As Tampa cracks down on illegal flophouses, some say SROs are just what we need

Modern codes outlaw too much low income housing

TAMPA - While nobody wants cramped dirty rental properties in their neighborhoods, a growing number of urban planners say small (make that tiny)  single room rentals are exactly what cities need more of.

Single room rentals like the historic Jackson Rooming House in Tampa were once a mainstay of urban life. But they were already getting a bad rap about the time the film,  It's a Wonderful Life came out in 1946.

During George Bailey's journey through a world in which he was never born, he encounters his embittered and suspicious mother who's been reduced to renting rooms in "The Bailey Boarding House".

Boarding houses are rare now but the need for affordable shelter is still with us.  

Tim Marks of Metropolitan Ministries says the agency assists some 50 families a day looking for an affordable housing option.  Marks says a larger stock of affordable housing would make their job easier.

"We think that would stabilize families at risk of becoming homeless and those that have become homeless can become self sufficient with affordable housing solutions" said Marks.

The problem is that modern  zoning laws that  require minimum square footage, parking and occupancy limits  make this kind of dense living nearly impossible.  The result is an urban housing shortage that forces even working people into the kind of shabby, often illegal digs that businessman William Hoe Brown is accused of running.   The limited options put people like Lynn Country and her husband in a bind.

"We can make the $180 a week for a motel, but that leaves us with nothing. Not enough to get on the bus, sometimes not even to buy food" said Country.

But increasingly, cities like New York and Seattle are allowing the construction of new, often stylish micro apartments that are often under 200 square feet each with a bathroom, and  a shared kitchen.  Units in a prime Seattle neighorhood go for around $500 dollars a month are popular with low wage baristas.

Tampa City Council Member Mary Mulhern says this trend is on the City's radar.

It's all part of the whole movement toward having an urban code and not a suburban code" said Mulhern who nonetheless anticipates some resistance from residents who will likely oppose low income, high density residential buildings in their neighborhoods.

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