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Housing: Alternative Options - Single-room Occupancies

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 2Housing: Alternative Options - Aging In One's Own Home, Renting, Shared Housing, Mobile Homes, Elder Cottage Housing Opportunities

Single-room occupancies

A type of housing that has long been an important source of affordable housing is the single-room occupancy (SRO). The term single room occupancy describes not only the structure but also the common lifestyle characteristics of the residents. SRO units differ depending on the structures where the rooms are located: they may be rented in a rooming house or an old hotel, with or without shared kitchen and bath facilities, or they may be rented in a single-family structure.

By a 1987 estimate, four hundred thousand elderly individuals lived in SROs nationwide. Single elderly often face housing problems more difficult than those faced by the elderly in families; they are likely to live in rental housing, and a disproportionate number are poor. They face a risk of social isolation after the roles and responsibilities of the workplace are no longer part of their lives. Their lower incomes are more often compounded by lack of an assets cushion in the form of home equity, and they have no spouse helper available if they become impaired.

The SRO is an acceptable part of the housing stock. Generally inexpensive, it is one option for the community's very poor, unattached citizens, who include a disproportionate number of the elderly. SRO does not constitute planned housing for the elderly in the same sense that continuing care retirement centers serving the more affluent do.

A related option for those with more income is the retirement hotel, which can be inexpensive, expensive, or in between. Some older hotels in central cities specialize as senior citizens' hotels in order to maintain reasonable occupancy. In some cases, meals and a few organized activities (e.g., bingo and cards) are provided. The hotels are particularly appropriate for self-reliant elderly who wish to continue an independent lifestyle with the amenities of a city—including public transportation—but without the responsibilities of housekeeping.

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