Backyard uses the same lens through which Airbnb was envisioned—the potential of space—and applies it more broadly to architecture and construction. Source: Airbnb's
Backyard uses the same lens through which Airbnb was envisioned—the potential of space—and applies it more broadly to architecture and construction. Source: Airbnb's

Steve Jobs' line, "if you don't cannibalize yourself, someone else will," was an oft-spoken note of urgency in the corridors and at the podium at Hive, our housing innovation event in Austin this week.

In fact, we learned--over and over at Hive--that housing's affordability challenge has been sparking a virtual enlightenment era of innovation, both among incumbent legacy players in the business and at its fringes, where many of our Hive 50 honorees are firms and invididuals and breakthroughs you may never have heard of.

Necessity breeds invention.

Invention disrupts.

And we have to remember, just as companies, organizations, innovators, municipalities, and communities respond to necessity, so too do people, you and me, ones who're on the other side of housing affordability challenges, the 99.5% of the U.S.'s 126 million households who don't participate in any way in new residential single-family or multifamily development.

People constantly invent ways to live to adjust to necessities--economics, health, the climate--that pronounce themselves dynamically in their lifetimes.

We see that happening here in data from Pew Research analyst Gretchen Livingston, who notes that one in 10 American parents cares not only for his or her kids, cares for at least one parent. Livingston writes:

About three-in-ten U.S. adults (29%) have a child younger than 18 at home, and 12% of these parents provide unpaid care for an adult as well. All told, these multigenerational caregivers provide more than two and a half hours of unpaid care a day, on average, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Multigenerational caregivers spend more than two and a half hours a day on unpaid careThe amount of time parents spend on child care has been on the rise for decades in the United States. Mothers now spend 40% more time with their kids than they did in the mid-1960s, and the amount of time spent by fathers has tripled during that span.

The way people live, and become willing to live in their homes is not static.

Tiny homes, co-living, multigenerational living, shared living, revenue units, etc.--all a rising tide of household composition and typology in our society--reflect a blend of necessity and preference.

One of our top honorees among those we saluted in this year's Hive 50, is Portland, Ore.-based Dweller, whose business model focuses precisely on this trend. Dweller offers accessory dwelling units--ones built offsite and craned into a resident's backyard--allowing a property owner to save money by hosting a family member, or make money by hosting a paying border in the backyard unit.

This month, Airbnb announced its own Backyard division, which gave many observers in housing the sense that it too planned to enter the ADU business to add to the addressable universe of hosts it has in its $38 billion empire.

Fast Company's Mark Wilson reports that Airbnb has no intention of limiting its investment in design and construction to ADUs. He writes:

The spaces will be designed to be shared, from the ground up. What exactly that looks like remains to be seen, but the suggestion is clear: They will be optimal Airbnb rentals to anyone who is interested in hosting, or perhaps even investing in the big business of backyard cottages.

They will also be adaptable. That doesn’t just mean adding a few guest bedrooms and an extra bath to rent out. It means creating spaces that evolve and even reconfigure to the occupants’ changing needs. We’ve seen this sort of approach in MIT’s CityHome project (which later became the company Ori). Ori sells robotic furniture, such as walk-in closets that expand out of flat walls, and beds that can drop down from the ceiling on a whim. It’s telling that Backyard’s project lead, Fedor Novikov, has researched robotic construction for NASA.

The spaces may also support co-living, like at the Yoshino Cedar House. This was the first living space that Airbnb built. Designed by Japanese architect Go Hasegawa, it’s a community center and rental property that Airbnb commissioned to spur tourism in the small town of Yoshino, Japan. The space is not only Dwell bait, with its austere cedar plank construction that sits beside a wide, idyllic stream; it also houses dozens of people under one roof in a grand co-living experiment. “I picture Western guests walking up, stepping inside, and you’re interacting with the community from the minute you arrive. If you want to tour the sake factory, or the chopstick factory, or take a hike, the locals are right there,” Gebbia told us in 2016. By March of 2018, the house had home welcomed 346 guests, and generated $25,000 in bookings along with an estimated $50,000 in local spending.

You might call housing's affordability challenge a crisis, or you might look at it as an opportunity. One way another, necessity is at its core, and both people living homes, and people producing housing for people are responding to this necessity as they have through the millennia.

So, for incumbent market-rate players in housing, the second half of Steve Jobs' line is ready for a minor edit. "Someone else has."