- Single Room Occupancy
The expression "single room occupancy" or, more commonly "SRO", refers to a building that houses people in single rooms.Fact|date=June 2008 This means that tenants often share bathrooms and kitchens. SRO may be used as a
The term originated in
New York City, probably in the 1930s (the Oxford English Dictionaryprovides an earliest citation of 1941), but the institutions date back at least fifty years before the nickname was applied to them. SROs exist in many large American cities. The terms single room occupancy and SRO are not used in British English. Related British terms include house in multiple occupation, hosteland bedsit.Fact|date=June 2008
In many cases, the buildings themselves were formerly hotels in or near a city's
central business district. Others are former single family homes.Fact|date=June 2008 Many of these buildings were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and reflect a high order of architectural style and craftsmanship.Fact|date=June 2008 In the United States, the decades from the 1920s onward saw the movement of the upper classes, who lived in these homes and occupied the hotels, to the suburbs. A process often referred to as "filtering" resulted in the occupancy of these buildings and districts by the lower socioeconomic classes.Fact|date=June 2008 Though the facilities do not receive the same standard of maintenance once they become SROs, often enough of the old opulence remains to create an ironic contrast with the indigent tenants who live there.
In some cases SRO units are found in publicly owned academic and arts buildings such as the artist apartments in the Malonga Casquelord Arts Center in Oakland, California.
Typically, the residents in SROs are men who are impoverished, debilitated, mentally ill, addicted to drugs, and/or dyingFact|date=June 2008. However, SROs are also a viable housing option for some students, divorcees, and professionals who are willing to suffer the disadvantages of living in an SRO in exchange for lower rent and the weekly or monthly leasing periods such facilities may allow. By contrast, apartment leases are typically for one year.
The rents of many tenants are paid by state and federal programs, eliminating much of the unease that might otherwise have prevented landlords from accepting these tenants. As a result, the buildings operate essentially as private homeless shelters. See, for example, section 441 of the
McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
Depending on the sensibilities of the landlords and the quality of the properties, SROs can range from Dickensian squalor to something like a very low end tourist hotel. Some have been run in
dormitoryfashion. Others have been "cage" hotels, in which a large room is split into many smaller ones with corrogated steel or sheetrock dividers, which do not reach the height of the original ceiling. To prevent tenants from climbing over the walls into each others' spaces, the tops of the rooms are covered in chicken wire, making the rooms look something like cages.
As the value of urban land has increased, it has become economical to renovate these properties and make them available once again to higher bidders. This has displaced the people who once lived in them, and is one of the reasons for the visible increase in the population of
homelessin the streets of American cities since the early 1980s.
Recognizing that there is significant incentive for landlords to forcibly evict SRO tenants in gentrifying neighborhoods, the city of New York applies strict rules to the conversion of SROs to other use. In particular, if tenants testify that they have been harassed in any way, conversion can be delayed by three years. Landlords who intend to convert SROs usually try to convince their tenants to sign releases, which may require finding them new places to live and/or paying them.
San Franciscosimilarly passed an SRO Hotel Conversion Ordinance in 1980, which restricts the conversion of SRO hotels to tourist use. SROs are prominent in the Tenderloin, Mission Districtand Chinatowncommunities. In 2001, San Francisco Supervisor Chris Dalysponsored legislation making it illegal for SRO landlords to charge "visitor fees" -- a practice long run in order for hotel managers to get a "cut" on drug-dealing or prostitution activities in the building. After a rash of fires destroyed many SRO's in San Francisco and left thousands of tenants homeless, Daly sponsored legislation to require all hotels to install a sprinkler system in each room. This has led to significantly fewer -- and more contained -- fires.
Downtown Eastside, Vancouver, Canada
* [http://www.citypages.com/databank/23/1144/article10855.asp "Down And Out: The Life And Death Of Minneapolis's Skid Row"] by Joseph Hart And Edwin C. Hirschoff
* [http://www.volume5.com/livingdowntown/living_downtown_book_review.html Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States] by Paul Groth
*Merrifield, Andy. "Dialectical Urbanism: Social Struggles in the Capitalist City." New York: Monthly Review Press, 2002. ISBN 1583670602. Chapter Six describes SROs in
New York City.
* [http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/613.html Single Room Occupancy Hotels in Chicago]
* [http://www.ccsro.org Central City SRO Collaborative] -- a non-profit in San Francisco that organizes and assists SRO tenants
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.