Live/work is dead. Long live work/live.
Academics and architects, planners and politicians are re-thinking the concept of live/work housing, which many consider to have been a failure in the past, at least on the work side.
"I think the deal is, we tried that in San Francisco, the live/work idea. But what was happening was that it was not really live/work -- it was live/live," said Supervisor Jake McGoldrick. "Eighty-nine percent of (the units) were occupied just as condos or homes."
Eugene Muscat, senior associate dean in the University of San Francisco’s school of business and management, sees the future of live/work developments as "enterprise housing" -- developments designed to attract and help family businesses.
As a kind of midwife to this concept, Muscat, who heads USF’s Gellert Foundation Family Business Center, looked back at some live/work projects that didn’t go condo, where family businesses and other entrepreneurs moved in and flourished. But there weren’t many to study, at least recent ones.
"In San Francisco, we started a community with people living above the store, and that was the ultimate mixed use," said Muscat. But 150 years changed that dramatically.
By interviewing families and businesses, the university identified 17 types of modern family businesses that would fit well in live/work spaces. Light and heavy construction -- from garage door installation to remodeling -- topped the list, followed by language and music instruction, artistic fabrication and several types of retail business, including catering.
Thomas Dolan, an Oakland architect, lectures on enterprise housing -- which he calls work/live -- at the American Institute of Architects. He says designers need to change their fundamental assumptions.
"Live/work aimed at single people and couples. Work/live meets flexible needs of growing families," said Dolan. "A home-based family business incubator has day care, play areas, maybe a food buying co-op that facilitates community."
The 40-unit Adeline Lofts housing project in West Oakland, completed in March 2002, incorporates many of the features Muscat, Dolan and others hope to put into future enterprise housing developments. Its units are not all "big, empty spaces with a loft" like traditional live/work spaces, said Hyland Baron, director of Art City Builders in Oakland, who worked as a consultant to attract tenants to the building.
Because the $8 million project involved refurbishing an existing building, said Baron, the developers -- Berkeley-based Affordable Housing Associates -- could build traditional units with bedrooms, too, as well as a lot of common space for residents to use in their businesses.
"The cost per square foot is expensive," said Baron. "We could never duplicate this with new construction."
To attract family businesses, Muscat said, projects need to include space that can be used for business -- computer centers, shared reception areas, conference rooms, art or photography studios and commercial kitchens for caterers.
Adeline Lofts includes a computer lab and a large community space that can be used as a conference center or a classroom. Josette Golatt, a fashion designer who works out of the building with her husband Willie and 15-year-old son JerSean, uses the room for her second business, a fashion academy for local children.
Golatt, who has designed clothes for celebrities like Patti LaBelle and Luther Vandross, runs her business out of her home by necessity, she said. "Because I’m a parent of a lot of children," she said.
She and her husband, a computer technician who worked at Charles Schwab Corp., have five children, the youngest 5 years old. Working at home eliminates the need for a huge expense -- day care.
Muscat named day care and elder care as two amenities vital for enterprise housing projects. "What is the No. 1 thing you have to put into enterprise housing to attract people? Day care or elder care. I either have my parents or my kids," he said.
Golatt worked on her business with Melanie Patrick, a consultant hired by Affordable Housing Associates who spends Tuesdays and Thursdays advising residents at Adeline Lofts, teaching them how to write business plans and how to manage their finances.
"We talk a lot about their basic budget," said Patrick. "Because they’re in a live/work situation, their rents range from $400 to $900. We start with how will you pay your rent."
But Patrick’s aid goes much further, from how to get startup funding to how to start a nonprofit.
When Golatt decided she was tired of looking out her window at young people standing around in front of a corner liquor store and asked how to start a fashion design academy in the Adeline Lofts building, Patrick helped her set it up as a 501(c)3 organization. Golatt and her son now teach 20 local students every Saturday through the program.
Looking at successes like Golatt’s, Muscat sees what needs to be done to build enterprise housing in San Francisco. His shortlist includes changes in mixed-use zoning regulations in the city followed by help from the SBA for family businesses who want to buy their spaces. He has a slew of designs waiting to be developed, and is champing at the bit.
But will the necessary political changes happen?
"Probably not ’til later this year or early next year," said McGoldrick. "People are too busy running for re-election."
Steven E. F. Brown is a staff writer for the San Francisco Business Times.