The Chamber of Commerce today hosted an interesting series on the future of housing in San Leandro and the new trends in the industry. Featured speakers included the developer for the Marina , an architect who builds co-housing , a live/ work space developer , a major East Bay developer who is assembling prefab apartment units in San Francisco and a company that's manufacturing the prefab units.
The theme of the presentation is that smaller homes and apartments will become the norm. One statistic that supports the theme is that a higher and higher percentage of the population are living alone. Less than 10 percent of households nowadays are your typical 2 parent two kid model.
No one asked the question why this is the trend?
The issue in my opinion might have to do with the wage drought and the decline in U.S. living standards.Since 1977 worker wage compensation was no longer kept pace with productivity gains.
Why? Because companies began to "blow off" unions, so there's no one to negotiate with about gains in productivity. Like a game where one team is always on offense and the other is always on defense. Companies end up paying a small fine or can postpone union elections for years.
The speakers mostly talked about creative solutions to our evolving housing situation.
The cohousing model is interesting. It came from Denmark where developments had about 30 unites with a large community space in the center of the project and a community center where, community meals were served and where people got together for cultural and political events , a much more communal way of living than what people in conventional neighborhoods experice.
With a little imagination neighborhood groups and apartment complexes might be able to achive some of the same comraderie. Maybe with the city's help.
The live /work is also another trend. I think it makes more sense in an artsy metro area, though there are tons of industrial buildings in San Leandro that would be perfect for this type of housing.
The prefab San Francisco project was in my opinion the most revealing of all the presentations. The units which are very small 12 by 27 in a new high tech section of San Francisco, renting for $2,000 a month. The units were being built by a company in Sacramento, to take advantage of the San Francisco high tech boom, 7500 new jobs in the city, last year alone.
I once priced some of the prefab houses in Sacramento about 4 years ago and if my memory is correct they were going for $50,000 or so for a 2 bed room house. These units might cost half that to build so they probably pay for themselves in a year!!
The thing I worry about is how long will it be before they are imported from Asia. A 12 by 27 foot home fits easily into a 40 foot container. It could be the beginning of the end for a big piece of the construction industry and millions of decent paying jobs.
In a rational housing market it would first and foremost help the economy in general and kept housing costs down so we could compete better in the global economy . The smaller units idea makes sense. I at one time felt we could build high rises next to BART that had health clubs and produce markets on the ground floor, to help keep the tenants in good health and shape.
Our political leaders had little to say at the event. I urge them to preface any discussions the have about San Leandro By Design by mentioning the wage drought and how we need to keep the units affordable. The less the less fortunate spend on rent the more they have to spend in our fair city.