Aimee Ho – Co-Dwell Concept Expands Shared-Living Solutions and Affordable Housing

January 21, 2019

The enormous gap between minimum wages and the soaring costs of housing throughout the United States is shockingly dangerous for low-income renters forced into unstable situations. Consider this: A recent report from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition concludes that there is not a single U.S. state where the minimum wage can adequately finance the cost of living in that area.

There are many hurdles in making affordable housing developments pencil, so our R+D Studio at KTGY Architecture + Planning decided to explore how building design and cultural trends could create housing more people could afford. What we found is that a new approach for attainable housing called co-dwelling that takes ideas from cohousing in Europe can address the affordable housing crisis.

Distinct from recent co-living enterprises which organize micro-units around larger communal areas, primarily targeting single millennials, co-dwelling creates smaller shared kitchens and living areas for suites of up to four bedrooms, plus larger communal spaces for the entire building, expanding the set of users to families and multiple generations.Here you can see the difference between a co-dwelling and a typical co-living space

The first modern co-living community was built in Denmark in the 1960s to establish community cooperation in daily household operations. Co-living projects since have explored environmental sustainability, social connectedness, senior living, co-parenting, and much more. Although co-living models are still relatively experimental and have yet to popularly consider the needs of low-income communities, the principles of and resources provided by co-living have a lot to offer low-income households.

The design concept for co-dwelling centers on a common kitchen and living room, emphasizing a balance between private and shared space. Open stairways and interior facing walkways promote social interaction with neighbors while instilling a sense of security. Shared responsibilities, such as cooking and cleaning, as well as shared spaces, such as a social laundry room and ground-floor studio, provide residents with plenty of opportunities to build community, skills and meaningful connections.

Co-Dwell aims to connect not only its residents with each other but also with the surrounding community. Co-Dwell aims to connect not only its residents with each other but also with the surrounding community in ways similar to what we’ve seen in an interesting cohousing community in Oakland. Swan’s Market is a historic building in Downtown Oakland that includes a market place with restaurants, retail stores, offices, and a public courtyard, with the cohousing units located around and on top of the marketplace. The project includes affordable rental apartments, as well as for sale condominiums. The mixed-use aspect of Swan’s Market brings in the surrounding community into the co-living project and encourages resident and community interaction.

For Co-Dwell, flexible amenity spaces on the first floor are open for neighborhood use and can be programmed for many purposes – such as a studio for art classes – and subsequently converted to other uses.

Furthermore, the concept would ideally be close to public transportation, reducing resident transportation expenditures and the need for onsite parking and connecting people to more employment opportunities, better education, goods and services, cultural activities, and entertainment.

And co-housing communities are about more than economics. Over time, our communities have become increasingly segmented. Even in dense metropolitan areas, social media, dependence on personal vehicles, and the postponing of marriage and household creation has led to a culture of isolation.

In 1950, 43% of American households were nuclear families, with a husband, wife, and their children. Today, single-parent families, blended families, multigenerational families, groups of adults, and divorced or widowed adults are challenging the ideas of typical habitation and leading residential design toward increased flexibility and adaptability. By incorporating a mechanism for segmenting units to adapt to the wide variety of household compositions, spaces are used more efficiently, and renters can minimize their rental expenses. The co-dwell concept attempts to use design as a tool to support community interaction, while also providing an affordable housing option.