Opt-in exclusivity

What if more people want to live in your community than you have space?

(Note to reader: See important note at the end regarding housing law)

Suppose your community has space for 10 people, but 20 people want to live there. What do you do?

Your community may have an ideal of being as inclusive as possible, but in this case you are going to have to be exclusive. There simply isn't space for everyone. This post suggests how you can go about being exclusive.

It's worth noting how a “normal” landlord goes about this. They (generally) select for the people that can pay the highest price. If they have a single free unit, they will raise rent until the moment that precisely one person is willing to pay for it. They use the price to deal with undersupply. 

Most coliving spaces, on the other hand,  seek to prioritize an vibrant and supportive community experience over maximizing profiting from whoever is taking the next empty room. So what should they do instead?

Here is a principle that I've found helpful in thinking about this: Opt-in Exclusivity.

I first heard this idea articulated by Jessy Kate Schingler who co-founded Embassy SF and the Embassy Network. Jessy relates the idea of “opt-in exclusivity” to the notion of “excellence” which she thinks should be abundant and not scarce:

Identify the conditions that make you excellent, and then surround yourself by people who will support and reinforce that. Be comfortable asking others to be excellent, and let them opt-in to that ask. At best, they’ll be inspired to Say Yes. At worst, they’re aware they can ask someone else to be excellent, in a way that’s more meaningful to them.

When it comes to community building, my feeling and experience is that we all like to feel part of something, and holding the space for that “something” to be about excellence, is one of the simplest and most powerful things we can do”

In other words, Jessy is suggesting to be “radically open” -- exclude no one --  but hold a very high standard for participation. Have people self-select.

The idea is that if you have 10 places, you want to make the proposition sufficiently excellent (aka unique aka maybe a little weird) that exactly 10 people want to live in there in the first place.

You get a more aligned (excellent) community. And no one gets left out who actually wanted to live there. 

If you have too many people wanting rooms, it may be an indication that you are trying to appeal to too broad a portion of the population. 

Practically, how do you do this?

What are ways to narrow interest through opt-in exclusivity?

1. Work: Indicate that this will require effort and describe how much effort.

2. Experimental structures: Describe the unique way that you do things.

3. Application process: Make people put in effort to apply. 

4. Values: Stating an explicit set of values (especially slightly polarizing values) will force people to ask whether those values align with their own.

I like maximalist literature on what the community is about. Agape and Chateau Ubuntu in San Francisco are two examples of this. Those places are not for everyone, but they are wonderful communities for people that share their values and vision.

Important note: This is not legal advice. There is a lot of applicable law on leasing or selling housing, including the Fair Housing Act and local tenancy law, that overlays on top of this. We suggest familiarizing yourself with that and always following it.

Curious about coliving? Find more case studies, how tos, and reflections at Supernuclear: a guide to coliving. Sign up to be notified as future articles are published here:

You can find the directory of the articles we’ve written and plan to write here.