When big cities gutted their single room occupancy (SRO) inventory in the mid-to-late 20th century—and failed to replace them with Section 8 or anything else—it left a big gap in the market for cheap and flexible housing. The vanishing SRO can be blamed for the birth of the roommate and its consequent squeeze on family-friendly urban housing and—more critically—the birth of the modern homeless crisis. One poll from 1980 found that half of NYC’s homeless population had once lived in SROs. Moreover, what SROs survived the purge became de facto bastions for the uber-poor, reinforcing negative stereotypes about the housing type.
A recent report by NYU’s Furman Center is renewing interest in the SRO as a viable market-rate housing typology. They argue that small efficiency apartments with shared kitchens and baths (i.e. SRO units) can achieve development and operating costs far lower than conventional apartments; for example, per unit hard costs on SROs are 67% less than normal studio apartments.
Continue reading “Got me looking SRO crazy right now”
Homeownership rates are near historic lows. Some try to spin this as liberation from the shackles of geography and home maintenance. But others see it as the road to a new form of feudalism. In this fiefdom, the landed rental conglomerates consolidate their wealth. Meanwhile, the renting peasants see their fortunes diminish having been stripped of the one appreciating investment still accessible to commoners. Their chances of breaking free of this cycle become slimmer as the 20% downpayment and securitization of a loan become out of reach due to endemic student loan debt and stagnant wages.
A few new ventures are offering novel ways for would-be homeowners to break this cycle. Companies like Unison, Landed, and Patch Homes are offering homeowners “shared-equity” in home purchases. Consumers get cash toward down payments in exchange for skin in a home’s appreciation (or depreciation). The added funds are being touted as leading to smaller, easier-to-secure mortgages to boot.
Continue reading “Should Americans have to rent their dreams?”
Newark. Yes, it’s impoverished and crime-ridden. Like most failing cities, it has crappy schools, a crumbling infrastructure, and inadequate public transit. But it’s also got an international airport, a walkable downtown with cool old buildings, and it’s less than a half-hour to NYC’s Penn Station.
The importance of this last point cannot be understated. One by one, never-going-to-turn places near Manhattan—the Bronx, Mt. Vernon, Jersey City, Hoboken, and others—are or have been gentrified by middle and upper middle refugees in search of bigger homes and cheaper costs of living. Why not Newark? (Yes, we know about the murders.)
Continue reading “Amazon HQ2: Two Day Gentrification Guaranteed”
The great YIMBY-NIMBY War rages on and what’s at stake is density. The YIMBYs want to add it by lifting land-use restrictions, particularly in transit-friendly urban areas—thus allowing housing supply to meet demand and lowering artificially high housing prices. NIMBYs want to prevent adding density, thereby preserving property values, personal wealth, and their ability to grow veggies in their backyards.
California is the war’s frontline. According to McKinsey, the state ranks 49th for housing units per capita, its real estate prices are rising 3x faster than household incomes, and it loses $140 billion per year in revenue due to the housing crisis. Much of the shortage flows from land use restrictions, which make it impossible to build in many areas and tags an additional $75k in various impact fees for every new housing unit built.
But if the YIMBYs get their way, State Senator Scott Weiner’s California SB 827 might prove to be the war’s D-Day (YIMBYs are the Allies and Weiner is their Ike, in case you were wondering).
Continue reading “YIMBY housing advocates ask, are you dense?”
Silicon Valley-based construction tech company Katerra announced a SoftBank-lead $865M Series D.
It’s common knowledge the construction industry is FUBAR. It’s second to last in terms of labor productivity of all major industries; it’s one of the least digitized major industries, spending <1% of revenue on R&D; and “large projects across asset classes typically take 20 percent longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80 percent over budget,” according to McKinsey. Look no further than Denver’s unfinished VA hospital that’s gone $1 B (B as in boy) over budget as a case-in-point.
Continue reading “Katerra: Construction’s $865 million question?”
Coliving—that housing typology for stock-image-looking, experience-loving, stuff-hating, taupe-upholstered-furniture-sitting, high-earning urban millennial professionals—is getting some serious attention from investors. A month ago, reigning champ Common raised a rock solid $40M Series C (making a total of $63.4M to date), and then last week, NYC-based coliving operator Ollie snagged a $15M Series A.
These investments are good indicators that coliving may enter the real estate asset class canon after all. For the last few years, this event seemed less than assured.
Some claimed coliving was for losers. Others pointed to WeLive as evidence of the model’s inherent flaws. If you recall, WeLive is WeWork’s Icarian initial residential outing, consisting of two retrofitted ~30 story buildings; their overstyled, overpriced units now appear to be packed with company friends, family, and “ambassadors” paying discounted rents. Others assumed that big developers would eventually make their own coliving buildings, cutting out the expensive coliving operator.
Continue reading “Take my building, please: Do recent investments mean coliving is here to stay?”
Robbie Antonio is a Filipino self-portrait collector, Trump friend, and real estate mogul (or the scion of one…not clear). He’s also the dude behind Revolution Pre-crafted Properties, a company offering design-y prefab homes that can supposedly be shipped anywhere in the world. Their portfolio features designs from starchitectural offices such as Libeskind Design and that of Jean Nouvel.
RRP is now getting in the city-building business with a development called “Batulao Artscapes.” BA will be “The World’s First Livable Art Park” (we know how many people want to live in art parks).
BA sits on 346 acres 50 miles outside Manilla away from any coasts. It will, according to CNN, feature “12 different styles of [factory-built] home[s] set across four ‘villages.’….residents can choose from prefabs designed by notable creatives, from artist David Salle to the musician-turned-interior-designer Lenny Kravitz.”
So far as we know, this is the largest prefab development ever conceived. The project’s ambitions are only matched by the number of unanswered questions we have: ones like who, in a country with a per capita GDP of $3K, is going to buy funky modernist homes costing $50K-$1M (USD) set Florida-retirement-community-style in the middle of a jungle?
With a completion date said to be in 2020, our questions may soon be answered.
One thing that will surely affect our orientation to the city mouse/suburban mouse real estate and economic divide are new forms of mobility. It’s said that ride-hailing apps are already having a flattening effect on residential real estate values in NYC. Because getting around is so easy, one-percent New Yorkers are doing the unthinkable: cross-shopping properties in the East 70s with those in the West 80s!
But ride-hailing will be gentle kneading compared to the rolling pin of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Locations that were unthinkably far away when accessed in regular vehicles will become thinkable in AVs—it’s the difference road-raging during your 1.5 hour commute or binge-watching Narcos.
Quantifying this changing orientation to location is exactly what Phil Levin’s new consultancy 99mph is doing. He expects a $1 trillion movement of capital due to AVs flattening effect on real estate. And though full autonomous vehicles are a few years off, the long horizon of real estate investment makes this a timely concern.
Every six months or so, an article comes out saying that, despite ideas to the contrary, millennials love suburbs, not cities. What these articles seldom mention is the socioeconomic composition of these suburbaphiles. While populations boom in the burbs, educated elites still have a strong preference for cities, according to data recently released by City Observatory. They state, for example, that “the number of well-educated young adults living in the nation’s largest cities increased 19 percent between 2012 and 2016, about 50 percent faster than the increase outside these large cities.”
The proximity-enabled network effect of cities can be an economic multiplier, which is a strong draw for money-loving people and businesses alike. In contrast, many suburbs have fewer opportunities and may be over-reliant on a handful of large employers. And even though homes are typically more affordable, when lower wages and higher transit costs are factored, the suburban economic advantage is eroded. These conditions might help explain why suburban poverty rates in the early aughts were double those of cities.
While many people truly prefer suburbs, it’s also true that many others want to live closer to urban cores but simply cannot because there are no market-rate housing options that are affordable and attractive. Hell, lots of the educated elite can’t afford city-living. The universe belongs to whoever can provide those housing options in a timely and economical manner.
Alphabet/Google came out guns blazing last year with the announcement of Quayside, a planned city-within-a-city (Toronto) whose technological infrastructure will put Masdar City and Agrosanti to shame. According to The Atlantic’s Laura Bliss, Quayside will have a “self-contained thermal grid” with recirculating energy, carless sections, autonomous transit shuttles, convertible modular buildings, and much, much more.
Sounds dope. But there’s another aspect that’s less dopey: “a data-harvesting, wifi-beaming ‘digital layer’” covering the city. This layer is ostensibly designed to improve urban UX, but Bliss asks, “But to whom, and how, would this data be made available? And what would such an arrangement mean for any Quaysider who doesn’t wish to be monitored?” In other words, would you want Google or former Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s administration to know your every move? Would Ford have wanted anyone knowing any of his every move?
Lest we get too worked up about the whole deal, let’s remember building cities is hard—even within existing cities (just ask Tony Hsieh). Sidewalk Labs—Alphabet’s urban lab helmed by city-hating CEO Dan Doctoroff—has pledged $50 million to Quayside. That should cover a four-story mixed use building, and maybe a bus stop. The rest of the funds will likely come from private developers, who will no doubt make the Sidewalk project more pedestrian.
Any way you look at it, using cities-as-data-mines will be a big deal in the coming years for cities new and old alike. Expect many questions in this realm as well as a growing focus on how data harvesting affects real estate valuation.