Vancouver, B.C. Eyes A Cleanup Of Downtown SROs Through Public Ownership

Older residential buildings at the corner of Main Street in Vancouver, B.C.'s downtown east side
Untitled photo by Jen Gibson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Vancouver, BC's downtown east side, an area of deteriorating housing with rising prices.

Vancouver, B.C. is cursed with one of the highest costs of living in the world and blessed (a teeny tiny blessing) with a considerable quantity of still-existing affordable rent single room occupancy (SRO) housing stock.

SROs and their close relatives, rooming houses1 have suffered decades of abuse within their neighbourhoods. Think of all the NIMBY2 bogeymen that flash before neighbourhood eyes when it comes to new project proposals for low and no income housing projects. This famous criminal element of lurkers are already built into the neighbourhood where SROs or rooming houses exist.

But both SROs and rooming houses have in North America a long and honourable tradition of providing accommodation for single workers. In the face of growing affordable housing crises, SROs are being revalued for a usefulness that was, if not revered, then more than tolerated.

Alas, in many North American cities SROs and rooming housesare rapidly dwindling.3Try: New Haven: Will SROs Succumb To Gentrification? The City of Vancouver still has a stock of privately owned SROs. Unfortunately, they are also cursed with poor maintenance, rapidly rising rents and the threat of replacement with more expensive housing. As a result, the city is viewing them with a acquisitive eye. Read more in the Vancouver Sun: ‘Sea change’: Vancouver staff proposes billion-dollar SRO acquisition strategy


  1. Distinguishing between SROs and rooming houses these days isn’t all that easy. People living in SROs and rooming houses share one or two elements of their home with other residents: either the kitchen, the bathroom, or both. The difference could lie in the number of steps people have to climb to get home. For instance, SROs in Vancouver have more floors than rooming houses in Toronto. It could also be as simple as how they are identified in a zoning by-law, with no difference at all.
  2. Not In My Back Yard