In Stockholm, a Turn to Sharing Homes

STOCKHOLM — When Morgane Oléron and her partner parted ways after 11 years — and one or both had to leave their shared condo — one of the biggest logistical problems was finding a new place to live.

Despite being repeatedly crowned as one of the most livable cities in Europe, Stockholm has a challenging rental market, especially for people who want to rent for longer than a year at a time.

After a colleague nudged her, Ms. Oléron decided to move to K9, a former hotel shared by 50 professionals in the best part of Stockholm. The building takes its name from its street address.

“I didn’t know if I would be up to it, but it turned out to work really well,” Ms. Oléron, 32, said over lunch recently. Her roommates range in age from 21 to 54 and have included doctors, lawyers, professional dancers and teachers.

In a country where 52 percent of the households are inhabited by a person living alone (the highest rate in Europe), Ms. Oléron and her roommates are part of a new movement that experts say will change the way professionals live in Sweden and beyond.

One of the living rooms in the K9 house is used mainly as a co-working space.CreditLinus Sundahl-Djerf for The New York Times

Nestled between embassies and boutiques in the Ostermalm neighborhood of the Swedish capital, the house Ms. Oléron and her 49 roommates share is beautifully decorated and fully equipped. It features five kitchens, co-working rooms, a number of living and reading rooms, a meditation room and a shared dog.

“This is a solution for so many problems we have in our city,” Anna Konig Jerlmyr, the city’s new mayor, said about co-living.

The winding marble staircase and wooden cage elevator that lead to the first floor of the K9 house are a reminder of the building’s previous life.

Besides making for an opulent entry, many of the architectural features of the former hotel come in handy in the building’s new role. There are separate bathrooms in each of the 30 rooms, some of which are shared, while others have been split into sleeping pods. Each floor has a large, airy kitchen, and there are two staircases connecting the four floors and the home’s nearly 12,000 square feet of space.

The soul of the place is the common areas. They are plentiful enough that they can serve either as a venue for interactions between roommates or as places for some solitude.


A bedroom pod at K9.CreditLinus Sundahl-Djerf for The New York Times

But a big part of the appeal is in living in a large community. It’s easy to find someone to watch a movie with, even on a Monday night. And easy as well to find someone willing to lend that perfect sweater. The house actually has a sharing closet. Many residents say that in a big city where life can be lonely, they appreciate the support that can be found in an engaged and energetic community.

“People ask me about the dark winters in Sweden,” said Marica Leone, a 31-year-old epidemiologist originally from Italy who has lived at K9 for more than a year. “But I always have to tell them I don’t know much about the darkness of the winter — I work and I come home to this house.”

The rent ranges from about $650 for a bunk in a six-person room (the only one in the house) to about $1,600 for the most expensive room — prices that are steep compared with the official controlled rent of the city and roughly on par with many of the more expensive sublets, but the contracts are not limited to a year. The charge includes a service fee of about $215 that goes toward cleaning services and basic supplies like laundry detergent and sugar that are shared by the housemates.

Stockholm has been grappling with a housing shortage for decades, said Henrik Nerlund, the director of the Stockholm Beauty Council, a city entity that has input on city development. The current shortage can be traced to an exodus to the suburbs in the ’60s and ’70s and a city that stopped building for decades after that time. But the bigger problem is the national laws surrounding rent control.

“It’s the third rail of Swedish politics,” Mr. Nerlund said. “The topic comes up at every dinner conversation.”


Meditating in one of K9’s rooms.CreditLinus Sundahl-Djerf for The New York Times

Because rents are kept below market value, many who have original leases do not give them up and either leave apartments empty or sublet them — something that in most cases has a one-year time limit. The city introduced a waiting list in 1997 — a previous system had been around since 1947 — that now has over 650,000 names in a city of less than a million. That can mean a wait of three decades, depending on where one is looking to live.

“We need a new national housing reform,” Mayor Konig Jerlmyr said in a recent interview. “We need to have a conversation.”

One solution, fostered by the Swedish banks eager to lend, was to buy property entirely on credit and to repay the lending costs but not the actual loan.

But a recent tightening of the rules has once again put property out of the reach of many middle-class Stockholm residents, putting pressure, once again on the rental market.

The lack of accessible rental properties is costing the city up to $12 billion in gross regional product a year, according to a study by the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. It estimates that the housing market has discouraged up to 150,000 people from moving to the city since 1995.


Multiple refrigerators meet tenants’ needs and prevent unnecessary friction.CreditLinus Sundahl-Djerf for The New York Times

And although the city is busily building — in the Royal Seaport section of town, 12,000 new dwellings will be built by 2030 — the problem affects almost every facet of life, Mayor Konig Jerlmyr said.

That’s why so many are interested in the approach Ms. Oléron has taken.

Last year, Katarina Liljestam Beyer and Jonas Haggqvist founded Colive, a company that aims to promote house-sharing.

“We are going to make co-living a new way of living in Sweden,” said Ms. Liljestam Beyer, predicting that in a decade the company will have created tens of thousands co-living units. The company is opening its first project in May — an 11-person shared household in a beautiful attic apartment in the hip neighborhood of Sodermalm.

The place — for which the tenants were carefully selected from hundreds of applicants — will serve as a laboratory for bigger projects to come.

“We are quite humble about what we don’t know yet,” Mr. Haggqvist said. Still, the fundamentals are in place: an extensive co-living agreement signed by tenants before they move in, an online compatibility test to find a suitable mix of roommates and an outside company to take care of the cleaning.


Katarina Liljestam Beyer and Jonas Haggqvist of Colive, a company focused on house-sharing. Their first project, a shared home, opens in May.CreditLinus Sundahl-Djerf for The New York Times

“It’s important to outsource possible sources of friction,” Mr. Haggqvist said.

Ms. Liljestam Beyer and Mr. Haggqvist are in discussions with major real estate developers to build three projects, each housing up to 300 people in units of six to 10 roommates.

Colive just announced an investment that helped secure funding for things like optimizing its online platform and continuing work with behavioral scientists on how to create harmonious co-living situations.

In 2016, K9 was founded by a couple of tech entrepreneurs who had seen the concept of co-living in California. Initially there was a close link between the co-living space and the technology co-working scene, and the money the couple raised went into things like interior design and daily cleaning. But when the couple broke up and left the shared house in 2017, a core of residents stayed, renamed the house and worked out a sustainable self-governing structure.

“Communication is very important to us,” said Jhonathan Ceballos, a 29-year old management consultant who has lived in the K9 house for two-and-a-half years.

Much of the house business is conducted on Slack, a group chat platform.

On its 51 channels the housemates discuss subjects as varied as houseguests — a picture and the name of visitors are posted on a special channel — renovation requests and dog-sitting. One channel, “hold my hair,” is dedicated to people asking favors of their housemates.


The K9 home is nestled between embassies and boutiques in the Ostermalm neighborhood of the Swedish capital.CreditLinus Sundahl-Djerf for The New York Times

“It’s how we know what’s going on in the house,” said Mr. Ceballos, whose daily house duty is distributing the mail.

But daily duties at K9 do not include things like cleaning or maintenance. As is the case with the Colive project, these tasks have been outsourced — in the case of K9 because most of the residents are too busy, but also because cleaning is one of the main points of friction in shared households.

“I haven’t touched a vacuum cleaner in years,” Ms. Oléron said.

Across town, over a slice of homemade cardamom cake, there is much merriment over the idea that living together is anything new.

Kerstin Karnekull, 76; Mette Kjorstad, 69; and Torsten Kindstrom, 71, share a house with 54 other people, ages 54 to 94. Each member of the trio has lived there for decades.

The house, known as Fardknappen, has been around since 1993, in a concept called co-housing (as opposed to the modern buzzword co-living).

“The big difference is for them it’s a top down approach and for us it was always a bottom up approach,” said Ms. Karnekull, an architect.

The house, which was designed for the purpose, gives people ample space in their apartments, which, unlike most co-living situations, include full kitchens, but focus on common areas, like a big dining room and a well-equipped library.

Upon signing up for an apartment — the waiting list is predictably long — the tenant agrees to kitchen and cleanup duty.

Dinner is a communal affair, allowing residents to keep an eye out for one another.

“If someone signs up for dinner three days in a row and doesn’t show up, we might bring up food,” said Ms. Kjorstad, a retired city administrator, originally from Norway.

“But it’s much more fun to eat down here,” Ms. Karnekull chimed in, before adding, “We are convinced that we live at least five years longer because we have so much fun together.”

Published at Tue, 16 Apr 2019 09:40:20 +0000