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Coliving scales up with larger buildings, and bigger ambitions

New projects from Starcity, Ollie show shift to building multistory projects from scratch

A rendering of Starcity’s planned San Francisco development, a 270-unit building in the SoMa neighborhood.

Coliving—the private bedroom, shared common space living concept embraced by a number of housing startups—is, in the parlance of the tech workers it often caters to, scaling up.

As reported by the Wall Street Journal, a number of recent projects show coliving not merely expanding, but aggressively trying to live up to a core promise of their business models. This includes ALTA, a recently opened 422-bed, 14-floor project in New York’s Long Island City led by Ollie, a new Brooklyn-based project in the works by London-based Collective, Common Addams, a 223-bed project in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, and a pair of multistory, ground-up projects in the Bay Area by San Francisco-based Starcity.

By making a tradeoff—asking tenants to live in a smaller, furnished private bedroom and share common spaces and expenses such as cleaning and Wi-FiWi- among fellow tenants—coliving can provide residents with more affordable access to great neighborhoods, and solve what has become a core issue in increasingly unaffordable cities.

“The fabric of these communities is coming apart,” Jon Dishotsky, CEO of Starcity, told Curbed during an interview at the company’s new Venice Beach location. “There’s low-income housing, and shiny glass housing that only a few people can afford. Where does everybody else live? They’re getting pushed out of these really good neighborhoods.”

Dishotsky’s company plans to break ground next year on its most ambitious projects since being founded in 2016. The first, an 800-unit building in downtown San Jose, near Caltrain’s Diridon Station, will be the nation’s largest coliving development, and will be walking distance from what many expect to be a massive new Google campus. The second may be even more transformational: a 270-unit building near Minna and 5th streets in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, half of which will be affordable housing. Ideally, these new “vertical cities” will accommodate couples, families and even multi-generational family units.

“Minna is our holy grail project,” says Dishotsky. “We want to make it affordable to those making minimum wage in one of the nation’s most unaffordable zip codes.”

Both projects are expected to open in 2021. While coliving only inhabits a small niche in the rental housing market, with companies like Common and WeWork’s WeLive focused mostly on adaptive reuse of buildings in big metro neighborhoods attractive to millennials, these ambitious ground-up projects signify that an adequate supply of affordable units is still lacking. These new buildings aim to fill that gap, even if it requires an adjustment in expectations—some of the new bedrooms in the ALTA project are just 83 square feet.

Starcity’s newly opened Venice, California location

Sitting on the rooftop of a newly opened Starcity project in Venice Beach, California, Dishotsky frames coliving as a question of opportunity. Projects like this newly converted corporate housing can help provide more access to the jobs and cultural offerings in this expensive stretch of beachfront real estate. The base rent here, which includes Wi-Fi and fully furnished rooms, runs $2,050 a month for a room in a suite and $3,050 for a studio that could fit a couple. This fits the typical price point for coliving: not exactly cheap, but cheaper.

Dishotsky says the firm picks locations based on a number of criteria, including area job creation, the housing supply and demand imbalance, and regional job diversity. Most projects so far, like this Venice complex, have been adaptive reuse. The lessons learned from these smaller buildings—such as how many residents can share a kitchen—have allowed them to scale up and build larger units from scratch, gaining the investor confidence necessary to try something new in a relatively conservative industry.

Coliving isn’t the solution, he says, but it can be part of the answer, and offer residents a chance to live and work where they want, without having to spend all their money on rent. Or perhaps more likely in the case of Los Angeles, all their time commuting.