LOS ANGELES — In her bright, airy Los Angeles apartment, 31-year-old hairdresser Natalie Barrera prepared to take her large, yellow lab Jordan out for a walk.

Locking the door behind her, Barrera and Jordan didn’t have to go far to find space for some exercise, despite living in the densely populated Downtown area. Barrera simply climbed a few flights of stairs and stepped out onto a large rooftop lined with green foliage and dotted with hammocks and lounge chairs. After walking Jordan for a while, the two companions settled in a secluded corner, where Jordan curled up beneath his owner enjoying the afternoon sun — and the quiet.

What You Need To Know

  • Apartments and office buildings are embracing health and wellness protocols more frequently across LA

  • Be DTLA, an apartment complex downtown, is the first residential community in Southern California to be certified by the Well Building Institute

  • Residents have access to content creation studios like podcasting rooms and TikTok studios

  • Wellness and health are encouraged throughout with gyms, a pool and fitness studios

“Living in Downtown, there aren’t a ton of outdoor areas, so I love how open it is up here,” Barrera said.

Barrera moved into the apartment complex Be DTLA (Be Downtown LA) in December 2020 and said it’s a welcome contrast from the last place she lived, just a few minutes away.

"It was dirty," she said. "They didn’t keep it clean. I love it here. They clean every day."

Cleanliness is key at this Downtown development that opened in 2019. Be DTLA has just over 600 units and is part of a new wave of apartments and offices in Los Angeles in which developers pledge their devotion to health, wellness and cleanliness.

For the managing partner, Behzad Souferian, whose company The Souferian Group runs the building, hygiene and attention to wellness trends were key. COVID-19 focused attention on a mission that was already important to Souferian.

"My vision for Be DTLA was a value proposition," he said. "What’s more valuable than our health?"

With that vision at the forefront, Be DTLA takes apartment dwelling to a new level, and post-pandemic, there’s a growing market for Souferian’s brand of well-being, combined with pristine accommodation.

Residents have access to a state-of-the-art fitness studio, a yoga space and a pool. It’s all meant to foster physical and mental health in the center of LA. It comes at a moment when many Angelenos are calling it quits and leaving the city. According to a new study from USC’s Dornsife School, 10% of LA resident’s plan to leave in the coming year — a 40% increase from 2019.

Jason Doctor, chair of the Department of the Health Policy and Management at USC, explained how the exodus is due in part to people looking for more space after experiencing the pandemic.

“There was a movement of people from apartments and densely populated areas to more spread-out places,” he said.

Doctor added, however, that apartments and buildings promising wellness and safety protocols could entice city dwellers to stay.

"If the building’s focus is on infection control, I think it could get more people back into apartments, especially young people who have just experienced the pandemic while living independently," he said. "They will likely continue to have concerns about living in close quarters with people, but if the buildings take precautions, it might be more agreeable to them."

Souferian hopes to ease concerns regarding health with the ‘Well Certificate,’ a designation from the International Well Building Institute that has created a set of building standards for health. Buildings must meet specific markers to be certified by the organization. They look at water quality management, moisture management, lighting design, ventilation and air quality.

"We were the first community in all of Southern California to achieve a Well Certificate," said Souferian. "That’s 15 criteria that we have to adhere to."

There are many requirements for the Well Certificate. Each communal space at Be DTLA has an air monitor that tracks and detects moisture and carbon dioxide. But it’s not solely about physical health.

In designing the building, which spans almost an entire block Downtown, Souferian said incorporating natural elements and materials was of paramount importance. Tropical plants are placed throughout the many common areas both inside and outside. Natural wood is used throughout the building and upbeat music plays softly through speakers along walkways and in lounge rooms filled with leather sofas.

Rental rates range from $2,000 to $3,700, but it’s comparable to other Downtown LA apartments. 

“We aren’t seeking tenants looking to spend an exorbitant amount of money,” he said. “My vision has always been to give you the most bang for your buck.”

Part of that vision included creating a place where residents can actually make a buck — if they happen to be content creators. Souferian, like other real estate developers in LA, has incorporated social media-friendly touches into the building. Residents of Be DTLA can study, work and create content in the “Work From Home Studio” space.

"We are the first to have podcast studios in our community space," said Souferian. "Not only that, but we thought, you have to have a bit of fun too, hence why we have a TikTok and karaoke room."

There is also a speakeasy style lounge hidden behind bookshelves with neon lighting — not your average apartment complex detail, which is really the point.

“From our design to our amenities, to our services, to our focus on wellness, these are all things that differentiate Be DTLA and make it an innovative apartment community,” Souferian said.

For Barrera, more than any high touch design elements, she appreciates the sense of tranquility in the midst of urban hubbub.

"I love how open it is," she said. "I wake up to birds chirping… the lighting is beautiful. It’s bright, so that makes me happy."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Be DTLA was the first residential community to be certified by the Well Building Community. It is the first in Southern California. We also corrected the title of Behzad Souferian and removed references that compared the units to hotels. The errors have been corrected. (July 1, 2021)