Live-Work Housing That’s More Livable—and Workable by Elaine360

Elaine4aMike Pyatok, principal of Pyatok Architects in Oakland, Calif., specializes in multifamily and affordable housing. But so-called live-work housing, he says, is failing to serve those who need it most. Here, Pyatok (inducted this year into Builder‘s Wm. S. Marvin Hall-of-Fame for Design Excellence), shares ideas about the current demand for live-work housing, and the important role that developers, architects, builders, and property managers can play in helping to change the rules.

Builder: Can you give a brief history of live-work housing?

Mike Pyatok: This is an idea that sprung up about 40 years ago in some older cities. Manufacturing was leaving the country, leaving behind big, beautiful, old buildings. Rents were low and younger people were coming back to the city, looking for cheap places to live. These tended to be people in the creative fields; sculptors, painters, and performing artists found these old industrial spaces useful to work and rehearse in. They didn’t have financial capital but they had cultural capital, and it began to revive whole neighborhoods. Eventually, new zoning was enacted to protect these spaces, because cities recognized the value of these new denizens of the city—The Creative Class. In time, prices went up for condos, coops, and rentals, because a new breed started moving in: those who didn’t just have cultural capital but financial capital, too. Gentrification happened. The folks now working out of their homes are doing so with computers. They’re lawyers, dentists, stock brokers, architects, and others with higher earning potential, rather than people who are making or repairing things. Ground-floor use—restaurants, grocery stores, and galleries—also becomes more expensive. So the artists leave, because they need to find another derelict section of the city that they can afford.

Builder: Was this exclusive to warehouse neighborhoods?

MP: No. Working out of a home or apartment existed in other places, but it was under the radar, in neighborhoods that were tough or nondescript—not the kinds of neighborhoods that get media attention for attracting creative types and then middle and upper classes. Doing light manufacturing at home was probably against zoning code, but no one was complaining, because everyone was doing it. There weren’t any higher income homeowners in the area, and as long as it wasn’t disturbing people, the landlords, largely absentee, looked the other way. Even if it were violating zoning codes, it was tolerated, as long as the landlord could collect the rent.

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