21st Century SROs: Can Small Housing Units Help Meet the Need for Affordable Housing in New York City?
Single-room occupancy housing (SROs) used to be a readily available affordable housing type in New York City. SRO units typically consisted of a private room with access to full bathroom and kitchen facilities that the renter shared with other building occupants. While this form of shared housing was common in New York for much of the city’s history, during the second half of the 20th century, most SROs came to serve as “housing of last resort—the safety net at the bottom of the market providing shelter for the poor and near-poor.” Criticism of SROs mounted and led to laws banning the construction and discouraging the operation of SROs. Many SROs were subsequently converted to other forms of housing, resulting in the loss of thousands of very low-rent units in the city. Today, the city faces a significant housing affordability crisis. In this context, it is worth considering whether the city needs an updated housing model that helps meet the need SROs filled in the last century. Here we analyze the benefits, risks, and challenges of reintroducing small housing units (self-contained micro units and efficiency units with shared facilities) in order to shed light on whether and how a new small-unit model could help meet the demand for affordable housing in the city today.