Dorm-style ‘co-liv­ing’ units are catch­ing on

The Detroit News - - Business - BY MARISA KEN­DALL The Mer­cury News

San Jose, Calif. – The lat­est trendy new apart­ment build­ing com­ing to down­town San Jose will of­fer plenty of lux­ury ameni­ties, in­clud­ing clean­ing ser­vices, laun­dry and dog walk­ing. The catch? Each res­i­dent will share a kitchen and liv­ing room with at least a dozen other strangers.

The nearly 800-unit build­ing, set to break ground early next year, is the lat­est project to em­brace “co-liv­ing” – a dorm-like set-up where res­i­dents sleep in small pri­vate bed­rooms and share com­mon spa­ces, as a way to pack more peo­ple into a build­ing and keep rents down. It’s a life­style that’s be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar as Bay Area res­i­dents, grap­pling with sky-high hous­ing costs, are forced to find ev­er­more creative ways to stay afloat, and de­vel­op­ers are en­cour­aged to come up with in­no­va­tive meth­ods to house more peo­ple faster.

The San Jose project will be the largest co-liv­ing build­ing in the world, ac­cord­ing to its de­vel­oper, San Fran­cisco-based com­mu­nal hous­ing startup Starcity. The com­pany also has a 270-unit co-liv­ing build­ing in the works in San Fran­cisco’s SoMa neigh­bor­hood. The two projects, both slated to open in 2021, will be the startup’s first at­tempts at build­ing from the ground up in­stead of ren­o­vat­ing ex­ist­ing build­ings. To­gether they mark a ma­jor ex­pan­sion by Starcity, and would in­crease the com­pany’s ex­ist­ing in­ven­tory by more than 10-fold.

“I think about ac­tu­ally mak­ing a dent in the sup­ply to the point where peo­ple who are some­where else in the coun­try, or liv­ing nearby, or com­mut­ing hours and hours and hours can say, ‘OK now there’s a way for me to get into the city,’” said Starcity co-founder and CEO Jon Dishot­sky. “Com­mut­ing is a pain in the butt, fit­ting four peo­ple to a two-bed­room is a pain in the butt and pay­ing 70 per­cent of your in­come is not en­joy­able.”

Starcity, which orig­i­nally bought empty or un­der­uti­lized res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial build­ings and turned them into hous­ing, made its co-hous­ing de­but by con­vert­ing a Vic­to­rian house and garage into a six-unit shared liv­ing space in San Fran­cisco in 2016. Now the startup op­er­ates 81 units in five build­ings – four in San Fran­cisco and one in Los An­ge­les. In the next year, the com­pany plans to fin­ish an­other 600 units in San Fran­cisco and more than 400 in Los An­ge­les.

The co-liv­ing trend is part of a broader creative move­ment sweep­ing the Bay Area’s hous­ing mar­ket. En­trepreneurs are find­ing a range of in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions to the re­gion’s hous­ing short­age – from turn­ing ship­ping con­tain­ers into tiny homes, to build­ing mi­cro-houses in peo­ple’s back­yards, to pro­vid­ing new ways for renters to build eq­uity and save for down pay­ments.

“Peo­ple are re­think­ing how to live, and what hous­ing means, and how it’s pro­vided,” said Chris Calott, a devel­op­ment and ar­chi­tec­ture pro­fes­sor at UC Berke­ley.

Starcity’s up­com­ing San Jose build­ing – three blocks from the Diri­don Cal­train sta­tion, near where Google has pro­posed a new cam­pus for up to 20,000 work­ers – will have up to 790 units. Each renter will have his or her own pri­vate bed­room and ad­join­ing bath­room, or will share a bath­room with a fam­ily mem­ber or pre-se­lected friend. Be­tween 12 and 18 peo­ple will share each kitchen and liv­ing room, and there will be four kitchens and liv­ing rooms per floor.

Both the San Jose build­ing and the San Fran­cisco build­ing will cater to res­i­dents mak­ing be­tween $40,000 and $120,000 a year. Rooms likely will rent for $800 to $2,500 – be­low the cur­rent mar­ket rates for one-bed­room apart­ments in both ci­ties.

The aver­age rent for a onebed­room apart­ment in San Jose is $2,364, ac­cord­ing to RentCafe. It’s $3,261 in San Fran­cisco.

Starcity can keep its costs down be­cause its prop­er­ties are more dense, Dishot­sky said. By re­mov­ing a build­ing’s liv­ing rooms, kitchens and hall­ways and turn­ing them into bed­rooms, Starcity can fit more peo­ple into the build­ing, col­lect rent from more ten­ants, and lower ev­ery­one’s prices.

Even so, Starcity’s price tags likely puts its rooms out of reach for many lo­cal res­i­dents.

“When you’re co-hous­ing and you’re still pay­ing $2,000 for a room, that’s not sus­tain­able,” said Kate Com­fort Harr, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of San Ma­teo Coun­ty­based non­profit HIP Hous­ing. “It might be part of the so­lu­tion, but at that price point it’s only go­ing to be a so­lu­tion for a very few.”

Don Row, a 43-year-old pi­lot, moved into a room in a San Fran­cisco Starcity build­ing in Fe­bru­ary, af­ter strik­ing out try­ing to find a room­mate on Craigslist as he pre­pared to re­lo­cate to the Bay Area from Phoenix. Row, who says he moved for the weather, now pays $2,200 a month for a pri­vate bed­room and two kitchens he shares with 10 other peo­ple.

Row ad­mits he hadn’t al­ways pic­tured him­self end­ing up in a dorm-style apart­ment in his 40s, and he doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily think he’ll live there for­ever. But for now, his only com­plaint is a lack of shelf space in the com­mu­nal re­frig­er­a­tors.

“It is def­i­nitely not a tra­di­tional path by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion,” Row said. “I can see why some peo­ple might think it would be weird. At the same time, I am lov­ing it.”

Jane Tyska / TNS

Don Row, right, and Estela Ma­gal­lanes hang out in the com­mon din­ing room area of a dorm-style apart­ment in­San Fran­cisco.

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