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The cost of housing is out of reach for many residents in cities like Los Angeles and Seattle. One solution is called "co-living" and it looks a lot like dorm life. Co-living projects are trying to fill a vacuum between low-income and luxury housing in expensive housing markets where people in the middle are left with few choices.
Nadya Hewitt lives in a building in Los Angeles run by a company called PodShare, where renters (or "members" in company lingo) occupy "pods." The grand tour of 33-year-old Hewitt's home takes place sitting on her bed as she points out the various things she keeps within arm's reach: a lamp, sunglasses, a water bottle, a jar of peanut butter.
The pods consist of a twin bed with a small flat screen TV in a communal bunk room, some immediate storage space and access to lockers. The kitchen, bathrooms, yard and other common areas are all shared. Members are also allowed to hop around to different PodShare locations as much as they want, as long as there's availability.
Prices vary slightly at different sites, but the PodShare where Hewitt's staying costs $1,400 a month. That might sound steep, but traditional apartments in the surrounding neighborhood of Venice Beach go for a lot more.
Without PodShare, Hewitt says she'd never be able to afford this area.
"Oh my gosh," she said, "I've looked at studio apartments in this area, in Hollywood, downtown. I mean we're looking at almost $2,000 a month."
PodShare, which opened its fifth location in L.A. this year, is part of a growing trend. It's one of several companies operating so-called "co-living" buildings in the city. In these properties, tenants typically share kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms in exchange for cheaper rent. The co-living companies generally don't own the properties but partner with local developers to operate and manage them.
In Los Angeles, besides PodShare's projects, there are co-living buildings under construction in downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and Venice Beach.
New co-living projects have also popped up in other cities where the cost of housing has risen in recent years, including New York, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.
Jon Dishotsky is the CEO of a co-living startup called StarCity, which already manages four buildings in San Francisco. The company's first building in Los Angeles is currently under construction in Venice Beach.
On a recent afternoon, Jon Dishotsky pushed open the door to the roof deck on the Venice Beach project and stepped outside. Lounge furniture was arranged around the roof, and the ocean was visible a block away.
"There's gonna be acoustic music going on here on a weekly basis," he said, and "Sunday suppers where everybody gathers."
As he spoke, construction crews were still putting the finishing touches on the building's first floor.
Dishotsky said his goal is "bringing back some level of affordability to one of the most expensive zip codes in the country."
Four types of working professionals for co-living projects
Specifically, he said the building targets working professionals who otherwise couldn't afford to live near the beach.
"We kind of have four different customer types," he said. "We have a 'starter,' who's just coming to a new city and wants to grab life by its horns. We have a 're-starter,' somebody who's 30 to 40, who maybe had a divorce or had a really tough roommate situation and is tired of running a home."
Then there are the "life shapers," who Dishotsky describes as champions of co-living as a long-term lifestyle. And finally there's the out-of-towners who need a local place to crash for a month or two because of, say, a job assignment.
The prices at Starcity's new L.A. building might be a good deal for Venice Beach, but they're not cheap. Rents will start at about $2,200 a month for dorm-like suites where renters get private bedrooms but share bathrooms and kitchens with one other unit, and go all the way up to about $3,500 a month for traditional one-bedrooms. The building also includes some traditional studios.
"We're very hyper-aware of the fact that this is not a full solution for affordability," Dishotsky said. "We are working on that."
The experience economy
The co-living trend, however, is about more than economics.
Jill Pable, a professor in the Department of Interior Architecture and Design at Florida State University, said co-living "fits very hand in glove with the sense that we are now moving into an experience economy rather than a possessions economy."
"This is tied to, for example, the tiny house movement," she said, "and a great emphasis on travel these days."
PodShare member, 36-year-old Mike Liu, agrees that embracing co-living is about socializing as much as lower rent.
"There's always somebody new coming through and that discovery feeling is always there," he said. He added that, among the longer-term residents like himself, there's a sense of built-in friendship and community.
Liu, who recently earned his MBA and came to Venice Beach to search for a job in the tech sector, says he's not sure if he sees co-living as a long-term way of life. For now, however, he's found an affordable niche in one of the tightest housing markets in the country.
"Take the time out to let loose and absorb the place you're in," he said. "I think that's a big piece of this experience."