Despite prices for many studio apartments in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida, topping $1,200 a month, Jillian Warwick was able to snag a place just two miles from the downtown core for half that cost.
She pays $600 a month for her new home. Her rent includes utilities — like electricity, water and gas — plus high-speed internet, use of a printer and a bimonthly cleaning service. Household supplies like paper towels and toilet paper are free, and there is complimentary coffee.
When Warwick needs to wash clothes, she doesn’t have to scramble for quarters. On-site laundry is also part of the package deal.
The catch? It’s a coliving space that she shares with seven strangers.
Coliving: Coming to a (Small) City Near You
Coliving, or communal living, is when you live with multiple, unrelated people. Your bedroom — and perhaps your bathroom — are private, but you share common areas like the kitchen, dining and living rooms.
It’s not a new concept. From ancient civilizations and tribal societies to 19th-century boarding houses and free-loving hippie communes, communal living has stood the test of time. This recent iteration of coliving, however, generally focuses on providing affordable opportunities for millennials and digital nomads to live close to urban areas while establishing a shared connection to others in their communities.
While coliving is more popular in large metropolitan areas like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C., it’s spreading to smaller cities as well, like St. Petersburg.
Docked Living is a new coliving company in the city. Property managers opened Docked at Harbordale — the eight-bedroom, eight-bathroom home where Warwick lives — at the beginning of June. A second coliving house, about three miles from the first, is currently under renovation.
“[St. Petersburg is] becoming really, really expensive to live close to downtown,” said Kate Berlin, a managing partner for Docked Living.
In response, rooms at Docked at Harbordale range from $550 to $750, depending on size, which varies. The bedrooms — which each include a private ensuite bathroom — are comparable to the size of a hotel room, Berlin said. The home is only a five-minute drive or a 15-minute bike ride to downtown.
The coliving house is designed to be somewhat transitional in nature. Housemates sign a six-month minimum lease, but they can leave with a 30-day notice and no penalty. The rooms are furnished so no one has to haul couches or mattresses when they move in or out.
The 3,050-square-foot home was a single-family residence that was gutted and completely renovated to accommodate eight coliving spaces. There’s a small living room (which has its own half bathroom), a coffee bar/workspace area and a kitchen that includes eight separate minifridges and pantry cabinets along with a regular-sized refrigerator, stove, microwave and storage space that are shared among all the roommates.
The backyard includes an outdoor kitchen with a dining area and a lounge space with a fire pit and hammock. The laundry is accessible from the back yard as well as three “tiny house” efficiency apartments, which offer rooms for renters who don’t want to be connected to the main house or who have a pet or are renting as a couple or with a child.
Adjusting to Coliving Life
Warwick learned about the coliving space through Berlin, whom she knew through social circles. She needed to move soon, though she initially had some reservations about living with seven other people.
“I lived alone for a long time, I’m very introverted, and I thought: ‘Oh no, this is going to be like a ‘Real World’ situation.’ I’m not okay with that,” she laughed.
Warwick, 37, also had concerns about lifestyle clashes with younger housemates. But everything’s been fine the first two months in.
“I’ve been so happy here,” she said. “I’ve had no issues.”
Warwick trusted the property managers, who vet all the applicants, and she also trusted her gut. She said both are important for anyone considering coliving.
Cost was also a driving factor. Warwick did look at other properties, but they were more expensive and less appealing.
“I have a limited budget,” she said. “Moving out of where I was before, I wanted something that was basically the same investment monthly.”
That totalled about $950 a month for her half of rent, utilities, internet and other amenities at her last place.
“A huge part of [moving to the coliving house] was just being able to not pay multiple bills and budget ahead,” Warwick said. “Basically, you come in and all you have to really worry about on top of the rent cost is buying your food.”
As for the social aspect of the new living situation? Well, it’s far from the drama of MTV’s ‘The Real World.’
“Most the time, there are two of us at the most together, unless we decide to hang out,” Warwick said. “We love each other, but it’s actually lovely that we don’t have all of us going, like, in the kitchen at the same time.”
She said everyone’s on different schedules, and the housemates all seem to be respectful and courteous of one another. The property managers plan group activities from time to time, but there’s no expectation that everyone has to join in.
Still, Warwick said her favorite aspect of her new living situation has been the sense of community and support among her housemates. They’ve even managed to draw her out of her introverted shell a bit.
“They get me out of my comfort zone and that’s a big deal to me,” she said. “I have a new friend group that I didn’t even expect to have at all.”
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.