An AgeTech Collaborative™ startup participant, Bequall is simplifying development to build moderate-density housing in single family neighborhoods for singles and couples, as well as for adults aging in place.
Jack Saba, a co-founder of Bequall, spent some time talking with us about Bequall’s work, its business model and its mission to empower local professionals to develop housing within their own communities.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
What is Bequall all about?
Bequall is solving housing challenges by adding new housing types in single family neighborhoods at more attainable rental rates. In short, we are building workforce housing, which is to say we are adding housing in communities at rates that are attainable by people who are teachers, for example, or service workers.
Backyard homes are also a great opportunity for aging parents or their caregivers to live close to the home, but not in the home. Or people can downsize on their property — for example, if they’re over-housed because their kids have gone off to college — while remaining in their community
What’s your business model? Do you sell direct to consumers?
We’re a mission-driven company that’s trying to align stakeholders to add more attainable housing in order to relieve the pressure on the housing shortage. We’re creating moderate-density housing options; our version of this type of housing is targeted toward 50% of the rental community, which is singles and couples that don’t have children. Key to what we're trying to do is creating neighbors and community members.
A thing that’s unique to our strategy is we don’t work with homeowners or consumers; we aren’t selling to the general public. We’re trying to create more rental housing in communities at scale, by working with professionals. We want to simplify development to the point where it’s easy for real estate brokers or lawyers, for example, to become developers.
Our reason for going about it this way is because if we want to solve this need for more housing, we need to figure out how to build at scale. We can leverage distribution at scale by working with professionals — so they would be the ones building the housing in their community.
Can you tell us about the units themselves?
Our units are designed based on five years' worth of feedback we had from nine microlofts we built and rented out to traveling nurses, singles and couples. We took all the information they loved about the units and what they would change, and we brought all that into our product design. We standardized a lot of this to simplify the manufacturing process so that we could build more housing at scale, but it’s based on all that design feedback.
What led you to founding the company to begin with?
Bequall was founded because we had a shared vision that if communities wanted to flourish, they would need to build more housing to meet current challenges and trends. Kevin, one of my co-founders, had built the nine microlofts because he saw trends indicating people had fewer things and needed less space. Meanwhile, my other co-founder, Scott Bailey, was working with entrepreneurs in Boston who were having a hard time getting a foothold, and he wanted to solve their housing problem. I was a bootstrapping entrepreneur in the Bay Area, and I experienced the housing problem first-hand: I mentored at an entrepreneurship in exchange for free housing; I lived in co-living spaces; I lived in backyard homes. We were thinking about how to solve for housing at scale, and the idea for Bequall took hold. So I left my previous company, and we co-founded Bequall together.
Are you focusing on any particular markets or regions to start?
Core to our process is going where communities are saying, “We want to build housing, so we’re changing policies to support aging in place and accessible communities.” Those are the places where we’re focusing our time and attention.
California has done a good job of enabling more housing to be built statewide; they’ve mandated that every jurisdiction has to increase their housing supply by a certain percentage. So this year, we’re working to do a pilot portfolio by building six to 10 homes in Sacramento, to show how we can add these units quickly, at scale, and repeatedly — and it will help the city meet their regional housing goal. So it will give the city a win, and we will get validation about our process.
With that validation, we can help other communities. With our strategy of having locals build the housing that’s aligned for people in that community, we could work with a teacher’s union to build more housing for teachers in a community, or with healthcare providers to build housing designed specifically for aging in place.
It sounds like government policies play a large role in your efforts.
Zoning is one of the biggest restrictions to the amount of housing that can be built, and policies matter. I’d love to give AARP credit for all the work they’re doing on supporting policies that support building more of the kinds of housing that communities need.
What plans do you have for Bequall in 2023 and beyond?
Eventually, we want to create a housing accelerator. There are accelerators for startups that teach people about the business — we want to do the same for real estate professionals and turn them into developers.
Part of the programmatic approach is turning people into developers so that they’ll be the ones building the housing in their communities. That’s going to be something unique in the housing space, and it’s an exciting thing to have on the horizon.
Visit Bequall’s website to learn more. #SpotlightOn