Wednesday, November 27, 2013

400-person group housing complex planned in San Francisco

In the last couple years, "micro-apartments", otherwise known as small studio apartments of around 300 square feet, have been proposed and built in San Francisco.  In contrast, a typical small 1-bedroom apartment comes in at about 500-600 square feet and a 2-bedroom apartment is around 800 square feet. 

Now, developer Build Inc. is proposing a 400 person group housing complex at 1532 Harrison Street in the South of Market area of San Francisco.  The facility layout is as follows:

- 1 or 2 beds in a bedroom suite.  Each bedroom suite is like a hotel room, but has a mini-kitchen.  The ktichen is a big deal, more on why further down.
- 9 bedroom suites in a "house". (9-18 people per house)
- 10 "houses" in each building. (90-180 people per building)
- 3 buildings (Total of 235-470 people).

Below is an image of a typical "house" from SocketSite. 

A few thoughts on the economics of this project:

- This building is significantly wider than your typical apartment building.  Building codes require windows in bedrooms and living rooms.  This is significant as often the number of rooms in a building is not limited by the size of the land, but the width of the land.  
Interestingly, the wide floorplate of this kind of group housing layout is very similar to that of mid-20th century glass box office towers.  

- Group housing such as 1532 Harrison virtually eliminates corridors, which cost money to build but can't be sold/rented.

- The real biggie is parking.  Outside of downtown, San Francisco zoning usually requires one parking space per apartment, but requires none for group housing.  This is a San Francisco only thing - in places like Oakland and Berkeley, every two bedrooms in a group housing building requires a parking space.  Parking spaces take up 300 square feet each - the same size as a studio apartment, but a parking space only rents for $200-400 a month, while a studio apartment can go for $2000.
Under SF zoning, 1532 Harrison isn't group housing though, as SF zoning defines dwelling units as "A room or suite of two or more rooms that is designed for, or is occupied by, one family doing its own cooking therein and having only one kitchen".  Those mini-kitchens, though small, are still kitchens.  So this is really a building of studio apartments.  Nonetheless, it is still an unusual building, and as such, Build Inc. has had to apply for a conditional use permit in order to not provide parking.  (edit 12/8/13: parking appears not to be require for this area).

Operational issues, or why kitchens are critical:

- No information so far on how 1532 Harrison will be operated.  Will rooms be leased/sold individually, or will each of the 9-room "houses" be leased/sold to a group?  Since each bedroom suite has its own mini-kitchen, under fair housing regulations, each is its own housing unit.  Unlike 9 people sharing a large single family house, residents of one of these 9-room "houses" would not be able to evict someone in their house if they didn't like them.  The big shared living room and kitchen would effectively be treated as an apartment building community room and lobby, even though in reality the role would be different.

- The big difference between this and the classic residential hotel is the division of the building into "houses" of 9 bedroom suites.  This creates communities of manageable size within the larger community.

Kitchens, Parking, and Resident Selection - a summary for most parts of San Francisco:

Individual mini-kitchens + large shared kitchen
  • 1 parking space required per kitchen. (there's some philosophical epiphany here...)
  • Anyone can move into a bedroom suite.
Shared Kitchen Only
  • No parking required in San Francisco.
  • Residents sharing the kitchen have some discretion over who else lives in a bedroom that is connected to their kitchen.
 Given the controversy surrounding these types of buildings, it will be interesting to see if 1532 Harrison is able to get the conditional use permit for not having parking.  Without the CUP, either half the building would be a parking garage, or the mini-kitchens in each bedroom suite would have to go. 

December 8, 2013 update: clarification on the parking issue and the potential use as student housing:
- It appears that parking requirements for this particular area allow zero parking spaces even if the building has studio units with kitchens.
- Comments on SocketSite suggest that this building may be marketed as student housing for CCA, Academy of Art, or other nearby colleges that currently have more students than dorm beds.  Students have been one of the largest users of shared housing historically, more thoughts on this in a future post.