Monday, December 21, 2015

Bay Area Regional Planner - a board game on housing and zoning

While sharing spaces allows existing buildings to house more people, the housing demand in the Bay Area is so great that significant amounts of new construction will be needed as well.  In the next 25 years, around 2 million new homes are needed just to keep up with estimated job and population growth, while even more will be needed to bring rents down.  Where should it go?  Try to figure it out in my latest board game, Bay Area Regional Planner.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Campus CoLiving closes

Campus CoLiving, the company that master leased large houses and then rented out individual rooms, has announced that it is closing at the end of August. The reason?  The business model was not economically viable (it wasn't making money). 

I wrote about them in a previous post.  Let's revisit their business model:  It involved:
- Master leasing houses in high priced neighborhoods
- Charging $1000-2200 for a room (less than what one would pay for a bedroom in a 3-bedroom apartment)
- Providing furniture, hot tub, other amenities, kitchen staples, cleaning services, conflict resolution and social activities. 

It's the extras that probably tipped their business model into the unprofitable zone.  In most communal living spaces, residents do a few hours of cleaning work every week, pool their own money for food and parties, and furniture and amenities are often from the free section of craigslist. 

What is the future of these houses?  It is unknown what will happen when the master leases expire.  If current residents are willing to put in their own time and money to offset the cleaning goodies that Campus used to provide, one option would be for them to negotiate an extension of the lease with the building owner.  On the other hand, maybe the type of people that move there would not live communally without the amenities.  We'll know in a few months...

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A highrise of co-ops

With highrise apartments being common, why I don't live in one?  Well, #1) I can't afford to and #2) with most condos being 1 bedroom or 2 bedroom units, there are no options on the market that offer communal living.

The sketches below are an idea that blends communal living (loosely based on Loth in Berkeley) and stacks several communities in a single building.  Compared to a regular tower, there are twice the number of bedrooms, half the per-bedroom cost, and lots of spaces for social interaction.  To address the management issues previous high rise communities of this type faced, this design separates the building into individual communities of 50-90 people: small enough to know everyone, large enough to keep things lively.   One of these 2 to 3 story communities could also be made by remodeling a few floors of an office building.

When a region's most beloved streets are done in a quirky Victorian or Craftsperson style, shouldn't its biggest buildings also be something other than a glass box? 

Click images to enlarge

Design is based on Loth and also previous Victorian highrise design used in the Hanging Gardens of San Francisco story.

Can it work?
This is a rare but not unprecedented building type.  The first batch were built in the 1960s. 

Anhua Lou, Beijing, China - an urban commune built in the 1960s, had a single dining hall for several hundred people.  The common spaces were later divided into regular apartments a changing society led to de-collectivization of living arrangements. 
Rochdale College, Toronto, Canada - built in the 1960s as student housing, this 18-story building had management problems that led to a high vacancy rate.   It was converted into regular apartments in the late 1970s. 

In the last decade, this idea has returned.  Learning from past mistakes, these new communities divide the building into several communities of manageable size.  In addition, the market has changed.  Whereas in the mid 20th century, massive investment in public housing and new suburbs kept housing costs low elsewhere, today, the housing market lacks supply in most desirable cities.  The green movement has also given living small mainstream appeal.  Finally, a rising age of marriage and childbirth means a longer segment of time living single. 

As a result, communal living is no longer just for young hippies or a last resort for the urban poor, it now appeals to a large section of the middle class, and has the potential to take on the attributes of middle class housing: socially acceptable, easy to finance, and boring in a good way. 

Super Co-op, Austin, Texas - a student housing cooperative, built in the 2000s, that has 3 stacked communities.
1532 Harrison, San Francisco - a proposed CoLiving project in San Francisco's SOMA district.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Campus Coliving - large master-leased houses for communal living

Property management company Campus Coliving master-leases large (most are 5 to 9 bedroom) apartments and houses, and then leases out the rooms individually month-to-month.  What makes them different than a typical manager though is the services they provide, which include:
  • Roommate matching
  • Common space furniture, kitchen appliances, and supplies
  • Cleaning service
  • Community mentoring services (such as event planning and communication facilitation)
Campus currently charges $1000-2200 for a private room (all rooms are singles), which is somewhat lower than the going rate for a bedroom in San Francisco.  Their target market is recent college graduates who are relocating to a new city to start their career. 

Education and training
To help people new to communal living learn how to do it, they have a Living with Housemates Guide (PDF) that gives suggestions on decision making, chore sharing, food sharing, guest policies, etc.  It feels similar to the Berkeley Student Cooperative's Owners' Manual (PDF), with a few notable differences. 
  • Whereas the BSC has most policies (such as food budgets and hours of housework per week each resident owes) decided already, Campus leaves many up for each house to decide on their own.  
  • The BSC manual has a section on why co-ops are awesome and the history of cooperatives, while the Campus guide doesn't try to sell the concept - it just dives into the practical stuff.
 On the operations spectrum, Campus seems to be somewhere between student housing and ad-hoc communal houses started independently - indeed, their prototypical resident is probably between those two types of housing.  Cost-wise, it's slightly cheaper than a regular apartment, somewhat more than a ad-hoc community.  The premium comes from the convenience of being able to meet people when new to the area, the common space furniture, and the short leases. 

Any side effects? 
This being the Bay Area, there's been concern on the effects this type of housing might have on housing costs for everyone else, though Campus CEO Tom Currier states that no evictions are taking place when he opens the houses

So who is this type of housing competing against?  Not so much ad hoc communities, who are likely to look for older, cheaper buildings.  Most likely, wealthy couples.  Most families don't have enough people to need 5 or more bedrooms, but there's a certain prestige in having a nice house.  Several working people without children are going to outbid most individuals or couples. 

Is senior coliving next?
While right now the main market for this type of housing is people in their 20s, the serviced house model could also be a great way to do senior housing.  Senior cohousing, where residents have individual kitchens and bathrooms, already exists.  Senior shared houses would be lower cost and also lower the cost of home health care.  The UK is ahead of us on this one, with 10-20 room "boutique nursing homes" recently opening, combining the less institutional atmosphere that comes with a small size with the economies of scale of multiple residents. 

Closing thoughts on household size
Throughout most of history the typical household has had a size of 10-20 people, and perhaps the nuclear families, couples, and singles of the 20th century are a historical anomaly, when transportation and migration moved faster than society could catch up.