Co-living the neoliberal way
August 29, 2018 1:04 PM   Subscribe

Share houses as a business. Possible take: Domestic labor, and even emotional labor, get paid for if capital does them?
posted by clew (49 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
....Isn't this....isn't this just a commune?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:18 PM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


“If you become a surgeon, you could impact maybe 100 or 200 hearts a year,” says Merchant. “If you start a business, you could impact potentially millions of people. And I’ve always been a risk-tolerant person.”

That... that is something.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:23 PM on August 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


i am absolutely terrified of what the problem is if this is marketed as a solution to something
posted by eustatic at 1:24 PM on August 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


...Isn't this....isn't this just a commune?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:18 PM on August 29


it seems to have the downsides of a commune, but you've also signed your co ownership over to a remote corporation, so if you run into a problem....what, you leave and start over? that seems very stressful.
posted by eustatic at 1:29 PM on August 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


....Have just noticed the really interesting detail - the HubHaus's get their property by reaching out to absentee owners of buildings that are sitting empty.

So this isn't quite like a commune - it's more like, a commune meets AirBnB.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:33 PM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


You see!? I told my students that being a dorm RA would give them important life skills!
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 1:33 PM on August 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


Today the average member is 27 and stays in HubHaus properties for at least a year. The current HubHaus model, though, makes it difficult to have many couples in homes due to the strain it places on resources shared among individuals. But Merchant hopes HubHaus will grow its availability for couples in the future.
Oh, thank goodness, a solution for people with the most disposable income and flexibility, as long as they're properly vetted so there aren't any of those pesky issues of not getting along. After all, everyone here likes one of the biggest media properties and one of the biggest musical acts of the last twenty years!

I don't know, maybe it can trickle down and eventually make everyone's lives a little better. But I'm not holding my breath that a company whose logo is HH has thought out all of the permutations.
posted by Etrigan at 1:36 PM on August 29, 2018 [12 favorites]


But why are there so many absentee owners? Isn't that the problem?
posted by eustatic at 1:39 PM on August 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I was taken aback by the idea that there are plenty of big houses sitting around empty in Silly Valley; cautiously pleased that mcmansion layouts are usable for more than an atomized nuclear family after all; really surprised that they aren't running into local laws against group housing. (Yet?)
But the companies are more than just landlords: They’re part cruise directors too, providing cleaning services and happy hour get-togethers, tastefully furnishing common areas and ensuring that housemates are decent people who won’t steal everyone’s food.
In the eighties and nineties when I was living in shabby sharehouses, "cruise director" and anti-cholera cleaner was always effectively an unpaid job. I'd rather have everyone learn how to clean up after themselves, but if it's explicitly a service, at least it's getting paid for.
posted by clew at 1:44 PM on August 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


The photo captioned "HubHaus' staff in and outside their Los Altos office space, where the communal lifestyle of HubHaus' homes extends to the work environment itself." looks like sheer hell to me.
posted by Lexica at 1:44 PM on August 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


This would still be illegal in my city due to the "no more than three unrelated adults per unit" rules.
posted by octothorpe at 1:55 PM on August 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


But why are there so many absentee owners? Isn't that the problem?

Yep. Interestingly, I heard an interview this morning with a dude who was slamming all the do-good entrepreneurs and philanthropists for trying to fix a lot of the world's problems by throwing money at them or writing apps to fix them instead of tackling the root causes of the problem with societal and social welfare reform. I'm trying to find the name of this guy, I just remember listening to him and nodding a lot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:57 PM on August 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


Was it Anand Giridharadas?
posted by Etrigan at 2:00 PM on August 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


YES, it was Anand Giridharadas. that was the interview, thanks!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:04 PM on August 29, 2018


The photo captioned "HubHaus' staff in and outside their Los Altos office space, where the communal lifestyle of HubHaus' homes extends to the work environment itself." looks like sheer hell to me.
posted by Lexica at 3:44 PM on August 29 [+] [!]
The young man on the far left is making the same face I would if I had to work at a multi-occupancy utility table.
posted by Horkus at 2:05 PM on August 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Well, if you go around fixing root causes, how will you get your rentier’s beak into the cracks in the system?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:08 PM on August 29, 2018 [6 favorites]


Weird, "co-living" seems to be the startuppy bearded-Spock-mirror-universe version of "co-housing", which is generally a pretty cool thing.
posted by ITheCosmos at 2:14 PM on August 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


This would still be illegal in my city due to the "no more than three unrelated adults per unit" rules.

Everything is legal if you call it Disruption!
posted by stet at 2:17 PM on August 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


....Isn't this....isn't this just a commune?

Or a boarding house, without the live-in landlady, or a dormitory.

Both of which are important housing solutions. There are a lot of people who cannot afford to live alone, and some people just like having the company. I lived in a dormitory for the first time in my mid-twenties, and I loved it. I had my own private space (my own room), a dining hall that gave me food and company on a regular schedule, and another large common room that I could hang out in and thus bump into friends and neighbours, even when it was snowy out.

Unfortunately, this wasn't accessible to me once I became part of a couple who wanted to live together. Which was a shame - my husband loved living in a communal style as well.
posted by jb at 2:30 PM on August 29, 2018 [6 favorites]


But the companies are more than just landlords: They’re part cruise directors too, providing cleaning services and happy hour get-togethers, tastefully furnishing common areas and ensuring that housemates are decent people who won’t steal everyone’s food.

It's not a commune--it's a boarding house. A nice boarding house, but a boarding house.

Which, I will say, aside from the fact that I have three cats and I have trust issues about strange roommates, I don't find unappealing, even in a more old-fashioned incarnation. I'm not partnered and I don't have kids and I would really quite happily do what amounts to going in with several other people on a cook and housekeeper. And boarding houses used to be fairly standard for urban young professionals.

But I'd have trouble trusting this sort of arrangement with this sort of company. I'd much rather it was a real person renting out parts of their house and providing the meals and housekeeping of shared spaces, a person who I could get to know well enough to trust.
posted by Sequence at 2:31 PM on August 29, 2018 [13 favorites]


“If you become a surgeon, you could impact maybe 100 or 200 hearts a year,” says Merchant. “If you start a business, you could impact potentially millions of people. And I’ve always been a risk-tolerant person.”

Yikes. This person should really have it explained to them that not all "impacts" are good things. A brutal dictator can have more of an impact on more people lives than a humble surgeon or a business owner, doesn't mean we should all strive to be brutal dictators to maximize our impact.

The business itself sounds like just another business ploy to further separate people from stability and ownership of themselves. More control for businesses, even less rights or ability to have a say in their living spaces. The whole thing sounds like a nightmare to me.

"San Jose council member Lan Diep says. “But to the extent that boosts the cost of rent, to $1,500 a month, for a room in a four-bedroom house, that might have a mortgage of $2,000 a month? Something feels wrong with that.”
"Merchant believes co-living is a consequence, not a cause, of the housing crisis"

This I agree with, however, the housing crisis should be addressed, not taken advantage of. There's also this weirdness of that area specifically just being insane. Rich people making 50 goddamn thousand dollars a year are somehow depicted as paupers, it's crazy.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:38 PM on August 29, 2018 [8 favorites]


these companies generally target the “underserved middle of the housing market,” the segment between traditional affordable housing programs like Section 8 and luxury apartment units

Uhhh...

So the middle class?

I can't wait until some brain genius gets the idea of rating each renter and we can have a giant database of roommate hell.

Sorry. They will have the database. We won't have anything, especially transparency or recourse.

"F--------- chews his tonsils, spits in the geraniums and calls me Pudge Pot"
posted by jonnay at 2:43 PM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


So I'm guessing we're one to two years away from articles with titles like "Hub Hauses Hidden Racism Problem."
posted by backlikeclap at 3:12 PM on August 29, 2018 [13 favorites]


And I’ve always been a risk-tolerant person.

Somehow the kind of people who say this kind of thing always turn out to mean that they are tolerant of risks for other people.
posted by praemunire at 3:21 PM on August 29, 2018 [12 favorites]


I wonder how they'll cope with roommates with small children, especially since it's illegal to discriminate based on family status. If someone living in one of those houses has a child, they couldn't kick them out without being sued - and if someone with a child applies, and they turn them down on the basis that nobody else wants to live with a small child, that's also lawsuit material.

Oh, and it's also legal to get married and move your spouse in with you, even if the lease only mentions one of you. But I'm sure that's irrelevant to this business plan, because it's not like 27-year-olds are prone to getting married, right?
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:29 PM on August 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


The young man on the far left is making the same face I would if I had to work at a multi-occupancy utility table.

it look like trying to read a book on the bus to summer camp when you're 10 except the shrieking ppl surrounding you can also get drunk
posted by poffin boffin at 3:47 PM on August 29, 2018 [8 favorites]


My wife and I met in this co-op 40 years ago. YMMV...
posted by jim in austin at 4:51 PM on August 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


This isn't even a boarding house, a boarding house would provide at least some meals (something more than Hubhaus chipping in $10 a head for food at the once-monthly house meetin). This is a fancy rooming house.

The first listing I looked at was renting out 9 bedrooms, with 3.5 bathrooms shared between them. Based on the pictures there's one kitchen (with, it appears a single fridge, stove, microwave & dishwasher), one living room, one dining room, and all of that space is open-concept. The laundry room appears to have a single washer & dryer. That feels like not a lot of infrastructure for 9 people (never mind significant others and/or houseguests). I notice the rent doesn't include utilities either.

I get that rent in the areas Hubhaus is targeting is high, but is ~$1300 + utilities for a bedroom in a 9-person shared house remotely reasonable?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 4:57 PM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


Man, if you are trying to sell a place via pictures of San Pedro Square, you don't have much to work with.

I get that rent in the areas Hubhaus is targeting is high, but is ~$1300 + utilities for a bedroom in a 9-person shared house remotely reasonable?

The 9 rooms in one place makes a difference, but $1300 for a room in that part of San Jose isn't that unreasonable. I paid $2700 for a 2BR (Avalon on The Alameda) like a 7 minute bike ride from where the "check how badass it is to live here!" photos of Downtown SJ were taken, and I did so back in 2015. I'm sure my old place is prob getting up to $3500 these days. And that's with less of a chance of drunk semi-homeless people throwing up on you than what'd you get in Downtown proper.
posted by sideshow at 5:22 PM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's alarming that the housing shortage in America's major cities has gotten bad enough to bring about the return of middle class boarding houses. That aside, this actually looks like a pretty enjoyable way to live, especially for a newcomer in need of a social circle. When I was in my early - mid 20s I would have loved something like this.

I would love to know more about the community management aspect though. What happens when a HubHaus member is just plain unpleasant to live with? Under what circumstances can a person be expelled? Once expelled, are they banned for life? It seems weird and uncomfortable that a corporation could throw you out of your home just for being a bad housemate, but with this model I don't know what the alternative would be.
posted by Kilter at 5:32 PM on August 29, 2018 [6 favorites]


Also weird that the article doesn't mention WeWork/WeLive, which is a company with a $10B valuation that is moving directly into the "what if you could live in a dorm for the rest of your life??? market.
posted by sideshow at 5:51 PM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I actually have long been a supporter of the boarding house model as a possibility - some of my best times were in dormitories and I do think it builds community while letting people not fight over minutiae. However, renting out four rooms for $1500 each on a $2000 mortgage...just seems wrong to me. I can’t imagine that constantly changed toilet paper and a background check is /that/ valuable. Plus, it’s implicitly discriminating, as a company, by looking for cool kids that can get along with other cool kids. I do not know how I feel about this at all.
posted by corb at 5:54 PM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


I get that rent in the areas Hubhaus is targeting is high, but is ~$1300 + utilities for a bedroom in a 9-person shared house remotely reasonable?

That's literally my mortgage payment. My in-laws wonder why we stay out here in the rust-belt and don't want to move near them in Northern California.
posted by octothorpe at 5:57 PM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I wonder how hard it would be to get a room if you had kids?
posted by amtho at 7:20 PM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Just wait for my startup: Squatr
posted by Divest_Abstraction at 8:45 PM on August 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yet again, Silicon Valley pretends that people over the age of 27 don’t exist. Got a spouse and a kid? Go away, man, you’re old. Ewwwww!
posted by zooropa at 8:46 PM on August 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


I don't know what's happening in other cities re: zoning, but in San Francisco, one thing the "communal living" companies are doing are buying up Single-Residence-Occupancy (SRO) buildings typically rented by low-income folks, demolishing them and building fancy ones for higher-income folks. The units in the article I linked were $450/month and they're now $2100 a month.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 8:57 PM on August 29, 2018 [6 favorites]


I wonder how hard it would be to get a room if you had kids?

Yet again, Silicon Valley pretends that people over the age of 27 don’t exist

Now now, on their website they say:
"We currently have members ages 21-55 from different countries around the world, varying sexual orientations, and religious beliefs. We don’t take age, sexual orientation, gender, race or family status into account when deciding who would be a good fit."
I'm sure that means everything's fiiiiiiiiiiiiine...
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:06 PM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


They don’t take family status into account but yet they say they’re struggling to figure out how couples can work? Riiiiiight.
posted by corb at 9:35 PM on August 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


Here's how they get around rental laws and tenant rights:
"Co-living offered a new option: HubHaus would become their tenant—making monthly payments to owners that in some cases covered the bulk of their mortgage payments. HubHaus, in turn, would sublease the space to its members."

They started that because in the first house:
"...they had a problem with one [housemate], learning the hard way that they couldn’t expel that person since all the tenants had signed the lease."
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:49 PM on August 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's the neoliberal bit that gets me. Privatizing something people already do themselves and soaking up the profits. It's theft. I just want to live in a world of co-operatives.

Gross gross gross gross gross.
posted by lokta at 1:33 AM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


Most of the questions that are being asked with regards to how to deal with unpleasantness and children are already dealt with by the many many housing co-ops and other shared living situations out there. These problems and their solutions are nothing new.

What gets me about this particular situation is that as far as shared housing goes... This one is not great. You are not getting a lot of the benefits like being able to afford more nice washers because they are shared. Or having communal meals. This is just a cheaper version of those corporatw apartment buildings going up everywhere that have a shared "lounge".
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:59 AM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


However, renting out four rooms for $1500 each on a $2000 mortgage...just seems wrong to me.

I doubt the mortgage is actually $2000. That's the mortgage on a place that costs in the range of $300k or $400k with 20% ($80,000) down. $80,000 is 50 months worth of rent at $1500 per month.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:58 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


So like, I've talked about some of my travels on this site before, but this is literally the way a lot of urban professionals live in the developing world. I'm gonna point at Indonesia, where the "kost", or "kos", or "kosan", or "kos-kosan", which originates from the Dutch word for guesthouse, is a substantial portion of the housing stock. If you walk down the street in Jakarta or really any other city, the countryside, anywhere, and no anecdata is not data, but my guesstimate was 20-50% of the buildings I saw were guesthouses rather than single family homes or apartments. A "kos" is any building modded for guesthouse usage, so it's a very wide range.

The whole "kost" concept is exactly what it says in the article. You get a private room, and then services/amenities on top of that, with laundry, cleaning, private kitchen, and a public kitchen being standard. Usually your own room has its own electric meter, and monthly/yearly rates are steeply discounted over daily/weekly rates, to the point that you're better off staying in a hotel for short stays. Some include food and a landlord who lives on site, some don't. Some kos rooms are dirt cheap, just a mattress on the floor, $3 a night type of deals, others are full on apartment units with extra services. What they all have in common is that they're low-rise and mid-rise buildings and independent businesses. Despite there not being "chains", since smartphones have become ubiquitous, quite a few are managed by nation-wide booking websites. Prices in Jakarta never go above $400/month. Higher than that and you're in one of the condo towers with a pool/sauna/doorman etc. There are some condo towers around for less than that and some kosts for higher, but they're outliers. My personal experience was with one at $186/month including air conditioning and a private bathroom, but very small. Laundry and weekly cleaning service included.

I go into this in such detail because the article is basically defining the place where I lived for a month. A "mansion" done up as multi-occupancy for single people, with cleaning and laundry and a public kitchen. I can't say I would have enjoyed living there long-term, especially since I'm one of those laptop nomads, but it was pleasant, communal, and very affordable. I was apparently the only foreigner to ever live there, and the locals were surprised, which probably contributed to my ease making friends.

Anyway, what floored me about the concept was the ubiquity of it. I've managed to fill my passport across most continents, but nowhere have I seen "guesthouses" as engrained in the fabric of life as Indonesia. Most of the world is just not set up to handle a mobile population. Indonesia is a corrupt, developing country which is particularly averse to enforcing regulation, the police are notorious for not bothering you unless they want a bribe, and it shows in the urban planning and state of buildings, and that should be remembered in any discussion like this. A lot of this housing is substandard, but a lot isn't. There is a boarding house on every corner, they're usually full, and it allows a much more mobile population and flexible social circle than I think we get in the USA.

Is a silicon valley startup the answer? Nah probably not, but HausHub is addressing a need that goes beyond just the availability of affordable housing. In 2018 we move more and own less than our parents, and our housing hasn't caught up AT ALL with that need. A full solution will look something like the kos concept in Indonesia, and startups might be part of it, but it'll take a cultural shift before we can all have an affordable roof over our heads.
posted by saysthis at 7:28 AM on August 30, 2018 [4 favorites]


with laundry, cleaning, private kitchen, and a public kitchen being standard.

Private *bathroom and public kitchen. Edit window passed before I saw that mistake.

Also, the issue of children in the urban areas of Indonesia I saw was handled by just... Cramming them in anyway. That or owning a single-family house/apartment. In the poorer areas it is absolutely slums and tin shacks. It's tropical so they can get away with that I guess.

All guesthouse all the time is not the answer, but I'm not against what HausHub is trying to address. All apartments all the time isn't the answer either.
posted by saysthis at 7:44 AM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine was broke almost homeless, when he had a debilitating stroke. It left him half paralyzed and unable to talk, a ward of the state. He ended up in a Medicaid funded nursing home where they were packed two to a room, for the last few years of his life. I was never a close friend that would have standing to challenge anything there, and I wouldn't have had the spoons anyway, but I visited regularly and tried to do what I could. Mainly I was the person who complained when things got extra egregious.

Anyways, the reason I mention it, is this: At that nursing home, they have to do some of the same things HubHaus is taking on. The cleaning and cruise directing aspect is huge. It sounds like HubHaus moves residents around between properties, to get a fit that resolves interpersonal problems. Which is probably better than not doing that - I remember life with roommates was a constant process of housemate swaps, too, and having lots of rooms in different houses, and residents that can be swapped without waiting for the lease to end, would have been a nice feature. OTOH, well, the nursing home people did that too, constantly mixing and matching the residents, trying to find a way to make them all get along. Some roommates are terrible, they yell all the time, pee on the floor, steal from other residents, etc. But they can't just throw them out. And if they pair up two difficult people, there may be fallout when the bad roommates end up confronting each other and having huge blowups. Defenseless people like my friend were pawns in this scene, constantly paired with the most awful roommates because they couldn't fight back.

This is what I'd be afraid of at HubHaus. If you are moderately able to advocate for yourself, it might be great for you. But the difficult people accumulate and the administrators are going to pair them with the defenseless, because they have to put them somewhere and that's the path of least resistance.
posted by elizilla at 11:25 AM on August 30, 2018 [5 favorites]


Medicaid nursing homes, as nearly-obligatory housing of last resort, have constraints that almost no other system has, though? HubHaus, like traditional boardinghouses, is arranged to be able to throw people out. As a quiet-seeking tenant with odd hours, I often needed that in sharehouses, one of the reasons I preferred boardinghouse-like ones to big dormitory-like ones. (This doesn't solve the problem of terrible-to-live-with people who still need housing.)

Anyway, I wouldn't be surprised if the US goes back to having a lot more rooming- and boarding-houses. A., USians were more likely to choose to raise families in boardinghouses than the other rich nations from the Civil War until about WWI*, and B., our not needing them much after WWII may have been due to fossil wealth that we mostly squandered. So C., I would like to think about how to do them well.

Paying the people who work to maintain households, both physical and organizational, I like. Sorting into karass/commentariats/franchulates is going to have creepy outliers but might be the best you can do given people, cf. The Law of Peoples. But the HubHaus business seems to depend on their size and corporateness, because it makes them a less risky tenant than small or private groups, which sets them up to be another beaky rentier, as observed above. Georgism ahoy.

* Twain and one of the Trollopes maybe got into a dustup over this? Can't find it. The English were scornful of mothers who lived in boardinghouses instead of looking after their own houses, which is croggling because they were definitely talking about people rich enough that they would have had servants in their own houses. The French and Germans had through-flats instead, iirc, which the Anglosphere just thought was weird.
posted by clew at 1:02 PM on August 30, 2018


The French and Germans had through-flats instead, iirc, which the Anglosphere just thought was weird.

What's a through-flat?

I swear to god if any of you jamokes says SAIT, I will TURN THIS CAR AROUND.
posted by Etrigan at 1:21 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


I thought it was an apartment that took up all of a floor but shared the entrance, but Google isn't backing me up. Did find 19th c English disapproving of French social arrangements:
The most important of these [objections to living in flats] is perhaps the manner in which the servants of all the families inhabiting the same house are lodged together in the upper or mansard story, with a separate entrance from the street, and thus entirely apart from all supervision from their employers except when actually on duty.
Quoted in The Growth of Victorian London, Olson, okay but not great.
posted by clew at 2:07 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


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