Affordable housing: South Bay restaurateur rents rooms to her staff

A South Bay restaurant owner has bought a three-bedroom home and is now housing some of her employees at bargain rent.

Zareen’s owner Zareen Khan sees it as an innovative solution to the lack of affordable housing in the Bay Area. Khan bought the home in East Menlo Park for $950,000 in 2016. She rents rooms to her staff for $500 a month.

“Most of our employees either commute from San Jose, Hayward or Oakland,” said Khan. “Very few of them live in East Palo Alto because even in East Palo Alto prices are going up they have to move out of there as well.”

Khan said the employees are happier. In order to make some revenue, she rents the master bedroom to a tech employee for $1,500.

The independent business owner, who owns the Palo Alto restaurant and another in Mountain View, said skyrocketing housing prices are causing a regional shortage of employees in the service industry.

“If the trend continues, you won't see too many independent restaurants,” said Khan. “We need to have high density homes. We need to have apartments, condos and more affordable housing.”

Shakeel Naqvi lives in the home with three of his co-workers. The 29-year-old works as a chef.

“It’s so cheap,” said Naqvi. “At another place, you will pay $1,000 or $2,000.”

Alex Kamara is eager to move in. He’s on a waiting list with two other employees. The 41-year-old assistant manager makes roughly $45,000 a year and is renting a room in Redwood City for $1,200 a month. The divorced father said he's living paycheck to paycheck for him and his seven-year-old son.

“It’s scary, you can't save anything,” said Kamara. “It’s really hard right now in the Bay Area everywhere. I’ve lived places that were really cheap across the Bay. They are so expensive now.”