SRO stands for “Single Room Occupancy”, sometimes called, “Single Resident Occupancy”. I have always used Single Resident Occupancy, as it made more sense as concerning homelessness and Housing First. But it wasn’t until I returned to San Diego and saw a true SRO, that I learned what an SRO truly is.
The concept for Single Room living spaces came about long ago (the 1800s) when Capitalists were exploiting the lack of housing codes. (Read about Alonso Horton for more detail.) Some of the oldest hotels in San Diego were built explicitly for construction workers who were hired to build the more palatial hotels and supply the building boon with cheap labor. These hotels, built for construction workers, crammed as many people together as possible. The single rooms were smaller than 10×10 feet square. Toilets and showers were shared, one per floor. Downtown San Diego saw many building boons and busts over the years, but there was plenty of room for expansion and so many RSO’s were built – a couple dozen or more of these SRO hotels/boarding houses still exist, and charge relatively cheap rent (although the application process and standards are very strict, and residents are paying 60 to 75% of their income for rent).
Because SROs usually offer the least expensive rent, they are the first places that case managers contact when trying to place their clients. In recent years, most of the SRO building has been contacting with HUD and other government agencies for subsidies in exchange for renting cheaply and for working with Section 8.
It should be noted that these SRO hotels and similar resident buildings were, and in some instances still are, the domain of slum lords. But these slum lords are finding it more lucrative to partner with government organizations such as HUD, and HUD requires their properties to meet strict housing codes, which is leading to improvements in these buildings.