living together one cooked each night while the others didn’t have to worry about cooking. The grand parents took care of the kids when needed which solved the day care problem as well as gave them more purpose rather than just wasting away in an old age home.

  6. Joel

    at 9:59 am

    My concern for this would be zoning. Your tune would change if the house on either side of you was purchased for co-living and you had 30 extra neighbours.

    If there are areas that are set for higher density, then I think including some of these properties is a great idea and would see the benefit of having some in my neighbourhood.

  7. cyber

    at 2:56 pm

    This will certainly work in Toronto, and already is being done to some extent. As the affordability crunch continues, we are not as far behind NYC as you might think. NYC at least has a decent subway network that makes areas outside Manhattan core accessible so there is more willingness by the yuppies to look a bit further out. From most literature, people want to live within 30 minutes of commute time – the irony is that we have hundreds of net new people coming into the city each year, while the transport-accessible area gets smaller due to growing congestion issues. So the relatively geographically small areas of the city get bid up and see more astronomical and continued price increases.

    The reasons that will make these co-living operations more difficult in Toronto:

    1) ROOMING HOUSE REGULATION: Basically co-living is just a fancy (fancier) rooming house. Not allowed at all in former East York, North York and Scarborough. Allowed without a license only in the former City of York. Former York and Toronto – subject to zoning, consultations, licensing process. Obviously there have been illegal operations regardless, however ‘premium’ co-living in single family houses in attractive locations will certainly get the NIMBY police out and in full force.

    2) TAXATION CONSEQUENCES: Operation becomes more business income than rental revenue given the extent of services provided by these fancy co-living operators. Likely will end up being re-assessed property taxes at the commercial rate which is ~4X the residential property tax rate (the city has already done this for ‘condo hotel’ rooms being rented out as part of ‘rental pools’). Also assuming these will be harder to hide from CRA, and end up getting hit with both HST on the value of the home the day ‘transfer of use’ changed from residential as well as capital gains tax upon eventual sale.

  8. Pingback: What The Heck Is “Co-Residing” In any case? | DailyBiz

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