Communal living rooms and a “disco laundrette”: Is shared living really the future of affordable housing?

The planned Stratford Collective tower. Image: PLP Architecture/The Collective.

A headline on design website Dezeen last week announced that an architecture firm had unveiled plans for a new "genuinely affordable" residential tower in london. (Scare quotes Dezeen's. And ours too, to be honest.)

Obviously, we were sceptical. But the plans were, at least, very different from what "new residential tower in London" tends to mean – we've come to expect "a luxury mix of one and two bed flats, sold for massively inflated prices to overseas clients" rather than anything remotely affordable.

But the Stratford Collective tower, planned for Stratford High Street by PLP Architecture and property company The Collective, would house 223 shared living apartments, with communal kitchens, bathrooms and living spaces, plus a further 214 standard apartments.

The building would be managed centrally, and offer a new kind of private renting: what the designers are calling "shared living". Even the private apartments would have access to all the amenities offered in the block as a whole. 

Designer and TV presenter Naomi Cleaver recently predicted that shared accomodation was the future of adult living in cities. Rather improbably, she described this new mode as “between student accommodation and a hotel". This is a bit less nuts when you consider that some people now opt to live in cheaper hotels to escape expensive rents, but still, neither hotels or student accomodation are famed for their cheapness. 

So how "affordable" will the new tower actually be? The Stratford Collective is described as appealing to the “creative set”, and will include a stage, drawing room, exhibition space, gams room, library, spa (deep breath), “disco laundrette”* and gym. "Regular linen changes" will be offered as a standard service across all rooms. Even the “shared” apartments will have one bathroom per room, and share a kitchenette between two. Hardly a boarding house. 

None of this reeks of a developer keen to produce the most cost-effective accomodation possible for those hardest hit in the housing crisis. According to planning documents, “a proportion of the units will be made available at a discounted rent and offered to Newnham residents first", but that doesn't mean that rents in the tower as a whole will be particularly low. 

I asked The Collective for pricing information, and was told:

We haven’t finalised the pricing here, but prices will be substantially more affordable than a studio flat, much closer to the price of a room in a house-share, but genuinely affordable to young professional people on average incomes. 

Strikingly, the flats don’t claim to be substantially cheaper than a room in a house share, instead positioning themselves as an alternative to a studio flat. It looks like they’ll be an option for well-settled professionals looking for an alternative to living alone. It's not much of a solution for any of the key groups affected by the housing crisis (young families, and those on starting salaries without parental support).

The tower is still in planning stages and is open to consultation now, but the initial details imply that the flats will be “affordable” for some, but not most. Another one bites the dust. 


* From what we can tell, this is a laundrette which also plays music. We found one in Hamburg known as the Wasch-Bar, which "spins records as well as clothes". Shudder.


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