Friday, November 14, 2014

Zero-Carbon Living: Are SRO-type Housing Options One Solution?

One of the things that makes cities highly efficient and ecological is dense housing.

Chicago has thrived, in part, by offering a range of city housing types.

Housing options give shape to consumption habits.

Housing budgets force other choices related to willingness (or lack of willingness) to pursue new avenues -- e.g. education, new careers, starting a business.

Belray Apartments - supportive housing by a Mercy Housing
"The Belray Apartments were originally built in the 1920s and
were acquired and renovated by Mercy Housing in 1996."
I'm particularly interested in the way all these factors have come together historically in the form of resident hotels. Resident hotels (principally SROs - single room occupancy rentals) were abundant at one time in Chicago, but have disappeared rapidly in recent years. There is controversy today about whether SROs will continue to be available to Chicago residents.

This is important today for two reasons. First, there is a growing recognition that SROs are a lifeline for some members of our community who have extremely limited housing options. In just the last week, we've seen city government formalize rules seek to slow uncontrolled closure or conversion of SROs. (See "Aldermen pass SRO preservation law" by Mary Ellen Podmolik in the Chicago Tribune, November 12, 2014.)

Second, SROs and similar housing options can be foundational to building a zero carbon Chicago.

Here are some thoughts on how these factors work together.

Living Downtown: The History of
Residential Hotels in the United
by Paul Groth
Proximity to downtown

One of the principal benefits of SRO-type housing options is that they allow people to live in the downtown area at an affordable price.

This, in turn, has several benefits:

* the participation of the residents in the life of the city (e.g. enjoying cultural events, patronizing restaurants and other businesses) enriches the overall city environment

* residents are available to work in city businesses

* proximity to downtown means transportation costs can be cut or eliminated; mass transit can be used almost exclusively

Small space

Most SRO-type housing involves small spaces. This is "green" in three ways:

* smaller spaces consume less materials to build (which is especially valuable in green buildings with higher up-front costs);

* less energy consumption per person for heating, cooling, lighting; and

* smaller spaces subtly (and not so subtly) discourage the unending accumulation of "stuff"

Micro-apartment in Tokyo (photo: Noritaki Minami)
(See more in "Tokyo Micro Apartment Photographs Capture
The Beginning Of 'Tiny Home' Movement (PHOTOS)"

on Huffington Post)
This last-mentioned factor is especially profound in our STUFF! STUFF! STUFF! -dominated culture. A theme throughout the Zero Carbon Chicago blog is the challenge to fundamentally dial down our consumption habits.

Moreover, the limitations on solely-controlled space, and the use of shared space:

* encourage residents to get out into the community outside their building; and

* encourage residents to engage in community with each other.

Financial flexibility

SRO-type housing tends to be low in cost, and usually doesn't require leases or big deposits.  This is extremely important for certain lifestyles:

* as mentioned above, people pursuing new avenues -- e.g. education, new careers, starting a business;

* people on fixed and/or extremely limited incomes

Chicago: Harold and Margot Schiff Residence
(aka Near North Apartments or Mercy SRO)
A Murphy/Jahn Architecture project
(photo: Doug Snower) 
(More at "SRO’s at the Cutting Edge of
Small Space Movement"
Community benefits

When people in a community have options to live a diverse range of lifestyles, there are associated benefits for the richness and robustness of the entire community -- economic and otherwise.

And, I would submit, it is equally valuable to the community to know that it is acting responsibly and hospitably to welcome everyone to live in the community -- even those who face financial challenges.

When the community starts to value SRO-type housing, it comes possible to think about truly beautiful design solutions that residents and non-residents alike can enjoy!

I'm feel confident that SRO-type housing has a big future in Chicago. I'll use this space to accumulate links to stories about how SRO-type housing can contribute to making Chicago a "zero carbon" model!

Related posts

I thought about Chagall's mural "The Four Seasons." It is located at Monroe and Dearborn, in the plaza of Chase Bank -- what some of us remember as 1st National Bank of Chicago.  I love it not just because it's beautiful, and because I so often have the opportunity to walk by it on my walks through that beautiful neighborhood, but also because of memories.

(See The Human Scale in Chicago )

Renaissance Social Services, Inc., which manages several buildings in and near Logan Square, is ready to purchase and rehab the Milshire as affordable, supportive housing if the building is put on the market.

(See Tuesday September 23 - "Logan Square for All" Rally on the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance website)

I came by my fascination with the benefits of small-scale housing and dense development -- and my believe in its possibilities for our future -- early on.

(See O Canada! (We'll always have "Expo" . . . . on the Scarry Thoughts blog)