When Val Lefebvre arrived in San Francisco, he didn’t have a place to live.
The 20-year-old, who emigrated from his home in France in mid-April, was looking for somewhere he could continue to work on a web-based consumer service he had created called Blacklist, but between high rent costs and few open apartments, he hadn’t had much luck.
Based on a tip from a friend of a friend on Facebook, he got off the plane, took a CalTrain to the BART, then got on a bus that dropped him 10 minutes of steep hillside from a house full of other young people in the tech industry.
He arrived covered in sweat at the doorstep of Rise – a community of developers that live and work in the same space in the posh Clarendon Heights neighborhood.
He was welcomed to the four-story home by another tenant who showed him around. For $1,050 a month, he could live and collaborate with 15 other young professionals.
“Check out the place and if you like it,” Lefebvre remembers hearing that first day in San Francisco, “you can stay.”
He looked out the big glass windows with a breathtaking view of the city far below. It wasn’t a hard decision to make.
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Silicon Valley’s tech boom has quickly become San Francisco’s housing crisis, and many intrepid young professionals like Lefebvre are stuck without many options.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the city grew by 7,500 people but added only 200 units of living space in 2012. That means renters are stuck scrambling on Craigslist, AirBnB and other services, where rental costs have skyrocketed.
For some, the solution is a “hacker house” where a group of developers and coders live and work on innovative tech projects.
Rise builds off that idea. Founded by entrepreneurs William Hsu and Lazlo Karafiath, Rise is a community of like-minded developers free to work collaboratively or individually on all kinds of start-up projects.
According to real estate site Zillow, the market value of the 6,800 square-foot mansion is $4,892,269. For a bed in the two-person bedrooms on the second floor, tenants pay $1,200 a month. The bunk beds in the basement are $1,050 apiece.
“The neighbors are all rich people,” Lafebvre says. “They don’t like us very much because we have parties.”
The house used to be known as The Glint, a more art-focused community of tech-minded young people. Chris Murphy, founder of online startup Zoomforth, lived in The Glint for four months last year. He said the appeal of a community like Rise or The Glint is not affordable housing, but the “sexy” factor of sharing living space with tech industry connections.
“It’s not cheap to live there,” he said. “It’s like 1,100 a month and you’re still sharing a room.”
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The Rise house is home to 16 young professionals. During the day, many of them work full-time jobs to afford the rent. When they come home every night, they set up shop on the second floor of the house, coding and collaborating on all sorts of Web services, mobile apps and other projects.
Lefebvre and two other developers – Rahul Swaminathan, 23, and Sohail Khanifar, 23 – stay home during the day, working on their start-ups.
“You can ask for help,” Khanifar said. “Everybody is good at something.”
“If it’s computer-related, software, anything,” Swaminathan said.
Swaminathan and Khanifar are currently working on a website that collects images and separates them into categories – a kind of Pinterest-meets-Tumblr. It’s called Hooked.by, and it’s one of a handful of start-up projects that have been created completely within the Rise house.
“This is a byproduct of this house,” Khanifar said. “I didn’t know Rahul before this house.”
Other than Hooked.by, the two are doing some client work to make extra money to help pay rent on the house.
“There are a lot of positives,” Khanifar said. “A, there are a lot of intelligent people.”
“B, look at this view,” Swaminathan said, pointing to the big windows looking out over San Francisco.
“Yeah, B is the view,” Khanifar said. “C, it makes you ambitious. It should keep you motivated.”
“All we’re missing is a pool,” Swaminathan said.
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With the house’s 16 tenants, turnover is fairly consistent. Some stay for only a few months; others have been around since the very beginning of Rise.
Khanifar, who has been in the house since August of last year, said there are eight or nine regulars with five or six spots that are more flexible. With that kind of movement, he said, finding a room is “not about who you are. It’s who you know.”
The tenants say the mansion faces wear and tear that is hard to keep up with. The planks on the spiral staircase creak with every step. Cleaning up after 16 20-somethings is hard work, too. Workspaces are littered with Moleskine journals, bags of tortilla chips, computer cords, magazines and hard drives.
“There’s lots of good stuff, but there’s room for improvement,” Lefebvre said. “There’s not a lot of discipline. That makes it look kind of messy.”
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Late into the night, Khanifar and Swaminathan work in silence across from each other. They said they tend to do their best work at night and sleep late into the day.
On a calm, cool night, the lights of San Francisco shine bright in the valley below.
“It gets really twinkly,” Khanifar said. “Like, really twinkly.”
For hours they won’t speak, just working through problems on their computer screens. Above their heads, a poster for Rise reads “GET SH*T DONE.”
Every few hours, Khanifar will find a roadblock he can’t get around.
“‘Yo, what’s the deal with this?’ And he’ll tell me quickly,” Khanifar said.
“Or I’ll come do it for you,” Swaminathan said with a laugh.
“Then it’ll be like two and a half hours, but in those two and a half hours,” Khanifar said, “great stuff gets done.”