Its name has the cachet of a trendy Brooklyn home, but Brownstone Shared Housing has brought a new housing concept that is affordable, albeit small, to Palo Alto.
The shared housing company is renting "sleeping pods" at $800 a month, where people sleep in a chamber within a room that is a bit wider than a twin bed but more than tall enough to sit up in. Residents share the kitchen and other living areas, according to the company's website.
The idea is to make housing in the Bay Area affordable. There's just month-to-month rent, with no big deposit and first and last-month's rent. Would-be residents just need to apply online. Utilities and high-speed internet are included.
The fledgling company offers two homes: a midcentury home in the Midtown neighborhood and a home in Bakersfield. The Palo Alto home offers on-site laundry, outdoor space, monthly cleaning and bright, open modern spaces.
The Palo Alto home can accommodate 14 people. The pods, which look like brightly lit stackable storage cubes, are arranged bunk-bed style in two stories. They have their own temperature control and air circulation, electrical outlet shelf space and a rack for hanging clothes.
"They have 40% more space than bunk beds," the company boasts on its website.
Company founders Christina Lennox and James Stallworth originally wanted to start their business in Brooklyn, New York, but issues about shared housing prevented that from happening, Stallworth said in a Medium blog post. In late August, they started the concept in Palo Alto with the aim of providing affordable housing in one of the hottest and least affordable housing markets in the country. They replied to a Craigslist ad for a home rental and the landlord liked the concept, Lennox said. The renters are in their 20s and 30s who are mostly interns at local companies such as Tesla and Telefèric Barcelona, and visiting researchers/students at Stanford.
"We have had residents from 15 countries. It’s really cool that while just walking through the house you can hear multiple languages like Spanish and German being spoken," Lennox said.
"Everyone who stays with us has loved the experience. They find an instant community here," she said. "People have commented on how well-designed the house is because we really furnished and planned it out to accommodate everyone. Something we get a lot is that the pods are much bigger than they thought when just looking at the photos."
Parking has not been an issue, Lennox claimed.
"The great thing about being located in Palo Alto is that everyone bikes to work and school. We have space for 14 bikes neatly in the backyard. It's fun to watch people move in and buy a used bike at a local shop instead of taking fossil-fuel-powered transportation from long distances," she said.
Stallworth, company CEO, is a Stanford University graduate with a bachelor's degree in science, technology and society. He is a former California state auditor. Lennox, the chief operating officer, was an external state auditor who graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in criminology.
Lennox said the housing problem is deeply personal for her and Stallworth.
"Both James and I came up with versions of this concept before we met working together at the California State Auditor's office in Sacramento. I came to California from Arizona to complete a leadership school that provided housing through a network of people in the community who opened up rooms in their homes to students.
"After I graduated, the home opener told me she needed the room for her grandson and gave me a hard deadline to move out. I could not find a place, and considered living in my car or renting a storage shed before thankfully finding friends I could move in with. That's when I started thinking about how there has to be a way to split costs and be able to move in somewhere flexible for a few months on short notice without having to pay thousands of dollars upfront for security deposit and rent," she said.
Stallworth also went through his own housing insecurity while finishing up at Stanford. He always planned on starting a company to solve the problem for others when the time was right.
When Lennox and Stallworth met, they knew they worked well together, had a passion for housing people, and had complementary skills, she said.
"Our position is that this is no different than any group of people coming together to rent a home, and we are not aware of any limit on the number of people that can live in shared housing. For decades Stanford students and others have been coming together to rent homes in Palo Alto without issue. The only change here is the furniture we use — our pods — to accommodate more people in the house in an appealing and comfortable way," she said.
Lennox said the company wants to provide the service wherever it is needed.
"We had a manager at a local business reach out, before all of the news stories, asking us to let them know when we open more homes in the area because they have a hard time getting people to work for them as they open new locations. She said it is impossible for people on entry-level wages to find a place to live nearby. So yes, we would love to open more places in Palo Alto and the Bay Area," she said.
The company also still plans to launch in New York, given the extreme need for flexible low-cost housing there.
"We are still in touch with people from New York who ask all the time when we will get started there since it would be a major improvement over their current living situations," she said.
Meghan Horrigan-Taylor, spokesperson for the city of Palo Alto, said, "The city is aware of the pod arrangement and staff is looking into it."