By Nita Lelyveld Los Angeles Times
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Could Co-living be the answer to affordable housing? Proponents of the concept which includes "pod living" (people sleeping in pods stacked on top of one another) say this type of housing fills multiple societal needs beyond a place to place to hang your hat.
Los Angeles Times
The other evening, I visited Eddy, a new co-living complex in Hollywood. Tucked away on a residential block that used to be all bungalows, it has the styling of a hip boutique hotel. People carry branded metal water bottles that say "Live. Dream. Connect." The gym has a Peloton bike. Butterfly chairs encircle the backyard fire pit. In the co-working space, from a vending machine, you can grab a grain bowl or overnight oats.
Each of Eddy's four-bedroom furnished apartments has a gleaming kitchen with a big island and professional-grade stainless steel appliances. In the spacious living room, the custom-made sectional is deep, perfect for sinking into for a movie on the large flat-screen TV. For rents that top out per person at $945 a month, the luxe of it all seems astounding.
But here's the catch: Each single-sex unit is designed to accommodate 18 men or 18 women. Each diminutive bedroom with its private bathroom: four to six adults in small, stacked rectangular spaces called "pods " just wide enough for a mattress and high enough to sit but not stand on top of it.
They reminded me of the sleeping berths you might find in a luxury railway car or a rock band's touring bus.
I crawled into one to get a feel.
At my feet was a privacy curtain. And while, from the sheets to wall safe to mattress to noise-muffling ceiling fan, the space was comfy and well-outfitted, I felt the snugness of it and the nearness of the walls and I quickly had to crawl out.
Still, I'll be the first to admit that I don't fit this type of housing's prime demographic--single people in their 20s and 30s, relatively early on in their working lives.
Space-maximizing pod housing makes up a tiny part of the city's overall housing mix, but it quietly is popping up in neighborhoods all around Los Angeles right now. It may well have moved in somewhere near you so discreetly that you don't even know.
In the middle of an affordable housing crisis, it's easy enough to understand why what was once aimed mostly at short stays--tourists, new transplants--is now also being taken up as a long-term housing option.
But headlines tend to emphasize space versus cost--sometimes more than $1, 000 for glorified bunk beds. And if you stop right there and roll your eyes and say, "For that price why not rent a private room with a door ?, " I think you might miss some of what is driving this kind of communal living.
How we live in our world is changing fast. And given our shortage of affordable housing in the city, given the thousands of people who don't have any housing at all, I think it behooves us to see what a variety of housing models might offer.
That's why I set out recently to seek out those who were choosing to settle into the pod route. I wanted them to tell me why. In a lot of cases, the decision to go pod wasn't strictly about price.
The people I met at Eddy included actors and a sculptor and people making films. And they seemed to care far more about the chance to be part of a creative community whose members could hang out together in a groovy setting than about where they lay their heads during the relatively brief periods when they slept.
Mike Baez, 38, is an actor and filmmaker who drives for Uber to get by. In traditional rentals, he said, you have to put so much deposit money down, and landlords often frown on what he can produce for his proof of income. Eddy didn't, and its security deposit was just $395. He moved a month ago into the complex, which charges $795 a month if you commit to six, $100 more if you go month to month, $50 more for the slight space upgrade from a twin-to a full-size mattress.
For those sums, Baez and his fellow residents get linens and towels and daily housekeeping. They get shampoo and conditioner and shower gel in the bathrooms. They get a furnished place, complete with pots, pans and plates. They get high-speed broadband and cable, loaded iMacs in the workspace, a communal screening room, free fitness classes, group outings and on-site activities.
More important for Baez (twin, month-to-month), they get company.
"I had roommates up until then, " he said of moving to Eddy, "but ultimately it always felt pretty lonely. I like the idea of just having people around, coming home and finding like-minded people to talk to."
I've talked before about urban isolation and loneliness. It's something I worry about. So many people now work jobs that might not involve co-workers. In the course of the day, if they don't work at it, they might not have a single conversation.
The day after visiting Eddy, as I toured the properties of the older and earthier PodShare chain, I kept hearing similar sentiments about the comforts of not being all alone.
In downtown L.A., I met Daen Weary, 26, a Union Station security guard who wants to be an actress and told me she likes hanging out with the European tourists who pass through her PodShare location. Weary served on ships in the Navy and said that makes her pod feel spacious to her.
In Venice, I met Lorraine Soriano, 36, who inspects locomotives for Amtrak. She told me she is still deciding where in the area she wants to live. But she grew up with six people in a two-bedroom apartment in East L.A., and while she has the money for her own place, "I do not like being alone. I get all weirded out. I'm scared of it."
Pod complexes exist in many forms in L.A. Some are themed--say for people in the music industry. Some are illegal--just a bunch of metal bunks crammed into bedrooms of homes and apartments. (I've seen pictures on Craigslist that are so grim, they make me shudder.) The well-run versions like Eddy and PodShare work with the city creatively to meet zoning and safety codes. There's also a more pricey evolution of the form that features tiny private rooms rather than pods.
PodShare makes the Eddy seem like a palace of privacy. Its pods are built-in, grown-up versions of wooden bunk beds, with stairs instead of ladders to get to the upper bunks, and TVs mounted on the walls of each sleeping space. But they're generally all located in one big co-ed room, in plain sight of each other, without even curtains to shield them from view.
Group policing is essential to the communal model. PodShare and Eddy both have on-site staff to help, but groups tend to enforce standards and keep those who stray on track.
On my PodShare tour, though, quite a few people never looked up even as I gazed at them. Many pod dwellers grew up with earbuds in their ears. They're used to using them to create zones of privacy where physically there isn't any.
They're also often used to moving around a lot for work and to traveling relatively light.
In the Hollywood PodShare, I met Stephen T. Johnson, a 27-year-old entrepreneur who splits his time between PodShares and his parents' house in San Antonio, Texas--and travels with just 11 items (clothes included) because that's how little he cares right now about having stuff or having a place to put stuff.