SRO, the abbreviation for Single Room Occupancy, refers to housing consisting of a single room or a studio, typically in a former hotel catering to an earlier era of travelers. In the late 1920’s there were many small hotels in urban settings where travelers would stay when they had business in town or were visiting.
After WWII, with the rapid expansion of the ownership of automobiles and the Interstate highway system, motels became the vogue and the traveler inns became a relatively inexpensive (and luxurious) accommodation for people who wanted to live in town. William Burg, a local historian, wrote an excellent overview of the history of our downtown hotels that became SRO’s in his piece about the closing of the Hotel Berry in the online Sacramento Press edition a few years back.
But by the 1970’s and beyond, many of these building fell into disrepair, contributing to the blight of our downtown. Local business leaders recognize that to meet their goal of a clean and safe environment in the Downtown district, the dilapidated SRO’s needed to be cleaned up along with addressing the issues of homelessness, low income housing, mental health treatment, and crime. And they are actively supporting efforts to tackle these problems.
The city of Sacramento partially addressed the SRO/housing issue by passing an ordinance requiring that there be a minimum of 712 SRO units in the city but unfortunately the code does not focus its affect where it should - on ensuring that the owners/operators of the SROs make the units habitable. (This ordinance is part of the city’s 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness.)
But the city has made some progress in addressing the housing needs of homeless and low income citizens by building and opening the 8 story affordable housing complex at 7th and H; the result of years of hard work on the part of Mercy Housing, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, and the city of Sacramento. It contains 150 affordable housing units with on-site medical clinic and comprehensive resident services. Each self-contained studio and one-bedroom apartment is equipped with a full bathroom and a kitchen. Half of the 150 units are reserved for people just off the streets.
Slowly but surely, all of this activity is helping the Downtown district become a viable community for urban homeowners.