Our Deconstructing Housing series continues with this post about single room occupancy, among the most affordable housing options:
By Janine Langsjoen | Single room occupancy, more commonly known as SRO housing, occupies an important niche in the affordable housing market. SRO is defined by HUD as a residential property that includes multiple single room dwelling units. Each unit is to be occupied by one eligible person. In single room occupancy buildings, the bathrooms and kitchens are often located in the common areas and are shared by residents.
Many SRO buildings were previously hotels that were converted to permanent homes and are often a form of affordable housing for low-income and formerly homeless individuals.
The term single room occupancy originated in New York City in or around the 1930s. These residences exist in many cities in America, most commonly in larger cities, but as recently as the 1960s and 1970s the number of these types of buildings significantly decreased. There is often strong development pressure for conversion to more marketable units (i.e. efficiency or studio units containing in-unit kitchens and baths to allow for greater resident privacy). Also, many developers could put the property to a more profitable use, as many SRO buildings are located in large cities near the financial districts.
Some challenges of SRO housing can result from the very structure that allows them to provide a less expensive housing option; less privacy and more resident interaction in shared areas can sometimes result in disagreements and altercations. In addition, monitoring and restrictions on guests can be a challenge. The presence of on-site supportive services staff such as at Beacon properties American House and Kimball Court can support problem-solving among residents and help build community to ensure a higher quality experience for all.
Rents for SRO units can be subsidized by charitable, state or federal programs which provide incentives to landlords to approve residents who may face barriers to finding stable housing. SRO housing can be a useful stepping stone for those who have experienced long-term homelessness and need to experience stability and build a rental history.