The UN projects there to be over 9 billion people in the world by 2050, 70% of whom will live in cities. In fact, it will be almost impossible for us not to urbanize because of our limited resources in energy, water, and career opportunities. Finding good people to live with at a good place is hard. The main services out there today advertise for a space but disregard the importance of people - people that’ll you’ll live with and see every day. City stress and the lack of human connections make lead to a 21% increased risk of anxiety disorders and a 39% increased risk of mood disorders. And even when we try to find refuge for our social life on Facebook or Twitter, we are actually moving away from a healthy social lifestyle with real friends.
Some user groups who currently face this issue include:
working professionals, who may lead fast-paced lifestyles and do not have the energy to house hunt, find good roommates, and plan for future moves
the elderly, who would like to avoid assisted living but still want to be surround by community,
co-op seekers, who would like to join existing intentional communities but are blocked due to a lack of supply.
Community housing (name not determined) is a service that helps individuals start and join housing communities so that they can be with people they value and value them. In one of our main iterations, a user can:
Create a profile about themselves. These profiles include logistical and value-driven info about themselves, and they serve almost like a CommonApp for housing applications. Logistical info includes things like how quiet/clean a person wants their environment, or how much they want to socialize. Value-driven questions include things like a person’s interests and passions, or how diverse of a community a person would like to live in.
Post their own community. A user can start a new community page and gather enough interest to start a new intentional community. These simple pages contain info about the community’s values, where location, and example community activities. Once people are gathered, additional resources are provided for them to rent or buy a new housing location.
The following are details on what the team has done so far since the start of this project in April.
User visits | Learning from our last project, our focus for community housing is to get quick feedback and fast prototyping. To start, we spent two weeks diving deep into existing solutions -- housing co-ops. These are intentional communities that operate like a company, where tenants own shares of their home and participate in voting on where money and time should be allocated. We learned about how people distribute chores and resolve conflicts, as well as how these communities were started. From there, we synthesized the pain points of building a new co-op -- the main reason why there is a limited supply for these communities.
Additionally, we looked into how landlords operate. Some of the struggles we find from them include dealing with flaky tenants who skip rent and having to fix broken property when no one else can. These led us to tweak some of our final concepts to distribute the risk of property management for the whole housing community, instead of just one party.
UI building | Our current iteration of this concept includes several ways to get feedback. One thing we are testing is visual interfaces to let users imagine a new community/housing-finding experience.
Some of the feedback we are learning from testing these screens are: how existing communities can maintain their pages so that they do not have to continually update its content, or how users can avoid discrimination and reduce financial risk when creating a new community.
Business model building | One option we are considering is to rent a small property and retrofit it to host housing communities. We imagine simplifying the process of housing by providing accommodations and management to the location. Our cost-revenue model entails: the cost of rent, buying furnishing, number of tenants, the number of investors, utilities, and external services like house cleaning. To reduce risk, we are planning to look for outside investors who can help us with the rent. If the property becomes empty, we plan to Airbnb out the location. We hope that this would be a great opportunity for us to learn about housing in a more palpable manner.
Competitive analysis | Since our learnings from FoodHabit, we have been keeping an active watch on existing competitors. Examples include Campus, Krash.io, WeLive, and Airbnb. Krash is particularly interesting because they own their own property, and their focus is specifically on providing housing for entrepreneurs.
Locally in Boston, mailing lists for co-ops are also popular. Boston Co-op Network (BCN) has an active mailing list of people who request and post community openings. It is a tight-knit group that allowed us to get most of our user research and testing. Currently, we want to build a tech solution specifically for this mailing community.
Docs and sheets | Another one of our current prototypes is to use Google spreadsheets to manually collect BCN housing information. When people post on the mailing list requesting for housing or additional roommates, we parse that information onto a spreadsheet. When a new member makes a post requesting for housing, we link them to our spreadsheet and track how they interact. We hope to learn valuable insights on whether or not this would simplify searching and applying for open communities to live in.
Start small and don’t worry about scaling. From a podcast I recently listened to, an entrepreneur talked about their journey of building their company and how they just wanted to make something better. They made a solution for a specific group without considering the bigger picture. When users responded positively to the solution, they then started generalizing, and building a company was actually not their original intention. Reflecting on their journey and FoodHabit, we are now acting closer to our users, building and testing specifically for a tangible group of people. If we can make an impact here, we believe we can succeed in building something greater.
There are several directions we are currently exploring, and we want our prototype results to guide us on where to spend more time. One main direction is to build something specifically for BCN. Having something local would hopefully cause immediate impact and feedback on our concept, which we hope can then be generalized for people at large. Other directions include starting our own property or creating communities out of where we currently live.
David Zhu is a graduating Oliner whose main responsibilities include technical and design research. John Quinn is a Babson alumni currently working at Nielsen as a Product Manager. John brings general design and planning experience to drive the team forward. Together, the team is passionate about building social ventures to empower all people to have more opportunities in this and many generations to come.
Icon "Home by Alena Artemova from the Noun Project"
This write-up was done by David Zhu. He is an Olin College of Engineering alumni. At present he helps people around the world apply for jobs through the applications he features he builds at Lever.io.