One of the highlights at any NeighborWorks Training Institute (NTI) is the chance to tour the communities where NeighborWorks network organizations are doing the work and having the greatest impact. Neighborhood tours offer NTI attendees a chance to learn, exchange ideas and be inspired. The May NTI in San Francisco, California, included several tours of Chinatown, with a stop at an SRO building.
The SRO building on Powell Street, on the edge of Chinatown, has 64 homes.
In Chinatown, SROs – for single room occupancy – provide much of the housing for Chinatown residents. The buildings were originally built in the late 1800s and early 1900s for men moving from job to job mining for gold, and working on the railroad and as agricultural laborers, shares Whitney Jones, deputy director of operations for Chinatown Community Development Center
. The rooms sometimes contained a sink, while residents shared bathrooms and a kitchen. Today, residents continue to have their own rooms while sharing common spaces.
"They are the lowest cost housing in San Francisco," Jones says. SROs are run by both nonprofit and for-profit organizations and house individuals and larger groups, including seniors and families.
Whitney Jones talks about the history of SRO buildings in Chinatown. Kate B. Somers, executive director of the Homeownership Center, Inc., in West Virginia, listens.
Organizations like Chinatown CDC are working to get families into larger spaces, and currently, Chinatown is down to 220 families living in SRO spaces. Before the pandemic, it was more than 500.
Chinatown CDC purchased this building, which had fallen into disrepair, in 2021, and began a
The inside of a newly rehabbed SRO home on Powell Street.
rehabilitation project. They hope to soon have a commercial laundry on the ground floor, as well as a
Murals decorate each floor of Chinatown CDC’s new-to-them building on Powell Street.
space for residents to do their own laundry. "We want to find someone local and hire locally," Jones shares. The building also has a communal space.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, these communal living spaces caused complications, but Chinatown CDC cooperated with local restaurants
to find ways to feed its residents in an effort to keep them out of shared kitchens. The new building will have an improved air-handling system as well, Jones says.
A shared kitchen in the Powell Street building. Whitney Jones, deputy director of operations for Chinatown CDC, says that the nonprofit tries to improve bathrooms and kitchens in the SRO buildings they rehab.
A view from the sidewalk where Chinatown CDC’s new SRO building is located shows the neighborhood – and one of San Francisco’s trademark streetcars.