California suffers from extreme homelessness and overcrowding. In particular, Los Angeles recently counted 15,000 people who are chronically unsheltered—a number that is expected to double in the next two years. In 2017, to help combat the issue, the state enacted legislation overhauling barriers to residency permits that have long contributed to the state’s severe housing shortage. The program legalized the creation of accessory dwelling units—commonly known as ADUs—which are small, standalone dwellings built on properties zoned for single-family homes. Within a short period of time, the state received more than 1,900 applications for ADU approval. Since then, building permits for ADUs in Los Angeles have tripled and now comprise a staggering fifth of permits issued for all homes.
Now, a new startup launched by Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia is getting involved. The venture, named Samara, plans to sell factory-built prefab units to homeowners with extra space. Starting prices for Samara’s initial ADU range, called Backyard, range from $299,000 for 430-square-foot studios to $339,000 for 550-square-foot one-bedroom units in the Bay Area, with lower prices in Southern California. “California is just an attractive opportunity,” McNamara said. “There aren’t enough housing units, and the cost of housing is too high. We need to find ways to get more units to people and we need to find ways to get more units more quickly close to the price. So, here it is.”
Each home is equipped with rooftop solar panels that generate more electricity than they use, which CEO and co-founder Mike McNamara described as a high priority in the design process. “Our first step towards sustainable energy production is to use less,” he said Fast Company. “So, first, we made it tight, very well designed, and very good.”
Samara began as an innovation lab within Airbnb that conceptualized new products in pursuit of social change. Gebbia had long wanted to build ADUs on his land, but he wasn’t impressed with any of the options on the market. Witnessing the dire state of California’s housing crisis forced Gebbia, who left Airbnb in July, to explore designing and building tiny homes full-time. “It got to the point where we both realized it had to be an independent company,” Gebbia told the Wall Street Journal. While Samara is an independent startup, Airbnb still has a minority stake.
Skeptics noted that Backyard’s vaguely Scandinavian minimalist design scheme bears a resemblance to Airbnb’s stock images. With prices starting at $299,000, a high rate for the homeless, it remains to be seen if Samara’s design-forward shelters will help solve the problem. While accommodating relatives or complete strangers is an option, Samara also makes its prefabs suitable for a wide range of uses, such as remote home offices or creative studios for many people at work. The units also seem to be good Airbnbs, leading some to criticize Gebbia for “capitalizing on the problem” his former company made worse in the first place.
Samara is also not the first company to venture into the ADU market and faces intense competition, especially in California. Cottage, Adobu, Rent the Backyard, Homestead, and more live The magazine entered the space after the state legislators passed new regulations that facilitate greater housing density, the associations of home owners are cursed. The state even launched a program that offers a variety of pre-approved single-family ADUs designed by respected architects to speed up the securing of building permits, a months-long process that can often be delayed. of red tape. It seems to be getting results: California issued nearly 20,000 building permits for ADUs in 2021, up from just 1,160 in 2016.