SROs, flophouses, microapartments: Smart cities are finally allowing the right kind of housing for the poor, young, and single.: In the 1960s, “urban renewal” became the watchword of North American policy on cities. On the ground, it commonly meant leveling residential hotels and the mixed districts that surrounded them, then constructing single-use neighborhoods of one- and two-bedroom apartments. It was housing, but it was too big and expensive for members of the class that had made rooming houses their homes. In the years since, most cities have gradually closed many of their remaining SROs.
The number of cheap rooms for rent is a fraction of what it once was in American cities. In downtown Portland, Ore., for example, the number of units available to rent for the amount that a minimum-wage worker can afford ($458 per month in 2012) fell from 4,500 in 1994 to 3,200 in 2012, according to the Northwest Pilot Project, a housing provider for seniors. These quarters are almost all subsidized and often have long waiting lists.