Mayor Adams introduces dorm-style apartments with lounge baths in New York City housing plan
Would you share the hallway bathroom with a bunch of your neighbors for a cheaper rent?
Mayor Eric Adams’ recent efforts to address the city’s housing crisis mean more New Yorkers may soon face that question. As part of an ambitious housing package unveiled last week, Adams is proposing rules that would allow new single-room occupancy housing (SRO), a type of dorm-style apartment complex where tenants have their own studios but typically share kitchens and bathrooms.
These offices were ubiquitous throughout New York City before officials banned most new regional office construction more than six decades ago, when low-cost accommodations were associated with perceptions of rising crime, disorder, and “urban blight.”
Now Adams says it’s time to reverse course and lift “restrictions on small and condominium units.”
“Our rules should not limit the development of buildings that have shared kitchens and bathrooms or studio apartments,” he said last week. “This type of housing was all over New York City. It allowed a lot of people to move here and have a completely fresh start.”
Adams’ latest proposal would not immediately lead to free-for-all college-style development, but the City Planning Department said it is trying to remove restrictions on so-called “room units” with shared kitchens and bathrooms in low-density areas outside Manhattan and lift rules that prevent developers from Converting hotels or offices into new SROs.
The full package of proposed rules requires public review and City Council approval.
“Shared housing models can be an important solution for New Yorkers from all walks of life, and for too long zoning and other rules have been an impediment to our government’s programs,” said DCP Director Dan Garodnick. “We are moving to lift these outdated and often arbitrary rules so more people can find housing that fits their needs.”
The city’s housing agency has already begun a program to develop about 300 “state-of-the-art” housing units, including a 10-story dorm in East Harlem intended to house LGBTQ+ youth who have experienced homelessness.
Adams’s latest proposal would make building those places easier, a proposal that is of interest to some homeless rights advocates who say the model could provide a way out of shelters.
“This is a no-brainer,” said Mozi Rosenblatt, executive director of the Bowery Residents Committee.
But Rosenblatt warned that the city must prevent the exploitation of low-income or homeless New Yorkers who have no other options. He said housing nonprofits should be building and maintaining new social housing organizations, not incentivizing private developers to cram as many people as possible into substandard housing. “I think profit has in the past created a vulnerable situation for people,” he said.
As for Adams, this is not the first time he has introduced new rules for university-style housing.
His remarks last Thursday echoed comments he made on the campaign trail, as well as during a March interview at Greene Space, WNYC’s live events venue, where he name-checked WeWork’s failed co-housing experiment and specifically pointed to SROs — on Although his subsequent comments about windowless bedrooms attracted more attention.
“There are some great models of SRO growth around the world,” Adams said at the time. “It’s affordable. We can tie it to real affordable prices.”
New York City had nearly 200,000 college-style housing units populated mostly by low-income renters, especially veterans and newly arrived immigrants, when officials banned new housing units in 1955, a decision that was inspired by racial stereotypes About tenants and real concerns about dilapidated living conditions. Neglected by absentee property owners.
But subsequent efforts to shutter the buildings during the “urban renewal” fervor left tens of thousands of New Yorkers without a similar option for low-cost housing and led to soaring rates of homelessness.
Despite the ban on new construction, there are still thousands of SRO units around today, including many used as supportive housing for formerly homeless New Yorkers, as well as some more expensive units in the city’s more glamorous zip codes.
Last year, former Buildings Commissioner Eric Ulrich allegedly conspired with a developer in a failed attempt to shutter a college dorm-style facility across the street from his luxury apartment, according to a criminal indictment against him. However, tens of thousands of similar apartments have been demolished or converted into condos or more expensive apartments since the ban was imposed in the 1950s.
Small, rent-stabilized apartments remain a critical resource for low-income New Yorkers, said Larry Wood, SRO’s longtime tenant organizer and director of housing and advocacy at Goddard Riverside. But he said any new shared accommodation would have to meet a high standard of living and perhaps include private bathrooms.
“New York City renters are desperate for anything they can afford, but will this really reduce the quality of life for poor people?” Wood said. “Having shared bathrooms and kitchens would definitely be a step backwards in terms of housing standards.”
When state lawmakers created a $100 million cash pool for developers who planned to convert empty hotels into supportive or affordable housing, they explicitly required that the new accommodations include bathrooms and kitchens.
But Wood said there is another potential path for new cohousing geared toward wealthier, and likely younger, New Yorkers who are ready to move into apartments that resemble college dorms.
New Yorkers have already shown that there is a market for “co-living” arrangements, where third-party real estate companies match tenants with roommates, often at exorbitant prices. SRO-style apartments can also appeal to the get-up-and-grind set who shower in a gym — perhaps one located on the ground floor, below their dormitory pods — before starting their 12-hour workday.
“For some young people, it makes a lot of sense,” said real estate consultant Jordan Barowitz, who started his own company after working for the Dorset organization. “If you live in a 375-square-foot studio that has a small kitchen that you never use, or uses the stove to store jackets, it probably makes sense to use that space more efficiently in keeping with your lifestyle.”
Developers will undoubtedly find a market for stripped housing, but the industry is awaiting more details from the Adams administration, said land use expert Paul Silver, a partner at the law firm Kramer Levin.
“We have to see the details,” he added. “This is where the devil is.”