‘Co-living’ project takes on London housing crisis

A terrace is seen at the co-living building The Collective Old Oak in north west London October 11, 2017. — AFP pic
A terrace is seen at the co-living building The Collective Old Oak in north west London October 11, 2017. — AFP pic

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LONDON, Oct 18 — The 10-storey building may look like a hotel, but it is thought to be the world’s biggest large-scale house-share, offering modest rooms and upscale services for hundreds of young adults caught in London’s housing crisis.

The Old Oak building, situated on a canal bank in North West London, opened in the spring of 2016, and has become a pioneer of “co-living”, a concept that is beginning to catch on elsewhere, notably in the United States.

“Today in cities, we don’t know our neighbours, housing is more and more expensive, we’re living behind our devices and this is addressing that challenge,” said Ryan Fix, consultant at The Collective, the project’s developer.

This was no niche market, he insisted: “It’s going to be a massive movement in the coming decades.”

Ed Thomas, who manages the property for The Collective, offers a tour of the 546-room building and its facilities.

“You’ve got a nice spacious room with big window that lets lots of light in,” he says as he shows AFP a room measuring 12 square metres.

All of the rooms are currently occupied.

Some have a tiny ensuite bathroom, with a small wash basin placed almost over the toilet, and a kitchenette. In others, the cooking and washroom areas are shared.

Yoga and cinema

The Old Oak boasts high-end facilities such as a spa, gym, library, work room, restaurant and even a cinema, which is packed for evening showings of the hit TV series Game of Thrones.

The building is a 10-minute walk from two London Underground stations. And its distinguishing features include its industrial-style architecture and sprawling common spaces filled with colourful armchairs and wooden furniture.

There are also communal activities on offer, such as music evenings and yoga classes.

The majority of the Old Oak’s current tenants are young people aged between 22 and 35 earning an average of £30,000 a year (RM167,136) — who might otherwise be sharing a cramped house with strangers.

It is common for Londoners to spend “40 to 50 per cent of their net salary” on housing, James Mannix, a partner at estate agency Knight Frank, told AFP.

“It is extremely difficult to find a place to rent in London and young people are increasingly marginalised,” said The Collective’s Ed Thomas.

“It is very time-consuming, and even once you move into somewhere, the chances that you find a group of people that you get along with are extremely slim. We’re trying to tackle that problem.”

According to Knight Frank, a typical room in shared accommodation costs £1,602 per month in central London and £954 in areas farther out.

The Old Oak’s prices are largely in line with those of the local area.

The majority of the rooms cost between £850 and £1,100 pounds per month, but that includes all bills (energy, internet, cleaning, taxes and common facilities). The largest are advertised at more than £1,400.

‘An investment’

Adam Saez, a 26-year-old Australian sports trainer who has lived in Old Oak for over a year, sees his rent as “an investment”.

“I’ve not only made friends, but I’ve also done a lot of networking, so I’ve met lot of people that I now work with as well,” he told AFP.

Sarah Sinigaglia, a 19-year-old Italian-Swiss student newly arrived in London, agreed.

“It’s very easy to meet people,” she said. “In the evening, you can go downstairs (...) to the lobby or the bar, and there are lots of people like me who are alone.”

The Collective, whose first shared building was funded by a “Singapore family” for an undisclosed amount, is launching two other projects in east London.

One is close to the Olympic Park in Stratford and the other in Canary Wharf, in the business district of the British capital.

They are expected to open in 2019, with a combined total of 1,000 rooms up for rent.

The Collective is also looking to expand internationally and eyeing different target groups, such as families.

Estate agent Mannix said the concept of co-living is “socially a good thing,” creating affordable accommodation — at the same time profitable for the developers — in a private-sector response to a crisis which the public authorities are failing to tackle sufficiently. — AFP

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