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  • Ellen Bassett

The Sharing Economy Reprise:  Dorms and Affordable Housing in San Francisco

In an earlier post I discussed research that we hope is forthcoming soon in World Development that looks at the Kenyan housing market. We found that a large part of the affordable housing being provided in the Kenyan market by private sector developers is in the style of dormitories. (That is, dormitories before they became fancy at college campuses. No climbing walls here.) What's a dorm? A single room supported by a shared bathroom and shared kitchen.

The New York Times had an article yesterday (or maybe the day before) on just that model coming to one of the most expensive housing markets in the USA: San Francisco. See: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/04/technology/dorm-living-grown-ups-san-francisco.html. The housing quality difference couldn't be much bigger and, of course, what constitutes "affordable" is quite different. But what is striking are the variety of reasons to live in such housing outside the primary driver of affordability. The attractions? Community, location, no yard to maintain, etc.

But the cost of these new dormitories to other populations of city residents should not be underestimated. Some of the buildings being converted are former SROs (single room occupancies) that were the last refuge of very affordable housing for some of our most distressed members of society.

Homelessness in the USA is a national disgrace; there is very powerful coverage of that in the Washington Post on March 2. See: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-sight/wp/2018/03/02/heartbreaking-scenes-of-homelessness-from-a-national-disgrace/?utm_term=.8658c9692e96 .

Probably more than any other issue in planning today, our failure to really deal with homelessness and make a compelling social and moral argument disturbs me. We may have a developer in the White House but this market is clearly not his concern.

Last Updated:  14 September 2020