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It is a truth universally acknowledged that finding housing in the Bay Area is a nightmare—and the same goes for finding a roommate.

Renters are likely to encounter Facebook or Craigslist posts for group homes that are a little unhinged. Some advertise “limited kitchen privileges” or try to weed out the bossier Zodiac signs—“Capricorns need not apply” is rude, but not quite housing discrimination, after all. Others use vague language, hoping you’re “fun” but that you “don’t bring the party home.” Then, if you manage to land an interview, you’ll have to exude an essence of “clean but also chill.” If you just don’t connect with anyone, you’re back to square one.

The Facebook/Craigslist housing hunt can be exhausting, especially where the stakes and cost of housing are so high. Breaking free of that cycle is one of the promises made by new “co-living platforms” like Bungalow, which leases and converts single-family homes into shared living spaces, and StarCity, which builds apartment high-rises that have been compared to luxe adult dorms.

When I first heard about these housing start-ups, I was curious: What made “co-living” different from what I’ve always done, which is “living with roommates”?

I recently spoke with Andrew Collins, the founder and CEO of Bungalow, who said he’s not out to reinvent the wheel. “It’s not about changing behavior, it’s just facilitating the behavior you’d already do,” he said. “We just want to up-level the roommate experience.”

A few weeks ago, I visited a Bungalow home, where I met Rachel and Ghaniat, two new roommates who had just moved to San Francisco from Oakland and London, respectively. They lived with one other guy in a light-filled, three-story house in San Francisco’s Fillmore District with granite tabletops.

Rachel (left) and Ghaniat (right) in their living room. (Sarah Holder/CityLab)

The house was much more expensive than other places Ghaniat looked at, she said. “But the fact that it took away stress, and I didn’t need to worry about fitting into criteria or applying 10,000 times” made it worth it.

“I liked the fact that it was easy,” Rachel agreed. “I didn’t have to deal with roommates.” (As the first tenant who signed onto the lease, she did get to approve the subsequent renters, though.)

(Sarah Holder/CityLab)

Roommate relationships get a lot of airtime, and can be one of the most formative experiences of life as a young person in a city. But usually the story starts once people are in the complicated throes of living together. That’s why it’s so tempting to hear about any new way to make the whole thing easier. (If you have any great tips or wild stories about your own roommate/housing search, please let me know!)

With self-selected co-living partners, the choice is mostly out of your hands: You may stumble into something wonderful or something wack. But building any community takes work, whether it’s defined by basic trust and courtesy or a full-on friendship. Finding your place in any shared home is never going to be easy. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

Sarah Holder

What we’re writing

Another casualty of mass shootings: our sense of public space. ¤ Green space is good for you, but trees are best! ¤ Green cities, ranked. ¤ Germany’s Green Party wants to cancel air travel. ¤ Jakarta, Indonesia gets overdue sidewalks. ¤ It’s time to learn your zoning ABCs. ¤ Rolling on the river… of trash juice, in Casablanca. ¤ Don’t trust online ratings of holy sites.

What we’re taking in

When hate came to El Paso. (New York Times) ¤ Native American women are going missing. (Pacific Standard) ¤ What we talk about when we talk about San Francisco’s urban change. (San Francisco Chronicle) ¤ Toni Morrison’s writing was “the kind of writing that makes you rewind because, god, what you just read was that titanic, that perception-altering, that true, a spice on the tongue.” (New York Times) ¤ Big Little Lies has Big Kitchen Island energy. (Curbed) ¤ Escape rooms are in now, because of course we want to escape!!! (Vox) ¤ L.A. has its own Lorax, now, to speak for the trees. (L.A. Times) ¤ “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” (Toni Morrison)

View from the ground

@photovisionproject19 spotted these beautiful balconies in Lisbon. @bobstorch highlighted San Francisco's colorful homes. @blossomingbrick captured Washington, D.C.'s brick rowhouses. @birdonaledge strolled through the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Showcase your photos with the hashtag #citylabontheground and we'll feature it on CityLab’s Instagram page or pull them together for the next edition of Navigator.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated Bungalow buys properties. It leases them.

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