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  • Writer's pictureAdam

Why Does Dorm Living End in College?

When I moved to Los Angeles, I was 25, intermittently freelancing, and knew a couple people who lived across the city, which in LA meant I saw them maybe once a month. During a rapid housing search, I landed on a room sublet with a shared bathroom at $900 / month, located in East Hollywood, walking distance to a sketchy pool hall, a wonderful dive bar called Gold Diggers, and an Arco gas station.

Occupying the other full bedroom was an obstinate young man who called himself a contrarian and a film producer (he self-published a few YouTube videos). The third room, smaller than my own, was shared by three international girls, all trying to break into various fields of the film industry, each paying $600 / month.

Needless to say, this wasn’t a great living situation to quickly find a community when moving to a big new city, and I soon realized that Los Angeles in general lacks centralized community spaces. It's a city inducive to self-segregation primarily because of how spread out it is, but also because it lacks easily accessible public parks, areas of recreation, and places easy to lounge for long enough to organically meet others. I'm comparing in my mind to set-ups like the Atlanta Beltline ("where Atlanta comes together") and European cities' many integrations of squares and parks with beer gardens, restaurants, and cafes.

Reflecting upon this, I began to think about plausible solutions. Some I'll likely discuss in other posts (especially dog parks), but a big one I began to think about is dorm style living. Most young people in LA already share bathrooms, communal spaces, and pay the same or more for worse amenities. Why wouldn't they be open to getting a private bedroom plus all the bonuses of pooled resources? The pros seem to outweigh the cons.

A few pros:

  • You have your own space, and with reasonable building materials noise from neighbors can be mitigated.

  • You have immediate access to a large community—potential friends, colleagues, support, etc.

  • Access to tons of amenities. If done right (and probably paid for a la carte), pretty much anything could be imagined, from community centers and athletic facilities to coworking facilities and centralized kitchens.

  • Complementary to retail—with a large enough building population, small business providing things like haircuts, beer garden, cafe, bookstore, thrift store, and small grocery store could thrive.

  • Spaces could be modular. For those who want to pay a bit more, they can access a larger space, and opt for their own bathroom, balcony, and so forth. These would be limited, so as to not turn the whole building into a luxury environment, but offer enough flexibility to satisfy different customers, like WeWork.

  • Flexible leases aren't much of a thing; encourage sign-ups by allowing people to move out with 30 day notice and no penalty, then rent extra units as low-cost, hostel style hotel rooms.

A few cons:

  • Parking would be difficult, sure. But it could be car-less. Companies like Cul-de-Sac, positioned as "car-free neighborhoods" are demonstrating that communities can be built to avoid the need for cars, which especially makes sense for young people just starting out in their careers. Those who really need a car can find a neighboring garage, or perhaps the community could partner with a company like Turo to make temporary rentals easy.

  • Safety is always a concern, so it goes without saying there could be some voluntary gender segregation for those who desire, and there would be security and surveillance.

  • Zoning may be difficult in certain cities.

At the end of the day, it comes down to community. Dormitory living provides people not just with affordable housing and access to resources; it offers a community-based lifestyle many consider unavailable a few years after graduation, or when moving alone to a new city.

It wouldn't need to be the primary option, just an additional one. Move to a new city, rent a dorm for six months or a year rather than bouncing around sublets that you find on Facebook Marketplace. Maybe you'll meet a few nice people to rent a house with for year two.

A note on economics. I haven’t really dug into the numbers. I assume I’m not the first person to think of this, and there are probably decent reasons they aren’t more prevalent. However, anything done well with the customers' (tenants') needs prioritized has the opportunity to succeed, especially if sponsors, retail, and restaurants can be attracted to join the effort.

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