Not Exactly What You Think of When You Hear ‘Millennial Commune’

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When I came across this article with the headline “The Millennial Commune,” I expected to read a story about young, broke millennials getting together in large houses or apartments to save on living costs and find like-minded individuals.

Instead, the Times story is about people with deep pockets willing to pay “$1,600 to $4,000 a month for a room in an apartment to be shared with others who, theoretically, have a similar worldview.” WHAT.

Here’s a description of Pure House, one of the co-living spaces:

Prospective residents answer probing questions like “What are your passions?” and “Tell us your story (Excite us!).” If accepted, tenants live in what the company’s promotional materials describe as a “highly curated community of like-minded individuals.” In other words, they rent a room in an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but with opportunities for social and spiritual growth, like dinner parties and meditation sessions.

Pure House is among a handful of businesses that are renting rooms at a premium in exchange for access to amenities, a dormlike atmosphere and an instant community. For a certain set of New Yorkers, often new arrivals to the city with an income but no rental history, Pure House offers something of a reprieve. No credit check. No draconian rules about earning 40 times the monthly rent. No 12-month lease.

Okay, but, it seems to me that the people who really need this kind of reprieve don’t have $4,000 to drop on a room in an apartment (or a “lifestyle” or whatever this is being marketed as). I tried to look at Pure House’s website for additional information and found it utterly baffling (lots of photos of people gazing into sunsets?).

This is supposedly a story about the sharing economy—share a living space and do activities with like-minded people for a certain price—but the majority of the people interviewed in the story work in the tech industry, or are entrepreneurs with money (i.e. “Ms. Morris, 29, a Harvard graduate, rented the apartment in January with two other entrepreneurs to create a household that could double as a place to build a brand”). It’s a commune for start-up kids with money, or bros (i.e., this part that describes how tenants are chosen for a downtown loft: “Prospective tenants are subjected to several lengthy interviews with Mr. Gerstley and the residents, who collectively agree on their next housemate. Usually, the process involves a fair amount of alcohol and a visit to a favored Loft haunt, Fresh Salt, a Beekman Street bar).

There are plenty of people who disapprove of this whole thing:

Critics, however, say the co-living business model could ultimately drive up housing costs, since many of the companies sublease units and charge a premium on the rent.

And in some cases, the arrangements could violate city and state housing laws. For example, it is potentially illegal for a tenant of an apartment or a house to have more than two roommates who are not family members. And to limit single-room occupancy hotels, city law prohibits landlords from renting out individual rooms in apartments.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before the courts recognize them as effectively landlords who are running S.R.O.’s,” said David E. Frazer, a Manhattan lawyer who represents tenants.

Some of these co-living spaces have already failed to succeed, but amenity-filled luxury buildings have always existed and will continue to exist for those with money to burn—this is just that, really, by another name. And the vast majority of us will continue to search the dark depths of Craigslist for our “co-living” needs.

Photo: Clarence

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