Single-Room Occupancy Units Make a Comeback

Date Published: 
June 15th, 2022

In a recent article for Governing, SRO Housing, Nearly Zoned Out of Existence, Could Re-Emerge,” author Jake Blumgart explores the history and future of single-room occupancy (SRO) units. SRO units are an important form of affordable housing for low-income people. However, beginning in the early 1960s, policymakers across the nation began to reduce the number of single-room residences. One estimate puts the number of SRO units lost between the 1970s and the 1990s at 1 million. Researchers argue that the decline in SRO stock led to the dramatic increase in homelessness seen in the 1980s.

In cities that still do have a notable number of SRO units, they are largely only allowed in districts with high-density zoning, such as areas around universities and downtowns. These can also be rooming houses in a dormitory-style building with shared bathrooms and kitchens. They have a significant impact on reducing homelessness because they are relatively inexpensive and provide a roof over one’s head and a bathroom. In many cases, these rooming houses can also be deemed illegal.

Ongoing zoning reforms in cities like Philadelphia, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon are attempting to revive single-room occupancy units. For example, a member of the Philadelphia City Council introduced legislation to respond to concerns by legalizing single-room residences in all multifamily and commercial zoning districts (they’re currently only allowed in the high-density categories). Researchers see the legalization, regulation, and increase in the number of SRO units in major cities as an innovative solution to addressing today’s homelessness crisis.  


CLPHA Program(s): 
Resource type(s): 

Sorry, this content is only available to members.

If you're a member of CLPHA, please click here to log in.

If you have not created your account, it’s easy to create one. Click here for step-by-step instructions.

You can also click here to watch a webinar site tour that shows CLPHA members how to create website accounts for themselves and provides an overview of the site's functionality.

Otherwise, we invite you to learn more about the many benefits of CLPHA membership.