If you’re coming to San Francisco to work in tech, thinking about the city’s housing crisis will daunt you. The area’s reputation for having some of the highest rents in the world is well known. And if you’re not familiar with SF’s distinctive neighborhoods, it can be tricky to narrow your search to locations that would suit you best.
Despite the challenges, this city offers all types of living situations from deluxe high-rise apartments to budget-friendly shared-living situations. If you cruise online classifieds, you’ll see that studios start at around $2,500 per month, with rents for larger spaces soaring higher and faster than the skyline.
But in the last few years, a handful of entrepreneurs have come up with creative ways to tame the cost of housing in San Francisco, including new ideas of communal living and tiny apartments. You can even stay in a hotel. Or on a couch. Or in a mansion.
Here are a few options that newcomers to the city can use to find a place to call home.
Starcity, a startup that launched in 2016, has renovated four old hotels to offer compact rooms that come fully furnished, with locations in SoMa and the Mission. Starting at $1,950 per month, you can have a room with a shared bathroom or pay more for a private commode.
“The appeal is you don’t have to bring much with you,” says Erin First, a spokesperson for the company. “Land on your feet, get your bearings, and find your community.”
Like many of the shared-living situations popping up in response to San Francisco’s housing crisis, Starcity actively promotes a neighborly atmosphere among its residents.
To create a sense of community, the company organizes “opt-in” events including dinners, weekend outings, and volunteer opportunities, says First, adding that the friendly vibe carries over when residents see each other in shared spaces like the kitchen, media lounge and outdoor area.
The residents, whose average age is in the mid-30s, include recent college grads, tech workers, and what First calls “re-starters”—i.e., people starting a new career, leaving a long-term relationship, or looking for a fresh start in a new city.
Live in a hotel
Charlotte Jones, 39, who lived with a roommate at 333 Fremont, a high-rise not far from the new Salesforce tower, wasn’t looking for a new start. But after the neighborhood grew more popular, her share of the rent ballooned to nearly $3,000. She had to move out.
Last month, she moved into a small room in the Herbert Hotel near Union Square. She found it through Anyplace, a startup that provides rooms at 17 hotels in the city at monthly rates that total far less than paying on a nightly basis. For $1,800 per month. Jones gets a small room with a mini-refrigerator and a sink.
“I do use the community bathroom and shower, which doesn’t bother me at all. It’s like being back in college,” says Jones. “The sink in my room is key.”
She says the room is a little tight with Annie, a boxer mix she rescued after the North Bay fires last year. After she walks her dog at night, she feels safe coming home to a building with a doorman.
This is not a hacker house
Hacker houses certainly exist, including those like Negev, the former warehouse with “bunk beds, roaches, and nerdy geniuses” that Andrew Frawley, a former resident, described in the Guardian. Recognizing that these environments don’t appeal to everyone, several entrepreneurs who like the idea of tech-centered group living have launched tidy twists on the idea. But do not confuse their “startup hotel” concepts with grubby hacker houses.
“We don’t like to affiliate with that,” says Anne-Sophie Baumann of Bedinbuild, a company that offers temporary and permanent housing in three San Francisco homes where professional housekeepers clean once a week.
For entrepreneurs visiting for a few weeks or months, Bednbuild offers flexible terms and organizes networking events to help its guests meet people in the tech community. It also removes the distraction of moving between Airbnb rentals, buying food, or doing laundry.
“It’s almost like moving into a house that’s fully stocked,” says Baumann. “And you have really cool roommates.”
Other tech-focused co-living facilities include 20 Mission, a former hotel with 41 individual rooms; Startup Basecamp, a co-living and co-working space; and Hack’n’Sleep, which offers month-to-month rooms in four co-living houses.
The idea of communal living may bring to mind a group of idealistic flower children solving the world’s problems over lentils and kombucha—and, indeed, co-ops are still going strong in the Bay Area. But like hacker houses, entrepreneurs have given the commune an upgrade to appeal to a broader range of people.
Several companies offer private rooms in (sometimes stunning) homes designed for comfortable group living, most emphasizing community events and amenities like large kitchens, shared workspaces, fast internet, and free laundry.
In SoMa, Common offers a contemporary home with several private bedrooms starting at around $2,500. If you’re looking for the charm of an old Victorian mansion with an interior fit for Curbed House Calls, Outsite offers eight bedrooms in a home near Dolores Park.
In a former circa-1904 Archbishop’s Mansion in Alamo Square, Roam offers luxurious rooms for around $3,900 per month. Intended for nomadic workers, guests who purchase the company’s flex plan can also stay at their other locations in places like Miami, London, and Tokyo. Bonus: The kitchen offers a separate refrigerator for a half-dozen types of milk, including Milkadamia, an unsweetened, vegan macadamia nut milk made from “free-range trees.”
If you’re interested in a deluxe apartment in the sky, several buildings make their mark on the city’s skyline, especially in the Mid-Market area near Twitter and in SoMa—just a few options highlighted below.
You’ll find contemporary interiors and impressive views in the many glass towers that have finished construction over the last few years. In SoMa, 340 Fremont offers 348 luxury units in a 40-story tower where studios start at $3,373. Nearby at 399 Fremont, which stretches 42-stories high, studios begin at $3,575. And up in Rincon Hill, the 45-story Jasper offers studios starting out at $4,005.
In the Mid-Market area, near the Twitter Building, the 29-story Fox Plaza apartments date to 1966 and rents start at $2,524. Newer buildings in the micro-neighborhood command higher prices like at 100 Van Ness and NEMA.
A short walk away, at Trinity Place, three new apartment buildings surround a one-acre park that features Venus, a stainless-steel sculpture that measures almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty. Rents range from $2,299 to $5,199.
The social network
If you don’t mind the sofa, you can follow the lead of Guillaume Richard, 34. Although he’s not a techie, his story of trying to find a place to call home in San Francisco is a situation with which many transplants are all too familiar. Earlier this summer he left his hometown in a forested area of Western Quebec, Canada, arriving here in August after camping in his van along the way.
He plans to soon work as a salsa and tango instructor, but while he waits for a work visa, he has used the Couchsurfing site. It helped him find people to hang out with and others who offer a place for him to park his vehicle and sleep indoors. But he didn’t need a website to find his current host. They met last week in a coffee shop, where Richard’s charm and French accent landed him a spot on a sofa in Nob Hill.
You can also find apartment and roommate situations through listings on Craigslist and its many alternatives. If you’d like to outsource finding a place, companies that offer relocation services can provide rental specialists, including Progressive Property Group and McGuire Real Estate.