New York to spend $50M restoring single-room occupancy units
New York is paying landlords to renovate and repair single-room occupancy (SRO) apartments as a way to provide housing for vulnerable New Yorkers. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday announced $50 million will be spent to rehabilitate up to 500 existing SROs across the state. Units in SRO buildings usually include one room with a sink and stove and access to a shared bathroom. A common type of housing in New York City until the second half of the 20th century, SROs cost less than the average apartment and appeal to low-income renters or those struggling with homelessness.
“Existing single-room occupancy units are an important aspect of the affordable housing ecosystem, especially for vulnerable individuals that are eligible for supportive services such as those experiencing chronic homelessness, victims of domestic violence, those living with physical disabilities, and individuals suffering from mental illness,” Hochul said.
“By creating this program, we are adding an important tool to our toolbox as we work to combat the housing crisis, particularly in New York City where these types of apartments provide a safe, secure, affordable home for thousands of residents.”
New York City alone once had as many as 100,000 SROs, but that number dropped starting in the mid-20th century when they became stigmatized for their association with poverty, unsanitary conditions, and overcrowding, as the New York Times reported.
In the 1950s, laws were passed to prevent the construction of new SROs and promote the conversion of the units into other types of apartments. Many SROs were eventually combined with other units, forming larger homes. While the exact number of remaining SROs is unavailable, a 2018 report from the Furman Center estimates that between 30,000 and 40,000 still exist.
The SRO program is part of Hochul’s $25 billion New York Housing Compact, an effort to boost housing growth statewide and address the state’s ongoing housing crisis. Part of the plan includes creating 100,000 affordable residences across the state, including 10,000 with support services for vulnerable populations.
Mayor Eric Adams is supportive of bringing back SROs. In September, his “City of Yes” housing plan included major reforms to build more housing everywhere in the city, including permitting new small apartments with shared kitchens and bathrooms to be built. As part of the plan, zoning laws that set a minimum average size for apartments would be changed to allow for smaller units.
His plan also includes legalizing accessory dwelling units, allowing new homes above commercial businesses and on campuses, and expediting office-to-residential conversions.
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