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Q&A - what is community living?

In recent years, there's been a trend for alternative renting options such as Build to Rent and co-living, particularly among millennials in big city centres. But Marcus Hawley, managing director of Blackswan Property, believes that community living will be the new way forward. 

Here, he explains what it is, why it's different from co-living and why it represents a good opportunity for investors.

The interview was carried out before the coronavirus pandemic took hold, and social distancing measures had been put in place, so elements of the community living approach - for example high levels of social interaction - are likely now to have been tinkered with and changed.

Tell us more about Community Living. What do you mean by it?

We believe Community Living is an innovative model of residential accommodation that has become an international movement which aims to find answers to the global housing crisis.

It brings community life to the forefront and is designed to combat the affordability and loneliness problems that face many people in major cities all over the world.

You've described Community Living as a cross between student accommodation and PRS, with people having their own areas as well as on-site amenities and social areas. How does that differ from Build to Rent, co-living or serviced apartments?

The primary difference is the community aspect. Community Living is designed to maximise social interaction and engagement.

We do, of course, understand the Build to Rent model well, as we have a number of BTR schemes in the pipeline, including Hockley Mills, but the primary focus there is the apartments themselves.

Bradford Works, for example, will not only have quality, well-designed communal areas, but will also contain a unique communal makerspace, available for all residents. Being based in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, our makerspace will be geared towards jewellery making and designed to provide amateur jewellers and other creatives a dedicated workshop-type space for hands-on creativity and collaboration.

Is Community Living only aimed at uni-leavers? Or is it broader than that?

It is far broader than that, we anticipate a wide range of people would want to live in Community Living schemes. Our research shows that university leavers would be just one interested group, others would include people who have recently relocated to the area, newly separated individuals and people on short fixed-term work contracts.

Are the homes at Bradford Works for sale or to rent (or both)? And are they affordable?

The homes would be available to rent on flexible contracts at genuinely affordable levels. We have worked very hard to ensure that Bradford Works will provide high-quality, centrally located accommodation, at a cost that will be lower than typical for private renting.

Our research shows that many young professionals would struggle to afford a one-bedroom apartment and Bradford Works would be a credible alternative. It is worth noting that Bradford Works rents will be all-inclusive of utilities, WiFi, cleaning and other services.

You say this is the first CL development in Birmingham. Do you know if it's the first of its kind anywhere?

We believe this version of Community Living doesn’t exist elsewhere. Co-living schemes are starting to pop up in most major cities, but they tend to be either much larger 300+ unit schemes or micro schemes, which are essentially spruced up HMOs.

Our emphasis is on people. This includes the development’s own residents, of course, but we also want to forge links with the wider community, e.g. local universities and local businesses.

Do you have plans to extend the model beyond Birmingham?

We are viewing Bradford Works as a pilot and if successful we plan to roll it out to further sites in Birmingham first and then we will look to other areas that would benefit from a similar Community Living scheme.

Are there any opportunities for investors when it comes to Community Living? 

The lot size of Community Living schemes opens the market up to medium and small/medium-sized investors giving solid, managed returns. Lot sizes can vary from £3-7 million with an asset management agreement, delivering a guaranteed minimum return.

Co-living - another attempt to tackle urban loneliness - hasn't really taken off in the UK and has been criticised for its cramped rooms and poor affordability. What makes CL different? 

We have put community and affordability at the heart of the Community Living model and we have done extensive research to understand what that really means in Birmingham.

The building has been designed with social interaction in mind and is of a size that isn’t so large that it becomes impersonal and we have tailored the building and its service offering to ensure our inclusive rents will be truly affordable for its residents.

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