Outside is safer than inside an SRO

PNNscholar1 - Posted on 04 September 2010


By Ken Moshesh And Jennifer Harris

        I have lived outside – on the steps of the Calvin Simmons Auditorium, underneath the Peter Voulkas statue at the Oakland Museum, on the campus of UC-Berkeley, in church entries, on benches at the Lake Merritt Bart station, in abandoned buildings in Oakland and Berkeley, at the Oakland Airport and in the waiting room of Highland Hospital.

        I have lived inside – in several apartments, my own house, rooms with friends and in an SRO (a residential hotel). I felt safer outside.
        On July 1, 1997, the sun danced a soft polka on my tired face. After three and a half years on the streets of Oakland, my body would be sheltered. My supportive housing applications had been approved and I would finally be able to get a room in an SRO.
       Within weeks of my arrival, my personal property and artwork were stolen, phone messages were diverted, mail was lost or stolen and the break-ins of my room began. I changed the locks, reported sleazy managers, registered complaints – until I reached my threshold of safety and basic security. When my newly-changed locks were broken into, I called the police, who tried their best to intervene. Then I could stand it no longer. I moved out… side.
        What is a residence hotel? It is referred to on the street as an SRO (Single Room Occupancy or Sleeping Room Only). Despite tenants like myself whose rent is partially subsidized, in its pure form the SRO is not subject to rent control because of its hotel status. SRO’s welcome long-term tenants only when they are stuck with high vacancy rates in pre-gentrified neighborhoods.
        SRO’s are known to poor folks as the last place before complete “outsided-ness.” If you can scrape together the daily room rate, between $22 and $60, you can get a shower and actually have a pseudo-roof for a night. Of course; paying exorbitant daily, weekly, or monthly “temporary” rates prevents the hotel resident from ever being able to save enough for a “first; last and security deposit,” the required move-in fees for an apartment. The resident who desires homefulness is locked into a desparate cycle of poverty.
        People such as myself, caught in this cycle, who exist on a low wage, social security or public assistance, frequently turn all but $10 or $20 of  their daily income over to the landlords of these establishments just to be housed.
This leaves no money for even the basic essentials such as toilet paper, soap, shampoo, the laundromat, telephone bills or clothing, much less any luxury such as aspirin, a pizza slice or a used blanket from the Good Will retail outlet.
        Residential hotels can be well-managed, good housing options for low in-come tenants. Examples are hotels managed, good housing options for low income tenants. Example are hotels managed by Community Housing Partnership in San Francisco. We, as low-income writers and artists would go further, we’d like to suggest collectively-run housing with studios and work spaces for low-income artists including sweat equity purchase options. “This kind of housing exists in Europe. For the time being, it is imperative that existing SRO’s be regulated and housing codes enforced without the risk of tenants losing what scarce shelter remains.
       I have lived inside – in several apartments, my own house, rooms in friends’ houses, and in a residential hotel. I am outside once again.



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