YIMBY housing advocates ask, are you dense?

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).

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Katerra: Construction’s $865 million question?

What?

Silicon Valley-based construction tech company Katerra announced a SoftBank-lead $865M Series D.

Why?

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.    

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Take my building, please: Do recent investments mean coliving is here to stay?

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.

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What I really want to know is, are you going to build my way?

Robbie Antonio is a Filipino self-portrait collectorTrump 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.

Autonomous vehicles and flat earth property values

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.

Bigbrotherville

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.

One Step Forward, 6,533 Steps Back

Last week was NAHB International Builders Show (IBS) in Orlando, Florida. Per tradition, the show builds The New American Home (TNAH), an offsite showcase for the latest and greatest in single-family home design and construction.

This year’s entry put the “NAH” in TNAH (it’s also like real estate’s case of IBS…so many puns to choose from). The 6,533 square foot “Tuscan” five bedroom behemoth featured two double garages and a master bathroom suitable for bathing at rhinoceros. Read Treehugger’s Lloyd concise takedown of this monstrosity.

The house is a sad commentary on the mindset of American builders.

Single-family housing is still the main type of American housing, making up 76% of the housing stock. And there’s a huge deficit of low-and-mid-market new housing. Harvard reported last year that “Between 2004 and 2015, completions of smaller single-family homes (under 1,800 square feet) fell from nearly 500,000 units to only 136,000. Similarly, the number of townhouses started in 2016 (98,000) was less than half the number started in 2005.”

This deficit at the middle and bottom exacerbate an already-bleak housing situation. And while there are intermittent signals that builders are interested new, modest models of single-family housing, the TNAH shows that, despite its bad press, the McMansion is alive and well.

When cities give you crappy housing options, making housing aid

Some of us are fervent—and perhaps unreasonably romantic—lover of cities. For those so afflicted, the lack of affordable housing options in America’s most vital cities—and the cultural/economic heterogeneity those options support—makes us sad.

The dearth of affordable housing can be blamed on a bramble of regulatory, lending, manufacturing, and market conditions. This, in turn, leads many urban developers to default to building generic high-end rentals and condos that are inaccessible to non-investment bankers.

While there are hints that the luxury rental market is seriously softening, the status quo leaves many high and dry. But there are a few startups that are creatively hacking market conditions to offer somewhat affordable options to the underhoused masses.