An article written from inside an SRO
By C J Sommerfeld, Contributor
The norms of what define a “Single Room Occupancy” (SRO) have been curated by the finite documentation put forth for the public. I’m here to tell you that there is another side to them. I will start with a short bit of history:
These apartments are not bachelor suites, nor studios; they are rooms. They are usually repurposed hotels in what used to be Vancouver’s happening part of town; what we know now as the sinister Downtown East Side (DTES).
SROs are small 100-foot rooms which previously acted as temporary homes for weary travelers , now masked as entire apartments. They were implemented as an attempt to combat the lack of affordable housing, particularly for those on welfare income assistance.
When SROs were first introduced into Vancouver the rent for each room was $375.00 per month, this was the fiscal amount designated for rent for those living on welfare. Unfortunately, these rooms did not remain livable for long. The designated buildings had not been refurbished prior to their tenants moving in, and the tenants lack of upkeep contributed to the further dilapidation of the buildings. This, along with neglecting management, angered the municipal government and they eventually demanded a revision.
Rental holding agencies took a hold of many of the SRO-designated buildings and re-marketed them as micro-suite living. The cost of rent increased to amounts high above the affordability of the people receiving income assistance, sifting out many of the previous residents.
Here is where I entered. The trickle-down effect is now the trickle-up effect.
While the plumbing, electrics, and overall aesthetic in some SROs still reinforce the poor picture that has been published in the media, the reality is that many of them skews greatly from that image, and in a few short years they have undergone a vast evolution. The scarcity of available housing sprawls further than those living in the DTES as many of these micro-suites are not littered with anarchists of society, but with students, artists, and young professionals—people eager for a place of their own, but unable to demand anything larger in Vancouver’s exorbitant housing market.
And, while a mini-fridge and hot plate suffice as our kitchens, and while we have been forced to configure our furniture like a game of Tetris, we’ve still managed to make these spaces our home. The media has curated a collectively tainted perspective on SROs, maneuvering our interest elsewhere, but sometimes we need to explore and experiment for ourselves. Sometimes all that glitters is not gold, but is brighter than gold itself.