This CNN story was making the rounds on Twitter the other day:
Housing costs have become so expensive in some cities that people are renting bunk beds in a communal home for $1,200 a month. Not a bedroom. A bed.
PodShare is trying to help make up for the shortage of affordable housing in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles by renting dormitory-style lodging and providing tenants a co-living experience.
A PodShare membership allows you to snag any of the 220 beds – or pods – at six locations across Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. There’s no deposit and no commitment. You get a bed, a locker, access to wifi and the chance to meet fellow “pod-estrians.” Each pod includes a shelf and a personal television. Food staples, like cereal and ramen, and toiletries like toothpaste and toilet paper, are also included.
What you don’t get? Privacy.
(“Podestrians” is not hyphenated. Shape up, CNN.)
The reactions that I saw ranged from horror and disbelief to disbelief and horror, with a recurring undertone of contempt for Big Tech. Here’s a slightly atypical example:
Hey Dublin, whenever the govt tries to sell you “coliving” this is what they want.
And the rent will not stay low as google and Facebook consume housing. It will go up and up and drag Dublin with it till an eventual collapse.
Dublin is #CoDying https://t.co/pjlZb4CJvk
— Conner Habib (@ConnerHabib) July 5, 2019
It’s atypical in that it’s aimed at Dublin, which might become the next Big Tech hub, instead of just decrying the cost of housing in a Big Tech hub that already exists.
This isn’t new, though.
I don’t have a copy of Corey Pein’s Live Work Work Work Die in front of me right now, so I can’t pull the exact quote, but one of his early riffs was on San Francisco housing. He was using Airbnb or something similar for housing, and PodShare’s offerings would have compared favorably. (You get a shelf with your bed! Woohoo!).
And I’ve checked out the San Francisco rental market with a few other sources. Every article I saw seemed to give slightly different (but all miserable) numbers; here’s one which breaks down the prices by apartment size:
The median rent for a two bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $3,108, which is an incredible $1,933 pricier than the $1,175 national median. Even smaller rentals are very expensive. The median rent for studio apartments is $2,013 median and $2,474 for a one-bedroom.
Two grand for an efficiency? No wonder someone reinvented the flophouse.
And it isn’t just the big cities in California, either. Airbnb doesn’t have the same kind of listings for my area, because it’s seemingly mostly aiming for the tourist market, so let’s check Craigslist…
Well, that’s disappointing. The last time I did this (to show the boss who wanted to cut my hours down to 16 a week what his glib advice to “cut housing costs” looked like), I found a 7-by-6 closet with a bed, coffee table, and lamp crammed into it, going for $300. Now I wish I’d saved that picture.
Anyway, for as long as it lasts, here’s a cheery little 8-by-10:
That’s being offered for $350, or slightly under half the price of a one-bedroom – comparable in price to PodShare.
And it isn’t quite as barrel-scraping as a big room full of bunk beds, but I suspect that sharing a kitchen (especially that kitchen) would horrify most of the people reacting to PodShare on Twitter just as much. I suspect that most of what’s euphemistically called “workforce housing” would.
I live in this kind of housing. I’ve done so for most of my adult life. I can currently afford an upgrade, but I don’t need one and would rather save the money. As far as my gut is concerned, this story is about me.
While I get the argument that some of these housing arrangements come with extreme tradeoffs in return for their lower prices – even the Alice Garden Pods in Deus Ex: Human Revolution had some advantages over PodShare, and it was described in-game as an example of dystopian exploitation…
(I bet some “podestrians” would kill for a privacy screen.)
…and while I cringe mightily at cutesy jargon like “podestrians,” performative wokeness like “we’re solving the homelessness problem and something something Native American traditions,” and Big Tech triumphalism like “Welcome to the Rise of the Freelance Economy” (yes, that was all capitalized when I found it)…
I can’t help but suspect that this story is meant to feed a class-warfare narrative, especially coming out of San Francisco, where class warfare is rampant. (I don’t remember PodShare making national news when it was only in LA.) And I can’t help but suspect that some of the people aghast at PodShare would jump at the easiest central-planning solution: ban it, and worry about where the “podestrians” will live instead later, even if they’re not consciously trying to force the techie workforce and/or the lower class in general out of the city.
In summary, fuck Big Tech, but fuck class warfare harder.