The housing crisis is edging an entire generation out of the most expensive cities on the planet. But what if you could still live in those cities, moving between them like a digital-age vagabond, sharing well-appointed apartments for short stints with likeminded globetrotters? That’s the promise of a new co-living startup called Roam. Founded last year, Roam markets itself as a “distributed network of communal living spaces” with locations all over the world. You pay $US500 ($668) per week or $US1800 ($2403) per month (plus tax) to stay at any of Roam’s facilities — usually converted hotels — where you get a private room with your own bathroom, shared kitchens and living spaces, amenities like Wi-Fi and laundry and, in some places, pools and media rooms.
Right now, there are only locations open in Miami and Ubud, on the island of Bali in Indonesia. But spaces in Miami, Buenos Aires and London will open this year. Roam just announced it’s got $US3.3 million ($4.4 million) in funding, with a slew of angel investors that include SoundCloud founder Eric Wahlforss.
The idea is that instead of putting down roots for a property that you probably can’t afford anyway, you remain untethered, wandering wherever your heart desires. “Roam is creating a way for people to live according to their interests and curiosities, rather than around the traditional 30-year fixed rate mortgage,” said Roam’s co-founder Bruno Haid, in a statement.
The co-working facility in Ubud
The promise to “live internationally” is probably the most intriguing feature of Roam, and one that will likely appeal to people who want an easy, plug-and-play way to travel. But what makes this any different from one of the “cool” hostels one might find in any city?
The network, I suppose. With Roam’s startup-y vibes, it’s likely that Roamers (are they called that?) will meet others with shared values and stay connected after they go. If you buy into the lip service, Roam sounds less like an Airbnb you booked without noticing you’d have to split the place with four strangers and more like a community-focused Soho House, the private and much pricier club with locations all over the world.
But Roam is being sold as a co-living experience. Is that really a good way to live? Will there really be people who will pay $2403 per month in perpetuity for shared, temporary digs? (Assuming that $2403 can get you a decent apartment in most cities.) Perhaps we’re about to see an emerging breed of young professionals that work remotely and don’t have kids (children are not allowed at Roam), who might feasibly ditch their lease to live exclusively in these types of arrangements, bouncing between Miami and Madrid with a laptop and a single suitcase.
The troubling thing about Roam’s funding announcement is that it proves how co-living spaces have become a hot startup investment. The co-working behemoth WeWork has opened WeLive locations in New York and DC after raising an astounding $US433 million ($578 million), and the co-living startup Common just got $US7.5 million ($10 million) to bring its concepts to different parts of Brooklyn. I am not saying the demand isn’t there for these types of alternative living arrangements. But with this funding, Silicon Valley is basically banking on the fact that cities will become unattainably expensive in the near future.
Without some young professionals putting down roots and investing in their local communities, what has historically been the most energetic group of city-builders will become a lost generation of nomads flitting from one shared kitchen to another all over the planet. That’s about as dystopian as it gets.
Top: Co-living in Bali. All images: Roam