20mission, A Live/Work Space for Tech Workers

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En Español.

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.

13 Comments

  1. poor.ass.millionaire

    $1400 for a fucking room? And you have to share bathrooms and a kitchen?

    Share-economy, schmare-economy, some landlord is laughing his ass all the way to the bank. BIG TIME!

    • m

      As long as we can keep them contained in one large complex, who cares what they are paying? Also, let’s be real, $1,400 / month is nothing when you consider the invaluable intangible asset they’ve gained at 20mission – world-changing communal living with other like-minded world-changers.

    • John

      Sounds about right to me. I was getting $1,000 a room back in 1999 at the height of the dotcom euphoria, so $1,400 seems about right to me.

      Interesting that the “landlord”, Kenna, actually has a one year lease on the building himself. So does this mean he is renting it and then effectively subletting the rooms?

      Nothing wrong with that as long as everyone knows the deal if the owner wants to end the deal. And of course rent control may throw a wrench in the works, although this may be designated as live/work and therefore exempt. Usually not an issue with young techies – that’s part of why I love them as tenants.

      Anyway, kudos to kenna for parlaying the shareable economy into a distinctly non-shareable income stream. Don’t you love it when a cliche pays off?

      • poor.ass.millionaire

        I think you’re a bit off here John. $1400 per room for a nice 3 BR maybe. But with 20 roomies? That’s crazy.

        Although I’m impressed the dude pulled it off, I don’t think this thing will last. It’ll be trendy for 2-3 years maybe. Then peeps grow up, gets girlfriends, decide extended dorm living is lame, etc. Trend breaks down and you’re back to square one. A short term opportunity for sure, but I wouldn’t bother expending all the energy for a short payoff.

        • John

          Yeah, but since the dude is only renting the building himself, if the market turns south and these sub-tenants leave, he can just give notice.

          As long as the building flows month-to-month, and it appears that it does, then he’s making bank, and not tying up a huge amount of capital.

  2. landline

    The former Sierra Hotel was occupied until at least the late 1990’s before lying vacant until recently. The fact that people are willing to pay $1400/month for a SRO room is more of a reflection of the hyper-inflated rental market than of a paradigm shift towards sharing and cooperation as shown by the business model; one person leases the entire space and sublets to individual residents, presumably at a profit.

    • John

      The “let and then sublet” model is actually very clever because the landlord has the revenue stream and management of the property without having the capital outlay or bearing a huge financial risk.

      I only ever pulled that off once and only for two years, but it was a nice earner.

      A good model for transitioning the blight-ridden SRO’s into a more added-value use, perhaps? The article makes it sound like this is a win-win for everyone.

  3. JJ

    Dude’s making bank. That space (the second floor SRO) was on craigslist maybe a year, offered at $18000 a month. I thought that was a bit expensive, if you’d get $800 a month or so per unit (from typical just-above-homeless government-assisted SRO residents). But it makes good sense for the landlord at $1400. For the tenants? $1400 for shared bathrooms and a single kitchen? That’s cray, I say – you can get a studio with some privacy for about that. But talking to the other thought leaders while waiting in line to take a dump? Priceless.

    • Christina

      Tenant here– if you want absolute ‘privacy’, I’m sure a studio is better… though I’d challenge you to find one with a less than half hour commute to SOMA for $1400 or less that wasn’t in the tenderloin.

      It’s a nice blend of privacy and neighbors. If you wanna hang out, go to the kitchen; there are almost always people. If you want introvert time, shut your door, and shit doesn’t get awkward like it might if you have only 2 or 3 housemates and don’t talk to them for days.

  4. $1,400 be risky. WATCH OUT

    Refugees are flying onto roofs via shipping containers. May we build a mycology lab on yours

    Plenty of room on the buses todaY

    PLEASANT EVENING

Comments are closed.