• Whilst there is high demand for rental homes, understanding and support for co-living within local government is limited.
  • What is the appeal?
  • How can we get buy-in from decision-makers?
  • How successful are existing schemes?
  • Co-living as a solution for London living strains, and a major opportunity for UK housing delivery.

Co-living’s arrival in London made a splash with its beautiful, shared spaces and social living concept. It is a unique opportunity for young professionals eager to move out of their family homes but unable to afford traditional housing options or uninterested in typical house shares. So, why aren’t we seeing more co-living schemes across London?

Demand is high but understanding low?

Co-living remains an underutilized housing tenure, with only a handful of schemes delivered across London boroughs to date.

We have found that with local stakeholders, and specifically councillors, there usually seems to be an element of doubt towards these schemes. Many stakeholders hold concerns about the lifestyle’s appeal as well as the longevity of the ‘newly formed’ Build To Rent (BTR) model.

Despite the forecasted surge in demand over the next three – five years, delivery of co-living in London seems to be held back at times by misconceptions amongst local government. Additionally, only seven of London’s 32 boroughs have a formal planning policy for large sale purpose-built shared living (LSPBSL), whilst 16 boroughs have permitted a sui generis scheme. Even with the GLA’s relatively new LSPBSL guidance shared in February this year, we are still being met with confusion at local government level. What this means is that there is a lack of unified approach on schemes from borough to borough. More thorough urban strategies involving co-living are needed to ensure the growing demand for flexible and sustainable living solutions can be met.

Co-living and its unique appeal

In a housing crisis where Londoners are spending nearly 40% of their monthly wages on rent for often substandard accommodation, alternative tenures like co-living deserve attention from policy makers to encourage the delivery of these rental homes at pace. With co-living, renters can enjoy expenses bundled into one monthly bill, covering utilities, council tax, gym memberships, and access to all building facilities and amenities.

With shared amenity spaces and a focus on community through weekly social events such as puppy yoga, pizza-making, musical performances, and meditation sessions – what’s not to love? These factors appeal to younger generations seeking a vibrant urban living experience with the option of personal space.

Co-working space at Sunday Mills, Earlsfield – designed by Assael Architecture for DTZ Investors and Halcyon Development Partners

Our team led the successful community and stakeholder engagement for Sunday Mills in Earlsfield, Wandsworth, which recently received a 2024 RIBA London Award. Designed by Assael Architecture for DTZ Investors and Halcyon Development Partners, the plans were approved by Wandsworth Council in 2019 and the development was completed in 2022.

Getting buy-in from key stakeholders

I believe that the key to accelerating the delivery of schemes is helping decision-makers and stakeholders better understand the concept. This can be best executed through collaborative events with councillors, such as roundtables, exhibitions and site tours. This way, councillors and planning officers can understand and experience the real benefits of schemes.

We can also let the existing stock do the talking, and councillors can be provided with data from existing London sites. According to recent surveys conducted by Gerald Eve, residents typically stay within co-living dwellings for between 9 – 12 months, with the second most popular length of stay being 12 – 18 months. Additionally, the letting velocity of new builds is very high, with completed schemes filling beds at high rates. It must also be stressed that co-living appeals to a wide range of people and budgets and is not solely for new graduates. This varied group of tenants will integrate with the existing community and contribute to the local economy.

Finally, we should make clear to stakeholders that co-living is BTR and is not completely out of the ordinary. We find that very often councillors and planning officers are scared off by the concept of co-living, thinking of it as too radical a way of living, so making this a clear subset of BTR is essential.

London’s silver bullet

The demand for rental homes is evident, as is the availability of potential sites for these schemes. In my view, co-living is the silver bullet for London’s housing crisis, especially but not limited to younger generations. It strikes me as the perfect balance between the comforts of home and the independence of renting, all while providing a cost-effective solution. As inflation soars and living expenses skyrocket, co-living stands as a beacon of hope, ready to tackle a significant portion of London’s housing shortage head-on.

The current undersupply of co-living beds in the capital, alongside the sizable demand pool, represents a significant opportunity for developers to weigh in and meet the demands of a currently underserved and undervalued consumer group.