During the early 1900s, utopias popped up around the U.S., consisting of communal houses where expressing emotions and the idea of inclusivity were often practiced through community building. Seventy years later, the hippies did the same thing: they ran to the countryside and into communal living to escape prejudices and the Vietnam War. All communicated and focused on the health of their minds, bodies and souls. Forty years later, we still find ourselves in a world where connection, mental support and living an affordable yet comfortable life is the dream — making communal housing an attractive option.
Communal living is when groups of people come together in living spaces where utilities and bills are equally financed among the household, creating a more affordable living space. Both historic and present day examples of shared housing communities highlight the societal and economical benefits of group living, as it combats mental health problems and eases the financial situation our generation will face in the coming years.
Mental health issues have been an outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a new society of deep isolation. In a 2020 survey by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, one-third of Americans described themselves as “seriously lonely.” The counterforce to this isolation was pod living. Quickly increasing in popularity, 33 percent of Americans live with friends, families and even coworkers to stay connected during challenging times. Pod living differs from communal living as it does not split finances; yet it yields the same emotional benefits. According to the World Economic Forum, people found that living in pods during COVID-19 helped with general anxiety and loneliness. A sense of community as well as a support system was often gained with sharing the company of others. This same idea is believed for co-living residents.
Additionally, co-housing has a big effect on people’s health and well-being, as shown by a report done by Bio Medical Center (BMC) that concluded, “22 studies analyzed one or more psychosocial determinants of health such as social support, sense of community and physical, emotional and economic security and most found a positive association (88 percent).” The report came to a census that general happiness and health would improve within co-living communities.
On top of the emotional benefits of communal living, there is an economic incentive. The future of Gen Z, especially Marin residents, is going to depend on communal living economically as the cost of living is on the rise. In the U.S., everyday expenses are measured on an overall index that takes into account groceries, housing and medical expenses in relation to a certain county or city. The national average index is an overall scale to 100; Marin County is at 229.5. This suggests that Gen Z will likely not be able to afford the costs of living in Marin after high school or college the way their guardians currently do without looking for alternative options to maintain their life in Marin, like communal living.
In addition to the already high cost of living in Marin, the market price for housing in Marin County has been steadily increasing as well. According to the Marin County Real Estate Report, the house market has raised an overall 47 percent from last year and is projected to keep increasing. Since co-housing calls for utilities, groceries and rent to be evenly distributed, it decreases the price of living per person. This estimated continuous rise means living alone in Marin, and other similar areas, will not be affordable or achievable without communal living.
However, communal living is not socially normalized. Nuclear families (guardians and their children) are often what people visualize in their future. Some may argue that nuclear families need to be in private family spheres, with 69 percent of American families living in a single household. It has been the social norm for years that families live in single households, so having a private space to raise families often defers people from the idea of communal living.
Although, this does not mean that having a private and nuclear family is not attainable within communal living. For example, take the Durett family, Katie and Charles, who were interviewed in a Curbed article regarding their living situation. They raised their daughter in two different communal homes throughout the United States, countering the idea that having a nuclear family is unattainable in co-living. Within their family, they share “a belief in the value of intergenerational interdependence.” Within their co-living communities, they share common spaces and find a value in being with others in the community. Community living allows the Duretts to focus on each other rather than having the typical financial worries a typical family might have, allowing the Duretts to have a stronger closer family with their daughter and prompting more one on one family time because of this economic ease. The Durrett family is one example of dismantling the notion that nuclear families are not able to be part of the communal living lifestyle.
Many communities will benefit from communal living as it provides resources, affordable living and a place for support. The world has lived more than a year in a pandemic where personal connection is limited and many continue to struggle economically. Communal living allows a solution to both and proves necessary for our own and future generations. The question is whether or not people are willing to give into communal living and accept the new normal.