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Single room occupancy

An abandoned Single Room Hotel (Hugo Hotel) at 6th and Howard in San Francisco, California

Single room occupancy (more commonly SRO, sometimes called a single resident occupancy) is a form of housing in which one or two people are housed in individual rooms (sometimes two rooms, or two rooms with a bathroom or half bathroom) within a multiple-tenant building. The term is primarily used in Canadian and American cities. SRO tenants typically share bathrooms and/or kitchens, while some SRO rooms may include kitchenettes, bathrooms, or half-baths. Although many are former hotels, SROs are primarily rented as a permanent residence.

Single room occupancies are often a form of affordable housing for low-income and formerly homeless individuals.[1]


The refurbished single room Ambassador Hotel at 55 Mason Street in San Francisco.

The term originated in New York City, probably in the 1930s (the Oxford English Dictionary provides 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 American cities, and are most common in larger cities. In many cases, the buildings themselves were formerly hotels in or near a city's central business district. Many of these buildings were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The United States saw a decrease in single room occupancy housing during the period of 1960s and 1970s urban decay. For example, in Chicago 81% of the SRO housing stock disappeared between 1960 and 1980.[2]

Many SRO buildings face strong development pressure for conversion to more profitable uses. Some cities have regulated the conversion of SROs to other uses in order to prevent landlords from forcibly evicting SRO tenants. San Francisco 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 District and Chinatown communities.

In San Francisco, the city may take over particularly squalid SROs, and renovate them for the disadvantaged. Landlords who intend to convert SROs may try to convince their tenants to sign releases, which may require relocation by the landlord and/or compensating the tenant.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizes SRO rehabilitation to combat homelessness, under the McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987.[3]

In 2001, San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly sponsored 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 SROs in San Francisco and left nearly one thousand tenants homeless, a new program to reduce fire risk in SRO Hotels was initiated.[4]


SROs are a viable housing option for students, single tenants, seasonal or other traveling workers, empty nester widows/widowers, or others who do not desire or require large dwellings or private domestic appliances. The smaller size and limited amenities in SROs generally makes them a more affordable housing option, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods or urban areas with high land values.

The rents of many disadvantaged tenants may be paid in full or in part by state and federal programs, giving incentive to landlords to accept such tenants. Some SRO buildings are renovated with the benefit of a tax abatement, with the condition that the rooms be rented to tenants with low incomes, and sometimes specific low income groups, such as homeless people, people with mental illness, people with AIDS, and so on.


Depending on the sensibilities of the landlords and the quality of the properties, SRO conditions can range from squalor to something like an extended-stay hotel. Some have been run in dormitory fashion. Others have been "cage" hotels, in which a large room is split into many smaller ones with corrugated steel or sheetrock dividers, which do not reach the height of the original ceiling. To prevent tenants from climbing over the walls into each other's spaces, the tops of the rooms are covered in chicken wire, making the rooms look something like cages.[5]

See also


Further reading

[1] It All Begins with a Home...Transformations Through Housing 2015. ISBN 978-1497536012 by SRO Housing Corporation / Julia Robinson Shimizu

External links