Are we over-sharing (housing)?

Last Spring I caught wind of a project called ONESHAREDHOUSE, a self-initiated effort by superstar creative agency Anton & Irene. OSH explored concepts in coliving, inspired by Irene’s formative years in a Dutch lesbian co-housing arrangement (they also made a badass interactive documentary that you should check out). OSH caught the attention of SPACE10, a Copenhagen-based, IKEA-funded “future-living lab” that is tasked with detecting trends that might affect the furniture behemoth’s business in the years to come. One of those trends is “shared living,” and the two parties collaborated to make ONESHAREDHOUSE2030, a research project exploring the future of shared living.

SPACE10 was in NYC this last week and held an event the other night in Brooklyn, which I attended. Some takeaways:

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When will we stop building in dumb places?

Conversations about the future of real estate tend to cover topics like autonomous vehicles’ impact on place-making, coliving, modular and tech-enabled construction, and robotics. These fun topics allow us to put on our Muskian caps and wax about the possibility of how wonderful things could be in the future.

What’s less often discussed is the bad, highly-probably stuff. And the baddest and most probable stuff is global warming, which will likely make many major markets virtually development-proof in the not-so-distant future.

As of 2010, 39% of America’s population lived directly in coastal areas that include virtually every major city (the number was projected to jump to 47% by 2020); most of these areas will be subject to the impact of sea level rises and their attendant storms. A recent report underscored this, suggesting that 41M Americans live in areas, both coastal and inland, that are susceptible to 100-year flood (read: big-ass flood). This is a major revision from FEMA’s previous 13M estimate.  

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Coliving operator rocking the suburbs

One of our favorite co-living/housing/whatever operators, HubHausraised a $10M series A lead by Social Capital the other day. Whereas most coliving operators focus on multifamily housing in super pricey cities, HubHaus takes on shared living in single-family housing in Bay Area/SV and LA suburbs. While these areas have an abundance of jobs for single, techy types, their suburban housing is decidedly family-friendly.

HubHaus rents out rooms in normal, old suburban houses at very approachable price points (~$1k/month). And the shares give residents a built-in community, which is more important in sleepy, low-density burbs than cities that abound with social opportunity. And given that 76% or so of American housing is single-family, the market potential is huge, something this latest investment attests to.

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The machine that will drive the NIMBYs out of their homes

NIMBYs objections tend to run something like, they want to: protect the character of their neighborhoods, prevent gentrification and maintain affordable housing for existing populations, prevent overcrowding, and so on. But underneath the protests is a more base—if unconscious—financial concern. Often, a large share of the NIMBYs wealth is tied up in their home’s value. Suggestions of easing housing scarcity—the big driver of their personal wealth—can strike them as an existential threat.

But most people have a price. What if the NIMBY could see—and benefit from—the real development potential of their property? That’s the idea behind CityBldr. The Seattle-based startup is using “machine learning on dozens of disparate data sources” to find the “highest and best use” of a property (read: milking the most money from it). They claim their system can help fetch as much as 89% more than conventional valuations. They will help you shop your property to builders and developers and they also have tools that will keep you apprised of potential upzoning—an issue that could be a big deal in California in the next year. Continue reading “The machine that will drive the NIMBYs out of their homes”

The (construction) robots are coming

“The machines will never replace the human,” Jeff Buczkiewicz, president of the Mason Contractors Association of America, told the NY Times regarding the role of robotics and masonry. Jeff was speaking to the Times at the Spec Mix Bricklayer 500 bricklaying competition (who knew, right?), where fast-handed masons race to build high-quality walls in the least amount of time.

Also at the competition was SAM, a $400k bricklaying robot by Construction Robotics. SAM was slower than the humans (who could lay 7-9 bricks/minute) and didn’t have the “human element” Buczkiewicz claims is necessary to lay down bricks—elements like opioid addiction and onsite deaths, we assume. Nevertheless, the Times wasn’t so convinced the masons are safe from the robots.

The article feels portentous. Things are bad and seem to be getting worse for America’s contractors, masons included. Labor shortages are delaying projects and adding expense. The workforce is aging and younger folks are showing little interest in learning construction trades. The only people who might not want robotic intervention are the current contractor labor force, who are crushing it. Continue reading “The (construction) robots are coming”

NYC gets mod complex

Interest in modular construction is exploding. Modular factors into Katerra’s product offerings. Google is working modular into their Quayside master plan and has commissioned 300 modular units from upstart Factory OS, bound for employee housing in Silicon Valley. And a handful of interesting companies are moving into the space. Now the city of NY wants to go modular. The city’s Modular NYC RFI and RFEIs are looking specifically at modular solutions to help meet De Blasio’s Housing New York 2.0’s ambitions for creating and/or preserving 300k affordable housing units by 2026.

The “I” in the RFI is a brain-dump from “market participants,” explicating how modular will work in a variety of multifamily settings throughout the boroughs. The RFEI “invites expressions of interest for modular affordable housing construction on private sites within the five boroughs,” with the aim of expediting “the pre-development process” for successful RFEI  respondents. These preliminary steps will be shortly followed by an RFP for a project built on city lands. Continue reading “NYC gets mod complex”

Sky’s the limit with biggie smalls apartment

The micro-apartment topic tends to be framed around micro-studios. But the hefty development costs of building an NYC micro studio result in a rent which is 115% of the AMI (area median income). 

The problem is studios require the same plumbing and electric work as larger units (which is why shared kitchen/bath SROs make so much sense). So developers default to building two and three bedroom units, where plumbing and electric costs can be distributed across more beds. Larger units are also seen as a more reliable unit type by lenders, probably because they can be adapted to roommates, couples, and families. 

Cheaper development costs and cheaper debt mean two and three beds can be offered at cheaper price points…to an extent.

Square feet still cost money. A luxury square foot rents for around $6/month in Manhattan, which means a 900 sf two bedroom will set you back $5400. This is a good chunk of change for most.

The world belongs to the developer who can figure out how to bring new units to market without giving away $5k gift baskets.  

Ranger Properties might onto to something with “The Lanes.” Their Long Island City building features 57 micro two and three bedroom apartments—490 and 735 sf, respectively (compared to 900 and 1,200 sf for more conventional units). By shrinking unit sizes, Ranger presumably achieves the economy of scale that keeps development costs low on larger units. But because units are small, they can charge a solid $/sf without elevating rents too much, especially when compared to market comps.  Continue reading “Sky’s the limit with biggie smalls apartment”

Got me looking SRO crazy right now

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. 

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Should Americans have to rent their dreams?

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.

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Amazon HQ2: Two Day Gentrification Guaranteed

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.)

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