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Could SROs Help Solve Our Housing Shortage?

Chris d Craiker AIA


Providing affordable housing for all segments of our community is a real challenge. Single Room Occupancies, SROs, are an under-appreciated quirk in Napa City municipal zoning that hasn't been taken seriously locally or in most California cities other than San Francisco and Los Angeles. The original intent was to build or convert existing structures to what we used to call "Skid Row Hotels” in blighted urban areas. The Napa zoning section 17.52.460, Single Room Occupancies, describes these potential living units as compact apartments not to exceed 450 square feet. The ordinance allows higher densities and lower parking requirements when a project is near transit lines or major thorough fares. After all, occupants don’t need a car.


A recent Napa Valley Register article highlighted a proposed redevelopment project by Rossi Development to renovate an existing eclectic collection of buildings and non- descript industrial structures at Yajome and Vallejo Streets, including the former DMV, now the Pepperettes headquarters. The extensive site is a collection of car repair shops, cafés, and warehouses, all to be incorporated into a new neighborhood called J&D Railroad. While the collection of tenants will change over the coming years, Rossi doesn’t displace existing tenants. It will evolve carefully as Rossi’s renovation of Food City at Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road has. I’m proud and honored to be a participating Architect for both.


The SRO size limitation of 450 SF for a livable unit is very realistic. Most of the ADUs designed today are about that size. Creating a compact apartment of one bedroom, bath, kitchenette and living area is not a mystery, it’s a reality. It might be a walk-up, no elevator, but a lot of these potential renters are agile and love those Napa Mountain views.


As I previously noted, the American household has gone from a classic nuclear family to predominately empty nesters, confirmed- singles and childless couples that are now a significant demographic part of our population. Getting on the homeownership escalator for Millennials, Gen X and young singles is almost impossible and sharing a house or multi-bedroom apartment isn’t for everyone. Until resources allow one to transfer to a homeownership, a small compact and livable SRO apartment could serve a lot of Napa renters.


The J&D Railroad Complex will be an eclectic combination of 3 story apartments and converted warehouses. The city ordinance requires all apartments to be well managed and maintained and the density could be twice the existing zoning of a specific parcel and density bonuses initiated by the State may apply. The architecture here will be simi-industrial but will still feel residential. More importantly, this represents the revival and transition of previously uninteresting industrial or marginal residential communities into thriving mixed-use neighborhoods.


SRO housing is an urban concept, not suitable for outlying suburban communities. Implemented in commercial downtown areas, an SRO complex can provide great affordable shelter for young workers that our downtown areas struggle to find. The HUD 221(d)(4) loan program can provide financing for the construction, acquisition, or rehabilitation of SRO housing projects. This loan program offers low interest rates, long- term financing, and non-recourse options. To learn more about the HUD 221(d)(4) loan program.


What we’re all learning is no one size fits all. From the Ozzie and Harriet days of traditional nuclear family homes to a world of unlimited diversified housing arrangements, Napa, and all California cities, must focus on providing safe and secure living opportunities for all. And that must include the unhoused among us.


Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB believes living under a bridge is not a home

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