How to afford LA? Get 24 roommates

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Two roommates in a house shared by 25 people total. Photo by Amy Ta.

It’s no secret that Los Angeles is in a housing crisis. A one bedroom apartment averages $2500. However, for $580 you can get a bunk in a 5-bedroom Highland Park craftsman.

Twenty-five people live in this one-story house near the busy Figueroa corridor. The roommates share a kitchen, living room, two bathrooms, and a yard. About two-thirds of the tenants are white. Most are single, in their 20s, and aspiring to be artists while they make ends meet by waiting tables or driving for a rideshare company.


The 2,000 square-foot house includes five bedrooms, two kitchens, two bathrooms, and communal spaces in the living room, backyard and converted garage. Renters aren't actually allowed to enter from the house's front entrance. All photos by Amy Ta.

Renters enter the house through the side entrance, which leads into the kitchen.

Each bedroom holds 4-6 bunk beds.

Helen Harlan is an event bartender and a server. She’s also been working on a writing and acting career for 17 years.

“The only thing that we all have in common is that we’re here,” roommate Helen Harlan says. “There are tenants that are here out of financial necessity, and there are tenants who have come to L.A. so they can chase their dreams… We have a tenant who came from a homeless shelter and a tenant who’s a physics intern out at JPL.”


Housemates say the biggest problem they face is making sure everyone does their dishes.

After a recent house meeting, this white board of shame was created to publicly call out anyone who doesn’t do their dishes.

A board for messages about the kitchen. 

They pay $580 per month in rent for a bunk, a wardrobe, and a kitchen cubby for dry food. Their utilities and WiFi are included, and they get maid service twice a week. But that also means the property manager is making nearly $14,000 every month from that rent.


Each roommate has their own square cubby for food.

Justin Velez (left) ran away from home when he was 18, and is working part time as a dog trainer at Petsmart while he finishes college. Noelani del Rosario-Sabet (right) just graduated from UCLA and wants to become a sex researcher.

Andres Vidaurre lived in his car before moving to the house. He said communal living isn’t a new concept. Immigrants in Los Angeles have done it for a long time.

“I know a lot of people who grew up with a family of 15 in a single room. And these things are born out of necessity, and I think what they really highlight is a larger issue in society right now, which is the housing crisis.”


Susan Morgan is a self-proclaimed L.A. stereotype. She’s a waitress, caterer and a server, while she strives to be a musician, actress and writer.

Morgan says she’s been seeing more houses like this one pop up across the county. One residence she looked at in the valley charged $1000/month for a bunk bed. She worries even communal living will get too pricey for what she believes should be a stopgap solution.

“There might be a cause and effect where people see dollar signs and then they start popping up everywhere,” she says. “And people think this is the new normal. This should be kind of temporary.”


The outdoor patio.

A motorcycle, without a seat, left by a former roommate. 

A collection of mail for former tenants of the house.
Credits

Guest:
Helen Harlan - Field producer

Host:
Steve Chiotakis

Producers:
Christian Bordal, Kathryn Barnes

Reporter:
Caleigh Wells