Daniel Murray knows it’ll be easier to stay out of trouble if he gets off the street.
On parole after spending 14 months in prison for selling drugs, he’s currently homeless. He makes only about $180 a week doing part-time maintenance work for CalTrans — not enough to cover rent, plus living expenses, at even the most rundown downtown hotel. The best he’s been able to find costs $700 a month for a room with a shared bathroom.
“I could flip $500 in drugs and get a hotel by nightfall,” he said, standing on an East Village sidewalk on a recent afternoon, “but I’m not going to do that.”
Residential hotels, also called single-room occupancy hotels, or SROs, are often referred to as the housing of last resort for low-wage workers and folks on fixed incomes. A decade ago, you could find a room for $400 or $500 a month, sometimes less. But two things are happening to the city’s SRO stock: It’s shrinking and what remains is often unaffordable to the populations it used to serve: low-wage workers, seniors and folks on disability.
According to a recent survey by the San Diego Housing Commission, as of October 2015, there were 3,872 single-room occupancy units within the city, down significantly from the 8,950 units counted in a 2003 survey. Those two studies looked at SROs citywide. A 1988 report on SRO creation and preservation, prepared for the City Council, counted more than 4,000 units in downtown alone, with another 1,800 units in the pipeline. That report warned in bold text: “The impact of losing SROs results in an increase in the homeless population.”
Steven Russell, executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation, said there’s no question the loss of SRO units has led to a spike in downtown San Diego’s homeless population.
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Some of the SRO"s that were lost are due to the actions of the federal government. In the early 2000's, under the Bush administration, the federal purchased and demolished 2 huge downtown SRO's for the eventual development of federal courthouses. The Feds are exempt from all local ordinances regarding housing replacement and environmental compliance. I believe we lost some 800 units from this action.
Excellent article pointing to one of the biggest contributing factors to the current high numbers of people who are homeless in San Diego County. Earlier this year the San Diego Union-Tribune's David Garrick did a nice piece identifying that the number of SRO hotel rooms in San Diego dwindled from 14,000 in the late 1980s to less than 3,900 as of February 2016. As Todd Gloria stated in that article, one should not get 'romantic' about the quality of housing provided by the SROs, but it is far better than the street. In the 1990s I worked with many people who were disabled and received SSI, and the affordable SROs (some of which were definitely nicer than others) were often their best housing option. I have also seen those resources dry up since then as many have been closed for various reasons (e.g., changing to boutique hotels; building of federal courthouse)--The Maryland Hotel, The Hotel San Diego, The Pickwick, The Downtown YMCA, The Capri, The State Hotel, etc., many of which housed hundreds of low-income people. Buy-outs were often done with giving residents a few months rent equivalent, but they ended up vying for a ever-decreasing number of affordable rooms. The vast decrease in affordable housing for people on SSI-level (or even lower) income has meant that those persons with the fewest options (both financial and social) are at far, far higher risk to become homeless. There have been small numbers of rehabilitated or new housing projects developed but, as the article notes with the Hotel Churchill, these are usually extremely expensive and therefore the numbers of such units will be far less than what was previously available. As far as I can tell, any funds going into the 'SRO replacement fund' have resulted in far, far fewer units of housing affordable to people with SSI-level income than previously existed.
Please note that current SSI (cash benefits for people without financial resources who are disabled or elderly) monthly payment is $889.40 (slightly higher if there are no cooking facilities available in the facility), which is just over $10,000/year. So the 'affordable' units for people making up to $20,000/year (see article) may not be affordable for someone who relies on SSI.
There was a good column by Alice Callaghan in the 7/15/15 LA Times relating to similar issues in Los Angeles.
I live in an SRO, one of the better ones as I understand (at least compared to what I hear about others). I couldn't afford to go anywhere else.
And it meets most of my current needs and limitations.
The problem seems to be, no ones listening.
There are a multitude of people just a paycheck away from the sidewalk, I'm one of those people.