From Apple TVs, Amazon Echo, to Nest learning thermostats, smart products are part of new modern homes, such as our previous reporting on Stratis. And as these and other tech brands roll out different smart devices, they have also diversified into something slightly unexpected—city housing. They are ambitiously reimagining self-sustaining and sustainable communities and the future of housing.
Startups like Facebook and Google are focusing on innovating single- and multi-family residential construction. At the heart of their future of housing developments is the innovative spirit that redefines construction, design, and how we think about spaces.
Cities have become more congested as companies concentrate in urban centers. However, these places have not kept up with the population growth and demand for housing. There is a current shortage of 1.3M units in the US; prices for homes have also increased 6.2% in 2017. Similarly, some cities like Seattle, have housing crises because of zoning regulations and high construction costs. While cities are implementing new incentives and regulations to accommodate new housing developments, startups and tech giants are trying to fix real estate problems in their own ways, creating the future of housing.
Startups Taking the Lead
There are a handful of solutions that address the high costs of construction—standardizing design elements, efficient materials sourcing, and offsite prefabrication. Startups like Fullstack Modular incorporate Building Information Management (BIM) design and construction for faster and more cost-effective production. Blokable is another modular construction firm that offers “plug-and-play homes”.
Standalone units are available, as well as connected units, even stacked up to five stories high. Katerra fabricates in one location, and later assembles the houses onsite.
Katerra favors timber in large-scale construction as it’s a more cost-effective and sustainable alternative to steel and concrete. It also reduces the weight of buildings by about 30% compared to steel, and 60% compared to concrete, allowing for more compact building foundations.
Brookfield Residential in Los Angeles anticipated that the tech industry will outgrow existing office space in the city. Their Playa Vista neighborhood is home to companies like Yahoo, Microsoft, Alphabet, IMAX, and Facebook. It is a high-end, multi-family, mixed-use development that has its own retail amenities. It currently serves about 6,000 employees, and plans to develop units by the thousands by 2020. And while these multi-family developments are becoming more common, they do not offer housing solutions to many rent-burdened Americans.
Some startups doing prefab and modular construction are focusing on repurposing existing buildings for residential use. Residents can then rent cheaper, smaller spaces and share co-living areas like kitchens and common rooms with other occupants.
Companies like WeWork in New York and Starcity in San Francisco purchase buildings outright and charge occupants for less than $2,000, for shared amenities.
Other co-living startups like Common and Hubhaus partner with landlords, and charge occupants a fee for private spaces in furnished properties.
Startup Real Estate
Facebook is expanding its campus on Menlo Park for its employees, and the public. The first phase will be completed by 2020 with 1,500 apartments—a percentage of which will be priced below market rate. It is also planned to be a mixed-use community with acres of plazas, parks, and retail areas showcasing the future of housing.
Google’s mother company, Alphabet, purchased 300 modular units for Moffett Field in Mountain View. They are also planning for more office space and apartments inside their campus, and about 10,000 housing units in other areas within their property.
Future of Housing, Smart Cities
Probably one of the most ambitious plans for innovative real estate (smart buildings) is from Sidewalk Labs in Toronto. It is a sophisticated community that sits on a sensor network. It measures the environment, its structures, and resources, and provides suggestions for improvement. And while this model would be gathering a lot of data from its residents, privacy is top priority for their residents. Sidewalk Labs will allocate about a fifth of their residential units for affordable housing. A family of four would ideally have lower rent, transportation and utility costs.
Construction and real estate are on the rise thanks to the many innovations from various tech companies. These companies put a premium on economies of scale, offering new, data-driven solutions in designing, constructing, and managing living spaces. While housing problems could take years to address, these tech companies are offering exciting solutions that will benefit countless people. The future of housing is nearer than it looks.