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November 15, 2021

HELP USA has conducted a literature review assessing the viability of single-room occupancy units (SROs) in supportive housing across the United States. The purpose of this review is to explore whether SROs can be a significant resource to combating homelessness among single adults in New York City, where a new administration is set to take office in January 2022.

SROs offer a counter-approach to congregate homeless shelters for single adults and more costly studio and 1-bedroom permanent housing apartments, which are often unaffordable to low-income earners.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City’s Department of Homeless Services converted several hotels into temporary shelters. Within these hotels, unhoused individuals were placed in their own rooms, essentially creating hundreds of SROs. While staying in the hotels-turned-shelters, HELP USA and other service providers continued to administer supportive social services, including case management, housing placement support, employment training, and physical health screenings.

The review outlines how these, and other historic efforts to provide SROs as a shelter and permanent housing solution, have reduced homelessness among single adults and have had positive impacts on residents: Improved mental health, increased housing stability, and increased job retention.

Ashwin Parulkar, HELP USA Senior Research Specialist, and Daniel C. Farrell, HELP USA Senior Vice President of Homeless Prevention, Diversion, and Research, concluded that the loss of SRO units throughout the 20th century directly correlated to the increase of homelessness among single adults, primarily men. Their recommendation is that SROs should be considered as a housing model for the vulnerably housed and homeless under 4 specific conditions:

  1. SROs should be created in non-commercial districts, and not clustered near other SRO buildings.
  2. SROs should have multiple stakeholders, in which government and non-governmental agencies share operational costs and responsibilities for the services provided.
  3. SROs should have balanced populations, wherein the majority of tenants are not chronically homeless.
  4. SROs should conduct background checks for all prospective residents to screen applicants with felony convictions.

In addition to the conclusions, the literature review also provides an overview of the rise of SROs in the 19th century and their decline in the mid-20th century, 21st-century attempts to revive SROs including policy victories and restraints, the impact of SRO on communities, including crime, and best practices from organizations that operate SRO housing.

Download the full literature review here.

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