Number of families in SRO housing doubles

In San Francisco, whole families are increasingly living in apartments that were intended to house only one person, according to a new report released today by a group of community-based organizations.

Single-room occupancy units, known as SROs or residential hotels, are prevalent around San Francisco’s Tenderloin, South of Market, Mission, and Chinatown neighborhoods. The units are typically eight by 10 feet in size and tenants typically share bathrooms and kitchens with tenants of other units.

While the units were once used to house individuals, rising rents citywide have resulted in the number of families being housed in them to more than double, according to the 2015 report, Living in the Margins: An Analysis and Census of San Francisco Families Living in SRO.

The report, which was produced by the SRO Families United Collaborative, comprised of the Chinatown Community Development Center, Chinese Progressive Association, South of Market Community Action Network, Coalition on Homelessness, and Dolores Street Community Services, found that since the last census of SROs in 2001, the number of families living in SROs in the city increased by 55 percent.

It found that at least 699 families with children were living in SRO hotels in San Francisco in 2014, an increase of 249 families since 2001.

The authors of the report state that over the past decade, out of hundreds of families living in residential hotels, “only a miniscule 40 families have been given the opportunity to move into subsidized permanently affordable housing.” In the 2014 SRO census, nearly 40 percent of the families had four or more people living in the unit while nearly 11 percent of families had five or more people living in the SRO unit, according to the report.

The census also recorded the ethnicity and languages spoken by families in SROs, finding that only 14 percent of the head of households spoke English fluently and 60 percent of the families spoke a Chinese dialect.

The report found that 62 percent of families in San Francisco’s SROs are from China or Hong Kong and that 74 percent of SRO families were residing in Chinatown.

Among the recommendations the report lists in order to help families gain affordable housing is the strengthening of labor laws to protect workers from exploitation, ensuring that families residing in SRO hotels remain eligible for city-funded housing and improving the tracking of students living in SROs who are enrolled in the school district.

According to the report, the San Francisco Unified School District reported 294 students living in SROs, while the SRO census found that in Chinatown alone, almost 500 K-12 students were living with their families in SROs.

Almost half of the families living in SROs, who were interviewed in the 2014 census, reported that living in their unit had negatively impacted their health, with many occupants citing respiratory problems, insufficient light, and infections due to unsanitary conditions such as mold, lead exposure, air pollution, blood in shared bathrooms, rodents and bed bugs.

In 2014, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against the Thakor family, which owns and operates at least 15 San Francisco single-room occupancy hotels, for violating health, safety and tenancy rights regulations.

According to Herrera, residents of the more than 880 single-room occupancy units were forced to endure bedbugs, roach and rodent infestations, mold and mildew, raw sewage leaks, defective wiring and other unsafe conditions, according to the complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court.

Herrera’s complaint also alleged that the hotels played “musical rooms” with tenants, forcing them to frequently move rooms to prevent them from qualifying for tenant protections granted after 30 consecutive days of residency.

In a settlement reached this summer, the Thakors agreed to pay $1.1 million in penalties and fix up the SRO buildings and units.

According to the 2015 SRO report, families and individuals living in these poor conditions may also suffer psychologically and emotionally.