At the corner of 20th and Mission streets sits a 12,000-square-foot space that’s slowly transforming. It was once a down-and-out single room occupancy (SRO) covered in spray paint and strewn with plywood.
Rumor has it that after one person died by an unknown cause in one of the rooms more than two decades ago, the rest of the tenants left. For 20 years the building remained abandoned. Some say because of the ghost, others because the building fell under a state of disrepair.
Today that building is known as 20mission. For more than a year, it’s started to fill up with startups, freelancers, comedians and craftsmen who live and work in one place. And although the tenants say the ghost of the dead tenant still roams the halls, the creepy haunted mansion vibes are definitely gone.
On any given day, 20mission looks and feels kind of like a dormitory — under minor construction, for now. Energetic tenants scurry from unit to unit, shuffling past screwdrivers and sanders on the unfinished hardwood floors. The smell of new wood, paint and primer fills the hallways.
There are 40 residents and each gets his or her own standard-size bedroom for $1,400 per month. Residents range between their mid 20s and mid 40s. They share five bathrooms, four showers, a washer and dryer and a massive office space downstairs. Rent pricing is that of a typical studio in San Francisco.
Landlord Jered Kenna, chief executive officer of financial tech company Tradehill, found out about the building though a friend. Wanting to alleviate San Francisco residents of housing concerns and come up with a collaborative living idea, Kenna thought the building “seemed like a perfect fit.” He’s been the landlord for more than a year and has a long-term lease on the building — one that’s added 41 units onto the housing market.
20mission’s living room is completely furnished with mismatched snug couches and a 60-inch flat-screen TV found on the street. Movie and game nights happen often. Residents will usually chip in $10 for a party to round up for impromptu barbeques in their courtyard.
In the shared kitchen, residents sometimes cook communal meals for whoever wishes to join. 20mission keeps free condiments like salt, sugar, olive oil and butter. There’s a chicken coup on the roof that provides them with organic eggs. When there’s a surplus of butter and eggs, a few residents bake cupcakes for each other.
This kind of peer-to-peer sharing is a characteristic that’s defined the millennial generation — folks born in the 1980s and 1990s — according to Australian writer Rachel Botsman, behind the book, “What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.”
In her 2010 TED talk, Botsman said digital natives are driven by two factors: a renowned belief in the importance of community and a global recession that’s fundamentally shocked consumer behavior.
In urban lifestyles like that in the Mission District, sharing makes more sense. “Most people I know don’t even take taxis — they’ll use Zipcar. And they won’t stay in hotels — they’ll use Airbnb,” said 20mission landlord Kenna. “The same people who would never pick up a hitchhiker have no concerns now.”
20mission resident Stefan Aronsen runs SF Intercom, a startup aimed at helping bands brand themselves. Aronsen said one of the cool parts about living at 20mission is being part of a community. “Having instant friends is a plus,” Aronsen said. “The work side is an added bonus.”
There’s a joke among the residents, Aronsen said, that if someone sits in the kitchen, he or she is bound to get freelance work. “It creates a stage for us,” Aronsen said. “It extends our reach….It’s definitely incubating and launching companies.”
Since Aronsen has lived at 20mission, he’s tapped a writer down the hall to create content for his startup’s website. He’s called on a coder in the building to help develop the website. And Aronsen’s landlord, Kenna, asked him to brand his tech company. From there, Kenna connected Aronsen with another tech company in need of branding.
The live-work space fosters more than just independent business. A recent 20mission collaborative invention: a “hug me app.” Aronsen and several of his roommates were standing in their kitchen after dinner one night when they came up with the idea.
Word spread in the building. The app would allow users to look up other users in the area willing to give free hugs. “Eh, that’s such a San Francisco thing,” Austrian transplant and resident Nik Graf told Aronsen.