Single-room occupancy buildings can create affordable housing options in urban areas facing a housing affordability crisis from San Francisco to Seattle to Mumbai.

Share story

LAST month, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos challenged all of us to think creatively about a philanthropic strategy focused on helping people in the here and now — short term — at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact. Bezos cited a specific charity, Mary’s Place, as an example of an organization that provides immediate assistance to the homeless in the Seattle area while also making a lasting impact in their lives.

Have you thought about your response to this challenge? Where can immediate assistance also make a long-term and meaningful impact?

One area that jumps to mind is housing. Given our struggles with homelessness and housing affordability, there seems to be an opportunity for a radical improvement that shakes up the current status quo. Who better to challenge the status quo than Bezos?

‘My take’

Got something to say about a topic in the news? We’re looking for personal essays with strong opinions. Send your submission of no more than 500 words to oped@seattletimes.com with the subject line “My Take.”

Why do we live in houses that contain a kitchen that sits empty for most of the day? Why do we have multiple bedrooms and bathrooms that are used only when we have company? Why do we have basements and garages filled with junk that could be stored more efficiently, sold or donated to charity?

For the wealthy, there is no urgent need to change the status quo, but there are many among us who are living from paycheck-to-paycheck who might benefit from a radical change to the real estate market.

I recently read a great article by Mark Hogan, a San Francisco architect who has written on the housing crisis. I am particularly interested in his description of Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) buildings which historically provided affordable housing options to those most in danger of becoming homeless. Unfortunately, many SROs have been demolished, and developers will require incentives and zoning changes to build new SRO housing with shared kitchens, shared TV rooms, and perhaps shared bathrooms.

If SRO housing is located near transit, the need for parking can be reduced or eliminated. SROs can create affordable housing options in urban areas facing a housing affordability crisis from San Francisco to Seattle to Mumbai.

Seattle tried micro-housing starting in 2009, but by about 2014, with pushback from some neighborhoods, the city changed its development rules to all but eliminate new “apodments.”

Perhaps Bezos can create a new company focused on building SROs allowed under current zoning laws while pressuring governments to amend zoning laws to create incentives for new SROs in urban areas faced with a housing affordability crisis?

Some people will always argue for the status quo, but we must do better for those struggling to keep up with rapid rent increases. Bezos has experience challenging the status quo, and he would be a powerful housing advocate. Let’s encourage him to leverage his experience working with Mary’s Place into something much larger which creates hope for everyone who needs a place to call home.