SIP Newsletters 14 FEB IMPACT STORY: EXPANDING THE CONCEPT OF CO-LIVING, CONTENTED LIVING CREATES A DIVERSE AND INCLUSIVE LIVING ENVIRONMENT FOR OVERSEAS TALENT
Expanding the Concept of Co-living, Contented Living Creates a Diverse and Inclusive Living Environment for Overseas Talent
With increasing numbers of overseas students and specialists seeking opportunities in Hong Kong in recent years, the concept of “co-living spaces” has really taken off. Contented Living, founded by three CUHK alumni in 2012, provides accommodation services for students, employees, and short-term visitors coming to Hong Kong. We interviewed co-founder and Managing Director Ms. Venny Chan in one of their rental apartments. She explained that she was a marketing consultant prior to starting Contented Living. Initially, due to a lack of experience and staff, the full workload for the company fell squarely on her shoulders. As they accumulated more experience, their rental business started to pick up with significant demand for housing from growing numbers of international students. The rental apartment where we conducted the interview is fully furnished with elegant decorations and warm lighting which create a cozy, welcoming atmosphere.
Creating Diverse and Inclusive Living Spaces
With the owner’s approval, Contented Living renovates old buildings, transforming them into cozy, modern living spaces. From providing off-campus dormitories for foreign students on a small scale in the beginning, Content Living has evolved to successfully refurbish ten old buildings for short and long-term rentals. Applicants are mostly young with limited social experience and unfamiliar with the city, on a tight rental budget. According to Ms. Chan, they choose roommates with similar backgrounds based on gender, nationality, university, subject they are majoring in, and occupation. Rent levels range from just HK$3,000-9,000 depending on room type with the majority of student tenants on a very low budget.
As most tenants are expatriates living alone, Contented Living not only plays the role of the landlord in providing comfortable living spaces but also cares for their health and mental well-being. Said Ms. Chan, “We regularly organize activities such as festival gatherings, recruitment talks, and hiking to bring tenants closer together so they can share some fun. These events help ease any emotional problems with many of them feeling lonely from living by themselves in Hong Kong. Most properties under our management are located in urban centers with convenient transport links and good shopping. Contented Living’s ‘co-living space’ concept, which offers convenience and cultural integration, has encouraged some student tenants to stay on in Hong Kong after graduating to seek work opportunities.”
After Riding Out the Pandemic We Expect to Attract More Young Talents
With the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, prolonged lockdowns and rapidly changing quarantine measures led to a drop in tenants and loss of talent. According to Ms. Chan, “Our staff must be able to quickly respond to any market or policy changes. Fortunately, the company has maintained stable operations despite the unpredictable business environment. During the worst periods of the pandemic, some of our tenants were frontline health workers. We immediately offered them rent concessions knowing how hard they were working so could live near the hospitals and avoid a long drive home giving them more time to rest.”
Currently partnering with six Hong Kong tertiary institutions, Contented Living is now their approved off-campus dormitory supplier. Representatives from these institutions regularly visit students to ensure they are living in comfortable and secure surroundings. The Hong Kong government is implementing its “Competing for Talents” policy to attract overseas talents to the city, Ms. Chan believes that providing affordable rents, and comfortable, well-equipped living environments will help attract more specialized talents to study in Hong Kong.
Revitalizing Old Downtown Buildings to Benefit both Tenants and Landlords
Contented Living is currently financially stable and resilient. The occupancy rate remained at nearly 90% during the dark days of Covid rising to 100% when quarantine measures were relaxed. Rents were downwardly adjusted when the epidemic was at its most severe with the company offering tenants a two-month rent-free period. While pursuing profitability, Contented Living aims to make its business more sustainable and create social benefits. All apartments are renovated from old buildings in urban areas that have been vacant for more than three years or are in a high level of disrepair. This not only increases the housing supply in the rental market but also brings considerable rental returns to landlords. The company plans to install solar panels on the rooftops of some of its buildings to generate clean energy. To reduce waste, the average life span of furniture in the apartments is 3-5 years. In addition, the company has collaborated with an Australian sleep solution provider to provide tenants with mattresses made from all-natural and fully-recyclable materials.
Partnering with SIP to Create Even Greater Social Impact
Social Impact Partners (“SIP”) became the official investment partner of Contented Living in October 2022. As well as providing financial support, SIP leverages its resources to provide due diligence, financial oversight, public relations, legal aid, and support in other fields. The SIP team recognizes Contented Living’s vision, business model, development prospects, and the positive feedback it receives from tenants. They are confident that the venture will become increasingly profitable and create an even greater social impact by helping more people who are struggling to find the affordable rented property.
SIP continues to identify social enterprises in Hong Kong that have the potential for growth and positive social impact, and to enlarge social influence together driven by the concept of co-prosperity. SIP’s board of directors and members of the strategy team come from all over the world and from all walks of life. They can therefore bring different perspectives to investment decisions, formulate business growth strategies and provide guidance to portfolio companies. 2023 will mark the beginning of a business revitalization for companies after the epidemic. With more countries reopening their borders, cross-border traffic is expected to surge and business enterprises may achieve development breakthroughs. Focusing on growth strategies and companies with the potential to generate a positive social impact, SIP expects to further expand its portfolio of partners.