In the early 20th century rooming houses and residential hotels with small bedrooms and shared bathrooms were the norm of city life: they provided cheap, day-to-day housing near downtown areas (where affordable food and entertainment was abundant). However, a tide of well-intentioned health and safety regulations in the 50s and 60s led cities to essentially ban this type of housing across the United States.
In an article for the Slate, the director of the Sightline Institute, Alan Durning, suggests that this was one of the most misguided legislations ever implemented in American cities: instead of enforcing higher quality housing for cities’ lower earning peoples, it has instead left them stranded, with fewer and fewer affordable housing options.
More after the break...
Although regulations have all but removed the single room occupancy hotel (SRO) from the viable housing options in the United States, Durning describes how perspectives have changed in recent years:
"A few brave developers have been trying to reverse a century of policies on a small scale by building neo-SROs and micro-apartments in cities. They’re responding to the strong demand, especially among millennials, for small, inexpensive units in popular, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods."
aPodment is one such rooming house in Seattle that offers 150-200 square feet for $18 per night, far below the cost of living in studio apartments nearby. Even NYC Mike Bloomberg is encouraging its resurgence: a recent competition, aDAPT NYC, encouraged micro-units (250-300 square feet) with an emphasis on community spaces within the buildings.
Critics who have argued against SRO claim that they are cramped spaces that take advantage of those who cannot afford better housing. However, the resurgence of the micro-unit is also a realistic response to the current economic situation as well as a reflection in the shift in priorities of the millennial generation.