Researchers at the University of San Francisco have a new approach to the popular practice of working where you live.

Their concept, dubbed “enterprise housing,” is simple: Provide child care and elder care services, and communal work facilities such as studios and kitchens in affordable, condominium-type developments that allow people to work where they live while building equity.

Eugene J. Muscat, a business professor at the university, said enterprise housing is “work-live” housing as opposed to traditional “live-work” units.

“San Francisco doesn’t need swimming pools. It needs elder care, day care, commercial kitchens and studios. If you add that to housing complexes or developments it creates an environment that supports enterprise,” he said.

“We have inflated our housing prices to the point where the traditional family business operation has both become dangerous, or difficult to do, and absolutely essential,” said Muscat.

Muscat, a San Francisco native who grew up in a home above his family’s business, said the lack of affordable housing in the San Francisco area was a driver for the research project, which is supported by federal money and the Carl Gellert and Celia Berta Gellert Foundation. University of San Francisco is a nearly 150-year-old private Jesuit university.

Some live-work development projects ultimately fail because the workspace is eventually converted into additional living space, Muscat said. Some of these projects carry high prices, too, so that they are out of reach of typical home buyers, he said. And while some would-be home buyers “can’t afford a $1 million live-work but can afford a $500,000 ‘work-live,’ as long as . . . they really can work there.”

Muscat also said, “We approach this from an affordability point of view. We’re not talking about subsidized housing — we’re talking about saying to a developer, ‘If you build it they will buy.’ “

University of San Francisco researchers identified 17 business types that would be well-suited for enterprise housing projects, based on interviews with San Francisco residents. Those business types include: artistic, counseling, craft and jewelry production, day care and elder care, fabrication, financial, food, information technology, language and music instruction, light and heavy construction, mail order, professional services, repair, and specialty retail. Researchers have also promoted changes in zoning laws that will help to facilitate the construction of enterprise housing in San Francisco.

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, about 5 percent of San Francisco’s roughly 428,000 workers were employed at home, and about 9 percent of the workforce was self-employed. National data from the 1997 Census data shows that about 19 percent of residents who work only at home are ages 25-34, while 28 percent are ages 35-44. Of those who work at home only, 69 percent are married,  57 percent had children under 18, and 78 percent live in metropolitan areas.

A home-based business study that was released this year for the U.S. Small Business Administration reported that about half of all U.S. businesses are home-based businesses, and about 77 percent of these businesses had gross annual receipts of less than $25,000. About 52 percent of home-based businesses are service-related, 16 percent are construction-related and 14 percent relate to retail trade, the study also found. Real estate agents represent about 2.7 percent of all home-based businesses.

There is probably some undercounting in home-based businesses, said Muscat, because some San Francisco residents are conducting business in residential units that are not approved for the type of work they are doing in their homes. “There are day care centers all over the place that are under the radar,” he said, and caterers who are using their home kitchens rather than commercial kitchens. “They’d love to come out into the open.”

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Send a news tip or letter to the editor to glenn@inman.com; (510) 658-9252, ext.140.

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