To Keep Rents Down, Some In Big Cities Turn To 'Co-Living'
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
In cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, the cost of housing is out of control. One solution is called co-living, and it looks a lot like dorm life. Co-living may fill a vacuum between low-income and luxury housing, a vacuum that leaves out people in the middle. From LA, Anna Scott from member station KCRW has this report.
ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: The grand tour of Nadya Hewitt's (ph) home goes something like this.
NADYA HEWITT: We have a lamp. We have a luxurious comforter.
SCOTT: Which means we're sitting on her bed while she points to some stuff she keeps within arm's reach.
HEWITT: We have my sunglasses and water over there.
SCOTT: Hewitt is 33 years old. And she lives at this building in Venice Beach, run by a company called PodShare. Picture an upscale, youth hostel with more than a dozen twin beds in a communal bunk room. Each pod, to use the company lingo, has some storage space and its own small flat screen TV. Everything else - bathrooms, kitchen, yard - is shared.
HEWITT: It's safe. It's clean. And it's great for me - an entrepreneur building a business that doesn't want to deal with rent right now.
SCOTT: But rent here costs $1,400 dollars a month. In a city with a housing shortage and a neighborhood where the average apartment costs a lot more, that's a good deal for Hewitt.
HEWITT: My gosh. So I've looked at studio apartments in this area, in Hollywood, downtown. I mean, we're looking at almost $2,000 a month.
SCOTT: In recent years, similar buildings have popped up in New York, Seattle and Portland, to name a few. With co-living, tenants typically share kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms to live in neighborhoods they otherwise couldn't afford. Here in Los Angeles, PodShare opened its fifth location this year. And there's a flurry of other co-living projects as well.
JON DISHOTSKY: So I thought I'd bring you up here. There's going to be sort of, like, acoustic music going on here on a weekly basis. We have these Sunday suppers where everybody gathers.
SCOTT: Jon Dishotsky (ph) is showing off the roof deck on his latest project. He's the CEO of a startup called Starcity, which manages four co-living buildings in San Francisco. This is their first one in Los Angeles. Some of the units are furnished, dorm-like suites where you get a private bedroom but share a bathroom and kitchen with one other tenant.
DISHOTSKY: You know, bringing back some level of affordability to one of the most expensive zip codes in the country.
SCOTT: But again, affordability is relative. Rents start at $2,200 a month.
DISHOTSKY: On a sticker shock level, the prices here are not perfect.
JILL PABLE: I think this trend fits very hand in glove with this sense that we are now moving into an experience economy rather than a possessions economy.
SCOTT: Jill Pable teaches interior design at Florida State University.
PABLE: You know, this is tied to, for example, the tiny house movement and, you know, a great emphasis on travel these days. The sharing economy, I think, is also a player here as well.
MIKE LIU: My name's Mike Liu (ph). Good luck finding me on Facebook.
SCOTT: Yes, it's a very common name.
LIU: Yeah. It's the John Smith of Chinese-Americans.
Back at PodShare, Liu's been here about two months. He's 36, recently earned his MBA and came to Venice Beach to search for a job in the tech sector. Cost is a factor in living here he says.
LIU: But at the same time, I also wanted to not be by myself all the time.
SCOTT: He says because he served in the Air Force, the lack of privacy isn't a challenge.
LIU: Not to me, maybe because of that military background. The social aspect - the thing is there's always somebody new coming through. And that discovery feeling, that's always there.
SCOTT: And it might be the only way for Liu and others to discover life in one of the tightest housing markets in the country. For NPR News, I'm Anna Scott in Los Angeles.
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