Charlie MacGregor, CEO and Founder of The Student Hotel, was one of the speakers at the inaugural Global Summit of the Class of 2020 in New York on 17 September. Entitled ‘The Future is Blended,’ the event brought together for the first time the leading co-living and student accommodation brands in Europe and the U.S. to debate how the urban living and residential investment revolutions are converging at accelerating speed.
Affordable housing is an issue for every gateway market in the US and across the globe, said Susan Tjarksen, Managing Director, Cushman and Wakefield, co-author of a recent benchmark research report on the coliving sector: “Is 2019 Coliving’s Moment?” Coliving models are more space-efficient than regular apartments and allow more people to live in urban centers where they need and want to be. A growing number of people want to be able to rent accommodation that doesn’t consume 50% of their pre-tax income and it is becoming more socially acceptable for younger generations to rent. In fact, rent as a lifestyle choice is here to stay, she predicted. “Coliving addresses that need and is on the way up. It is a vast growing market niche in real estate that has already started to garner institutional support.”
A growing group of people is being left behind in the traditional housing market where prices for owner-occupier homes have soared and rental increases are outpacing wage growth by double digits in many U.S. cities, but also in Canada and Europe. Average income earners in the U.S. would be pushed to pay $1,600-$1,800 a month to rent a new luxury studio, but a rent of $1,100 a month for a coliving product that offers a smaller personal space, but bigger and more communal facilities, is an attractive alternative at a time that rental burdens are increasing and young people are delaying marriage.
In the US alone, about 78 million young people belong to Generation Z – those aged between 13 and 23 – and they are becoming a bigger cohort than the millennials that go before them. More than any other generation, Gen Z will be able to demand housing that meets their needs and that will result in a major shift in how residential property will be built in the next 20 years.
The rise of coliving models with shared facilities such as recreational rooms is not only driven by demographic and macro-economic shifts, but also by shifts in value systems and a growing awareness of the need for human connection, said Reza Merchant, Founder & CEO of The Collective. “The problems we’re solving are a global condition. Cities around the world can be isolating places. This will only worsen, and that’s a key motivator for us. At The Collective, we are not focused on any type of person or specific demographic, but on a certain mindset. Our members are between the ages of 18 and 65.”
Even established multifamily and student housing operators like Greystar are blending their business models. “We are watching what everybody else is doing in terms of work, live and play and where it converges and are looking at how we can adapt that in our models,” said Stephanie Furhman, Managing Director Global Innovation at Greystar. The company is looking at how it can combine purpose-built housing with flexibility and is aiming to offer all possibilities of the spectrum from hotels to purpose-built rental homes and serviced apartment in the same building or the same block. “It’s really about flexibility and being able to accommodate people who are globally minded and locally rooted.”
Other traditional players are also catching on that the future is blended, noted Brad Hargreaves, Founder & CEO Common. Lenders such as Fannie Mae and Fanny Mac are starting to understand that a mix of coliving and multifamily is becoming the new normal and are warming up to these new concepts, he added. “It’s partly us, getting smarter about how to present what we want to develop, and partly about making an institutional product that appeals to the lending market while getting the same returns.”
The core tenants of The Student Hotel are students, but its hybrid model and smart room design allows it to serve travelers and young professionals as well so the company’s cashflow is not based on a single group. “It’s a pretty simple concept,” said TSH CEO and Founder Charlie MacGregor, “and the new generation really understand it. We are a developer/owner/operator and now asset-heavy operational exposure is the flavour of the month. But back in 2003 when I first started there was no private equity company or anybody else who wanted to work with me.” The Student Hotel currently has 25 locations and 10,000 rooms operational and under development in Europe. Other real estate sectors fluctuate in line with economic cycles, but demand for good quality homes and places to live will only increase in the long term, added Reza Merchant, CEO and Founder of The Collective.
One of the key concerns of regulators in relation to traditional zoning rules is making sure coliving operators create safe, high-quality spaces, according to JaclynSachs Director of Strategy & Operations at the Office of Neighborhood Strategies at the NYC (New York City) Department of Housing Preservation & Development. She said that the market has shown it is capable of creating high-quality models and her department is now interested in exploring new initiatives, also for senior living, and engaging with partners to see how coliving can interact with the department’s own role. “We are also looking at other cities for ideas and keeping tabs on what they are doing,” she noted.
Three years from now, the real estate industry will have embraced coliving, predicted Charlie MacGregor, CEO and Founder of The Student Hotel. “Blended living is definitely here to stay and it’s already taking great leaps and bounds but seeing is believing. It’s not rocket science but once you’ve seen it, it makes sense.” Reza Merchant, Founder & CEO of The Collective, said he believes the sector will evolve and develop “a truly intergenerational offering that blends public and private space, bringing together human beings of all ages to live in a communal and connected way.”
This is the century of cities and cities will account for 70% of the world’s population by 2050. Frank Uffen, co-founder The Class of 2020 and Director of Partnerships at The Student Hotel pointed out that university cities are magnets for talent and there is a very close relationship between universities, people and accommodation. The Class of 2020 was set up in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis a decade ago, when it became clear that old models weren’t meeting the needs of new and growing groups of students against the background of increased international mobility. As the student accommodation and coliving industry evolves, Uffen predicted that The Class of 2020 would continue to play a key role as an independent think tank, in supporting cities to attract and retain talent with the right housing propositions and by helping remove barriers to entry with research and through facilitating broad industry discussions.