Blockchain startup proposes communes for San Francisco’s homeless

By Sean Captain

It’s so Bay Area. Hours before an election in which San Francisco voters voted to approve a new tax (Proposition C) to fund homeless services, I got a PR pitch from a cryptocurrency-based real estate company suggesting that the city beta test an agricultural commune to help solve its homelessness problem.

Software developer Natalia Karayaneva, CEO of Bay Area real estate startup Propy, has some credibility in the field. (Fast Company profiled her back in May.) Karayaneva’s LinkedIn page lists a masters degree in sustainable urban development from the University of Oxford and nearly 18 years as “managing owner” of a real estate development company in her native Bulgaria. Blockchain and social entrepreneur Chris McCoy tells me Propy is an “exceptional project” for its use of the secure ledger technology to manage both purchases (through cryptocurrency) and the terms of contracts.

Over the past few months, Prop C opponents laid out many critiques and counter-proposals. But Karayaneva’s proposed solution for the more than 7,500 homeless in San Francisco seems a bit fanciful–even though it doesn’t appear to use blockchain. Per a statement attributed to her by the company’s PR firm:

I suggest a lean approach by building an experimental community for 100-300 homeless people outside or within the city. The community should have not only housing, but farming to help create a self-sustaining community…Community members can volunteer to help on the property and earn credits/food/services. If you build a resilient housing community and make it free only for the homeless, don’t you think they’d gladly move there and contribute for sustaining the facility and their own prosperity?

Backers claim that, with the $300 million raised annually by Prop C’s new business tax, they can house about 4000 households (families or individuals), plus provide emergency shelter spots for all who need them–closing a 1,000-bed shortfall.

Per the latest homeless survey, in 2017, 68 percent of the city’s homeless have health problems that “included chronic physical illness, physical disabilities, chronic substance use, and severe mental health conditions.” They may not make the best farmers. (Prop C also promises to fund mental health services for 4,500 people.)

Instead of latter-day Hoovervilles, Prop C backers propose building low-cost housing and providing rent subsidies so that the homeless, most of whom once had homes in the city, can return to living under a roof in their community.


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