City Living: Millennials Are Making It Happen, And This Is How They’re Doing It

Across the country, millennials are having a tough time finding affordable housing. It’s not just the fact that they’re thrown into the workforce during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and no, they’re not spending their life savings on avocado toast. Research has shown that it’s actually more difficult for millennials to buy real estate than their parents before them. So instead, they rent. But rent prices have become absolutely insane.

79% Of Their Income Is Spent On Housing

The median rent for an apartment in New York City is $4,350. In places like San Francisco, recent graduates can drop roughly 79% of their monthly salary to keep a roof over their heads. The rising cost of housing has led many millennials to get pretty crafty in order to avoid moving back in with mom and dad. The city-dwelling millennials featured here (including engineers of Tesla and Google) have found a creative solution to the housing crisis. Even if it means renting a box in a living room for $1,000 a month.

This Bay Area Woman Lived On A Sailboat

The Bay Area in Northern California is full of expensive apartments outlined by the picturesque shoreline. You know what’s cheaper than apartment space? Marina space. Sarah Patterson, a 24-year-old living in the Bay Area, took matters into her own hands to combat soaring housing costs. Like many millennials, she found her first city dwelling on Craigslist. It just wasn’t a real apartment. Patterson purchased a sailboat and spends between $250 and $1,111 to dock it at the marina (with some additional fees for actually living on board). With the average one bedroom in San Francisco costing an upwards of $3,000, Patterson saves thousands.

These Millennials Lived In A Shipping Container

Heather Steward and Luke Iseman were spending $2,200 a month on their San Francisco rent. As far as the Bay Area goes, this was a great value. In fact, it would be a struggle to find rent that cheap in other wildly expensive cities like New York and Boston. But it was still too much. Instead, Stewart and Iseman decided to join the tiny house movement – sort of.


Steward and Iseman didn’t just build a regular tiny house, like you’ve probably seen on HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters. Instead, they bought a shipping container and converted it into a home.

The Shipping Container Cost About One Month’s Rent

The shipping container cost Steward and Iseman $2,300, just $100 more than a month of their apartment rent. They purchased it online and had it delivered to a vacant parking lot, which they leased. Through some elbow grease, the couple managed to convert the shipping container into a home.

“I was interested in alternative housing,” Stewart said. “I don’t want to be in debt for the next 60 years, and I also don’t want to be in one place for the next 60 years.” Through this process, the pair realized their true passion and launched Boxouse, a company that helps hobbyists and alternative living enthusiasts can create their own homes out of shipping containers.

This Guy Slept In A Wooden Crate

Would you pay $400 a month to live in a wooden crate inside someone’s house? Well, you might if you saw the cost of housing in San Francisco. Peter Berkowitz decided to forgo comfort to live in a crate, which he called his “bedroom pod”. The crate sat in his friend’s dining area. It didn’t take him much to craft the crate out of plywood, and it only cost $1,300 to build.

“I was far too optimistic at first that we could find a place that wouldn’t cost a fortune,” Berkowitz said about his initial apartment search. “It didn’t take long to realize that that wasn’t a feasible plan though.”

A pod is fine, sort of. Right?

The Apartment Pod Is Sort Of Cute If You’re Not Claustrophobic

The outside of the pod was somewhat of an eye sort, propped against the wall in the dining room. Most people probably would have just put up a temporary false wall (seriously, it’s not that hard). The inside, on the other hand, is sort of cute as long as you aren’t claustrophobic. Berkowitz has a fold down desk so he can work in his bed and a skylight to let in some natural sunshine. It even has fairy lights going through for some mood lighting. However, it does get sort of stuffy. Berkowitz is working on adding some more ventilation.

Some Millennials Are Living In Vans To Combat High Rent Prices

Millennials in the Bay Area are constantly looking for creative housing ideas to combat soaring rents. Some of them have turned to living in vans, which was the case for Dwayne Golstein. He works for a pathology firm in Los Altos, California. Golstein rented a 15-foot van from Craigslist to live in, which he admits, sometimes drives him a little bit crazy.

“At least once a day I lose my mind. It’s low light, I’m tired, and I’m trying to get out of my clothes,” he told The Washington Post. “I’m loading up my laptop. Wait, where’s my phone? I just had my phone,” he added. “Or I’ll cut up something to eat. Where are my utensils? You’re sitting basically on a bed where you can’t walk around and look. That’s the difficulty.”

It’s Illegal To Live In Your Car, But It’s Hardly Enforced

Living in a car isn’t really legal in most major cities. In San Francisco, where and when you can live in your car is highly limited. According to San Francisco Municipal Police Code, “use of vehicles for human habitation” is prohibited in streets, parks, and beaches from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. But where there’s a will, there’s a way (and a Walmart parking lot).

According to a survey, cities have made an effort to combat van-dwellers. In 2014 alone, 81 cities banned the practice, though Los Angeles has recently overturned the law after it was deemed unconstitutional.

As For Golstein, His Van-Dwelling Helped Him Lose Weight

Van-dwelling is far from ideal and Golstein said it took very careful planning. He had to time his meals to limit his bathroom usage (as vans don’t have bathrooms).

“I mean, it sucks I can’t eat food unless I’m at work, or I go out and eat, buy something. I’ve lost some weight because I walk everywhere already,” he said. “The back of the van, there’s a little stove, but I just think it would look odd at 2 o’clock in the morning for this guy to have smoke coming out of the back of the van in the neighborhood.”

He spends most of his time in coffee shops charging his phone and computer, but the $250 per week price tag for van rent is definitely saving him money.

This Tesla Engineer Lived In A Sprinter Van

Engineers at Tesla aren’t just innovative when it comes to advanced technology and automobiles – they’re savvy when it comes to housing. Jason Roesslein, an engineer at Tesla, managed to pay off $14,000 in student loans by living in a Dodge Sprinter van. Roesslein was frustrated with paying $1,250 in rent each month. He previously lived with a roommate.

“That was supposed to be a temporary situation until I figured out where I really wanted to live,” he told Business Insider. “As I got further and further along in my thinking, I decided that I would try to live in a van, and I eventually pulled the trigger on it.”

Roesslein Was Inspired By A Co-Worker

Roesslein originally wanted to invest in a box truck but was overwhelmed with the idea of a vehicle that big. He ended up meeting a fellow Tesla employee who was living in a Subaru Forester. The man had been living in his Subaru for a year and was planning to upgrade to a Sprinter. Roesslein coopted his idea and purchased a 2006 Dodge Sprinter off eBay for $13,000. He picked it up in Texas and drove it home.

It Cost $1,000 To Turn The Sprinter Into A Home

Roesslein spent $1,000 revamping his Sprinter into a tiny house. He initially slept in a sleeping bag on top of a sleeping pad. When it got cold, he used a small propane heater, but overall, he thought it was nice to sleep in the cold.

His combined monthly bills were paltry. He spent just $100 a month on car insurance and $75 a month on his cell phone plan. He showered at Tesla’s corporate gym and ate breakfast and lunch at work. He’d go out for dinner after work and estimates that he spent an extra $150 a month on food because he didn’t do much cooking.

31 Millennials Squeezed Into A Single House

In order to combat insane rent prices, millennials are welcoming more roommates. Some have more housemates than others. One group of 31 millennials shared a 10-bedroom, French Victorian mansion in a posh neighborhood in San Francisco. Each housemate paid $650 for a bed (which isn’t a small chunk of change, especially when you have three people per room).

The community operates like a version of a commune and each housemate vows to share 1,330 hugs a week. However, the renters were issued a violation notice from the city’s planning department for having too many tenants.

This Man Slept In Conference Rooms

Martin Greenberg was what most of us would call homeless. He didn’t have a place to go even though he held a job as CEO of the startup Bedly. Ironically, the startup’s business allows people to rent fully furnished homes on demand. Though his startup managed to gain some venture capital, he still found himself crashing in conference rooms.

“You’d be surprised, the conference rooms were very comfortable,” Greenberg said. “When you’re working late it’s hard to coordinate with friends whose couches you want to sleep on. … The sad thing was I run a housing company.”

This College Student Built a Tiny Home Instead Of Renting A Dorm Room

College housing is expensive, and when Joel Weber was shocked with the cost of a dorm room at the University of Texas, he took matters into his own hands. Weber emptied his $15,000 savings to build a tiny house in his friend’s Texas backyard. His friend let him keep the portable home on the property for no cost, which allowed Weber to graduate from college without any debt.

Weber’s tiny house saved him a lot of money, as the University of Texas dorms cost roughly $1,135 a month to live. If Weber had chosen to live alone in a one bedroom downtown near campus, it would have cost him around $1,913 per month.

Engaged Millennials Build Tiny Home For Their Future

Santa Rosa, California residents Bree Rathburn and Kieran Murphy became engaged and started planning for their future. The couple needed to save money for their wedding and wanted to enjoy a honeymoon in Greece, too. They decided to pursue an alternative solution to housing by building a tiny home. Costing just $21,000 Rathburn designed the home, which took them 18 months to build. The millennial couple has plans to park the fully-functioning home on a piece of land where Murphy will start his vineyard and wine label.

Photo: PressDemocrat
Photo: PressDemocrat

Weber’s Tiny Home Is Pretty Plush Inside

Weber didn’t know much about plumbing or woodwork when he took on the project, and instead decided to apprentice under a carpenter and plumber while going to school full-time. He read as many books as he could on architecture. It was worth it because his tiny home is as spacious as a dorm room but way more stylish. He created seating with wood scraps, given to him by people who took him in before his home was finished. It was an homage to his homes of the past. “That’s how their homes live on with me,” he said.

Google Software Engineer Lives In A Truck

In May of 2015, 23-year-old Brandon (who used a pseudonym because he didn’t want to get in trouble) got a coveted job as a software engineer for Google. He subsequently moved into a 128-square foot Ford box truck, which he parked in Google’s campus parking lot, where he worked.

Brandon’s 2006 truck had 157,000 miles on it when he purchased it for $10,000. His only monthly housing expense is the $121 he pays for car insurance. Previously, he was spending about $2,000 to live in Google’s cheapest employee housing, where he shared a room with another employee.

But Truck-Living Has Its Downside

Brandon enjoys the savings he gets from living in a box truck, but he’s not too thrilled about some of the less desirable features.

“I don’t actually own anything that needs to be plugged in,” he explained. “The truck has a few built-in overhead lights, and I have a motion-sensitive battery-powered lamp I use at night. I have a small battery pack that I charge up at work every few days, and I use that to charge my headphones and cellphone at night. My work laptop will last the night on a charge, and then I charge it at work.”

But what about making meals?

Brandon Showers And Eats On Google’s Campus

Brandon doesn’t have the luxury of a kitchen or shower, but luckily, Google takes care of their employees. Brandon eats all three meals at work and showers every morning in the corporate gym. He graduated from college with $22,434 worth of student loans and managed to shrink that number to $16,449 in just four months. He hopes to pay them off completely in six months.

He also enjoys his cheap living situation because he gets to actually enjoy San Francisco. He can eat out at nice restaurants and see the city’s booming nightlife scene. He doesn’t have to worry about pouring the majority of his income into an apartment.