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Meet the startups fighting Bay Area's soaring housing costs

Marisa Kendall, The Mercury News on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Landed splits the down payment on a home with its teacher clients -- the teacher typically pays 10 percent of the home's value, and Landed puts in another 10 percent. That money comes from investors -- private institutions, like foundations, which receive equity in the house in exchange for their contribution. When the teacher later sells the house, Landed's investors get back the 10 percent they put in, plus 25 percent of any appreciation in the home's value. So far the company, which received $5 million from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative over the summer, has completed 16 home purchases in the Bay Area.

Landed helped get Maria Robinson, who teaches Spanish at Carlmont High School in Belmont, and her husband, Troy, an engineer, and their two kids out of a crowded, two-bedroom apartment and into a house. The couple makes close to $250,000 a year, enough to pay a mortgage, but they didn't have the needed $200,000 cash on hand for a down payment on a typical home in the area.

"We wanted our own place," Maria Robinson said. "We wanted to settle. We wanted to grow roots."

They found a $1.1 million home in San Carlos, and with Landed contributing about $120,000 to the down payment, were able to move in Oct. 7. The 1,570 square-foot home, which has two bedrooms and a loft, wasn't a bad deal for San Mateo County, where the median home price was $1.2 million in September, according to CoreLogic.

When they talk about their new house, the couple can't help but get excited. It has a view of the entire Silicon Valley, Troy Robinson gushed. And it's within walking distance of his wife's school.

Meanwhile, Oakland-based Affordable Equity is re-imagining the landlord-tenant relationship. The six-month-old startup plans to offer its renters equity in the buildings it will buy. When Affordable Equity makes a windfall by selling property, the tenants can cash out too.

"There's lots of wealth being created through gentrification, but if you're a low-income renter, that's extremely scary," said founder Steven Taylor. "So this is a way to potentially build a boat so they can get in and have the rising tide lift their boat as well."

Starcity is tackling the crisis from a different angle. The San Francisco-based startup buys defunct hotels, vacant commercial buildings and other unused properties, renovates them, obtains the proper city permits, and turns them into community housing, where residents have their own rooms but share common spaces. So far, the company has moved renters into two buildings in San Francisco and has another six under construction, including one expected to open in Oakland early next year.

There's plenty of demand. The company has been in business for a year, and already has 1,800 potential renters on its waiting list.

UC Berkeley alum Anna Roumiantseva, 28, founded HomeSlice with two co-founders after the trio realized they had collectively spent about half a million dollars on rent over the past decade -- and still couldn't afford to own a home.

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