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I checked out WeWork's 'communal housing,' and now I'm considering a move

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer

I thought my college years were behind me. But I’m seriously reconsidering the dorm life since visiting Manhattan's first-ever location of communal living startup WeLive.

WeWork, the $16 billion company that’s disrupted office life, is trying to do the the same for your apartment in two locations so far: downtown Manhattan and Crystal City, Virginia.

Of course, the concept of communal housing isn’t novel. But WeLive aims to combine the best aspects of dorms, boutique hotels and apartments, and it charges up to $2,800 a month for this unique living situation. If you’ve ever stepped into a WeWork, there’s an inviting, modern, minimalist aesthetic that’s been infused into WeLive, too.

When I first heard about WeLive, the image in my mind was far from glamorous. I imagined tenants living on top of each other, fighting to use communal bathrooms and kitchens. But this isn’t your typical dorm situation: You have your own apartment but get access to a chef’s kitchen, yoga studio, conference room, laundry/arcade room, and neighbors who actually want to talk to you.

After seeing the space and all of these amenities, I must admit: I’ve had a change of heart. Most importantly, each apartment unit has its own bathroom and kitchen — so you can be by yourself whenever you want. This is a huge thing for me because I enjoy my alone time and need a break from people (who doesn't?). And they don’t check your credit or charge a broker’s fee.

The layouts in WeLive’s 400 units range from small studios to four-bedrooms, and all apartments come fully furnished. Per-tenant pricing begins at $1,375 but if you want a bit more privacy, you’ll have to dole out at least $2,000 per month. The most common setup is the “studio plus,” which comes with two beds (one is a Murphy hidden in the wall); these range from $2,500 to $2,800. A flat monthly utilities payment of $125 covers electric, water, cable, wifi and cleaning costs (yes, housekeeping is included).

When I visited WeLive, I spoke with 26-year-old entrepreneur Tiffany Tibbot who moved there in March and finds the community enriching and inspiring. Despite having lived alone for the past five years, she opted for a four-bedroom at WeLive in order to save money and meet new people. “The community building reminds me of college,” she said. “It’s like a safety net.”

Despite the many communal offerings, she says there’s no pressure to constantly mingle and network. “I can still be independent and in my room,” she said. “But if I want to experience the community, then I can engage freely at any time.”

There’s a laundry room with ping pong and pool tables, arcade games and beer on tap. Members do have to pay for laundry — $2 for a wash, $2 for a dry. And there’s an unmanned “honesty corner” with toiletries for sale. Members use their WeLive app to pick up a bottle of shampoo or a tube of toothpaste if they’re running low and are feeling too lazy to run to Walgreens (WBA). Essentially, WeLive wants to be your one-stop shop for anything you need.

“Our goal is to be on par with other things in this area but to offer a higher level of service,” says Miguel McKelvey, co-founder of WeWork.

You can rent out apartments for a few days, a month-to-month basis or commit to a year-long lease. So despite the suggestion that you’ll be a part of a larger community, you’ll be rubbing elbows with a fair share of transient travelers.

The WeWork phenomenon
Founded in 2010, WeWork started with the mission to disrupt the office space by renting out desks and full offices in hotspots around the world. This office 2.0 provides not only a place for freelancers, entrepreneurs and small businesses to set up shop but also tries to create a community by organizing events like rooftop parties, entrepreneur talks and powerpoint karaokes. There are 101 WeWorks in 29 cities, with 30 locations in New York alone.

Unlike other fledgling startups, WeWork is actually profitable. Although it doesn’t disclose financials, tech news site The Information obtained internal documents and found that WeWork had $75 million in revenue in 2014, with $4.2 million in profits.

The company raised its latest $430 million round of funding from Chinese investors and has been plotting aggressive expansion into Asia. WeWork plans to open three locations in Shanghai next month and will enter Hong Kong, Seoul and Sydney later this year.

With only two locations so far, it’s hard to consider WeLive a needle-mover in the larger context of WeWork’s business model. Regardless, McKelvey emphasizes that it’s not a side project and hopes the two will become more equal in the long run.  

“We’re deeply invested in WeLive because we know there’s something special that we’ve created. But from a business perspective, it’s hard to ignore the fact that WeWork is incredibly successful,” he says. “We have a machine that is incredibly efficient at developing those projects.”

In fact, the first six floors of WeLive’s Manhattan location, 110 Wall Street, are actually WeWork space, while floors seven through 27 are all WeLive apartment units.

When asked where the next WeLive location will be developed, McKelvey suggests he’s in no hurry because of the complicated nature of leasing an entire building (WeWork does not own any of its properties): “Nothing is specifically pending but we’re literally looking in all parts of the world.”

Operationally, it’s much easier to stay domestic, but he’s looking at Israel and major European cities like London that are going through a housing crunch, he says. “The opportunities are there but it takes just the right moment and the right building.”

Of course, WeLive could just end up being filled up with WeWorkers who want to sleep where they work and vice versa. It's certainly not for everyone, but it could potentially be the best of both worlds — having the convenience of community but only when you want it.

Would you live in a dorm for adults? Tell me in the comments or tweet me @melodyhahm.

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