adAPT-NYC-Mayor Bloomberg-Micro-Unit-SRO-ApartmentRendering of micro-unit apartment. Source: Mayor’s Office

Next City’s Forefront Magazine took a deep dive into the problems of SRO (Single Room Occupancy) units in New York City, highlighting the story of an immigrant from Guinea living in a unit in Hunts Point, Bronx. His crowded, illegally converted building has blocked fire escapes and windows that don’t open. At $80/week, these type of housing situation is the only option for a portion of New York City’s population.

It’s estimated that 100,000 SROs exist across New York City. In describing the evolution of SRO’s Marina Ionava writes,

The story of single room occupancy is, in essence, a story about the complex relationship U.S. cities have with their poorest and most transient residents. SRO was born out of urban overcrowding as cities scrambled to meet housing demands produced by industrialization and the urban population explosion of the early 20th century. But over time, SRO evolved from a cramped but affordable housing option for the working class into a poorly regulated last resort for the most desperate populations.

In New York City, new construction of SRO housing was banned in 1955, motivated by a belief that these units led to substandard housing conditions. This, coupled with shifting ideologies which favored single-family homes, reduced the supply of this segment of affordable housing. Incentives were also given to encourage the conversion of SRO units. These factors have led to a gap in supply and demand, within which a substantial illegal sector has developed.

Mayor Bloomberg’s administration has been making moves to change the public perception of single room occupancy units. The exhibit Making Room: New Models for Housing New Yorkers at the Museum of the City of New York showcased five models for affordable, micro-units submitted by architects and developers in a 2012 challenge by the city called adAPT NYC.

A proposal from the adAPT NYC competition for a micro-dwelling tower (Photo: Alexander McQuilkin for Untapped Cities)

A modular proposal won the competition. The design contains 55 units sized between 250 and 370 square feet, with a number of communal amenities including performance space and a roof garden. It will be built using pre-fabricated modules assembled on the Brooklyn Navy Yard and has an expected delivery date of September 2015. The development was exempt from New York City’s zoning laws, which require 400 square feet on average per unit.

As Next City points out, however, these units will be much more expensive the current “market rate” of SROs. The new wave of micro-housing is targeted for millennials, not for the city’s urban poor. And as seen from the 311 complaint map released by the Fuhrman Center, illegal conversion of residential units continues to be a problem.

On a hopeful note, Next City writes, “Yet through the [adAPT NYC] initiative, Bloomberg has opened a door to a potential loosening of the regulations that prevent other kinds of small housing from being developed.”

Read more about New York City’s SRO issue at Next City’s Forefront Magazine. Read our previous interview with the designer of a 160 square foot micro-apartment in San Francisco

8 thoughts on “NYC’s SRO Housing Problem and the Micro-Apartment Initiative

  1. Good morning,
    I am Bethzaida Caro and became homeless. Presently, receiving PA and also handdicap. Please feel free to contact me 2129206067 or at email [email protected].

  2. I am looking for a sro or furniture d room for a woman on ssi she lost her apt due to nasty land lord any ideas please contact me on face book under helen murphy with a black dog in the photo and so I can pass it on to my friend thank you.

  3. Hi at this present time i am homeless and really need to get out the street. I been also looking for work so i can at least help with rent my name is henry pina and would appreciate any help you can render

  4. Dear Sir/Ma’am:

    I am currently applying for disability. I was wondering if I could apply to your housing program. Please contact me via email only at [email protected] or by mail at 341 West 51st Street, NY, NY 10019.


    Regina Traini

  5. Hello I am a 46 year old women looking for a place I can call home…. I am disabled, I lost my leg in 2012. (R lower limb). I am on SSD and do not bring in the kind of money to a ford the high rents. Please if U can help contact me at (609)321-3260

  6. my name is sandra johnson and i am staying in a shelter in brooklyn i have been their for 8 months an i am looking for a sro that will take me i am tried of being were i am i also have the 2010e appication can you please give me a call at 347-457-4865 thank you

  7. I need help finding an affordable place to live, receiving $948 mo ssa retirement, formerly ssi disability, will be on street by 2/1/14 if nothing comes up. College degree (ba, Fordham) health problems got worst of me, paying $115 mo back to Medicaid to participate, any additional income I earn goes right back to Medicaid. Could use a break!

  8. hello i am currantly residing 2 the bowery mission transitional center. and i am looking for affodable housing which is becoming very hard. i am leaving my info with you in hopes that you will contact me as i see it now this is my only hope please contact me @ 347-310-5921

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