Work and Money
This Woman Imagines the Future of Housing in Pods
Finding affordable housing can be tough in today’s economy, but more and more people are coming up with creative alternatives to traditional living situations. One such person is PodShare founder Elvina Beck. Beck says her idea for PodShare was inspired by MTV’s The Real World — a show about strangers living together in a house for a period of time.
PodShare similarly brings strangers together who are looking for affordable housing and to meet new people. It’s a housing network around Los Angeles and San Francisco with members who can come and go as they please.
The easiest way to think about it is like an apartment, meets a dorm, meets a hostel: communal spaces like kitchens, living areas, and bathrooms are shared, while individuals reserve a bed space or “pod” (a hand built, high-end bunk bed complete with a flat screen TV, personal outlets, and night light) for as long or as little as they need.
Subscribed members can co-work and co-live in the pods without a contract or minimum stay commitment. “Every time you travel, you still have to pay for your current apartment plus a hotel or Airbnb’s nightly rate,” Beck explains on Medium. “So a week away would tack on hundreds to thousands of dollars to your monthly rent. What if you could subscribe to housing and just transfer your bed?”
CircleAround caught up with Beck to learn more about PodShare and her professional journey.
CA: What inspired the idea of PodShare?
EB: In 2012, I needed a place to live and thought, “Why must I commit to one address and one or more roommates?” I wanted gym membership-like access to housing and people, so I could experience different neighborhoods and networks. I called it collaborative living (co-living).
I wanted a home that people like me could reset in, but also was a space for constant discovery and diversity. I thought about the future of housing and how mobile it will become with the rise of the freelance economy and cheaper transportation costs. If traveling was more affordable, then mobile housing could go from just being a trend to an actual industry.
CA: How did you bring it to life?
EB: I used my savings and the skills of my carpenter father to help me build my Minimum Viable Product (MVP) location in Hollywood, thanks to a landlord that gave me a chance. It was a hit! After three years, I crowdfunded my second location downtown and then partnered with a landlord to afford the third location in Los Feliz. After three on the east side of LA, I was searching for our first west side location and found an old church in Venice, which we converted to a PodShare with a very high-interest private loan that I paid back 18 months later.
Once we were operating four locations, I realized people did need a tad bit of privacy and that's how Westwood, a block from UCLA, was opened (thanks to my mother's permission to mortgage her home). Once we opened across these expensive neighborhoods in LA, we decided it was time to expand to San Fran and San Diego. So, in 2019 we made that debut!
"Living together in close quarters makes us more educated voters, better parents, empathetic neighbors, smarter creators, and literally allows us to point a story to a specific example or person."
CA: What motivates you in these uncertain times?
EB: Our team is nimble, diverse, and all live in pods — including myself! In January 2020, at LA City Hall, we won an "Impact Maker" award signed by council member David Ryu. Last year, the Census Bureau asked to shoot a commercial about us, and we've been featured in LA Times, CNN, Huffpost, BBC, NPR, TechCrunch, and numerous others.
CA: How is expansion currently going?
EB: We are operating PodShares in our eight existing locations, and have received permission in Santa Monica to build 30 pods. We are working on another San Francisco site by the Golden Gate Bridge for 16 pods in an old karate studio.
CA: What’s the most challenging aspect of your business?
EB: Funding is a big one. I've had to get really creative as a self-and-debt funded startup. I am in real estate and hospitality and housing, which are expensive male-dominated professions. Investments buy time, so it has taken me eight years to build 240+ beds across eight locations, wearing different hats daily, from zoning to marketing to front desk to accounting to HR to maintenance and everything in between. But I know my company has organically grown, and I can be proud of its ethos.
CA: What do you hope people gain from the PodShare experience?
EB: When you live with people vastly different from yourself, you are sharing experiences throughout the house – “collisions” that impact your inner isms and phobias.
Living together in close quarters makes us more educated voters, better parents, empathetic neighbors, smarter creators, and literally allows us to point a story to a specific example or person.
I hope that city planners, urbanists, NIMBYs, and neighbors understand that the PodShare project is about taking existing buildings and repurposing them to build communal housing that literally breaks down walls for people.