Updated: Apr 28, 2021
We have had enough with flatshare businesses calling themselves coliving without having a clue of what it means and the true deep work it requires to nurture and foster genuine and authentic Community.
If your recruitment process consists of sending contracts to people who showed interest on your site, if your onboarding process consists of sending a text to the flatmates and showing a random room in a flat, if your integration process is a trademill and a veggie bowl, and more importantly, if you value numbers over people, You are not a coliving.
There are Press Relations and there are Human Relations. Or as as I was once told by a great coliver and dear friend, some do Business to Business, some do Humans to Humans.
Every Wednesday for the past 6 months I have shared a conversation with someone who has experienced life in a collective/coliving/shared house.
I have done that as a passion project because 4 years ago I discovered the true power of life in a coliving community. The genuine one, born from a common desire to live & grow together, through learning and challenges. More than ever today, it is import for me to keep promoting these experiences and stories in order to counter the rise of so called coliving spaces that don't get what community living is all about.
5 months ago I talked my sister into moving into a coliving. Convinced that she too, would make life long friends, get out of her confort zone in a safe environment and explore new activities.
Last Sunday night after a fight about yet again some left over dishes, she was assaulted by one of her housemate. He bit her until he drew blood.
(NOT fun fact: did you know you have to do a seroligic test when you're bitten by a human?)
While probably no one could predict that this guy would turn into an animal over a dishes disagreement, the way one reacts to such a situation unfolding in your space says a lot about them and the type of Community one wants to foster.
After escaping the flat with a friend and immediately reaching out to the house manager for help, the first answer was that there was nothing they could really do, it was between them. The second answer was that they were a flatshare and not there to tell people how to live. Eventually, the person agreed to start looking for another room. Never did they offer support or even considered going to the flat themselves to assess the situation.
Stressed, worried and feeling abandonned (my family is 7h drives away) she ended up spending the night at a friend and decided to share her story on her social media. Because what do we do when we feel unheard?.... Comments on social media are after all the last resort for "clients" who arent satisfied with the "After Sales Service" of a product. Obviously, those few lines on social media, triggered immediate management's reaction. The next day my sister received a message. A message assuring their support all the while informing that the assaulter had been meeting with the director to hear his version of the assault and discuss his future in their facility (my sister was never given the option to meet with the director). Stating that they were legally not allowed to interfer in the relationships between their clients, requesting to be called the next day and to stop posting online. However the so called coliving's rules & regulations agreement is clearly stating that any innapropriate behaviour disturbing the other housemates would lead to immediate expulsion. And yet, the management was still "studying the case" of the assaulter, despite witnesses, pictures of inflicted wounds, a doctor certificate, and now having to re house another housemate who did not feel safe.
Worried about that comment on Facebook, Management kept reaching out to my sister and the witness implicitely saying things will get better faster if that comment was removed, and clearly stating that they were questioning my sister's motives. It escalated to the point where I witnessed a 20 minutes phone call from the cofounder to my sister, during which he intimidating and screamed at her, saying she probably had 50% responsability into the matter.
Beyond the frustration, anger and inability to grasp how this could happen in the first place. What unfolded the past few days really made me think. First it forced me to rethink the way I have been talking and promoting coliving and community and how misused those terms can be.
True community living demands real and constant human investment at all levels. From the management side as well as the tenants. It means real ground work on recruitment, onboarding, facilitation, conflict resolution, non violent communication, feedback loops , value workshops and self awareness...
that is what I wanted my sister to experience. Instead she ended up with an adult human being who handles conflicts with his teeth and she was tossed around by the institutions supposed to protect her. Second, it brought to the surface again something that goes beyond Coliving. It's about how victims of assault, and sadly, mostly women, are constantly discouraged to speak up because of the way they are treated when they do.
10 years ago, I was psychologically harrassed by my hierarchy and when I tried to speak up, I was tossed around by men who were afraid I would destroy their precious little empire. I got scared and move away.
I really thought things had change. It is 2021 and we are still seeing victims being questioned and having to jump through so many hoops just to get their voices heard, that they prefer to let go and try and get better. Women are still , today, having to live in fear in a men's world. My sister and I are privilged. We have a support system. We know our rights. I cannot even start thinking about those who do not have that chance. This is not about jumping on the #cancel train trend. It is about differenciating Coliving and rentals, it is about educating on what it really means to run a coliving and more importantly, educating on how to support victims of assault.
Some actors of the coliving industry have a term for spaces that misuse the term coliving, Faux Living: A form of residential living that is branded and marketed using the term coliving but lacks important aspects of the coliving offer. Check out their website and form - "Should you spot any ‘faux-living’ projects and wish to point them out, please feel free to do so privately here." PS: I was advised to remove mentions of any names and emails as I was told it could make me liable for slander which, quite frankly would beat everything.