Co-living in a pandemic: With Bay Area rent soaring, Mario Koran moved to Starcity, where kitchens and bathrooms are shared. Is socially distancing possible in a college dorm for grown-ups?
I’m living with 48 roommates in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. Co-living makes physical distancing all but impossible: we touch the same door handles, awkwardly navigate shared spaces and binge-watch Tiger King in the same TV lounges.
The fear of coronavirus hasnt so far driven me to move out or reignite a grueling apartment search. But neither can I say with authority just how safe co-living is in the middle of an outbreak.
Before I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in September, I was aware of the regions reputation for towering costs of living. But I wasnt prepared for the grinding hustle to find affordable housing. Even renting a room in someone elses apartment felt more like a job interview with prospective roommates.
I bounced between temporary rooms until I could find a more permanent place, living out of a suitcase, storing frozen meals in strangers refrigerators. At one point, I was willing to take a partitioned-off section of a living room someone was renting as a bedroom for $1,500. No dice: the tenants decided to “move in another direction” in terms of a roommate.
When I found Starcity – a tech-enabled real estate company thats part of a new generation of co-living spaces – it was, by all measures, an improvement to my living situation. It looks and feels a lot like a college dorm for grown-ups. The building is clean and well-lit, with a low-key, budget-trendy style. Beds and kitchen appliances are new. Showers dont inexplicably scald or give me frostbite. Laundry, soap and internet fees are included in rent. My room is my own space. The flexible lease was a major selling point and the price was right, too.
My apartment in Oakland rents for $1,250 a month – about $600 less than the median rent for a studio in Oakland and about $1,000 less than a typical one-bedroom.
This is how, at the age of 38, I effectively returned to my freshman year of college. I made a new group of pals and began to settle in. Then came the coronavirus.
Is it possible to protect yourself?
In spite of the pandemic, new residents continue to move into Starcity. But Ive also seen a good number of residents leaving with packed bags – some for good, others planning to wait out the worst of the pandemic with friends or family.
A couple of weeks ago, one woman sent me a message asking if I had any intel on penalties for breaking the lease. She couldnt do this co-living situation, she wrote, especially during Covid-19. Days later, she was gone.
Roshan Ramankutty, a software engineer in the sales department of Square who has become a friend, decided the best option for him is living with nearby family members.
“For me, it came down to: if the worst case scenario was to happen, how would I best be able to support and be supported? And thats ultimately with my family,” he said.