Once upon a time, New York City’s poor single people were usually not homeless because they lived in little apartments with shared bathrooms and kitchens. These units are called “single room occupancy” (SRO) units in plannerese. (When I was young, people used less flattering terms such as “fleabag” and “flophouse” to describe the nastier SRO buildings).
What happened? Why are so many people sleeping on the streets of Midtown? A recent paper by NYU’s Furman Center partially answers the question, by discussing the obstacles to SRO construction. For decades, New York’s housing law has made SROs almost impossible to build, in a variety of ways:
- By flatly outlawing SROs, unless they are built with government or nonprofit involvement
- Through anti-density regulations that limit the number of dwelling units in a building;
- Minimum parking requirements (though these are an issue primarily in the outer boroughs).
The paper recommends allowing market-rate SROs, limited density deregulation, counting SRO units as affordable housing for purposes of the city’s inclusionary zoning ordinance, exempting SROs from minimum parking requirements, and government subsidies for SROs.