by Marc Linn | July 12, 2019
World famous Hollywood sign
If you’re not overly concerned about privacy — and you like meeting new people — you can get a great deal on truly affordable housing at Podshare. No commitment, no security deposit, no utility costs. It can be a great way to get started on a budget in a big, expensive city like Los Angeles.

Los Angeles, California, USA. What an amazing place to visit! The beaches. The surfers. Hollywood. Malibu. The list goes on and on. It’s no wonder Los Angeles is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

And it’s not just for tourists. For the last several decades, countless individuals — in many cases, young people seeking their fortune — have moved to the Los Angeles area to pursue their dreams, or at least their careers.

First big challenge: finding a place to live. With median rents for a one-bedroom apartment over $2,000 a month, this can be tough. If you’re one of the lucky ones who moves to Los Angeles with plenty of cash available, this won’t be an issue.

But for the rest of us, Elvina Beck has created Podshare. “The rest of us,” that is, who can handle the somewhat unusual housing format. This article will help you determine whether Podshare is an option for you.

What is Podshare?

“Podshare” sounds like a generic term of sorts but it actually refers to a specific business: PodShare, based in Los Angeles. Their website is podshare.com.  You can also visit their online booking site.

The company has five locations in the Los Angeles area, and a recently opened location in San Francisco. The locations offer group housing, functionally similar to that offered by hostels: residents are given shared access to bathrooms, kitchen, lounging and working areas.

In addition, you receive exclusive access to what appears to be a very nicely constructed “pod,” or semi-enclosed bunk bed complete with TV, Wi-Fi, USB, private lighting, and a small coat rack. The “semi-enclosed” part of the description is important: you might be tempted to hang towels or even a curtain in front of your pod to give you a bit of privacy – but this is not allowed. They evidently are quite serious about the “communal” experience they are offering.

A small but perhaps important modification includes a substantial looking set of stairs for access to the upper bunks or pods. Compared to the traditional ladder access for bunk beds, I could see where the stairs would be a big improvement.

This video shows you what a pod looks like and the amenities you receive when you stay at one of their locations. It also gives you the back story of how Podshare developed as a coliving concept:

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Is Podshare a hostel?

Although Podshare seems an awful lot like a hostel, there are some key differences:

  • The locations include some “coworking” facilities. Daytime use of the operations, such as for those “digital nomads” wanting to use the Wi-Fi, is encouraged.
  • When you sign up at one of the Podshare locations, you have access to the other locations as well. For example, if you are staying for a month in the San Francisco Podshare, you could spend some of that time in one of the Los Angeles locations without any extra charges.
  • Podshare strictly enforces “quiet hours” between 10 PM and 10 AM. I have not stayed in a hostel, but I understand policies vary greatly where quiet is concerned.
  • Hostels are generally used by travelers. Podshare is also used by travelers but they say about 40% of their business comes from non-travelers. Some people stay for months at a time.

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How much can you save with Podshare?

Podshare’s “no privacy, everything out in the open” housing format is certainly unusual and may in fact not appeal to everyone. But as we all know, life is a series of trade-offs. With Podshare, one of the biggest trade-offs is the price. So let’s get specific here: just how much can you save by staying at Podshare?

The short answer appears to be “quite a bit.” To nail this down to real numbers, I have decided to use the Venice Podshare as a basis for comparison. There are several locations in Los Angeles, in addition to a new one in San Francisco. The Venice Podshare, not far from the beach in one of the more popular areas of Los Angeles seems like a reasonable starting point.

By pretending to book a 30 day stay at the Venice Podshare, starting today (July 12, 2019), I was able to get a firm price for a month in a single pod in this location: $1000.20. (See the attached screenshot)  Note that my yearly calculations below assume that this could be renewed for a full year, which may not be the case.

How about a Craigslist studio?

Okay, what else could I do if I needed to stay in Venice Beach for a month? I guess I could rent a studio apartment, although it’s unlikely that I could do this for just one month. Still, using good old craigslist, I was able to find some prices. Zoom your browser view if it’s hard to read… or search Craigslist for yourself.

As the screenshot shows, very little under “studio apartments, Venice” is available as of today for under $2000 per month. Admittedly there were a couple, but there were also quite a few that were significantly more expensive.

What about hotels? I haven’t included any screenshots, but a quick search for “hotels, Venice Beach, Los Angeles area” will show you almost nothing with two digits before the decimal point. One search showed exactly one listing for $60 per night; the vast majority are closer to $200 per night and up. (In some cases, way up.)

Let’s use a Craigslist $2000 per month studio apartment for comparison as it will make the math pretty easy.

I don’t know what Podshare’s monthly rates will be in the future, but as of today (again, July 12, 2019) your month in the Venice Podshare would cost you $1000 less than a month in a Venice studio apartment on Craigslist. You don’t pay for utilities at Podshare, so this is another $100-$200 a month savings.

You’ll also have to come up with a security deposit, not only for your apartment but more than likely for the utilities as well. Not so at Podshare, so this is probably another couple thousand dollars you’d have to come up with for the apartment rental.

The bottom line in this case is a savings of about $1200 per month (and this doesn’t include security deposits), or over $14,000 per year with Podshare.

UPDATE: Many of the Venice Beach studio apartments shown on Craigslist indicate “All Utilities Included.”  The math is now even easier:  savings of $1000 / month, or $12,000 / year comparing Podshare to an apartment rental.

The best roommates are the ones who will pay their share of the rent!

The age old survival tactic for coping with high rents is, of course, to share them with roommates. Many Podshare residents meet potential roommates by getting to know their fellow “Podestrians,” as Podshare refers to its residents. This seems like a great idea. If you are considering this strategy yourself, here’s something to keep in mind:

Standard rental arrangements in apartments are usually the type that hold each roommate responsible for the entire rent. This means if one of your roommates skips out on the rent for some reason, you will be responsible for their share. This is not the case at Podshare – you are only responsible for your own rent. But if you are evaluating other potential roommates, it is probably a good idea to pay attention to their attitude and ability toward their rental responsibilities.

 

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No covering up your pod for some privacy? What’s up with that?

PodShare
Nicolás Boullosa [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

This one puzzled me when I first read about it. “Privacy” was also mentioned in some Podshare reviews, although not as much as other issues (see Podshare Pros and Cons section below). But when you look at the pods, how nicely constructed they are and how they provide an almost-but-not-quite enclosed space, it sure would be tempting to go ahead and drape a towel or something over to block prying eyes.

Podshare management, however, makes it abundantly clear that this is not permitted and will in fact not be tolerated. Apparently they are quite serious about this.

I haven’t contacted anyone at Podshare so what follows is purely my opinion. My best guess is that it has to do with security. They do mention on the site that you will in fact be visible to others at all times. Certainly some will not like this – I’m not sure that I would be comfortable with it – but the ongoing high occupancy rates and apparent success of Podshare indicates that it is not a showstopper for quite a few individuals.

The implication seems to be that if anyone tries anything funny (and by “funny” I mean “potentially harmful”) with another resident (or “Podestrian” as Podshare refers to its guests), everyone will know about it because they are right in plain sight. Presumably, this “self-policing” approach will keep everyone on their best behavior.

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What about security? For your stuff? For you?

Podshare provides lockers to store your valuables. You need to bring your own lock, although I understand they have locks available for sale. I haven’t been able to find details as to the size and configuration of the lockers, which could be important for those with a fair amount of stuff to secure.

Overall it sounds like personal security is not an issue at Podshare. Doors to the outside are locked in the evening with some kind of a keycode arrangement for registered guests. The guests themselves have to be approved before they are allowed to register, and it doesn’t sound like there have been any significant problems.

Membership-based housing: you have a reputation to maintain!

The approval process is part of what Podshare refers to as “membership-based housing.” When you stay at a Podshare, you get your picture taken, you have a “Podestrian” number assigned, and it all becomes part of your membership profile. Assuming you turn out to be an agreeable resident, all will be well. But if you violate their rules or make life difficult for other residents, this will be noted in your profile – and you won’t be allowed to return.

I believe this is excellent strategy on Podshare’s part. Reputation-based membership has proven to work well in other environments, such as eBay. The simple truth is most people prefer transactions to go smoothly and are willing to use common sense in their dealings with others. Preventing the occasional troublemaker from spoiling things for everybody else is just good business. It also makes it crystal clear that you are serious when you say that certain kinds of behavior will not be tolerated.

According to the owner, the biggest issue that comes up requiring them to ask someone to leave is the occasional guest whose loud snoring disturbs others. Assuming she was in fact serious when she made this statement, it seems that interpersonal issues are not a big problem at Podshare.

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Is there storage space?

This is another area where I find it difficult to find details. Apparently there is a small amount of storage space available near each of the pods, although I don’t see how this could be considered secure.

The Podshare locations offer storage space for luggage, although at least one reviewer suggested that this is not a secure area. If I am able to find more specific information about this, I will edit this article and update.

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How many bathrooms does a Podshare location have?

According to one review, Podshare DTLA has 20 pods with 2 bathrooms. The Hollywood location has fewer pods and, again according to a reviewer, one bathroom and shower. Supposedly additional bathrooms are available at times but this was unclear. I believe the owner has additional properties on site so this may explain the potential extra bathrooms.

I have not found any details about numbers of bathrooms at the other locations. This would probably be a good question to ask if you are considering staying at one of these locations.

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Is Parking Included?

Parking varies by location.

The Podshare Venice has 10 parking places, “free until 12 noon.”

Podshare Hollywood offers 1 place for $20 per night.

Podshare Westwood, aka Dormshare, offers “parking for an additional fee.”

I couldn’t find information for the other locations. Double check this if you will have a car during your stay.

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Is Smoking Allowed?

Smoking is not permitted inside the locations or near the doors and windows. At least one reviewer indicated that the second part isn’t consistently enforced.

Are Pets Allowed?

No pets are allowed in Podshare locations.

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Is Podshare co-ed?

All Podshare locations are co-ed.

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Can you have guests?

No, only those registered may enter.  From a security standpoint, this sounds like an excellent policy, given the open nature of the operation. Even with lockers available, it’s unavoidable that people’s stuff – phones and laptops, for example – will be unattended at times. Without control on just who is on the premises, this could turn into a real problem.

Podshare also offers “coworking” -type services for those wishing to use the premises during the day to work, most likely using laptops or tablets. I believe daytime access is available for this at $15 per day. It isn’t clear whether you could invite a coworker to work with you for the same price but if so, it seems reasonable. I’m also not sure if this applies to all locations. Check on this if it’s important to you.

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Can your children stay with you at Podshare?

All Podshare residents must be 18 years of age or older.

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How noisy is it in a pod? Can you sleep?

Podshare emphasizes the importance of its “quiet hours,” 10 pm to 10 am. They seem serious about this. I get the impression that those who refuse to cooperate will be asked to leave. This is a good start.

But as we all know, some noises are inevitable. Several reviews have mentioned loud snoring as an ongoing problem. In the video above, Podshare’s owner mentions that those who snore loudly are asked to leave, although I can’t imagine this being enforced instantly.

At least one review mentioned street noise. The windows were open for ventilation and the road noise, according to this reviewer, was excessive. The company apparently provides free earplugs for those who need them.

And what about when you’re just feeling lousy and want to nap, or maybe turn in early to get some extra sleep? This doesn’t seem very likely. One photo on the website shows what looks like a party of some sort, complete with musicians, right in the common room where the “pods” are. Good luck getting to sleep with this going on!

It hadn’t occurred to me until just now, but I imagine someone working the “graveyard” shift and needing to sleep during the day would just be out of luck – unless they had industrial strength earplugs and a super eye shield.

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Do people live there full-time?

Podshare identifies three kinds of guests: travelers, temporary, and transitional. Travelers, those visiting the area are the largest group.

“Temporary” refers to those staying in the area temporarily, usually due to a work assignment.

The transitional group refers to those who are moving to the area and need a place to stay while they find permanent housing.

Some people do stay at podshare for several months, and I suspect many are from this “transitional” group. Given the absurdly high cost of housing in cities like Los Angeles, it’s easy to understand how someone could decide to just stay at Podshare for as long as possible. In the video above (created January 2017) the owner says the longest someone has stayed is 3 months. This “record” may have been surpassed by now.

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What is the Minimum stay? Maximum?

Los Angeles area Podshares are available by the night, week, or month. I’m not aware of any overall limitation but apparently you have to renew your stay monthly. This would be important to clarify. Would you have “first dibs” on your current pod if you renewed within a certain timeframe? Definitely worth checking into if you plan to stay more than a month.

As of the publication of this article, the new San Francisco location has a 30-day minimum stay due to local laws. This may change so check for current information.

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Podshare Pros and Cons

What People Like

  • Podshare’s biggest appeal is its reasonable pricing combined with the minimal commitment required. No security deposit, no utility costs, and you can stay for as little as one night (except in the San Francisco Podshare).
  • If you enjoy people, Podshare might be a great fit for you. Not only will you literally be surrounded by others, the combination of short- and medium- term residents will provide an ongoing supply of still more new people. Some Podshare residents, after meeting at Podshare, will frequently decide to become roommates in more traditional housing such as an apartment.
  • The pods themselves sound great. Elvina and her Dad did a super job on the design. Compared to the typical hostel, these are apparently a world apart in terms of quality and comfort.
  • Access to the entire Podshare network when you sign up at any location. In a huge city like Los Angeles, this can be a great advantage. You might sign up in, say, Los Feliz, but toward the end of the day you find yourself in Westwood. Rather than fight the awful traffic, assuming a space is available you simply go to the Westwood Podshare and settle down for the night.

What People Don’t Like

While the reviews for Podshare generally seem positive, I have seen quite a few comments about noise and bathrooms. I haven’t done any scientific analysis of the reviews, but my impression is that noise and bathroom related issues are high on the list of things that some complain about.

Podshare emphasizes their “quiet hours” – 10 PM to 10 AM every day. The official word is that these are strictly enforced. This would be a perfectly reasonable policy and if I were staying there for any length of time I would hope that this was in fact the case. I have seen quite a few reviews, however, with complaints about times when quiet hours were apparently ignored. The fact that Podshare provides earplugs, while a decent gesture, seems to indicate that noise is an ongoing issue to some extent.

The bathroom complaints are not terribly surprising, given the numbers of people competing for the facilities. Podshare mentions consistently high occupancy rates – over 90% according to many articles – which naturally will aggravate the situation even more. Sometimes a business can be a victim of its own success, at least in a limited sense.

Several people have also mentioned that the bathroom doors seem a bit on the flimsy side and don’t provide as much privacy as they would like. If this is the case, it seems like it would be relatively easy to fix.

Where, oh where, do you change your clothes?

As far as the privacy issue is concerned, this is such an obvious part of the arrangement from the beginning, I suspect that people pretty much know what to expect. I haven’t seen all that many reviews specifically mentioning privacy, although there have been a few.

One aspect of the privacy issue that hadn’t occurred to me showed up in a YouTube video I watched. This one documented the adventures of a young couple who decided to give Podshare a try. Overall they seemed to be pretty happy with their stay, although the young woman in the video pointed out that she had no idea where to change her clothes! I believe she wound up changing in some kind of utility closet while her boyfriend stood guard.

Podshare is certainly keeping up with contemporary cultural shifts and policies, one example being that all Podshares are declared co-ed. Apparently this means that everything we have to do is fair game for all to observe. My guess is that this is “pushing the envelope” a bit, as the reaction of the woman in the video would suggest.

Another negative mentioned by a few reviewers (and confirmed by a screenshot somebody posted in an article) was poor Wi-Fi performance. Most travelers are used to this by now, I suspect, and many avoid public Wi-Fi for security reasons anyway. Still, since Podshare promotes daytime use of their locations for “coworking,” which inevitably means laptops and Internet usage, it seems that reliable Wi-Fi might be a reasonable thing to expect.

Negative reviews generally get a response

One thing regarding the reviews that impresses me is the owner’s response to them. Many of the reviews, and most of the negative ones, are personally answered by the owner, Elvina Beck. She seems to go out of her way to provide realistic responses. It’s also worth noting that at least some of the highly negative reviews appear to come from vindictive or angry or just plain unstable customers. This isn’t meant to whitewash any genuine problems, but most people in business know that the old line about “the customer is always right” is, to be charitable, not always accurate.

Here are a couple of review sites for Podshare:

Yelp Podshare reviews

Tripadvisor Podshare reviews

 

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Are there similar businesses elsewhere? Where? If not, why not?

I don’t know of any others… and I’m somewhat puzzled. All indications are that the idea works. With as much activity in the affordable housing world, it seems that by now someone else would be trying something similar in another city.

One explanation could be the price point the Podshare company is targeting: the low end of the scale. With other more expensive and presumably more profitable opportunities, it may be that no one else wants to bother with the “budget” portion of the affordable housing market.

I haven’t found anything just like Podshare anywhere else, but there are a couple of similar type operations. One is the capsule hotel, popular in Japan. And there are a number of “pod hotels” in operation in several large cities in the country.

Here is a capsule hotel in Tokyo:

Tokyo Capsule Hotel

TOKYO – JUNE 1, 2016: Interior of capsule hotel in city center. Capsule Hotels are less expensive structures very famous in Tokyo.

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Can Podshare have an impact on the affordable housing problem?

I think it can. And I believe the “membership-based housing” concept can be an important part of the reason why.

Whether we like it or not, housing density, especially in the big cities, is going to have to be allowed to increase. It can be instructive to take a look at the past to try to understand how public policy has come to discredit higher density housing.

Several decades ago, many cities offered single room occupancy, or SRO, hotels as an extremely low cost housing option for those with limited resources. Unfortunately, many of these areas became known as slums. One defining characteristic of these neighborhoods was the transient nature of many of its residents. People would come and go with little or no accountability.

If Podshare, with its membership-based housing, is able to increase housing density and affordable housing while maintaining the vibrancy of the neighborhood, this could help shape public policy to be more accepting of higher density housing. As more cities struggle to provide enough affordable housing, this could be an important development.

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Have you (the author) stayed in a Podshare or anything like it? How was it?

The only thing I can think of that would be remotely like staying in a Podshare was my six weeks or so in basic training for the US Air Force Reserves in Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. The Podshare people probably won’t care for the comparison and I guess it is a bit of a stretch. We didn’t have bunkbeds or Wi-Fi (the Internet was still a couple of decades in the future) but there were a few dozen of us young guys sleeping in one big room, a.k.a. “barracks.”

We had storage space for our personal items in our footlockers. There were more than enough bathrooms and shower facilities to go around, since the “management” didn’t want any excuses for those late to formation. Food, of course, was provided courtesy of the taxpayers – and I have to say it was plentiful and pretty good.

All in all, it wasn’t too bad as temporary housing goes. It got the job done. But we had plenty of other things to occupy our young minds at the time, so we didn’t really worry much about our housing.

It may not be realistic to compare my time in a military barracks with a modern shared housing solution such as Podshare. Admittedly, the overall function and priorities were quite different. But the fact is, there are only so many variables when it comes to housing as many individuals as possible in a given amount of space. Maximize sleeping capacity in a given area; provide adequate shared space for bathroom and showering functions. Kitchen, food preparation, lounging and work areas can all be shared.

Thinking back on my experience in the US military “shared housing,” maybe the comparison isn’t so far-fetched. Our housing in the barracks definitely worked: we all survived, and in fact we all survived the rigors of basic training. We were grateful for a safe and secure place to sleep every night, and we did form a community with our fellow trainees. (This social, or “bonding” aspect many experience is an intentional part of the design on the part of the military.)

But it is also true that we were all glad when our “shared housing” time came to an end and we were able to move on to, presumably, more traditional arrangements. Since Podshare serves primarily those traveling or those in transition, this seems like a reasonable comparison.

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Conclusions. Would I Stay in a Podshare?

I am considerably older than the typical Podshare resident; at this stage of the game I doubt if I would fit in very well – although I can see where it would be a bit of an adventure!

So I have to speculate a bit: if Podshare or something similar had existed when I was in the “target demographic,” would I have tried it? I actually was one of those young people that came to Los Angeles from the cold Midwest. Would I have stayed in a Podshare?

I think I would have been willing to give it a try. The ability to stay in a highly desirable part of town, such as right near the beach, without paying the high prices normally associated with those areas would certainly have appealed to me. In addition, the ability to get to know some fellow adventurers could also be a great advantage.

My biggest concern

I know, based on everything I have learned about Podshare (I have never visited one “in person,” at least not yet) that I would have one major concern: security for my belongings. It would be great if we could all just trust each other. And I do believe that most people are basically honest and fair-minded, even if that does sound a bit naïve. But it only takes one unscrupulous soul to complicate your life.

Realistically, I guess what you would have to do is place anything of real value such as your wallet, your cash, your identification, as well as your phone and other electronics in the locker provided. Assuming there was space available, maybe this would work fine. It does seem like it would get old, however.

Comedian George Carlin gave a performance years ago in which he made the comment that your house is just a box with your stuff in it. He could have added “that you can lock to keep your stuff secure when you’re not around.” I would need to be able to secure at least my “important” stuff in order to be comfortable staying at a Podshare.

I would have to try it. Which wouldn’t be too difficult.

The bottom line for me would be simple: I would need to try it. Fortunately, Podshare makes this about as easy as it could be. With the exception of the new San Francisco location, you can stay in a Podshare for as little as one overnight. No utility costs to deal with, no security deposit – just pay for one night. Most of the reviewers evidently enjoyed their experience, so if you are wondering if you would feel the same, it’s easy enough to give it a try.

Keep Podshare in mind if you’re looking for affordable housing, at least temporarily, in Los Angeles or San Francisco. If you try it I hope you like it!

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