Harvey Hernandez has built condos and apartments all up and down South Florida, but sometime in 2015 he started noticing something new. His office sits in one of the condos his firm worked on; every day in the lobby, he noticed that almost everyone coming and going seemed to have a suitcase in tow. “I could see the opportunity for [apartment sharing] happening right in front of my face,” Hernandez recalls. “But there was no support for it, and no community.”
So, Hernandez thought, why not create a building that was bespoke for the sharing economy–one that made it more fun for travelers and easier for residents? Soon, he made the pitch to Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia. Over the coming months, Airbnb and Hernandez’s company, the Newgard Development Group, will complete “Niido powered by Airbnb,” a 324-unit building in Kissimmee, Florida, that is slated to be the first in a series of apartment buildings around the country. Rentals in those buildings will carry the added promise of easy extra income via Airbnb, administered by the building itself.
Hernandez’s initial pitch to Airbnb was well-timed. The company had been eager to figure out how it could work with multifamily apartment buildings and condo operators. Though these buildings presented an obvious source for home sharing, rules governing sublets and building access sometimes made it impossible. So Airbnb developed the Friendly Building Program, a tool that building managers could use to monitor and regulate the number of home shares being offered at any one time, while also splitting home-share revenue with residents.
Niido represents an even greater level of synergy. Working with Hernandez’s company, Airbnb ran a series of design sprints to identify every element of being a guest or host that could be remade. “We thought about every element, from the curb when you approach, to the wayfinding and contacting your host,” says JaJa Jackson, Airbnb’s director of housing partnerships. The floor plans reflect that, with large common areas for travelers to mingle, layouts that readily allow for home offices to become spare bedrooms, and plentiful nooks for Murphy beds. The kitchens and bathrooms are made of materials that are tough and easy to wipe down; lock-nocks in each room will make it easy for residents to stash personal belongings. There’s a keyless entry system in which guests will receive unique codes that work only during the length of their stay, and residents will be able to manage both home-sharing and their apartment services–such as maintenance and Wi-Fi access–through a single app.
But Hernandez is most excited about the community he hopes to foster with the project. Of the 3% Airbnb booking fee, 75% will go to the resident while the other 25% will subsidize local programming such as cooking lessons or art classes. A portion of those will be drawn from Airbnb Experiences, the company’s new tourism platform. “Airbnb has these experiences across many markets,” says Hernandez. “Imagine if we can entice people that are tenants or neighbors as well. If someone is a chef that cooks for their community, that’s a great way to bring people together whether you’re a guest or a host.”
An Enticing Appeal And Big Ambitions
Of course, Hernandez likely wouldn’t be so excited if squishy notions of community were the only appeal. Rents in Florida run unusually high, and the state is ideal for home sharing because there are so many tourists and part-time residents. Renters, however, are often barred from subletting their apartments. Niido offers the chance at extra income–with much of the hassle taken care of by Niido’s building manager. That seems likely to help Niido maintain high renter-occupancy rates in a tough market filled with competition.
It also seems no accident that Hernandez, who has only developed buildings in Florida so far, is already eyeing other states. “Right now we’re focused on Florida, but we’re considering other markets,” he says. “We are looking to be present in many other cities across the U.S.” That makes sense. The very cities where rents are high also tend to be places where tourism is robust. Armed with a building offering that helps residents offset their rents, Niido may provide the edge that Hernandez would need to expand his business across the country–while helping Airbnb with a new source for listings.