Shared Housing 2017

Shared Housing Alternatives for the 21st Century


The original and probably most widely encountered form of "shared housing" is probably the generic roommate situation, in which two or more people share some kind of shelter. This is such a widespread arrangement that it in turn breaks down into a number of subcategories. I will just list some of these here rather than make this document ridiculously long, although I may choose to do a more formal categorization of these subcategories later on.

Some of the ways in which one can have a roommate or roommates would include: being a student, probably a full-time student at many universities. Much of the time, these are assigned rather than chosen, although in most cases it is possible to request a choice or even a new roommate if the initial choice or selection doesn't work out.

Probably the largest category of all would be the roommate situation in just about any city in the world, frequently in a rental of some sort. It is almost a cliché that someone takes off for the big city, finds a place to live, and proceeds to look for a roommate to share expenses. In the old days this would probably have included running a small ad in one of the local newspapers; today of course we have craigslist. Many people also are able to find a roommate by asking around at work or perhaps posting some kind of a notice there (and many work environments now offer electronic version of the posting as well).

And there are a number of private agencies, large and small, that will match up roommates for some kind of a fee. In recent years many if not most of these have migrated to online versions, in many cases using social media as a way to validate identity and begin checking references.

How The Roommate Coach can help:

My core message to roommates, which applies to some extent to anyone living in shared housing-meaning anyone living with someone else-is very straightforward: most of the problems and conflicts are unnecessary and avoidable, and it's really important to learn how to deal with conflicts so that you don't wind up making them worse. I don't believe that fighting and arguing and generally giving each other a bad time is our natural state. In fact, I am convinced that much of the time problems that arise between roommates have more to do with events in the distant past than anything going on in the present, at least until someone makes matters worse with a misguided attempt at fixing things.

But an equally important part of my message is that these conflicts and issues, even if they may seem trivial, are in fact quite important. Mainly they are important because roommates are important: living with someone is a great opportunity to form the kinds of really important bonds and connections that can be useful throughout one's life. But it's also really important to learn how to not only get fair treatment from others but how to become really strict with yourself about giving the same to them.

All of this can become second nature, which is kind of my goal as The Roommate Coach-to show people how to get this kind of attitude to become instinctive. Ultimately, it's relatively simple: in order to have a great roommate, you need to be a great roommate.


The co-living trend in shared housing is a relatively recent development, largely responding to the extremely high cost of housing in many large cities. Since the big cities tend to be where the good jobs are, many people, frequently young people just getting started, need to move there. But with exorbitant housing costs, it can be pretty difficult. This has been traditionally a primary reason for finding roommates and sharing expenses; the co-living model has emerged as an alternative to the somewhat "hit and miss" approach required of those finding roommates the traditional way.

Although it is a new trend, in many ways "co-living" is simply a modernized and upgraded version of something that has been around for ages, the rooming house or boardinghouse arrangement. Residents would have a private room but would share a common area, especially kitchen and dining areas, with other residents of the house.

Modern co-living operations, such as common.com and pure house.org, are offering a fairly high-end experience to their customers; they are emphasizing convenience and community as big benefits for choosing to live in one of their properties. These are rentals, of course-an alternative to simply renting an apartment or house from a private party or some kind of property management firm. (The cohousing model, discussed below, generally refers to ownership situations, with some shared facilities.)

This type of operation is still a relatively new development, so any apparent trends might change significantly in the future. But as of now (spring of 2017) the co-living operations are apparently targeting relatively affluent young people as their primary market, with most of the operations located in America's big cities, with their fairly positive job opportunities and extremely high housing costs. These operations do not appear to be emphasizing huge financial savings as a result of signing up with them; still, in many cases it appears to be somewhat of an improvement financially. For example, in the New York City housing market it is common for applicants to have to show proven income equal to 40 or 50 times a month's rent. Given the high rents, this can create a pretty formidable barrier, ruling out all but those with fairly high paying jobs. The co-living operations, at least the ones I have researched, do not have this restriction, although they do perform extensive background checks and other things in order to increase the chances of having success with their choices of tenants.

They may not be promoting significant financial savings, at least not so far-but what these operations do promote is a quick and easy cure for one of the biggest problems of a newcomer to a big and presumably unfriendly city: loneliness. By moving into a facility with others, many of whom are presumably in a situation similar to yourself, the possibility exists that you will be able to form friendships and have a functional social life much more quickly than you would with the typical living arrangement. The operations are designed to encourage this: while the rooms offer privacy (for the most part-an exception is discussed below) there is a big emphasis on common areas. Kitchen and dining areas are obviously an important part of this strategy, but additional areas for socializing, reading, working or simply hanging out are also provided.

Many of these operations also utilize electronic services, such as slack or other social media, to communicate with residents, advise them of upcoming activities, and generally provide a convenient way for all to communicate.

The emphasis is really placed on the benefit of being a part of a community rather than being all alone in the big city. This sounds completely valid to me, to the extent that it is successful for any given individual of course. In addition, some of these operations emphasize the benefits of networking, specifically for one's career. This also makes total sense to me, since it is well understood that the quality of an individual's personal network is generally considered to be an important part of their likelihood of success.


Another form of "shared housing" that is becoming somewhat more popular in this country in recent years is known as co-housing. This is a form of home ownership, in which the homeowner owns not only a somewhat traditional freestanding home but also a portion of a "common area," usually consisting of a relatively large common house along with access to some additional shared property. The first cohousing operation was established in Denmark in 1972; this housing trend has become more popular in this part of the world but examples are showing up elsewhere as well. It seems to be catching on more quickly in the European countries but there are quite a few examples in the US also.

As of April, 2017, the website cohousing.org states that there are 165 established cohousing communities in the United States. The site includes a directory by state; 35 or 36 states, including the District of Columbia, are listed. In terms of the overall percentage of the population, it is a pretty miniscule percentage by far living in one of these communities. But the numbers are apparently growing, and many of the testimonials from those who have lived in one of these communities, either in this country or in other parts of the world, indicate a strong and maybe even passionate belief in what they are doing. I have only recently become aware of this housing option myself and I already find it personally very interesting and worthy of my own consideration.

The benefits expected from cohousing as opposed to more conventional kinds of homeownership appear to be similar to those suggested by the co-living operations: some financial advantage, especially with regard to large purchases, significant kinds of equipment or tools requiring a large investment which can now be spread over several households. Additional financial advantages can come from the readily available help, at least in some cases, with things like child care-the larger community is capable of functioning somewhat as an "extended family" although I suspect it's important not to go overboard in taking advantage of this. My point here is it sounds as if the financial advantages are somewhat uncertain compared to traditional housing choices, although apparently they do in fact exist.

My impression is that even though financial advantages do exist, they do not appear to be the primary reason for people choosing to become involved with this type housing. (This is the kind of thing I expect to confirm or at least find out additional perspectives on when I am able to interview people involved with cohousing.)

Once again, in a parallel to the co-living operations, the primary benefit for cohousing appears to be one of the social kind; the benefit of living in what is referred to as an "intentional community." I think most of us are familiar with the sad story of people being terribly lonely even though they are in fact surrounded by thousands and even millions of other individuals. With our traditional housing formats, we tend to live in little islands, sometimes only yards away from others but in effect virtually disconnected from everyone except those in our immediate environment. The cohousing movement is attempting to offer an alternative to this, and it sounds, according to those who have been involved as if it is quite successful.

Given all of that, it might seem somewhat surprising to realize that the percentage of people in this country actually living in this type of situation is so miniscule. Obviously it isn't the kind of thing that would be for everybody, but I am somewhat surprised that the numbers and especially the percentages are so small. Finding more out about this will be my starting point for my efforts as The Roommate Coach to become involved in and hopefully help this kind of housing alternative become more widely understood and perhaps more popular.

This is a type of shared housing that has also been going on for quite some time and in recent years has become especially popular in places like France. I initially read about a very successful agency in France that brings younger people together with older people, usually homeowners, who want someone to live in their home, usually providing some kind of assistance in return for reduced or free rent.

I have since come to realize that many, perhaps most, cities of any size in this country usually have a similar kind of service available; many appear to be run by city or county governments. This is another type of operation that I intend to research more thoroughly, including interviews when possible, to get considerably more information about the operations. I get the impression that many of the agencies involved in this type of shared housing are emphasizing the seniors and in some cases the cost savings involved. The financial aspect for both parties appears to be emphasized more in this type of shared housing than in the others discussed earlier.

On the surface, it seems like almost an ideal situation for everybody involved: the senior citizen, in return for allowing someone to live in their house, would get the security, companionship, and at least in some cases some assistance from a younger person. The younger person would benefit from a place to live; since in many cases it would be in a home rather than in an apartment, chances are it would be a more comfortable place than many young people would be able to afford on their own.

Once again, however, this type of arrangement is only as good as the integrity and consideration and overall quality of the interaction between the parties involved. When you consider the age difference, the possibility of a younger and presumably stronger person being able to take advantage of an older person, unfortunately it seems that there are quite a few ways in which this kind of thing could go wrong. From what I have read, it appears the agencies that bring these people together in the first place put quite a bit of emphasis on background checking, testing for compatibility, and providing assistance after the fact to help make things work. I imagine the agencies are also available to deal with situations that just don't work by helping find new matches, for example.