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NYC residents move to Philly during the pandemic and co-living becomes more popular

Common, the largest owner of co-living units in the city, said it would open up 400 more units this spring as demand grew for shared housing during the pandemic.

The Common at Frankford.
The Common at Frankford.Read moreCourtesy of Phoebe Dinner / Courtesy of Phoebe Dinner

At the worst of the coronavirus pandemic last year, New York City residents flocked to Philadelphia, suddenly unencumbered by the pressure to live near work when work was now at home.

Many were attracted by housing prices that were a fraction of those in New York City. Leasing offices at the apartment management company Common Living said it got more than 5,000 rental inquiries over three months for one of its buildings, the Common Civic, a hospital-turned-apartment-building that opened in Fairmount a month before the coronavirus pandemic hit the city last year.

Unlike a more typical move-in, the Common Civic, built in what was formerly St. Joseph’s Hospital, operated differently: Tenants, most of whom were in their 20s, could choose to rent a single high-end room in an 800- to 1,240-square-foot unit instead of an entire apartment, and they could pack minimally because the apartments came furnished. Costs for utilities, weekly cleanings, and such items as detergent and towels were folded into the rent, which hovered between $900 and $1,100. Residents who had to move could go from one Common apartment building to another without breaking their lease.

The arrangement, called co-living, was popular, even as public health officials urged social distancing.

In recent years, co-living — a broad term that encompasses housing set-ups that range from roommates in a West Philly rowhouse to adult dorms to high-end communal apartment living — has gained the attention of housing companies. They have built shared living spaces with the intention of encouraging residents to be neighborly, while at the same time achieving a mission to deliver affordable housing in cities with rising real estate costs.

At co-living buildings that include the Common Civic, developers included a number of spaces to bring its residents together such as a golf simulator, game room, and roof deck.

Over three months, Common, which manages nearly 5,500 housing units in 10 U.S. cities, said it set up 282 virtual tours for the Common Civic. The building was about 96% full at its peak last summer, the company said, which was several percentage points higher than occupancy at large in the general North Philadelphia market. It tipped Common’s confidence toward opening more places to live at its other buildings.

“With the influx of new renters in the Philadelphia area, we expect to see a combination of renters that are new to Philly and locals starting to live at Common buildings,” said Amalia Paliobeis, senior managing director of real estate at Common.

This spring, Common said, it plans to open 396 more units — all already built — at three of its buildings in Philadelphia: the Common Frankford in Fishtown, Lincoln Square by Common in Southwest Center City, and Common at Broadridge in Fairmount. They range from co-living spaces to standard apartments, where tenants bring their own furniture and set up utilities. The Common Frankford, across the street from the Fillmore concert hall, plans to lease 15 traditional units and 54 co-living units.

Lincoln Square will offer 36 co-living units, and the Common at Broadridge will have 42 traditional studios and 249 co-living units, Paliobeis said. All co-living residents will have two roommates.

“Obviously, there’s some risks we see associated with COVID,” said Paul Horos, principal at Elk Street Management, which developed Common Frankford. “Short-term risks. Perhaps some tenants are less willing to live with others and prefer to isolate and distance themselves a little bit more. There’s been a ton of isolation over the past year.”

In the last several years, the popularity of co-living has surged among people mostly aged 25 to 35 as it became an attainable alternative to traditional apartments, according to the commercial real estate firm CBRE. Co-living buildings often offered more flexible solutions compared with standard apartment leases, in addition to luxury amenities. Plus, many co-living buildings touted a softer side: community. The apartments, they said, were designed to foster relationships and collaboration.

For developers and owners, constructing or managing co-living buildings often lets them meet lender affordability mandates, in which lenders aimed to finance residential buildings that were affordable to people at or below the median income.

In Philadelphia, tenants have already moved into Common Frankford and Lincoln Square, Paliobeis said.

Co-living at Common Frankford starts at $895 and at $1,164 at Lincoln Square, she said. Pricing at Common at Broadridge has not been announced.