The $80-a-Week, 60-Square-Foot Housing Solution That’s Also Totally Illegal

Reexamining the SRO

Story by Mariana Ionova

Illustration by Design Acts

Published on Jun 3, 2013

By some estimates, there are more than 100,000 illegal single room occupancy units in New York City. Known as SROs, these minuscule apartments are, for many low-income residents, the best and sometimes only option for affordable housing in a city with ever rising rents and limited space. Yet they often pose a serious safety threat, with blocked fire exits in overcrowded rooms putting tenants at risk. Community groups tend to oppose this sort of densest-of-the-dense housing due to fears that it will lower the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is touting the potential benefits of officially sanctioned micro-unit apartments, which would create tiny housing for more affluent renters able to pay market rates on their 250 to 370 square feet of Manhattan. Talking with both housing experts and people who actually live in SROs, Mariana Ionova seeks to uncover whether smaller units can solve the affordable housing problem in New York and beyond.

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