Single room occupancy
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A single room occupancy (more commonly SRO, sometimes called a single resident occupancy) is a multiple-tenant building that houses one or two people in individual rooms (sometimes two rooms, or two rooms with a bathroom or half bathroom), or to the single room dwelling itself. 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.
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. The terms single room occupancy and SRO are not used in British English. Related British terms include house in multiple occupation, hostel, bedsit or boarding house.
In many cases, the buildings themselves were formerly hotels in or near a city's central business district. Others are former single family homes. Many of these buildings were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and reflect a high order of architectural style and craftsmanship.
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 charitable, 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.
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 would play a role in the displacement of people who once lived in them, and could be one reason for the visible increase in the population of homeless people in 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, some cities regulate the conversion of SROs to other use. In particular, if tenants testify that they have been harassed in any way, conversion can be delayed. 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.
San Francisco similarly 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 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.
See also 
- Apartment hotel
- Downtown Eastside, Vancouver, Canada
- List of human habitation forms
- Bedsit, The British equivalent
- "Single Room Occupancy Hotels". Encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org. Retrieved 2013-02-04.
- "Sfgov.org | San Francisco Fire Department: Single Room Occupancy (SRO) Hotel Fire Safety". Web.archive.org. 2009-01-17. Retrieved 2013-02-04.
Further reading 
- Down And Out: The Life And Death Of Minneapolis's Skid Row by Joseph Hart And Edwin C. Hirschoff
- 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 1-58367-060-2. Chapter Six describes SROs in New York City.