Adapting a successful London co-living model for the culture and regulations of the U.S. market.
When people talk about urban innovation, it usually only takes a few minutes before micro-housing comes up.
The idea of tiny homes, transformable apartments, small multifunctional living spaces has many people equally intrigued and terrified. Urbanists and developers love it—more density, more dollars per square foot. But plenty of people hate the idea of living in tiny spaces, especially in the U.S. When this topic comes up at public meetings, the questions and comments usually sound something like this: “But like, where would I put all my stuff?” “People can’t live in a shoebox!” “My bathroom is bigger than this entire apartment!”
The idea may be controversial, but the fact is that microhousing is becoming more prevalent every year. Co-living and micro-housing developers and operators are building in major cities around the world, and competing for the best model and market leadership.
That’s where The Collective comes in. The Collective is a London-based developer and operator of large-scale co-living buildings—think 500-700 units per building, each unit between 150-400 SF. Residents each have one of these micro-units to themselves, fully furnished, with a kitchenette and private bath, and some hotel-style services (fresh linen changes, regular cleanings, etc.). The building also boasts huge, lavishly designed common spaces. There’s a massive lobby and co-working space with comfy chairs, communal kitchens with different themes on every floor, a laundry room that doubles as a lounge to meet and mingle with other residents, huge outdoor spaces, a library, a game room, a movie theater, a gym, and more.
The model works beautifully in London. The buildings are full and run a waitlist, and residents talk about loving the sense of community, the ability to make friends, the convenience of the all-inclusive lifestyle.
American cities with housing shortages could benefit from a model like this. The ability to house more people on valuable and rare land parcels is attractive, and so the idea of buildings like this come up in conceptual discussions at conferences all the time.
But actually making it work is a different story.
In 2016, my co-founder Michael Winston and I decided to reach out to The Collective, because we thought their model would be perfect for Boston. We cold-emailed the CEO, got a call scheduled, and pitched hard: I rattled off every statistic I knew about Boston’s economy, its young demographics, its receptive political landscape. We followed up the call with a tour of Boston, and began our partnership with The Collective soon thereafter.
Our work with their team was wide-ranging. We brokered and managed relationships with prospective development partners; we led a civic process to begin evaluating necessary zoning changes; we identified sites and design consultants. We also ran market-focused workshops, introducing this new residential type to an American audience and collecting feedback on how it would need to be evolved in order to make it successful here.
We also worked with The Collective’s leadership team to set up some standards and protocols to allow the London-based team to work more efficiently across timezones—better collaboration tools, meeting and call structures, presentation templates and more.
As the project moved on and the need for support in the U.S. grew, we also began to manage a larger consultant team to keep parallel workstreams moving simultaneously. This flexible staffing approach helped them bridge the gap before beginning to build out a more permanent U.S. team.
The relationship with The Collective was an integral one for the growth of our consultancy, and we were pleased to become quite close collaborators with their leadership team. In 2018, my partner and co-founder Michael decided to join The Collective as a full-time employee, continuing the work we had begun in his new role and continuing to accelerate their growth around the world.