“Where Have They Gone? Examining the Success of Chicago’s SRO Preservation Ordinance” – Ryan A. Fulgham


Author: Ryan A. Fulgham

Department: Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement, UIC

Faculty: Dr. Joseph Hoereth, IPCE

Single Room Occupancy hotels (SRO) are small, inexpensive apartments that generally lack common niceties like in-unit restrooms. They can be rented weekly without a lease. SROs have long acted as an affordable buffer for Chicago’s lowest income residents against outright homelessness. They are often clustered in high-income and gentrifying areas, and provide shelter for transients, the unemployed, and others with limited access to traditional housing. However, shifting economics and poor living conditions have led to a progressive decline of SRO units, with many being converted into luxury housing. In 2014, the City of Chicago passed the SRO Preservation Ordinance, which aimed to protect SROs as a form of affordable housing by favoring private developers aiming to maintain SROs buildings as affordable housing over those aiming to remodel the buildings as market-rate residential or commercial property. It also aimed to pair displaced residents with other forms of affordable housing when displaced. This study was conducted to gauge whether the ordinance was successful in halting the decline SROs in Chicago. The hypothesis was that the ordinance would be unsuccessful in slowing the decline of SROs. Using the gentrifying SRO-dense Uptown neighborhood as a case study, this study compares patterns of decline in SRO units prior to and after the passing of the ordinance. It aims to determine what short-term effects the ordinance has had in Uptown and Chicago at large, including whether the rate of decline has decreased and if displaced residents have found their way to new affordable units. Research methods included using city government data to map where SRO licensed facilities were operating in the years between 2000 and 2019. The resulting data confirmed the hypothesis that SROs have continued to decline in the Uptown area and the city at-large at a faster rate than projected with the passage of the ordinance. Recommendations for policy reform include creating a municipal fund to help affordable developers acquire SRO properties before they are put on the standard housing market.

Keywords: SRO, affordable housing, Uptown

Read more about Ryan's work here