Cole Kennedy moved to New York a year ago. He was twenty-three and had recently graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in English. He applied for copywriting jobs all over, and assumed that he’d end up in the Midwest. “Moving to New York seemed cool, but it was, like, a thing that happens to other people,” he told me. Then his lottery ticket arrived: a paid internship at Foursquare, the search-and-discovery app, which is based in Manhattan.
First stop: Craigslist, for a place to live. Kennedy was unfamiliar with the city’s neighborhoods, but he’d seen HBO’s “Girls,” and, he said, “I pretty much knew I was going to be in Brooklyn.” He checked out one-bedroom apartments in Williamsburg, where the average monthly rent is around three thousand dollars. Nope. He eventually landed in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where a guy named Patrick was subletting a room in his two-bedroom apartment for a thousand and fifty dollars a month.
The annals of Craigslist are filled with roommate horror stories: the scammer, the party animal, the creep. But Patrick turned out to be an easygoing twenty-nine-year-old photographer from South Carolina. Kennedy liked him immediately, even though the two-bedroom apartment turned out to be a one-room loft. Patrick slept upstairs. Kennedy’s room was a former closet. Still, he was excited. His job was great. He was in New York.
But what to do when work ended? He loved Jane Jacobs’s evocations of Greenwich Village, with its friendly shop owners and its “ballet” of the city streets. But, he said, “I’d end up going to a bar and just sitting there, talking to a bartender and staring at Twitter.” A thought surfaced: I’m surrounded by people and things to do, and yet I’m so fucking bored and lonely.
All of this seemed very far away on a Sunday night this winter, in the basement of a renovated four-story brownstone in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. The building, Kennedy’s new home, is run by the co-living startup Common, which offers what it calls “flexible, community-driven housing.” Co-living has also been billed as “dorms for grown-ups,” a description that Common resists. But the company has set out to restore a certain subset of young, urban professionals to the paradise they lost when they left college campuses—a furnished place to live, unlimited coffee and toilet paper, a sense of belonging.
Common has three locations in Brooklyn: the brownstone in Crown Heights, on Pacific Street—which, when it opened, received more than a thousand applications for eighteen rooms—a second, smaller brownstone in the neighborhood, and a fifty-one-bedroom complex in Williamsburg, which opens this week. Instead of signing a lease, residents sign up for a “membership.” On average, they pay eighteen hundred dollars a month for a furnished bedroom and common areas. The company solves what it calls “the tragedy of the commons”—waiting for the cable guy and hiring housecleaners. There’s a chat room on Slack, where members can plan activities, and a “house leader,” who functions a bit like a college R.A.
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