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Summary

Many EAs choose to live together. This can have a great benefit for community building and engagement. However, the housing market can sometimes make it difficult to find affordable places to realise such an opportunity. 

We also know that investing in the housing market is often very profitable. Investing to give looks at maximising profit to be able to donate more money to effective nonprofits in the future. Thus, there might be a case for combining these two (investing for donation and community building through shared living) by asking investors to purchase houses and then rent them out to a community of EAs. 

Members of PISE (Positive Impact Society Erasmus, the EA group at Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands) are excited to further work out this argument and see if they can pitch it to an EA-aligned investor. Please help us out by providing feedback on this idea (or even introducing us to someone who would be interested in financing this project)!"
 

This idea builds on those of Manuel Allgaier, as well as on discussions in various channels of Effective Altruism the Netherlands. We are thankful for everyone who helped shape our ideas!

Basic introduction of the idea 

A bunch of people from the PISE (EA Erasmus University Rotterdam) community are really enthusiastic and concretely thinking about living together in a PISE house. Our enthusiasm is sparked by enthusiastic stories from EAs living together, but making this work in a (Dutch) student context proves quite difficult. On the Dutch housing market it is really tough to find affordable accommodation that can house at least 3-4 people for rent. To resolve these problems, we came up with a creative idea that we hope to get some input on.

To overcome this housing problem and facilitate EAs living together we thought it might be possible to get someone who is ‘Investing to Give’ to invest in buying a house and then renting out the rooms to EAs. The case for this is twofold, and will be in terms of return on investment (ROI)  from the house and the impact on the residents. It makes use of this formula: 

Impact on residents (calculated by eg. survival rate in the movement, "high-impact career changes", or something else) vs Cost (difference between observed ROI and alternative investment ROI) (credits to Keller Scholl on Facebook) 

What we mean by impact on the residents is that there is direct social impact through allowing EAs to live together. This facilitates a motivating learning environment, a sense of accountability, value reinforcement, a possible productivity boost from co-working and a cosy setting for the residents’ friends and network to learn about EA. 

I am not an expert in the housing market but it seems as though there are currently (very) good financial returns. So considering that: expected value (EV) from community building through investing in housing > EV from funding EA from the profit of investing in ‘regular’ companies; there seems to be a good case for funding such an opportunity as you will reap returns both financially (which can be reinvested into EA or donated) and for community building. 

Various alternatives

One alternative would be to ourselves rent out a place from a landlord. This would work in terms of the community building aspects, but would be a missed opportunity for the profits to go towards effective charities or reinvested into the community. Moreover, we have experienced firsthand how difficult it is to find an apartment for one person in the Dutch housing market, let alone for a group of 3+ people.

A second alternative is to get a bank to finance this shared living situation, but since we are approaching this from a student budget that would be near impossible. For working professionals this might be an option to consider.  

A third alternative would be to set up a group fund to which multiple EA’s who are on a lower budget can contribute to finance this project. Whilst a great idea it would take considerably more effort, as well as more time in terms of upkeep and management than having a single investor. 

Some interesting mentions we wanted to include are the following ideas that we received while brainstorming: setting up a community of tiny houses in the countryside, buying a holiday house on a camping site which can be rented out if not in use, and simply creating an EA-flat hunting Facebook group to help each other out. 

Whilst some of these are perfectly feasible options, we wanted to think a little bigger. In our context of being a student group in a big city (ie. low budgets, competitive housing market) it would seem most profitable and suitable to try the option of finding an EA who would be willing to invest in some real estate property. This would also just ensure that the profits garnered from our living situation could be used to further have a positive impact on the world rather than that money going towards buying another Ferarri, as my current landlord recently did...

Potential shortfalls 

Of course there are some possible holdbacks to this proposal. These include the risk of group think, that living with like-minded people can lead to a lack of diversity in opinions. There are also possible municipality restrictions, such as a ban on investing in houses as discussed in some Dutch municipalities. Additionally, there's the risk that living together does not actually have such a big or direct impact on the individual's commitment to EA. However, we do believe that living together can help avoiding value drift and encourages more engagement with EA ideas. 

There is also the question of what type of tenants are allowed and how to make this choice. This could be tackled by being selective with who is moving in and when they are moving out as well as being inclusive on budget (meaning several rooms with different price points). This also brings up the risk of disagreements between the landlord and tenants as well as between the tenants, but these could potentially be handled by a property manager. Finally, if looked at from an investing to give perspective, there might be more impactful EA investment opportunities. Having said that, real estate is very profitable and there is the aforementioned additional value of community impact. 

Conclusion

Concretely, we propose a project that would involve an EA aligned investor to buy a house and rent it out to EAs (students or other). We are hoping that this would yield benefits in terms of the impact on the residents as well as financial returns which can be used to donate, thus creating more value. This is still a highly conceptual idea, not based on any evidence or concrete examples (we determined that the EA Hotel in Blackpool differed in many aspects). Thus, it would be worth a shot to try this if there are interested parties. What are your thoughts on looking for EA's who are investing to give, and asking them to invest in a house? Furthermore, we would love some input on the ideas and arguments put forth, so please leave a comment or shoot us an email at board@piserotterdam.com. Also shoot us an email if you’d be interested in being involved in such a project. Joris will also be attending EAG London this weekend so feel free to discuss this with him in person too!

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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:17 PM
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I don't think arrangement 1 (investor buys house and rents out just to EAs) is better than arrangement 2 (investor invests in whatever has highest returns, and EAs rent most convenient house) since the coordination required and inflexibility might be too much of a downside.

If the goal is to reduce costs of living together for EAs, the investor could subsidize the rent for the group of EAs while investing in something completely different with higher returns.

Some possible benefits of arrangement 1 are if the cohabitating EAs could actively make the house a better investment through e.g. maintenance. In other words, they would have a stake in the investment making good returns, and so would treat the house differently than average tenants.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! We had not considered an investor subsidising rent for a group of EAs as another alternative. The problem that might come up with this is that it's nearly impossible to find available housing for a group of EAs independently on a student budget, just in terms of available rooms in one house at the same time. 

Hi all, we just wanted to share this update to our plans: there's unfortunately no way we can make our initial plan happen in Rotterdam in the coming years.

In response to the housing crisis, the municipality introduced a whole set of regulations, making it basically impossible to buy a house/apartment to rent it out to more than 2 people. We unfortunately couldn't find any serious workarounds, even after talking to multiple real estate agents, so it seems like we have to leave it at this.

Is it still relevant to invest in housing? The real estate market does not look so good anymore. It looks like it will be in a severe crisis in the following years, and we have to make some decisions that would fit the time. 
I am not a professional in this area, and I am looking for good advice now from a lawyer or a real estate professional. I do some reading on websites like timthomas.co that suggest I take a closer look at my local real estate market and by its state judge about the other places. More and more people say that this fall will be really difficult for this market, and no one knows what will happen.
 

I haven't been following the status of the PISE house, but have you tried asking the EA Infrastructure Fund if they would consider covering part of the rent for the PISE house?

At the time of writing this we had not actually! But @Joris-P connected with them at EAG London.  
However, our case is not purely about the rent but also about the investment side of it and the returns that could be reaped. (See my reply to jgil above.)