Room and motherboard: Techie turning Crown Heights brownstones into dorm-style digs

Brownstone boarding: Common founder Brad Hargreaves is turning a bunch of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant buildings into dorm-like housing where like-minded creatives can bunk together.
Photo by Jason Speakman

Boarding houses are back — now with high-speed wifi.

A tech entrepreneur plans on turning a bunch of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstones into dormitory-style digs where young creative types share living spaces and potluck meals — a lifestyle the Arkansas native says he’s pitching to other transplants fighting the big-city blues.

“Living in the rural South, you definitely knew who your neighbors were, then in New York you come and you’re in some large soulless building and you don’t know anyone who lives around you,” said Brad Hargreaves, who left his computer programming school General Assembly in June to found so-called “co-living” startup Common, and has since raised $7.35 million from venture capital firms to fund his new venture.

Common will open its first dwelling at an as-yet-unannounced address in Crown Heights in mid-October, Hargreaves said. Residents will pay between $1,500 to $2,200 a month for one of its 19 private furnished bedrooms, which are grouped into suites and conjoined by shared kitchens, bathrooms, and living areas, plus a common area for the entire building.

The company doesn’t actually own the buildings — investors are buying them and leasing them back to the company — but will act as landlord and den mother — buying the toilet paper, taking care of all the gas and power bills, cleaning, and organizing social activities like Sunday-night potluck dinners.

And people want in — 150 room-seekers put their names down for a bed in one week when Common began accepting applications this month, Hargreaves said, and the company plans on adding more buildings in surrounding neighborhood this year.

The company will allow residents to stay for as few as 30 days, but Hargreaves — who originally dreamed up the concept as a place for General Assembly students to live — said he will prioritize candidates who plan to stick around and form a community.

“We’re looking for people who share our values, who are looking to be part of something as opposed to just looking for transitional or flexible housing,” he said.

Common isn’t the first hipster rooming-house business in the borough. An outfit called Pure House has been running in Williamsburg since August 2012 and now has a total of 10 facilities spread around the neighborhood — 50 bedrooms across nine buildings plus a central “club house” where members bond over workshops, yoga classes, and massages from an in-house body healer.

But where Common is an investor-backed start-up, Pure House is owned by one guy and bills itself as a “social experiment” where “creators, disruptive innovators, social change agents, design thinkers, scientists, and entrepreneurs” can bond with like-minded travellers, according to its founder.

“They can really open up, they can become vulnerable, they can really share themselves, and in doing so you create an environment where others can do the same and a really magical experience emerges,” said founder Ryan Fix, who charges his tenants between $1,500 and $4,000 a month.

One Pure House denizen who has called the Kent Avenue quarters home since April said he loves the set-up and is regularly delighted by impromptu group dinners, in-house concerts, and other house bonding activities.

“When you’re amongst some really good people, it’s really hard for it to not catalyze a lot of really good stuff,” said 23-year-old Englishman Sam Adams Nie.

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.

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