Rooming Houses: History’s Affordable Quarters

An in-city room of one's own.
This post is 2 in the series: Legalizing Inexpensive Housing

Nowadays, in the Northwest as across North America, most people live in houses or apartments that they own or rent. But not so long ago, other, less-expensive choices were just as common: renting space in a family’s home, for example, or living in a residential hotel.

Rooming houses, with small private bedrooms and shared bathrooms down the hall, were particularly numerous. This affordable, efficient form of basic housing is overdue for a revival, but legal barriers stand in the way. This article recounts the forgotten history of low-rent dwellings. Subsequent articles will detail how to re-legalize these forms of housing.

An In-City Room of One’s Own

Rooming houses have fresh relevance today, especially for those who are young, single, or on the bottom rungs of our increasingly unequal society. University of California professor Paul Groth writes, in his encyclopedic book Living Downtown:

. . . a good hotel room of 150 square feet — dry space, perhaps with a bath or a room sink, cold and sometimes hot water, enough electric service to run a [light] bulb and a television, central heat, and access to telephones and other services—constitutes a living unit mechanically more luxuriant than those lived in by a third to a half of the population of the earth.

Many thousands of such quarters once formed the foundation of affordable housing in Northwest cities. Now, few people even know they existed.

A tightening net of ordinances and codes have helped squeeze rooming houses, and related housing choices, nearly to extinction. Removing certain of these restrictions on room rentals, bed rentals, and shared housing and ending building-by-building mandates for off-street parking could be the fastest, least-expensive, and most sustainable way to make housing more affordable. Doing so could also make homelessness less common; rental income more readily available to some property owners; settlement patterns dense enough to support neighborhood businesses, good transit service, and vibrant street life; and driving less necessary.

Affluence Up, Rooming Down

In the 1800s, boarding with families was commonplace for people of all ages. As many as half of urban Americans spent part of their lives either as boarders in others’ homes or as hosts of boarders in their own, as professor Groth details. As the 1800s turned to the 1900s and North America urbanized, other options proliferated. For the working class, an abundance of rooming houses opened. Some offered boarding as well, with a kitchen and dining hall in the basement or on the ground floor. For the poor, cheap lodging houses provided basic accommodations for low prices. Some had small private rooms. Others had grids of open-top cubicles. Still others offered bunk rooms or rows of hard-slab “flops.” In San Francisco a century ago, five-sixths of hotel dwellers were either working class or poor, and a passable room might cost 35 cents a night ($8 in today’s currency).

Concentrated near downtowns, residential hotels provided quintessentially urban living. The dense mixture of accommodations with affordable eateries, laundries, billiard halls, saloons, and other retail establishments made life convenient on foot and on slim budgets. “The surrounding sidewalks and stores functioned as parts of each resident’s home,” writes Groth.

In Cascadia, such living quarters have almost disappeared. A century of rising affluence is one reason. With higher incomes, we have bought more space and privacy. Young, upwardly mobile, enterprising residents moved out of hotels, depriving hotel districts of their best customers. Those left behind were harder to employ, poorer, on the wrong side of the law, or simply eccentric. This trend accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s when authorities de-institutionalized many people with mental illnesses and began sheltering them in rooming houses and other cheap hotels. In most cases, mental health authorities intended such arrangements to be temporary. Some planned to build and support constellations of small, neighborhood-based care facilities, for example, but NIMBY politics intervened. The care facilities never got built, and some of society’s most vulnerable were stranded in rooming houses, which by then had come to be known as single-room occupancy hotels (SROs).

Rising Rules, Mixed Results

Another part of the explanation of residential hotels’ disappearance is legal. Successive generations of laws made residential hotels more expensive to operate. Other rules simply made them illegal outside of historic downtowns: as cities expanded outwards, rooming houses could not spread to the new neighborhoods.

The rules were not accidents. For a century starting in the 1880s, real-estate owners eager to minimize risk and maximize property values worked to keep housing for poor people away from their investments. Sometimes, they worked hand in glove with well-meaning reformers who were intent on ensuring decent housing for all. Decent housing, in practice, meant not only physical safety and hygiene but also housing that approximated what middle-class families expected. This coalition of the self-interested and the well-meaning effectively boxed in and shut down rooming houses and cheap lodging houses, and it threw up barriers to in-home boarding, too. It acted through federal, state, and local rules in ways that sounded reasonable at the time: occupancy limits; and requirements for private bathrooms, kitchens, and parking spaces. The net effect, however, was to essentially ban affordable private-sector urban housing for those at the bottom of the pay scale.

Publicly supported low-income housing came in its place but never in adequate quantities. It may never fill the gap. Building housing is expensive, and no place in North America has ever demonstrated the political will to build enough of it to meet all the need. Subsidized housing can fill certain niches well, including help for those in personal crises, dire poverty, or with special needs. Particularly promising is the community land trust model, which neatly severs home ownership from the key driver of rising real-estate prices — land-value appreciation. But the private housing market could do much more to provide living spaces affordably if we discarded those requirements that merely protect others’ property values by making rooming houses and other simple housing options illegal.

Public Interest or Class War?

The legitimate purpose of building and land-use codes, after all, is not to further favor the already-fortunate but to correct market failures. One such failure is information gaps. Buyers and renters cannot readily know, for example, whether a building’s structural beams were properly engineered. They cannot easily check the wiring and plumbing: will the wiring start a fire? Will the sewage back up and contaminate the drinking water? Just so, they cannot readily check whether fire-resistance was designed into the building or whether mold is growing in the walls. Another market failure in housing is when owners shunt costs onto others, for example, by installing polluting devices that foul local air.

Decade by decade, rules tightened on residential hotels. Some of the rules corrected market failures; others imposed middle-class standards that were beyond the means of the poor. In the late nineteenth century, for example, California—the West’s trendsetter in housing law—began enforcing a rule ostensibly intended to slow the spread of disease. It dictated a minimum quantity of indoor space per person, on the assumption that living in close quarters is a major determinant of disease. (Research in the decades since shows that extreme crowding can speed the spread of certain diseases, potentially including deadly ones such as influenza, but that the poverty that causes crowding is probably the larger risk factor for disease. In any event, regulating crowding in homes may be a legitimate policy that corrects a market failure.)

Under the California standard, you might expect sweeping changes in many kinds of crowded, residential buildings: military barracks, college dormitories, summer camps, prisons, single-family homes with many children, lumber camps, and crew quarters aboard ships. But the rule did not apply to these categories of housing. It applied only in neighborhoods where Chinese immigrants lived. Wearing the mask of public health, the policy raised the cost of housing for Chinese families and pushed them farther from California’s whites. It was racism in public-health clothing.

In 1909, San Francisco banned most cubicle-style hotels, which was a common form of cheap lodging for itinerant workers and others on very tight budgets. The city rationalized the policy as a fire safety precaution. Had fire safety actually been the goal, the city would have demanded fire escapes, fire-slowing walls at certain intervals, and fire doors. Cubicles remained perfectly legal for offices and workshops across the city, but for sleeping? That became a code violation.

In the following decade, California began regulating rooming houses and other hotels, setting standards for bathrooms (one per ten bedrooms), how much window area per room, minimum floor space per room, and more. Again, some of these rules may have had health benefits, and the rules’ proponents certainly thought they were helping. Yet they knocked the cheapest rooms off the market without providing substitutes. Over time, building and health codes demanded ever larger rooms and more bathrooms. They, like codes for other types of housing, also mandated legitimate safety features such as more exits, better fire-safety features, and rat-proof food storage in kitchens. Northwest jurisdictions followed California’s lead.

Rules, Rising Faster

In the 1920s came zoning, and a more aggressive phase of the assault on inexpensive housing began. Zoning gave city leaders a whole new weapon for separating the laboring class from the “better classes.” After a US Supreme Court ruling in 1926 recognized states’ power to authorize local zoning, city planners quickly trapped residential hotels in the oldest parts of town—the parts built before zoning separated shops, restaurants, and bars from dwellings. Sometimes, they banned rooming houses and other hotels outright in apartment districts; other times, they simply made them impractical by forbidding the dense mixture of retail establishments necessary to support living in them. And by setting aside vast areas of every city for single-family houses on private lots, they drastically curtailed the land available for all forms of less-expensive, multi-unit residences, whether apartments or residential hotels.

Over the next three decades, codes and federal lending programs increasingly discriminated against residential hotels by defining a housing unit as necessarily possessing both a private bath and a kitchen. They also hogtied hotel districts: often, racially discriminatory redlining prevented investment even where zoning didn’t prevent operation.

Mandatory off-street parking rules added insult to injury beginning in the middle of the 1900s. They made multi-unit housing radically more expensive to build and operate, because parking requirements typically demanded that for each unit, a residential building provide at least one parking space. Rooming house units are typically no larger than parking spaces, so a new rooming house might be required to provide as much floor space for cars as it did for residents, even though many rooming-house dwellers did not own cars.

In the 1960s, “urban renewal” was 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 the rooming house-dwelling class.

Seattle and Vancouver

Two deadly fires at SRO hotels in the early 1970s motivated the City of Seattle to tighten fire and housing rules for multi-story buildings, requiring expensive upgrades to stairways, doors, and walls, among other things. As Reuben McKnight writes in Preservation Seattle, federal funds were available to help apartment-building owners make the retrofits, but rooming houses did not qualify. Lacking private kitchens and baths, they did not fit the middle-class norm written into federal law. In a matter of months, owners shuttered more than 5,000 inexpensive units of housing in Seattle’s close-in neighborhoods.

In other Northwest cities, the process was less sudden than in Seattle, but it advanced along the same path. Vancouver, BC, for example, kept more of its rooming houses for longer than other Northwest cities, eschewing urban renewal (and urban freeways). Journalist Monte Paulson has unearthed, in a series of articles for the Tyee, the history of the east side of downtown Vancouver.

In 1970, Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside — then dominated by retired workers from the timber, fishing and mining industries — still had some 10,000 inexpensive hotel rooms, almost all of them privately owned and operated. Then came de-institutionalized psychiatric patients; waves of troubled, younger residents; cocaine; crack; and crystal meth. By 2005, the number of SRO units was down to 5,000, and “Downtown Eastside” was a synonym for Canadian urban poverty — a hard-bitten place of drug addiction, HIV infection, and mental illness.

“Paradoxically,” writes Paulson, “the Downtown Eastside has — until recently — boasted an unusually low rate of homelessness for a population so riddled with social problems. Why? Because the neighbourhood was also home to Canada’s largest concentration of residential hotels.” The rooms are small and shabby. When surveyed in the mid-2000s, many had bed bugs or roaches, and most were not in complete compliance with code. But they were cheap, averaging just Cdn$12 a night, not much more (adjusted for inflation) than a rooming house cost a century ago.

Closing the Barn Door

Unfortunately, Vancouver’s real estate boom has caught up with many SROs. Real-estate investors snapped up dozens of the Downtown Eastside’s rooming houses in the latter half of the ‘00s, converting them to other uses. As an SRO buying spree took hold — in one 12-month period in 2006 and 2007, for example, 22 buildings with more than 1,000 rooms traded hands  — the provincial government intervened and bought a slew of the old hotels to keep them available as inexpensive housing.

Such steps have become common. Some cities have even made it illegal to tear existing rooming houses down, which is historically ironic, considering how hard cities worked for decades to extinguish them or at least sequester them in the oldest neighborhoods. Efforts to protect the few remaining SROs are welcome, but they’re like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.

A Rooming Revival?

Legal scholar Philip Howard writes in The Death of Common Sense, “The law now prohibits the demolition of any SROs that remain, while building codes make it impossible to build any new ones.” Howard exaggerates, but not much. Building and land-use codes do not make new rooming houses impossible to build, just very difficult. A few brave developers have been trying, on a small scale, in a few Northwest neighborhoods. They’re responding to the strong demand, especially among millennials, for small, inexpensive units in popular, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods such as Seattle’s Capitol Hill and Portland’s Pearl District. (In a subsequent article, I’ll describe these efforts and the rules that hamstring them.)

These nascent efforts show that housing forms of the past hold potential. To me, in fact, they appear to be one of the biggest chances cities have to advance sustainability, housing affordability, and community economic vitality. Updated to current technology, for example, rooming houses are a promising solution for the era we are entering. They can offer clean, safe, functional, and efficient quarters for a price in reach of many.

We can keep and enforce codes that actually ensure safe and healthy housing, and we can cut away those rules that most bind residential hotels — that have suppressed for the benefit of others’ property values the entire bottom end of the private housing market in most neighborhoods.

A future unfettered by such rules would see the re-emergence of inexpensive choices including rooming houses and other old residential forms. Such units will not satisfy those of greater means and the expectations that accompany them. They would not try to. But they can meet an urgent need for young people, some seniors, and for poor and working class people of all ages: the need for homes they can afford that are still, in UC professor Paul Groth’s phrase, “more luxuriant than those lived in by a third to a half of the population of the earth.”

 

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Comments

  1. Matt the Engineer says:

    Thanks for this. Interesting that even Seattle’s Apodments – that use loopholes to build something like SRO’s – each have individual bathrooms and refrigerators.

    I wonder what full legalization of SRO’s would do to our homeless population.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Yes, they do MtE! I’ll write about them in my next article. It’s hard to say what full legalization would do to homelessness, but it would certainly be a big help. The shrinking of housing options at low prices in our cities is a key contributing cause.

  2. Robert Broughton says:

    Rooming houses still exist in Mexico. I stayed in ones in Oaxaca City and Guanajuato. In both cases, I had a private bath, and breakfast was provided.

    (Mexico has another institution that has pretty much disappeared in North America, “normal schools”.)

    • Alan Durning says:

      That’s a great point, RB. Come to think of it, I may not have ever stayed in a Latin American hotel that would have passed muster under building codes in the Northwest today.

      Yet they were wonderful places to stay. They were cheap and functional. I even stayed in a cubicle-style lodging house in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, once, back in 1986.

  3. Kali Orkin says:

    This is an issue that definitely needs more attention. I consider myself a fairly informed person, but didn’t realize how much neighborhood planning and building codes affect our lives. I can’t find a decent apartment in Seattle on my budget because some real estate guys were nervous about property value.
    I also wonder of our generally individualist attitudes have let this one slide. In Denmark, about 20-25% of people live in a communal sort of housing, something that wouldn’t work here under the current rules, but imagine the impact we could have if single parents and seniors could live in a home where cooking and other chores are shared, and there is actually someone to talk to at the end of the day. I think we need housing that also keeps fostering a sense of community in mind.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Thanks for your note. The Danish style of cooperative housing may be what we call “co-housing” here, and it’s another great option that has a hard time navigating through our thicket of codes. We have a number of readers who are co-housing residents. Perhaps they’ll chime in with the particular challenges they have faced.

      In an article soon, probably part 4 of this set, I’ll discuss one barrier to cooperative housing in existing structures: occupancy limits.

  4. Jan Steinman says:

    This article seems to target urban, multi-unit “for profit” boarding houses.

    I rent rooms in two houses on a farm, with mixed results.

    Many people are clean, quiet, and respectful, but many are not. We have been open to accepting people with housing subsidies, but many of them seem to have zero ambition, and sit around listening to loud music and smoking dope all day.

    I don’t have any solutions, and I hate seeming to take the sides of those who despise the poor for their lack of ambition, but something needs to address the “institutionalization” of the poor. A “hand up” becomes a “hand out,” and people become de-motivated to improve their own lot.

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      I’m generally in favor of safety nets to keep people from falling into homelessness. But it sure seems like some good legal SRO’s combined with finding some productive work at low wages would help a lot of people.

      That said, there will always be some that need help no matter what (severely disabled, elderly, etc.).

  5. Michelle Parker says:

    When I was a post-graduate student in Eugene, back in the late 1990s on a very limited budget, I lived in unique apartment-housing known as “quads.” These quad-complexes are numerous around the University of Oregon.

    The idea is that 4 individual bedrooms share a bathroom/shower and a kitchen. The quad I lived in had a private toilet, sink, and small refrigerator in each bedroom. And my quad-mates were mandatorily female, but that’s not the requirement for all quads.

    The rent was one lump sum that included all utilities (except the phone), so you basically only needed to write one or two checks per month, which is great for budgeting.

    This kind of apartment-housing is extremely energy efficient and highly sustainable. And you make instant friends with your quad-mates! Plus you learn all kinds of cooking techniques since everyone seems to have their own favorite recipes.

    We each did our own individual cooking. And chores were not assigned like they are in the co-ops, which are also numerous around the U of O. But living with 4 females, we were generally pretty clean any way!

    • Michelle Parker says:

      Btw, you weren’t required to be a student, in order to live there. (You just needed to have a high tolerance for noise since the ceilings/floors/walls were quite thin.)

    • Todd Boyle says:

      I loved the Quads in Eugene while going to college. Actually I lived in a step van most of those years, but hung around friends’ places a lot… shared meals, took a shower, etc. Some of these places had washers and dryers. So they were great. A few of the people failed to do their dishes, or stole food, etc. but most were great. The *best* habitat for humans is private rooms (or double rooms like Embassy Suites) with balconies outside, and a great room in the middle.

      • Michelle Parker says:

        Having direct access to washers and dryers in the communal laundry room was the *best* part of living in the quads (and the *saving grace* too, cuz I’m not kidding about the noise: Whenever the neighbor living below my unit would sneeze, it sounded like he was right there beside me in my room!)

        More Quad-complexes have been built during this new millenium, and they are more “luxurious,” higher priced, and include balconies.

      • Michelle Parker says:

        Re: “stole food”

        A friend of mine lived in a Quad that nipped this right in the bud. Every single kitchen cupboard came with a padlock!

        He also lived in one of the coolest Quads I’d ever seen. Each unit was like a mid-size studio apartment, with a big walk-in closet, and a private bathroom attached to it with a toilet, sink, mirror, and bathtub/shower.

        He and his quad-mates only shared the kitchen. And it was a huge kitchen, too — big enough for 2 full-size stoves with ovens, plus all those (padlocked) cupboards.

  6. Joshua Daniel Franklin says:

    Great post! I also enjoyed readying ‘Hotel Life’ by Norman Hayner (published 1936) which is referenced in ‘Living Downtown’. Also one report I dug up called ‘Housing in Cascade’ (1977) talked about the cost of bringing housing up to code and is a facinating look back compared to SLU today. Both are available at SPL or UW libraries.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Really interesting history, JDF. Thanks for the suggestions.

  7. Julia Kittross says:

    As alums of Antioch College (Yellow Springs, Ohio) in the ’70s, which had a work/study program that sent us around the country every three or six months to take a job, we often took advantage of rooming houses and shared living arrangements. They were cheap, easy to rent for short periods of time, and perfectly adequate for our needs. They would be a very useful tool in the fight to end homelessness. Thanks for the article!

    • Alan Durning says:

      Thanks for your comment, Julia (and I hope you and yours are well!)

      Speaking of Ohio colleges, we Oberlin grads had similar experiences, though I was a decade later.

      The current U.S. housing market is surprisingly constrained and homogenous compared with our own past and with housing markets in other parts of the world, as commenters are pointing out. In my next post, I’ll describe a fascinating and extreme example of short-term housing in Japan called “capsule hotels.”

      The high price of housing and the prevalence of homelessness in the Unites States are both related to our oddly circumscribed housing choices.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    From an entry in wikipedia: “A communal apartment or kommunalka (Russian: коммуналка, коммунальная квартира) appeared in the Soviet Union following the Russian revolution. Communal apartments emerged as a response to the housing crisis in urban areas and were a product of the “new collective vision of the future”. A communal apartment was typically shared between two to seven families. Each family had it own room, which served as a living room, dining room, and bedroom for the entire family. The hallways, kitchen, bathroom and telephone were shared among all the residents.[1] The communal apartment was the predominant form of housing in the USSR for generations, and still exist in “the most fashionable central districts of large Russian cities.”

  9. Bill Bradburd says:

    the micro-apartments being built can lease at 2-5 times more per sq ft what real multi-bedroom apartments rent for. these are very profitable for the developer. especially when they get MFTE for them (this should be stopped). and while some of these are a good idea, the fact that we seem to be producing no larger family units anymore, housing costs for single family will soar. in san francisco where these housing trends are a decade ahead of us you see single family homes selling for upwards of a million dollars. unless we produce more family size projects in multi-family zones, we will see similar results in seattle, (unless you want your family to live in a pod).

    nonetheless i think they can be a good strategy. certainly as student housing or some workforce housing. or think of DESC’s wet housing or other managed care facility. pods of those can come with living quarters for staff. i would bet the cost per client would be far less than has been built so far.

    they also could work well as intentional housing. pods of musicians could have common sound-proofed rehearsal rooms, recording space, etc. artist housing could have common work rooms, studio spaces, storage etc to serve that community’s needs.

    the bigger problem producing the backlash to them (ahhh, those NIMBYs) is the PEOPLE density they introduce. in the lowrise zones where they are being built the expectation is a lower density of people. because heights have been raised in those lowrise zones, an additional story (or two) can be built over the prior 35 ft height limit. taking a story off of those buildings would help alleviate the neighbors concerns about density in those zones.

    another issue is that while no parking is provided, some tenants do have cars. this further tresses overparked areas like capitol hill. perhaps equipping the projects with a car share element could help alleviate that.

    finally, loopholes allowing the developer to skirt around SEPA and design review should be closed. the City and Council are aware of these issues and turning a blind eye to them.

    • Alan Durning says:

      Thanks for your comments! Insightful observations about the various applications of rooming-style housing for special populations or self-selecting groups.

      My next piece will talk about aPodments specifically. And I plan to discuss parking requirements at some length later in the series.

      I do not share your view about SEPA and design review, however. I regard the requirements for extra scrutiny of congregate housing as a classic example of the discrimination against inexpensive units that plagues the Northwest.

  10. Eli Spevak says:

    This is a terrific series, and very relevant to discussions happening right now in the City of Portland as we proceed with an update to our Comprehensive Plan. There’s a strong equity focus on the plan, yet little clarity about ways zoning or building codes might further (rather than surpress) housing equity in our city. I don’t know how much longer this series will be going on, but if you have a snippet of recommended zoning tools in mind this would be a great time to share them. I’m on one of the city’s “Policy Expert Groups” working on the plan right now and would welcome tips!

    – Eli

    • Alan Durning says:

      Eli,

      You’re actually on my list of people to call for future instalments! Can you email me to discuss? alan (at) sightline (dot) org.

      Alan

  11. Gordon C. Jones says:

    I am also on the City of Portland’s PEG with Eli Spevak that is providing input on the Comprehensive Plan update. I agree with your and Eli’s perspective on how building codes, design review, and other social and political pressures have eliminated viable housing options for those needing inexpensive housing. In Portland our politicians have adopted a myopic policy of “ending homelessness in ten years”. Their primary solution seems to be to lavishly fund LIHTC projects in partnership with private non-profits at a cost of upwards of $250,000 per unit, and forever taking those properties off of the tax rolls. Through “set-asides” they get a large portion of the TIF funds from Urban Renewal Districts, but contribute nothing back. The private sector can produce low income housing much more efficiently, creatively and at a far lower cost; particularly with some revisions and rethinking of our codes and design review standards, as well as how to leverage public funds to achieve the best result. I don’t speak for Eli, but I feel like we are part of the required public invovlement process, but without a new dialogue we are unlikely to have any real input into meaningful change.

  12. Jules James says:

    Mr. Durning: While I share everyone’s desire for cost-effective urban rental housing, I am not ready to swallow this hook so blindly. I am not willing to let “the marketplace” decide what minimum housing standards should be. A premise of Landlord-Tenant law is that tenants cannot sign away certain rights. “The Marketplace” does not know how much oxygen two souls need hooking up overnight. Is it more than available in the current 70 square feet of the Seattle Zoning Code (provision adopted 1907)? What do we think of Amazon.com or Best Buy building Apodments to house waves of barely-paid interns and salespersons? Are we returning to the notorious days of company stores? Apodments are currently built to inappropriately-low standards. I believe: 1)strangers passing should have more than 30″ wide hallways, 2) in 2 hour fire walls between strangers rather than 1 hour, and 3) in parking requirements — at least for the resident manager, work crew and off-street move-in/out loading zones. I believe Seattle needs to adopt a zoning code category for SROs rather than sleazing them through loopholes of the existing code.

  13. Scotty needs a beam up says:

    Boarding rooming houses were common years ago all across the US when people rode trains to pedestrianized downtown areas once bustling like those in Europe, but today usually only consist of empty storefronts, bail bondsmen, police, and courts. I served our great country, graduated college, and stayed out of trouble, but can’t stay gainfully employed enough to live so I went off to Korea to teach English and traveled the world for 5 years and enjoyed tons of cheap budge backpacker rooms in many countries. I seen the world on only $2000 a month during my paid vacations and between 1 year contracts. I’d keep teaching in Korea, but really didn’t enjoy living in Korea nor China as they stare too much, they are grossly rude to us, and just aren’t friendly so I decided I want to live in the West again. I love Europe as I lived there 3 years while in the service, but can’t get a job over there, because immigration rules block non E.U. citizens such as Americans while they take in tons of refugees into their social programs. Europe is full of hostels, guesthouses just as Asia and Africa offer too. It’s the USA that lacks affordable accomodations so that’s why few backpackers and tourists come. Those who come to the USA come only for work in operating small businesses, trade, or practicing medicine.

    It baffles me why such a great country refuses to offer a way to those less fortunate than those who can afford over priced hotels and actually own a big nice house, but it’s a system geared towards those inheriting a financiall fit family background istead of those looking to climb up a career ladder after college or tech school as employment opportunities also severely lack in similiar fashion to how affordable rooms just aren’t on offer though a few really horrible cheap rooms in bad neighborhoods are possible in most cities.

    This leaves millions of good Americans living in fear on the edge up to their eyeballs in credit paycheck to paycheck when we could be prospering far better if greed didn’t administer America’s country system centering around money to the point if no longer makes any sense to millions of us so many have given up by trying to go to prison or staying wherever they can stay put.

    The lack of affordable rooms and housing is economic oppression through limiting social mobility where you can’t go try a new city out or travel unless staying in your car or knocking off to go hide at night as to prevent arrest for sleeping in public or in your car. Yes, it’s illegal in many parts to sleep in your car and in public places. Walmart has been allowing RV’s, truckers, and others to overnight in their lots which is highly thoughtful of the corporation as this is a serious gap causing millions of people to fail or even have a chance at establishing a way to a sustainable meaninful life. It’s horrible how America does it compared to all the other Western countries. Even the over crowded far East offers super cheap rooms to their people and foreigners alike, but nice places are available too if you have money.

    I’d be happy if I could go to a place like Atlanta or another nice city with culture, the arts, and more possibilities rather than being stuck at a brothers in a poor underclassed black city in the South full of crime, scavengers, theifs, liers, filth, blight, wild drivers, shootings, and the lowest crap scum of Earth. This is character of so many of our cities yet it once was a nice middle class place where people enjoyed and lived meanfulife lives. There is one old downtown motel used as a rooming house, but not enough rooms and it’s butt ugly and so dangerous the black guys are scared to come in and out at night. It’s really bad if the black people are scared too.

    Regardless of the class, race, and nationality, access to minimalist basic housing to simply sleep and secure belongings should be a human right; not a priveledge. Why the home of the free actually offer freedom to it’s people through offering affordable rooms and other short term transitional housing???

  14. David Hopkinson says:

    “Another market failure in housing is when owners shunt costs onto others,
    for example, by installing polluting devices that foul local air.”

    The most common way that rental owners shunt costs onto others is the Business Model of the Absentee Slumlord is far more egregious. The absentee owner (one who does not live on the property) of a rental can simply defer maintenance, taking equity out of a deteriorating building in the form of rental payments, while insulating themselves from the complaints of renters. The appalling conditions of Firetrap Rentals cannot be appreciated until seen firsthand.

    Owners of single family residences, on the other hand, cannot take their equity out of the building in which they live until they sell it, and may not realize that their equity is being diminished by the deteriorating rentals around them. Deteriorating rentals also become increasingly dangerous, also, due to lack of maintenance, but this may not be recognized as more than an eyesore problem, until there is a fire.

    Single family homes in a neighborhood with a large number of Firetrap Rentals may not understand that their investment in a home is being siphoned into the pocket of Absentee Slumlords. Local government may not realize that the city’s stock of housing – some of it beautiful, historical legacy houses chopped up into apartments – is being lost to Slumlords who allow a building to deteriorate, then bulldoze and build ugly apartment buildings.

    In a tight market, the least wealthy renters must take what they can get, with an unspoken understanding that they must accept substandard housing without complaint, or find themselves with no place to live at all. It is easy to intimidate renters who cannot afford an attorney and are not committed to winning a legal battle. For frustrated renters, it is easier to simply move to another rental.

    The Business Model of the Absentee Slumlord is most likely to be found where there is a tight market with high turnover of transient renters: university students and migrant labor. These transient renters are not likely to organize themselves on their own behalf. They may not see themselves as members of the local community and believe that enduring the Firetrap is just a temporary ordeal.

    The exploitive Business Model described here is what necessitates rental inspection and licensing. Without accountability, slumlords can thrive at the expense of others.

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