Boilerplate response to anti-coliving articles, posts + comments

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View of the South Hills from the common-area skydeck of The Pearl ($669/mo. and up),
one of at least a dozen co-living communities in Eugene that are home to residents of all ages

This post was written in response to the posting (without critical analysis) of an anti-co-living article on a local pro-housing Facebook page. Which shows where we are in the work to advance housing diversity here.

As microdwelling options enter the public consciousness in Eugene, I am sure this will be needed again (and again) by me and others, so I am setting it up to be used and reused by anyone who needs it (like an earlier post, <Boilerplate response to anti-homeless comments on social media>).

The headline of this article, and the general tone and content, is anti-co-living, which I am sad to see posted on a YIMBY page. But if that is where we are, its important to know. 

The source of the article, OneZero, primarily covers tech; a more housing-savvy and innovation-supportive site, like CityLab, would likely be a more reliable and thoughtful source of information. To address its need to create some 13,000 units of housing renting for $650/month or less, Eugene needs to consider all possible ways of bringing down the cost of housing, especially those that are actually in practice and working in other cities and towns (as opposed to proposals that sound great but dont work in real life). 

The primary developer/CEO interviewed is interested in revenue, not providing affordable housing, and certainly not deeply affordable housing. Witness his blanket denigration of SROs at the end, when what he is building is one of many modern takes on the SRO, as is what I live in happily today.

The article employs a lot of common, tiresome memes used against the co-living housing type that are already present in the minds of the Eugene, and that YIMBYs should be about dissolving and erasing. It would be great to highlight facts in the article that would be of interest to this audience, though, like that San Jose has created a zoning designation for co-living. That is encouraging!

YIMBYs understand that costs of construction and land vary widely in different areas, and nearly all are much more expensive than Eugene. In particular, San Jose is one of the most expensive areas to build in the country. And that if a developer is 100% motivated by profit, not social good, their development is unlikely to somehow accidentally achieve social good.

I hope Eugene/Springfield YIMBYs will look for and share models of housing that you DO want to see here, and highlight social entrepreneurs (like Guerrilla Development and its Jolenes First Cousin SRO project in Portland). That would be helpful to all of us.

A few (though not all) elements of the not-helpful co-living meme, which are all too common in articles about it, especially outside the housing sector: 

1. The quotation of rent without comparison to the rent for a market-rate apartment **in that area** . Rents are astronomically high in San Jose. There was passing mention that **50% of AMI** there is $65K, meaning that AMI is $130K. (In comparison, Eugenes AMI is around $45K.) If you are thinking of San Jose rent in Eugene terms, you are comparing grapefruits to kumquats. 

Other elements: 
2. An often sneering comparison to a dorm (or SRO), as if that is an unacceptable housing type. This is a major societal prejudice that YIMBYs work to erase, rather than reinforce.

3. Inflated claims by the CEO (many CEOs in every sector do this, and are routinely disregarded).

4. Rejection of the entire housing type because rents in this particular incarnation arent as low as the writer thinks they should be. (Would we reject houses as a type because there are $2 million houses? This type of co-living development is the equivalent of that, in the co-living sector. It is built in an expensive area and marketed to a clientele earning far more than the average Eugene renter. Those are two reasons why co-living here is quite different, and rents for far less. Thank goodness.) 

As with any housing type, to achieve affordability (especially in todays challenging market), the developer needs to be 100% committed to affordability. Otherwise, as with any housing type, there will be pressures all along the way to add features to cater to perceived middle-class (or upper-class) tastes. 

Sadly, this dynamic happens even in nonprofit-built housing (aka Affordable Housing), where donors, other funders, and government (all of whom usually have middle- to upper-class standards) influence what gets built and make it far more expensive to construct and operate than it needs to be.

But these more expensive variants should not be used, certainly by housing advocates, to denounce the whole form. You can easily find $200K+ ADUs and tiny houses [the kind Councilor Mike Clark likes to cite in arguing against lifting the citys many restrictions on ADUs, while advocates see them as one of many possible providers of affordable housing that should be encouraged] … just as you can find $20,000 or entirely DIY versions of ADUs and tiny houses.

Depending on those who design and build it, and numerous other factors (like, in Eugene, the need to often fight protracted legal battles against residents who view more housing as dangerous), co-living can be budget-minded, moderately priced, or expensive. Witness what is happening with tiny houses, and what happened earlier with houseboats in America — originally a cheap, almost squatter-type form of living.

Eugenes many co-living communities, which primarily market to students (who contrary to local stereotype often dont have a lot of money — witness the many food pantries and 30% on Pell grants) offer newly constructed housing, often furnished, on individual leases, at rates that the median working Eugene renter (who makes $22-26K/year) can afford — unlike new standalone studio and 1 BR apartments, many of which rent for $1,100/month and up. Some of these new buildings full of standalone apartments we cant afford were even granted a MUPTE (10-year tax break) — while the co-living form has been specifically excluded, thanks to local anti-density zealots who likely havent had to rent in Eugene in decades and clearly didnt understand the form or its immense potential value to relieving our housing crisis. 

Competition in the co-living sector, as there is in Eugene among the dozen or more co-living buildings, also helps keep prices down. With a vacancy rate of 2.4%, there isnt enough competition among many other forms of housing here. 

For a survey of local co-living options, which quotes co-living rents in *our* area: redefininghome.org/quads

Published by Sherri Schultz

Writer & change-maker exploring micro-dwelling in Eugene, Oregon. Founder of Springfield/Eugene MicroDwellers: https://www.meetup.com/Micro-dwellers .

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