Breaking The Habitat: The Rise of Co-Living

By Maverick Teo

The rise of co-living will shift our notions of home ownership and the way we live.

THE CO-LIVING LANDSCAPE IN SINGAPORE

Within the last few years, co-living has expanded dramatically in Singapore. Today, there are more than 25 co-living companies in Singapore, up from just three in 2018. Gaining traction as an attractive alternative to traditional residential leasing, co-living is an all-inclusive communal living arrangement in which tenants enter into individual lease agreements in exchange for private bedrooms, shared community spaces and building amenities. Tenants do not have to deal with fussy landlords, long leases, and security deposits. Leases typically start from three months, rooms come fully furnished with stylishly designed interiors, and rental rates include all utilities as well as cleaning.

Demand for co-living spaces in Singapore mainly comes from postgraduate students, young professionals, and young Singaporeans who have lived overseas and are finding it a challenge to live with their parents. There are also singles or newly-married couples awaiting their HDB flat who opt for co-living instead of living with their parents.

Despite taking a hit during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for co-living spaces has held steady. Cove, Hmlet, and lyf still managed to retain high occupancy rates of more than 90 per cent in 2020, while Figment saw its occupancy rate drop to around 70 to 80 per cent.[1] These companies have reported more enquiries from people wanting to move out of their homes since April 2020, when Singapore’s Circuit Breaker took effect. They have also reported a four-fold increase in local demand as Singaporeans work from home or return from overseas.[2] The latest shift in interest brought about by COVID-19 is driven by feelings of being “stuck at home” coupled with extended periods of working from home.

Ultimately, the trajectory of the co-living industry is likely to be strongly affected by whether the global public health crisis improves or worsens. In an era of social distancing, the touted virtues of co-living may prove to be its downfall. Nevertheless, prolonged periods of isolation heighten the desire to connect with others. If co-living operators can pivot to adapt to the “new normal” with social activities organised in smaller groups with restrictions in place, co-living may become more attractive in this pandemic, driven by this increased desire to connect and to have a more conducive work-from-home environment.

CHANGING EXPECTATIONS OF HOUSING

Co-living may become a more attractive option as expectations of housing change. As birth rates in Singapore and other developed countries decline, here might be a reduced emphasis on child-suitable housing and homeownership. This could result in fewer youth thinking of housing as a long-term asset. As working from home becomes the norm, fewer may think of housing as a place away from work.

New expectations may replace these traditional expectations. One notable expectation is of housing as a space to connect with a like-minded community. This is partly an answer to modern youth isolation — according to the 2018 BBC Loneliness Experiment which surveyed more than 55,000 people, 40 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds reported feeling lonely often or very often. Youth loneliness is often more about difficulties connecting with others than being alone. Regular and structured social activities offered by co-living spaces coupled with physical proximity may serve as promising solutions.

Operators of co-living spaces are sensing this need for connection, and are designing spaces and programmes to meet this need. Most co-living spaces offer communal spaces such as dining rooms, lounge areas, and roof gardens to provide opportunities for residents to make new friends. Many organise regular events such as board games sessions and movie nights. Members are also free to organise their own yoga, drawing, or cooking programmes. Cove has even developed its own flatmate compatibility system to help residents connect with one another, facilitating a sense of community.

Beyond just a roof over one’s head, more people may also view co-living as a lifestyle choice. For the rising number of single Singaporeans with high spending power, pragmatic considerations such as proximity to schools and childcare centres are being replaced by the allure of vibrant and aesthetically pleasing communal living facilities. Operators have responded — some companies offer co-living spaces in prime locations such as Marina Bay, Orchard, and Tanjong Pagar. Renting a room situated in these vibrant neighbourhoods will be an excellent choice for those who want convenient access to the Central Business District (CBD) and a plethora of amenities. Figment offers a more luxurious take on co-living. Tenants can experience uniquely Singaporean boutique living in heritage shophouses within historic districts. Community events take the form of cultural activities such as private dinners with local chefs and cocktail mixing sessions with top bartenders. In addition, co-living companies market their living spaces as dynamic environments focusing on self-growth and empowerment, appealing to young working professionals.

While the majority of co-living operators have focused on the “young and hip” demographic, there is room to apply this typology to seniors as well. Seniors face social isolation and loneliness just as youths do, aggravated by potential long-term restrictions on social interactions in the COVID-19 era. The number of childless seniors with spending power looks set to rise. These seniors may seek housing options that offer a sense of community. As developed countries turn increasingly grey, such seniors will form a sizeable market for co-living arrangements in the near future.

What does the rise of co-living mean for the future of the home and neighbourhood?

THE FUTURE OF CO-LIVING IN SINGAPORE

Given the complexity and volatility of the modern world, it is hard to predict the future of co-living in Singapore. Three critical uncertainties affect how co-living may play out:

1. Will the younger generation’s attitudes towards housing persist or revert to traditional conceptions of ownership when they become older?

2. Might co-living spaces for seniors become more socially acceptable and attractive?

3. With young adults currently driving demand for co-living spaces in Singapore, will co-living operators continue to cater to just this demographic, or expand their offerings to other groups?

In a plausible future, co-living may become an acceptable model for certain demographic groups in Singapore. Firstly, co-living may become commonplace for young adults who are constantly in search of community and new experiences. While there will always be demand for public housing, co-living may be able to plug certain perceived “inefficiencies” in traditional housing models through seamless access to lifestyle needs. However, the rapid growth of the industry may plateau due to high rental costs and land scarcity. Secondly, non-kinship based co-living for seniors may become acceptable. Seniors benefit from accessible healthcare services and social support structures, although the relatively primitive state of long-term palliative care limits the potential of elderly care-specific arrangements. Possible areas for improvement include the provision of more specialised care, barrier-free living environments, as well as leisure and entertainment facilities.

Maverick Teo was Research Associate at the Centre for Strategic Futures.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the Centre for Strategic Futures or any agency of the Government of Singapore.

Endnotes:

1. “Co-living operators upbeat as they look to demand from new segments”, The Business Times, 20 May 2020, accessed 30 November 2021, https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/real-estate/co-living-operators-upbeat-as-they-look-todemand-from-new-segments

2. “Demand for co-living spaces in Singapore on the rise after COVID-19 hit”, Channel News Asia , 27 December 2020, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/watch/demand-co-living-spaces-singapore-rise-after-covid-19-hit-video-1929561

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