Techies are paying $700 a month to rent tiny bed ‘pods’ in downtown SF

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Some of Brownstone’s “pods” at the firm’s SoMa location. They’re 4 feet tall and fit a twin mattress.

Some of Brownstone’s “pods” at the firm’s SoMa location. They’re 4 feet tall and fit a twin mattress.

Courtesy of Brownstone

To rent in the Bay Area is to compromise; many of us share apartments and go without wishlist amenities to keep costs down. But techies in downtown San Francisco are taking it a few steps further.

Startup founders are paying $700 a month to stay in bed “pods” — tiny, semi-open boxes that only fit a single twin mattress and stand just 4 feet tall — according to media reports this week. The pods, made of steel and wood with a blackout curtain at one end, are arranged in a two-high, 14-long grid; residents share five bathrooms and a few common spaces, but don’t have a full kitchen or any laundry machines.

Brownstone, the startup that designed the pods and runs the bed rentals, is still setting up the space in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood, CEO James Stallworth told SFGATE. The company brought in its first customers in June, he said, adding to the firm’s footprint across the Bay Area — Brownstone rents out pods in Palo Alto ($800 a month), San Jose ($650), and Bakersfield ($500).

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It’s a high price for living in a 4-foot-tall rectangular prism, but Stallworth said every one of the SoMa location’s 28 beds will be taken in October. Pods come with utilities included, month-to-month contracts and no security deposit. The Bay Area’s incredibly costly housing market is part of what’s driving that demand; Zillow has San Francisco’s median rent for studios at $2,205, or $655 above the national median. Budget renters in the city often opt to live with roommates, split rent with a partner and find cheaper offerings on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.

The artificial intelligence trend, it seems, is also bringing in the pod-dwellers. Stallworth said his company doesn’t sort potential residents based on the jobs they do, but AI-interested renters have been particularly prevalent. “Going into the house, we just knew there were a lot of reasons to be in San Francisco,” Stallworth said. “It turns out AI is currently what a lot of people are doing.”

Christian Lewis, the founder of the nascent AI company Spellcraft, posted about living in one of the pods on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Sept. 16. He wrote that he wanted to live in the city “without paying $4,000 a month or getting stabbed,” and called the pod a “great solution.”

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Lewis told ABC7 that he’d just moved from Illinois, and that in a few days in the shared living space, he met “some of the smartest people I’ve met in my entire life. That’s the reason I came and that’s the reason why I’m staying. That’s the reason why I’m living in a pod.” 

ABC7 showed Mayor London Breed a photo of the living space — she appeared to buy into the minimalist approach.

“You do what you can when you know you have a product that is going to make it so that you don’t necessarily have to live at a place like that for the rest of your life,” Breed told the station.

Breed and prominent San Francisco business leaders like Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff have continuously expressed hope that AI startups will bring workers back into San Francisco’s offices. Anthropic announced a $4 billion investment from Amazon on Monday; the AI firm is planning to sublease a 230,000-square-foot office from Salesforce, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. (The Chronicle and SFGATE are both owned by Hearst but have separate newsrooms.)

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As for the future of Brownstone, Stallworth said he’s hoping other housing providers will start using the company’s design and model as an answer to homelessness. It is working to spiff up the SoMa location and considering a slight rebrand, due to what Stallworth called “the negative connotations of ‘pods’ from science fiction.”

“I think ‘private beds’ is a better descriptive term,” he said.

Hear of anything happening at a Bay Area tech company? Contact tech reporter Stephen Council securely at [email protected] or on Signal at 628-204-5452.

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