Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The horror show that is acceptable SF living speaks to the real effects of the city’s extreme housing shortage.
Sorry, boss, I can’t do my job today. I’m obsessing over the horror show that is San Francisco housing.
It has come to my attention that adults are voluntarily sharing rooms with people they are not romantically involved with. That’s right: People over the age of 12 are sleeping in bunk beds, splitting their rooms and lives and forsaking all privacy. Group houses are one thing, but we are talking group bedrooms here. Renters are living a nightmare in order to pursue their dreams. This is happening in real time in the Bay Area.
Snake people in my office tell me that adult room-shares are everywhere, and I’m just too out of touch to know about them. Interns on Capitol Hill sleep more than one to a room, for example. There are boarding houses for people returning from the Peace Corps, that sort of thing. Their landlords must be advertising these vacancies on the Snapperchat, because I am sure not seeing them.
But on Craigslist—the service that plain-old young adults use to find studios, one-bedroom apartments, and rooms in group houses all over the country—it’s not hard to find honest-to-goodness listings for bunk-bed shares, if you know where to look. They are sprinkled throughout the Bay Area like crumbs falling from the master’s table.
Here’s a listing in “the highly desired SOMA area—convenient to Tech companies, start-ups, incubators and schools” (sic all).
I kid you not, that is the listed rent per bed.
In the financial district, you will find a bunk-bed share with several available options, each one more dystopian than the last. You can share a 10’ x 13’ room (for $850), a 10’ x 7’ room (for $750), or a 10’ x 10’ room that can only be reached, apparently, by going through one of the home’s other bedrooms ($800).
Now, a lot of these listings are located in Palo Alto. (I know, because I’ve been trolling sfbay.craigslist.org all week at my desk.) Some of them resemble the Vinyasa Homes Project, a “co-creative housing” space where news reporters found some 30 people paying as much as $1,800 for a bunk earlier this month.
If this all sounds like tech-trafficking, well, that’s kind of right. In December, the owners of two tech co-ops in SoMa, part of a larger chain called The Negev, were dinged by the city for a laundry list of habitability violations. Rents for bunk shares at various Negev properties range from $1,100 to $1,900 per month.
“Close to Facebook, Google, VMWare, Linkedin, Tesla. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley,” reads another such listing. “Bunk bed will be provided.”
While some of these properties advertise themselves as “hacker hostels,” San Francisco’s short-term residential rental ordinance defines any stay over 30 days as rental housing. The “Inncubator”—a “high-end hostel, for hackers and startups,” my god—offers leases for three-month stretches. For Stanford women, there are bunks to be found in the Girls Startup House for Stanford Students and Affiliates. The landlord of one SoMa bunk-bed share lives in the home and requires renters to “sign an honor code pledge.” All of these properties must abide by the city’s landlord laws, ostensibly, even if their owners frame them as short-term rentals on Airbnb.
Corporate landlords exploiting the churn of Silicon Valley’s highly productive labor market are the rule in Bay Area housing shares, not the exception. Scope the city’s housing ads and you’ll see how venture capital is transmogrified into private property wealth. The House of Creative Souls looks like any start-up office, complete with a rock-climbing wall, basketball court, and a SoulCycle-ish gymnasium—and two bedrooms/two bathrooms for 10 residents.
Still, a small but creeping number of bunk shares appear to be run by regular residents, not real-estate companies. This Palo Alto listing insists that it isn’t an Inncubator property. Here’s another (cheaper) group-bedroom house. For $1,200–1,700, you can enter into this Millennial cult in SoMa. The listing reads like an episode of Friends from the darkest possible timeline.
Bunk shares are appalling, sure, but are they wrong? In one sense even the corporate bunk-shares fulfill a citywide need for more housing. Craigslist’s housing-wanted tab features posts from people in their 20s and 30s willing to share a bunk. Moreover, there are lots of posts from people insisting on a private bedroom—meaning that it’s widely understood that privacy isn’t a given in the housing hunt.
But only such an extreme lack of housing and a critical concentration of job opportunities could give rise to such a system. As CBS discovered, San Francisco’s housing inspectors cannot investigate hacker hostels for their adherence to long-term residence codes unless and until a renter has registered a complaint. Above and beyond the fact that sharing a bunk with adults would suuuuck, the whole “room-not-private” situation seems rife with the potential for abuse.
And yet, it could be worse!
“I saw an ad to share a room in SF with 3 other people. All you get is a bunk bed for $1800/mo. I said WTF?” reads the plea of one earnest Craigslister offering up a room of one’s own. “To help keep cost down I ask that you do your laundry at a laundry facility which there are three within a 2 mile radius,” the ad reads. “Also no smoking, no drugs, no booze, no clothes!”