Imagine living on a boat in the harbor, or in a compact house with just what you need. Imagine living with your parents and helping them as they age, or with your adult child and your grandkids. Imagine, in your advanced years, having a roommate again like you did in college.
These are some of the creative ways Coastsiders are coping with the high cost and low availability of housing locally.
Twenty years ago, Dirk Dieter was able to stick a toe into the door of home ownership by purchasing a tiny house on a little wedge of land in Pacifica. He made the 250 square feet work for him, removing a wall to open up the space and building in custom furniture and shelving. A few years ago he added a second story, bringing the total space to a relatively spacious 700 square feet and creating a bedroom that doesn’t have to double as a living room.
Small living spaces demand some adjustment, he says, but you don’t have to live like a monk. “I don’t think of myself as a minimalist.” The trick is to manage your stuff. His things move around as needed, like migratory species. He cautions people not to believe the versions of #tinyhome and #vanlife shown on Instagram: “You don’t see everything stashed behind them in the photo.” His philosophy is “Embrace the Chaos,” and his methodology is to continually improve how the house functions.
Dieter’s enterprising and creative response to his living situation is a helpful one, says Roy Earnest, a gerontological social worker who helps seniors find affordable housing.
“Human beings are very adaptable. They do what they need to survive,” he says. Earnest presents a workshop on housing alternatives through the Pacifica Resource Center. He gives hints on searching: “Let people know you’re looking. Find all the local housing lists, and continue to check them.”
Among his recommended resources is HIP Housing, which works to find homes for San Mateo County residents. Its home-sharing program connects people looking for a place to live with those who have space available to rent. The service, which has operated for 40 years, pairs many dozens of people yearly and currently has 400 people in shared living arrangements. Sometimes these are straight rent-for-space agreements, but they also connect people who are willing to trade services such as care-giving or housework for reduced rent. HIP Housing not only introduces potential partners, but also helps them negotiate arrangements and checks in to see how the relationships are working.
Emily Glines, a member of Age-Friendly HMB Coastside, thinks such arrangements are underutilized. “Seniors often have an extra room in their house,” she said. Opening it up to a renter can offer companionship, help with chores and extra income. “It’s beneficial to both parties,” she said.
The state of California is hoping to encourage such one-on-one housing solutions by, among other actions, loosening restrictions on the building of ADUs to increase housing density and rental availability. These small, self-contained homes, also called granny or in-law flats, were traditionally a way for families to house aging parents nearby. Increasingly, though, the roles are flipped. Ace Velarde, of the homebuilding company ADU.works, says that half of the ADUs he sells are families adding housing for relatives or close friends, and half of those are parents creating a place for their children to live. “Young people leave the area if prices are too high,” he said, “even when their families have lived there for generations.”
Jakota Rivas, one of Velarde’s customers, has two grown children who will live in her new ADU. She sees multigenerational housing as both economically necessary and emotionally beneficial.” The more family you have around, the better life everyone has,” she said.
Exploring the Coastside with housing in mind, you’ll come across some unconventional dwellings that make you ask, “Who gets to live there?”
At Pillar Point Harbor, 40 or so slips are set aside for “liveaboards,” according to harbor General Manager Jim Pruett. These are boats that double as homes. The boats are a varied collection: some sailboats, some motorboats, ranging in size from 20 to 60 feet, but they all need to be operable vessels, said Pruett. New slips open up only rarely. Many of the residents at the harbor have been there for years. “They’re a spectacular living option,” said Pruett, “but not a solution to our housing problem.”
Likewise for the picturesque houses that perch above the waves at Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica. The homes once belonged to the Ocean Shore Railroad and were originally rentals, according to resident Sheila Gamble-Dorn. Some time in the 1960s, residents bought the homes and now hold them as tenants-in-common. Most of the owners have lived there for 40 years or more.
But alternative housing options exist here and there, all along the coast. There are homes on ranches occupied by workers or property managers, and houses where rangers live in state and regional parks. There are people who housesit on a long-term basis or park a tiny home on wheels in the side yard. Some live together with aunts, cousins, parents, children or friends, or find other ways to make a home in this crazy region.
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