March 1, 2024

At nearly 50, Marika Pfefferkorn was doing something she never expected: Sharing a bathroom with a 17-year-old boy.
That’s because Pfefferkorn — a Black and indigenous woman who co-founded her own business, the Twin Cities Innovation Alliance, and serves as an executive director for Midwest Center for School Transformation — lives with a good friend and her friend’s two children. It’s an arrangement they struck in 2016, after her friend got divorced.
“It’s a co-parenting model, it’s a co-economy model, and it’s a really great friendship and support model,” Pfefferkorn said.
Her friend owns the four-bedroom, three-bath townhouse in Minnesota. Pfefferkorn pays rent, in addition to taking care of utilities, acquiring paper goods, gardening, and helping to invest in the home. They’re currently in talks about a model where she might outright own half of the home.
It’s been “amazing and challenging,” Pfefferkorn said, especially as both kids grew up, and one brought a grandchild into the home. Pfefferkorn has been able to build up her savings, and says both women have benefited financially from the model.
“I feel like I’m an integral part of the family and community, which is good. Particularly during Covid, a lot of people were experiencing isolation and I did not have to go through that,” she said. “For my housemate, it’s been really critical because it’s been an extra hand in raising her children, and supporting their efforts as they go back to school and get additional degrees.”
Pfefferkorn isn’t the only one rethinking the norms of homeownership and community. With home prices still high, and Americans more single than ever, an increasing share of people are considering moving in with their friends — a trend that’s been on the rise since the start of the 2010s, and may only be accentuated by pandemic-era isolation and rising prices. According to real-estate analytics firm Attom Data Solution found that the number of co-home buyers with different last names grew by 771% from 2014 to 2021. 
Soaring mortgage rates are contributing to the trend. As the Federal Reserve attempts to bring the economy into equilibrium, several rate hikes have helped to push housing affordability to a three-decade low. According to mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac, the average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage climbed to 6.7% this week — more than double the levels seen in 2021.
“If we can just get out of that individualistic mindset, we can see the benefits of working together and living together in shared spaces. It’s beneficial for mental health. It’s good for the earth,” Sierra Thompson, a TikTok creator who has advocated for investing in property and creating communities and families with friends, told Insider. “It makes sense economically, especially in underserved communities.”
It’s about affordability, and an economy that’s shut many young people out of traditional dreams of buying a house, paying off student loans, and securing generational wealth. But it’s also pushback on the isolationist norms that have shaped the nuclear family in America — especially among calls to redesign Americans’ homes and means of mobility.
Thompson said that, right now, society isolates nontraditional relationships — especially for members of the Black and LGBT communities. Investing in something together is one way to push back on that.
“We’re at a time now that our expectations for what success looks like is very different,” Pfefferkorn said. “Success looks like me having a savings account, retirement, being able to travel and being in a household where I feel safe and loved.”
Nick Joyce helps people — especially those who never thought they’d be able to — buy their first homes. But Joyce, a 22-year-old realtor at Posh Properties in Florida, also has his own home ownership dreams: A duplex he can buy and split with his best friend.
As kids, they always talked about how they wanted to move next to each other when they had their own families. But the idea of buying together came when Joyce got his own duplex listing to sell.
“I was like, wait a minute. That is so genius. Instead of being roommates and renting and paying someone else’s pocket, you could buy a duplex with your friend together, splitting the cost,” he said. “It’s way cheaper than renting and you could live in both sides and basically have separate lives, but also do exactly what you said you wanted to do when you were kids.”
It’s a dream he posted about on TikTok — and one that resonated, with his video racking up over 250,000 likes and one million views. While he hasn’t been able to buy a duplex yet, he wants to once he’s able to.
“Nobody ever tells you how it’s possible to break the societal norms of renting,” Joyce said.
For Joyce, that’s splitting a duplex. For Pfefferkorn, the next dream is to buy an eight-bedroom house to turn into a communal retirement home someday.
“My friend’s mother is selling her house, and she has an eight bedroom house,” Pfefferkorn said. “With a few renovations, I think it would be a perfect place for a Black female community to retire, where we could have the accessibility addressed, transportation isn’t an issue. It’s about shared resources and knowing that as we age, we are caretakers in our household.”
Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist at real estate brokerage Redfin, says that the pandemic has transformed traditional ideals of homeownership — and ultimately how Americans choose to live.
“Household formation is going up during the pandemic, meaning that more people are getting a house — part of that has to do with demographic trends,” she told Insider. “People are getting married later in life and living on their own for longer.”
Indeed, many Americans are considering living with roommates, according to the results of a survey conducted by Redfin in July. The company asked 2,000 US adults how they plan to afford a monthly mortgage payment and found that 15% of its respondents intend to live with at least one roommate.
Fairweather attributes the survey’s results to financial uncertainty as fears of economic volatility weigh on homebuyers. 
“I bet that with inflation and higher housing costs, more people are considering how to cut back and getting roommates is certainly one option,” she said. 
Joyce, a certified Gen Zer, thinks nontraditional living is something that’s particularly appealing to the youngest generation reshaping the economy.
“We’re more focused on the things that we love. The things that we want to pursue in our life are way different — we stand for certain things, our generation has more activism in it,” he said. “That goes hand in hand with having more appreciation for your friends and your family or people that are alike and different from you.”
Especially with having to live affordability, as a generation shaped by decades of income inequality and rising home and college prices, a communal living situation “checks off everything on the list.”
“I’m with my best friend, I am living the life. I’m not paying someone else, and I am building equity in my home and I’m paying way cheaper rent,” he said.
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