Wanted: Workable Housing Solutions

In San Francisco and Atlanta, viable alternatives include a reimagining of the once-common boarding house A lack of tenable housing options for those entering the market or of modest means continues to bedevil many U.S. metros. San Francisco is still the poster child. As you’ll see on this year’s Housing Giants map insert (page 34), the median home...

In San Francisco and Atlanta, viable alternatives include a reimagining of the once-common boarding house

PadSplit offers a viable alternative and the possibility of savings

A lack of tenable housing options for those entering the market or of modest means continues to bedevil many U.S. metros. San Francisco is still the poster child. As you’ll see on this year’s Housing Giants map insert (page 34), the median home price hit nearly $1.2 million in 2017, absurdly out of reach for the city’s middle class.

In response, developer Starcity is converting hotels, parking garages, and other available buildings into grown-up dorms, where renters get a fully furnished bedroom (utilities and Wi-Fi included) and share a kitchen, bathroom, and common space. Starcity has properties in three neighborhoods, with openings planned in five more.

The 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act is a stark reminder that inequality on both the owning and renting sides still plagues significant pockets of the U.S. In Atlanta, developer Atticus LeBlanc is addressing the issue head-on, reimagining the once-common rooming house. (Photo: Courtesy PadSplit)

LeBlanc is creator of PadSplit, a start-up that divides single-family homes into separate furnished bedrooms with a shared kitchen. Utilities, cable, internet, and laundry are included with rent. A former commercial real estate broker, LeBlanc saw the bottom of the market drop out in 2007 and began buying up houses to rent. One day, he recalls, “a guy named Otis who’d been renting a room in a house next door with a tarp on the roof, no HVAC, and foreclosure notices” made an offer: For $435 each, Otis and his buddy would rent rooms in the home that LeBlanc owned. “On a fixed income, he could afford it and still have savings,” LeBlanc says. The set-up was illegal, so LeBlanc created a proposal for “a rooming house model that was as attractive and accountable as I could make it.”

LeBlanc bought up more homes and is at work on prototypes for new construction, including a four-bedroom, four-bath single-family home that can become a six-bedroom PadSplit when bonus and living rooms are used as bedrooms. (PadSplit limits common areas to the dining room and kitchen; social gathering space is on the porch.) He’s embarking on joint multifamily ventures, too. One aim, he says, is for PadSplit’s tech platform to be adopted by developers in other markets so that if a homeowner has an extra bedroom, PadSplit can serve as intermediary, “everybody behaving as they should.”

“We look for proof of income and clean criminal history,” LeBlanc says. “The housing system is broken; of course people will have flawed credit.” On the other hand, a shared dwelling with fixed living expenses that are within reach could mean a shot at stability, savings, and personal wealth.

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