The booming tech industry has caused an ongoing housing crisis in San Francisco, and longtime middle-income residents have been forced out by sky-high housing costs.
A startup called Starcity is on a mission to alleviate the situation. Founded in 2016, the 18-person team is creating communal housing for middle-income people who don’t qualify for government subsidies but still can’t afford San Francisco’s sky-high prices.
Starcity buys up defunct hotels, retail buildings, and parking garages and turns them into dorm-like living spaces for the city’s restaurant workers, teachers, and artists. According to the founder Jon Dishotsky, fewer then 20% of residents work in tech.
Right now, Starcity runs two San Francisco locations – one in the Mission district and one in Soma. There’s an 1,800-person waiting list for the two open locations, with nine more locations in the works. We visited the Mission location to see what it’s like.
The Mission Starcity was formally a residence hotel called the Yug, and other than a new paint job, the outside has remained the same. “We’re not dropping a glass box in the community and walking away.” said Dishotsky.
The building’s front room is reserved for the surrounding community. When the space first opened in May of 2017, it served as an art gallery for Mission-based artists.
The surrounding neighbourhood is characteristic of the Mission before the tech boom, and is filled with street vendors and mum and pop shops.
Before opening a new building, Starcity reaches out to neighbourhood groups to see who in the community is in need of housing. The goal is to build a bridge between the older generations in the city and the new ones – not divide them over $US4 lattes.
The building has 20 residents, including three who were residents of the former Yug Hotel.
Their rooms were renovated, but the three remaining residents of the Yug pay the same rent they always have. Starcity prices their spaces at 30% of an average middle income. At the Mission location, residents get a private bedroom, and access to a communal kitchen and living room for $US2000 including utilities. This might seem high, but average rent for a one bedroom apartment in the Mission is $US3,200.
The kitchen is communal. One side is for more serious cooking, and the other for putting together a simple meal or reheating leftovers.
Everyone gets a labelled shelf in the pantry and in one of the two fridges for their personal food.
The communal living room is spacious, and big enough for weekly potluck dinners and Wine Wednesdays. All costs of the Starcity-organised events are included in rent.
Residents are allowed to add their personal belongings to communal spaces. The blowup sharks on the lower shelf are leftover from a community-initiated “Shark Week.”
Residents of the Mission community also maintain a communal bar cart.
A rarity in any city, the building has a small outdoor area.
An in-unit washer dryer is included in rent and available to all.
At every location, Starcity partners with a local organisation and organizes donation boxes and volunteer events for residents.
Everyone has a private room, and bathrooms on each floor are typically shared between two people.
All rooms come fully furnished, the cost of which is included in rent. The rooms are all around 220 square feet, and between the bed and nightstand, space is tight.
Items from local businesses are incorporated throughout the building, and add some of the character typical high-rises lack. This pillow for example, came from a vendor at a Mission street fair.
Each room comes fully equipped with a kitchenette for those who just want to grab a yogurt and go in the morning.
According to Dishotsky, 40% of applicants come via word of mouth.
Growing up in communal housing, Dishotsky was introduced early-on to the lively communities that are created when groups of people live together. He also became well aware of the problems that can arise, and tried to nip those problems in the bud at the Mission location. Hence the professional cleaning crew and in-unit laundry.
“There’s no option in real estate that caters to the customer, and housing shouldn’t be binary,” he said.