An Old Idea Making Cities More Affordable
June 15, 2021 9:57 AM   Subscribe

Before being zoned out of existence, boarding houses gave less privileged city dwellers a place to live. Some places are bringing them back. In Reasons to be Cheerful, Diana Lind writes about a new law in the State of Washington.

Washington’s new bill will “increase housing unit inventory by removing arbitrary limits on housing options.” In plain English, what that means is that groups of people who aren’t family will be allowed to live together. Washington is one of many states with old laws on the books prohibiting such living arrangements — a vestige of zoning regulations aimed at prioritizing the nuclear family and limiting the availability of affordable housing through boarding houses. In their zeal, however, such laws put an end to a useful urban housing model: affordable dwellings shared by strangers, a form that’s perfect for today’s housing-stressed cities.

... Around the country, cities and states are seeking ways to house people more affordably by lessening regulation around the single-family home. Whether they are like Minneapolis, which allows zoning for anything up to a fourplex in all residential neighborhoods, or California, which has made it much easier to build backyard cottages, there is increasing recognition that more residential flexibility will bring more supply (and, in turn, more affordability) to neighborhoods. Allowing more unrelated people to live together, as states like Oregon and cities like Denver have done recently, is yet one more way to remove the barriers that keep people from accessing naturally affordable housing.
posted by Bella Donna (89 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Boarding houses crop up regularly in old literature and comics, and (inevitable murders notwithstanding) have always struck me as an eminently sensible way to afford living quarters if you're a mobile, single person without the need for more permanent housing. I wondered what happened to them. It's nice to hear they could make a comeback.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:10 AM on June 15 [25 favorites]


Is there any evidence that boarding houses are coming back? It’s all rooming houses that I’ve heard of. I don’t know if boarding would be regulated as restaurant cooking or catering or what.
posted by clew at 10:14 AM on June 15 [5 favorites]


My great-grandparents first met as young people in such an establishment in the 1880s, so I'm pretty much bound to approve.
posted by BWA at 10:16 AM on June 15 [9 favorites]


Whoa, rooming houses are different than boarding houses, eh? This is news to me. When my dad was becoming frail (but not yet too sick for such an idea), I investigated Adult Family Homes for veterans, which is theoretically a thing.

Adult Family Homes (also called Adult Foster Homes) are places where Veterans can live in a rented room. They are private homes where a few residents (6 or less) rent rooms. The homes have shared common spaces and Veterans might share a bedroom and bathroom with another person. There is a trained caregiver on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This person can help the Veteran with activities of daily living (e.g., bathing and getting dressed). VA may also be able to provide a health professional (e.g., a nurse) to come to the Adult Family Home and give the Veteran extra care.
posted by Bella Donna at 10:19 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


(inevitable murders notwithstanding)

The fact that this is a well known trope does not attract me to the close-quarters lifestyle.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:20 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Would I be correct in assuming that boarding houses mostly predate the common use of the automobile?

I'm thinking that the problem with boarding houses nowadays is the same as with any other kind of urban intensification: it's not really possible unless you remove the expectation that you're going to get to drive everywhere. I don't think it's practical to set up a boarding house for six people if you're then going to have to find parking space for six cars.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 10:29 AM on June 15 [11 favorites]


Yesterday I was reading a Swedish home decor book from the late 1960s and it referred to a gadget for hanging coats as especially helpful for those who had small quarters or were inneboende, which according to Google translate means inherent but according to me means boarder or lodger. (Which I was for two years in the Venice of the North before I relocated to a different region.) That suggests that being a boarder has been around for awhile and never necessarily went away. In Sweden some apartments are built to support that by having one bedroom with a separate entrance. I've seen the floorplans, and they confused me for ages until someone explained what they were for.

I believe most people are driven to the close-quarters lifestyle rather than drawn to it, justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow. To wit (emphasis mine):

In the 1800s, boarding with families was commonplace for people of all ages. As many as half of urban Americans spent part of their lives either as boarders in others’ homes or as hosts of boarders in their own, as professor Groth details. As the 1800s turned to the 1900s and North America urbanized, other options proliferated. For the working class, an abundance of rooming houses opened. Some offered boarding as well, with a kitchen and dining hall in the basement or on the ground floor. For the poor, cheap lodging houses provided basic accommodations for low prices. Some had small private rooms. Others had grids of open-top cubicles. Still others offered bunk rooms or rows of hard-slab “flops.” In San Francisco a century ago, five-sixths of hotel dwellers were either working class or poor, and a passable room might cost 35 cents a night ($8 in today’s currency).

The above history is from 2012 and courtesy of Siteline Institute, for which I cannot vouch. Snappy reading!
posted by Bella Donna at 10:30 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


Room-and-board is a familiar phrase, yes? Board is meals ("the groaning board"). A boardinghouse cooks for you, which meant you ate with your fellow boarders. On a schedule, as a rule. Which is potentially very efficient - one well stocked kitchen used and cleaned by a professional - but it was absolutely normal for the cook and diners to be suspicious that the counter party was cheating.

But it was normal to have fire in the bedroom, so there was a whole tradition of cooking illicitly in the bedroom, which is kind of romantic unless you remember how many share house mates would leave the common bath greasy with bacon. They were going to get around to it, mellow out.

I have this vivid memory because the three-adults law was certainly not much enforced in CapitolHill and the U District and Ravenna well into the aughts. (Mostly, not all white, and certainly not all straight.) it wasn’t the laws that stopped that, it was the economy.

Good point, tallmiddleagedgeek, these are all streetcar suburbs! With pre-boom traffic using the bus was fine.
posted by clew at 10:31 AM on June 15 [11 favorites]


tallmiddleagedgeek, wouldn't boarding houses work in urban areas precisely because cars are usually not required to get around in many urban areas and many people don't own them?
posted by Bella Donna at 10:33 AM on June 15 [8 favorites]


I think this is the actual bill in question, the article links me to Inslee’s conditional response.
posted by clew at 10:34 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's practical to set up a boarding house for six people if you're then going to have to find parking space for six cars.

I mean they could always do what literally every landlord I've ever had does: tell the tenants they're on their own for parking.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:34 AM on June 15 [24 favorites]


Thanks for the clarification on boarding and the link, clew!
posted by Bella Donna at 10:34 AM on June 15


wouldn't boarding houses work in urban areas precisely because cars are usually not required to get around in many urban areas and many people don't own them?

For sure! I am lucky enough to live in such a part of Toronto - I haven't owned a car since 2003.

But I'm thinking that you'd also have to have enough transit infrastructure to deal with intensification. Thinking of Toronto again: our existing north-south subway line was already full to capacity before the pandemic hit, so it might not be possible to add more people to it. (Of course, travel patterns may change post-pandemic even when/if we return to some semblance of normal.)
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 10:37 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, in many north side Chicago neighborhoods, the last 20 years have been a parade of multi-unit dwellings torn down and replaced with single-family homes. The density of my previous block declined by a measurable percentage during just the 6 years I lived there! We could probably add density in these neighborhoods without overwhelming our systems, especially since the new single-family construction typically has off-street parking.

Of course every time someone tries, the neighbors (who really need to just effing admit they want to live in the suburbs, ahem) complain about THE DENSITY because they feel entitled to half-empty trains and a half-acre lot between them and their neighbors.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:41 AM on June 15 [21 favorites]


How can we be sure this "trend" towards deregulation isn't just capital eyeing an untapped resource of spare rooms with the aim of disrupting housing by doing an end run around regulations governing long-term leases? This bit has my alarm bells ringing:
But because most new co-living options are located in trendy neighborhoods of expensive cities, they have primarily won over an affluent, younger customer base that is additionally enticed by flexible pay-by-the-month leases and chicly furnished spaces.
Is anyone following up to make sure people staying in boarding houses have the necessary protections against abusive landlords, or are we just creating the housing equivalent of a gig worker?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:43 AM on June 15 [39 favorites]


Whatever happened to ye olde-timey airbnb?
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:01 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]


The density of my previous block declined by a measurable percentage during just the 6 years I lived there!

The biggest house near me was built the same year mine was, so when I looked up the original building records at City Hall I got to see theirs too (microfiche ordered by date). It was a boardinghouse and upper-status. Every bedroom had a gas outlet and a sink, and there were several waterclosets and a tub in its own room, and the huge basement was fitted for laundry including drying (this is big in a Seattle winter) as well as cooking. It must have employed several support workers/servants.

One of the things that drove common life up to WWII is that reproductive labor was much harder - laundry, cooking, cleaning were physically hard and the energy they took was expensive. Poor sorts couldn't afford the equipment. Middling sorts sometimes roomed so they could approximate the lives of richer people who had their own servants. (This was one of the big criticisms of US rooming culture, that families lived in expensive boardinghouses and didn't save any money (in property) and then suffered badly in economic shocks. AFAICT this was absolutely true and also invited unfair pseudo-moralizing. Plus ca change.)

Since then my sweetie has met someone who grew up there in the 1960s because their parents ran the boardinghouse. It wasn't as swank, but she thought it was perfectly fine and was sort of sad that the history had been wiped out in renovations.
posted by clew at 11:08 AM on June 15 [13 favorites]


It's amazing to see the rationalizations capitalism will come up with to explain why actually, it's totally fine that no young person will ever to be able to afford a house, and no actually, it's gonna be better to be on a month-to-month lease for the rest of your life!

Granted, the suburban sprawl it created was definitely not great in a lot of ways - but the middle class mostly owning their own homes was still one of the high-watermark achievements of the prosperity of the post-WW2 period and evidence of the robustness of our middle class at that time. From 1890 (when we first started tracking this stuff in the census) to 1940, home ownership rates fluctuated in the 43-48% percent range; post WW2 they rapidly rose to >60%, and have stayed in the 60-70% range ever since. (cite) Rolling things back to the days of boarding houses is a symptom that goes hand-in-hand with the return of an ultrawealthy robber-baron aristocracy, another common feature of ye olden days of boarding houses.

The U.S. is facing a steep rise in housing costs and record low housing inventory. U.S. housing gained $2.5 trillion in value in 2020 — the highest shift since 2005 — and the median home price was up 19 percent in April 2021 compared to a year earlier. At the same time, multigenerational living is growing in popularity, with some 20 percent of Americans — 64 million people — living multi-generationally

See, there's the spin. Looking at all those statistics and framing multi-generational homes (e.g., "kids stuck living with their parents, aunts & uncles, or grandparents") as something that is "growing in popularity" rather than something that is "growing in necessity" is giving your rose-tinted glasses a serious workout. But that's the kind of framing you need to do in order to categorize this under "Reasons to be Cheerful".

Dickens wrote some great books, but you shouldn't want to live in one.
posted by mstokes650 at 11:25 AM on June 15 [53 favorites]


Weird thing is that in the Bay Area, as Airbnb & VRBO decimate hotels/motels, some of the "fully depreciated" ones are getting bought up by non-profits to make into low income housing because the renovation of existing units here is a bit cheaper than building from scratch. Sad they can't make some into more of a communal living / boarding house kind of thing.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:25 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Granted, the suburban sprawl it created was definitely not great in a lot of ways - but the middle class mostly owning their own homes was still one of the high-watermark achievements of the prosperity of the post-WW2 period and evidence of the robustness of our middle class at that time. From 1890 (when we first started tracking this stuff in the census) to 1940, home ownership rates fluctuated in the 43-48% percent range; post WW2 they rapidly rose to >60%, and have stayed in the 60-70% range ever since.

In what ways was that good? It seems like you are conflating middle class prosperity of the period post-WWII with home ownership, which is still at 65% range. That period has lots of ups and downs and other countries that sprawled less have higher ownership rates. Home ownership doesn't seem to be strongly correlated with general economic prosperity.

Your framing is also wrong. It can be true that we need to build more purchasable housing, more boarding houses, SROs, more dorms, and more apartments, not use any of them as substitutes.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:35 AM on June 15 [6 favorites]


Heck, it can also be true that more people want to live with their relatives, but the houses built weren't able to accommodate that type of living arrangement, as they might have been too small or generally not built for such arrangements.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:38 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Or open plan, which I suppose is okay for extroverts on the same schedules, but difficult for any other group.
posted by clew at 11:39 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Dropping minimum housing standards and calling it a good thing because capitalism is refusing to accommodate even those minimums is not the way. SROs weren't notorious hellholes for no reason.

the middle class mostly owning their own homes was still one of the high-watermark achievements of the prosperity of the post-WW2 period and evidence of the robustness of our middle class at that time

This is somewhat tangential, but a number of the social democracies have relatively low home ownership rates (of course, along with stronger protections for renters than we have almost anywhere in the U.S.). There's absolutely no reason, especially these days, that wealth has to be "stored" in housing. Below a certain income level, I think most people would be better off financially living in well-regulated rental housing and saving in low-cost index funds than entering into a sophisticated transaction for a fairly illiquid investment with significant transaction costs as a form of lottery ticket for retirement. The funds I'd use for a down payment and closing costs have always sat in the same funds as the rest of my retirement savings and the return has been pretty good, especially allowing for liquidity.
posted by praemunire at 11:42 AM on June 15 [26 favorites]


I've misplaced some international research finding, weakly, that many of the benefits the US associates with home ownership actually come from expected long tenancies, which can be completely unrelated to ownership (social democracies can protect renters in private or public housing; and on the flipside owners who expect to sell and move don't invest in local community either).
posted by clew at 11:50 AM on June 15 [10 favorites]


I have a reason to be cautiously optimistic that the Democratic party finally gets it re: infrastructure. We can only get so far by optimizing zoning and tweaking standards. The overall problem can't be solved unless we start building more mass transit, more schools/colleges, more hospitals, more cultural institutions, and better internet acess outside of existing cities where these things already exist.

We already know why people want to live in NYC, Chicago, and Boston, so let's bring those amenities to Buffalo, Aurora, and Worcester.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:55 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


When I was transitioning to my current neighborhood after being hired on in my new job, I definitely would have jumped at the chance to rent at a professionally run boarding house for a few months until I got my bearings.

As it was, I tried renting a room in a house which turned out to be a nightmare on the first day and so I left after 24 hours there (told the, they could keep the deposit). And then I rented at an apartment complex that was overrun with crime and drugs.

Once I knew where I wanted to live, I bought a condo. But having a professionally run place that I could rent month-to-month with meals served would have been great during the transition.

(I also can’t help but remember with a smile how Barney Fife rented a room at a boarding house and got kicked out temporarily for, among other things, using a forbidden hot plate to cook chili in his room.)
posted by darkstar at 11:58 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]




The_Vegetables: In what ways was that good?

praemunire: This is somewhat tangential, but a number of the social democracies have relatively low home ownership rates (of course, along with stronger protections for renters than we have almost anywhere in the U.S.). There's absolutely no reason, especially these days, that wealth has to be "stored" in housing.

It was good because although praemunire is correct that wealth doesn't need to be "stored" in housing, in point of fact in the United States, it overwhelmingly is. Given that the US has a pathetic excuse for a social safety net, owning a home functions as the de facto safety net for most of our middle class, a point I've raised on here before.

Your framing is also wrong. It can be true that we need to build more purchasable housing, more boarding houses, SROs, more dorms, and more apartments, not use any of them as substitutes.

I'm certainly not suggesting we need to stick exclusively to building 3-bedroom homes in the suburbs, and I hope I didn't give that impression. I'm actually a big fan of "yuppie fish tanks" as Noah Smith calls them; but I think we need to make sure we're continuing to value, and push for, actual property ownership, because that's all that we have in the way of a social safety net and I don't foresee that changing any time soon. As RonButNotStupid pointed out, without follow up, we're just finding a new way (well okay, technically it's a very old way) to strip more protections from workers. Besides, in an economy with only "landlords" and "renters", there is quite literally no middle class.

Heck, it can also be true that more people want to live with their relatives, but the houses built weren't able to accommodate that type of living arrangement, as they might have been too small or generally not built for such arrangements.

The early 2000s boom in McMansions suggests lack of space was not the issue.
posted by mstokes650 at 12:18 PM on June 15


Conversations like this always turn into an argument that seems to assume the choices are:

• X Housing System (whether it's suburban detached homes, high-density urban high-rises, short-term dorms for grownups, microstudios, whatever) becomes literally the only dwelling permitted or available.
• X Housing System does not exist at all

Is it so difficult to imagine that a smattering of boarding house-type situations could solve a thorny housing problem for a small group of people, and that that could be enough? If our economy is indeed going to become less location-dependent in the post-pandemic world, we are actually going to need flexible housing solutions just like this. Yes, even if we manage to make home ownership more attainable. Some people are always going to need a place to stay for a short time.

Something does not have to save the world entire to be a decent idea, and something can be an imperfect solution to the vast array of housing problems the world has without being Mandatory Dickensian Workhouses for All.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:21 PM on June 15 [30 favorites]


It was good because although praemunire is correct that wealth doesn't need to be "stored" in housing, in point of fact in the United States, it overwhelmingly is.

That's the result of a policy choice put into place in the period you're extolling, not the laws of nature. Other countries went in different directions. It was a bad choice for any number of reasons, and we should be planning to undo it if we want a functional society at any point.

Is it so difficult to imagine that a smattering of boarding house-type situations could solve a thorny housing problem for a small group of people, and that that could be enough?

Hi, have you met capitalism? Any relaxation of regulation leads to a crush to the bottom.
posted by praemunire at 12:40 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Between those two points of view, we could look for the problems that were known in times/places with more shared housing and see how they can be managed. It seems to me that social, interpersonal constraints are needed as well as legal rules even when you can trust legal enforcement. It's a shared-resource problem! Ostrom explains why they're solvable but she makes clear the solutions are not easy! It was hard in a hippie-ish Scando-Japanese town in the 1990s, and it will be harder now -- I can't imagine how a boardinghouse could have managed lockdown behavior or deal with an antivaxxer etc etc.
posted by clew at 12:49 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


On subject, actually, but any excuse to post Loudon Wainwright covering Charlie Poole is a good'n.

And I'm never fully rested 'cause the room I rent's infested
And the critters all have nested in my clothes
And the fleas they hold me down while the chinches creep around
And the bedbugs play pinochle on my nose

posted by halliburtron at 12:55 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Hi, have you met capitalism? Any relaxation of regulation leads to a crush to the bottom.

[looks around tiny overpriced apartment with its multiple fire code violations; sees cockroach on top of the fridge; watches lights flicker again because someone somewhere turned on their TV]

I think we are...already there?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:59 PM on June 15 [16 favorites]


In the 19th century, or earlier, almost no one ever lived alone. The household labour would be too much for someone to be cooking and cleaning just for themselves, as well as working outside the house. So, if you were a single person who couldn't afford servants, a boarding house would make a great deal of sense. For single women, it gave respectability as well as room and board; for single men, many of whom would not have known how to cook, it meant they could have decent food.

I have loved living in similar situations, though I have to say that this was made more possible by the fact that I had access to a massive dining hall with so many options - and I am not a picky eater and have no serious allergies. There is a reason that boarding house food was notoriously either great or awful - you didn't have a choice.
posted by jb at 12:59 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


There are probably social reasons other than economic reasons that structure housing. In San Francisco, there are a large number of apartment buildings that feature apartments that have two largish rooms, each featuring a large closet that hides a Murphy bed. There is also a small bathroom and a kitchen. My building has six of these. Next door is a much bigger one with over twenty apartments like this. A friend lives in one downtown in an even larger building with over forty such apartments. All these buildings appear to have been built in the mid ‘20’s. I am assuming that the economy was booming and that there was a large need for housing for probably single people who were getting jobs downtown. The neighborhoods were all served by streetcars. These apartments were really two studio apartments with shared bath and kitchen. Not a boarding house, but more a roommate like situation given the shared spaces. So back then, given a need for housing this was an interesting solution. Now they are just apartments. For one or a few. A multigenerational family lives downstairs. Three apartments are singles. One a couple. One with roommates. This news about boarding houses just suggests that housing back then was a little more creative and flexible than it is now.
posted by njohnson23 at 1:00 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Other countries went in different directions. It was a bad choice for any number of reasons, and we should be planning to undo it if we want a functional society at any point.

Sounds good to me! But hey, can we start by building a functioning social safety net that isn't tied to home equity first, and then work on separating wealth from home ownership afterwards, rather than just leaving a steadily increasing number of people precariously unprotected on the assumption that we'll be able to put in place those protections other countries have, someday in the future? Cuz I have, as you nicely put it, met capitalism, and I've got a bad feeling about the current trajectory.

Something does not have to save the world entire to be a decent idea, and something can be an imperfect solution to the vast array of housing problems the world has without being Mandatory Dickensian Workhouses for All.

Honestly, while I'm not a big fan of boarding houses, what I'm the most riled up about is the framing of this as some kind of clever and positive development. Much like the author of the absolutely fantastic article biogeo posted, I'm sick of being told that various forms of "Capitalists are trying to make society more closely resemble the 1800s" are A Good Thing, Actually, If You Really Think About It. If Seattle allowing boarding houses helps some people keep a roof over their heads (and maybe be fed regular meals, that boarding/rooming distinction being what it is) that would otherwise be in much worse situations, that's great, if that's as far as that goes. But don't piss on me and tell me it's raining.
posted by mstokes650 at 1:02 PM on June 15 [14 favorites]


The fact that this is a well known trope does not attract me to the close-quarters lifestyle.

I worked in a small bookstore where co-workers were constantly reaching across or over one another to get things done - my boss, whose grandfather had grown up in a boarding house, introduced a dusty phrase of his, "Excuse my boarding house lean", to inject a little levity into an irritating situation.

It caught on - 25ish years later, some of us are still saying it.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:28 PM on June 15 [8 favorites]


the article brought to mind PodShare, which is a coliving space run by someone who has a pretty low opinion of occupancy laws. I'm not endorsing it, mind; I just find it interesting.

LA coliving: PodShare's permeable intersection between social/privacy via Kirsten Dirksen's youtube channel (lots of interesting people doing interesting things with their living spaces here)
posted by gorestainedrunes at 1:31 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


njohnson23, do you suppose those were service flats? They were sort of midway between apartments and hotels. Friend of mine lived in one in which all the little apartments had a stack of cabinets next to the apartment door with separately locked doors into the hall and the flat -- your laundry and groceries and ice and shoes to shine went in and out in particular cabinets and the service in question only had the key to one side of one cabinet.
posted by clew at 1:33 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


That's fascinating, gorestainedrunes, and I am having giant horrible memories of the biggest share-houses as predator-rich environments. Missing walls, missing stairs.
posted by clew at 1:38 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


This is what happens when the maximum occupancy laws don't exist or are ignored:

https://projects.laist.com/2020/sgv-boarding-houses/

https://projects.laist.com/2020/sgv-boarding-houses/takeaways/

There's good reasons to mandate maximum occupancy. This seems like an attempt to use nostalgia to ruthlessly strip away safe housing expectations.
posted by Ahniya at 1:47 PM on June 15 [8 favorites]


As far as I can tell, the laws being addressed in the OP are about removing arbitrary maximum occupancy limits, not about removing all occupancy limits including fire codes so that everyone can do a little human trafficking at home. It's about removing some weird old laws that were meant to criminalize many kinds of co-habitation (as well as a means of criminalizing brothels and anything you wanted to accuse of being a brothel) in order to "clean up" a neighborhood or whatever and make it more or less illegal for people to be poor, have roommates, and/or be queer.

Many of the criticisms I see here aimed at "boarding houses" - in the sense of more modest but still regulated room-and-maybe-board arrangements, not making people live in cubicles or whatever grim thing people want to do to punish very poor people for being poor - could be equally levied at "apartment complexes", except boarding houses would most likely contain poorer people than apartment complexes, and it sounds like the same nimby arguments you can hear at every town meeting in the US right now. We need a variety of safe, decently-regulated housing options and we do not need to prioritize single-family zoning, even though it's going to make the housing prices a tiny bit sad probably if they have to live among those terrible ol' renters.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:11 PM on June 15 [16 favorites]


You have a door with a lock in an apartment, and some legal control over whether other people can be moved in. That's a really important difference between shared/boarding/rooming/PodShare housing and apartments, however small.
posted by clew at 2:20 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


It seems like SROs and their ilk got regulated out of existence from both ends -- from the perspective of fire codes and not having slum lords slum lording it up AND from the perspective of red-lining, not-our-kind, municipally supported HOA-level bullshit. And now people are trying to bring them back both from the perspective of capitalist, anti-regulation, disruptive tech boi bullshit AND from socialist community minded, affordable housing is a right, social justice perspective. It's kind of amazing in that it's an idea that everyone hates and everyone loves all at the same time. I'm enough of a naif that I think it must be possible to bring back these housing models in a community-minded manner without also succumbing to the anti-regulatory crowd, but that might first require burning down capitalism.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:22 PM on June 15 [7 favorites]


Hi, have you met capitalism? Any relaxation of regulation leads to a crush to the bottom

Well many regulations in the housing sphere are just straight up racism and ways to keep those people out so there is usually lots of room to deregulate without crushing the bottom. Eg: in the last couple of decades my city has repealed prohibitions against having residential space over commercial (and actually went the other way requiring it in some areas killing future strip mall development there) and prohibited covenants or other restrictions on line drying outdoors. And most recently liberated zoning to allow carriage houses or cottage homes to be built on most single family lots. All of these things better than before even if they end up making more money for capital.
posted by Mitheral at 2:25 PM on June 15 [15 favorites]


Both of the rooming houses and the boarding house I lived in at one time had private space locks.
posted by Mitheral at 2:27 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


You have a door with a lock in an apartment

That can also be true in boarding houses, though, as well as a "room for rent"/lodger situation? Yes, the owner will have a key, but that's just the same as in a dorm, hotel, ADU/garage apartment, airbnb, apartment complexes, and rental homes.

There were a number of boarding houses still left in my little college town in the 80s, including one run by the parents of some friends (who lived in their own unit while the parents had a master suite elsewhere in the house, it was tres cool to young me), and everyone had keyed doorknobs and deadbolts and that was pretty expected from what I could tell. These were almost always in big old rambly once-grand Victorian-type homes, so really what made them a "boarding house" versus apartments was kitchenless rooms inside a single home space with shared kitchen and baths (though a couple of rooms had en suites), not a lack of lock on the door.

I don't doubt somebody somewhere didn't offer that amenity in their boarding house, and the one time I have shorter-term "rented a room" from someone in a house I also didn't have a locking door, but I'm pretty sure that's an extremely solvable problem and easy enough to regulate.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:37 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I'm thinking that the problem with boarding houses nowadays is the same as with any other kind of urban intensification: it's not really possible unless you remove the expectation that you're going to get to drive everywhere. I don't think it's practical to set up a boarding house for six people if you're then going to have to find parking space for six cars.

I actually lived in something a bit like a boarding house - a large house that had been converted into six or seven micro apartments. There were a couple that were somewhat larger than mine, but I had a bedroom about the size of three twin beds, a medium-sized bathroom with a tub and a very small kitchen with tiny stove, 2/3 size refrigerator and small small sink. I had a small dresser in the kitchen because it would not fit in the main room unless I got rid of the bookcase. (Size-wise, I have a spacious but not Versailles-like bedroom in my current house and it's probably about 25% bigger than the micro-apartment.)

It was very nice and IMO illustrates that two tiny rooms can actually be more comfortable-feeling than a single room studio of the same size. Also illustrates the fact that putting a little more of the space into making an average-sized bathroom is worth it - that was a tiny, tiny place and of course I could not entertain, but it was in good shape and comfortable.

But the real point was that there was a tiny parking lot out back - there wasn't much back yard, just a comfortably sized deck and a small dumpster. Parking was manageable and in fact the whole neighborhood was very densely settled.

I don't know how it is in New York or San Francisco, but large houses in many other cities have enough back yard for a gravel lot and some room left over. (My current house could hold a small graveled six car lot with maybe 1/3 of the yard left). You might think "how horrible", but actually if there are a lot of trees around the edge of the yard it's not bad at all. Not scenic and you don't have a backyard, but not hideous.

To my mind, the key aspect was that this was a conversion, not purpose-built. It was a solid old house with a good frame and decent walls, so it was fairly quiet and held heat and cold well. The guy who ran the place had fixed it up himself with secondhand sinks and cabinets so they were actually better than modern builder-grade.

And it was amazingly cheap. I paid $300 a month in 2000 plus something for utilities and an additional fee because I had a window air conditioner (which, as you can imagine, was big enough to keep the whole place magnificently cool).

~~
Also, boarding houses have locks! I have visited one of the last of the old-fashioned one-room-per-person-plus-shared-bathrooms rooming houses in my part of the city - torn down now - and everyone had a standard apartment-style lock. It was basically a micro-apartment, except in what was either a large converted house or a purpose-built boarding house, I was not sure. It wasn't as well-run as the place I lived, but it wasn't a nightmare either.
posted by Frowner at 2:39 PM on June 15 [6 favorites]


I also did sign a legal agreement, when renting that room short-term, that protected the owner from me refusing to leave or moving additional people in. In fact the wording was pretty strict about overnight guests, to which the owner helpfully penned and initialed a comment that my husband was welcome to stay when he was in town.

I definitely didn't get any say about who else lived in the house, but that has also been true at every shitty apartment complex - and indeed every single-family neighborhood - I've lived in. They make crappy people of all kinds, it's hard to avoid them entirely.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:42 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


You have a door with a lock in an apartment, and some legal control over whether other people can be moved in. That's a really important difference between shared/boarding/rooming/PodShare housing and apartments, however small.


There's no reason that shared housing arrangements can't have locked doors and secured private spaces along with shared public spaces. I mean...that's what a hotel is. And other folks have pointed out amply that many housing share arrangements already provide this, as do existing boarding houses (and even the Dickensian nightmares of yore generally had locking doors on the bedrooms).

I'm torn between arguing that we regulate apartment rentals, and there's no reason we couldn't regulate this, and arguing that renter protections aren't actually very good for traditional private apartments (even in areas with strong tenant rights, actual recourse is often purely nominal, very delayed, or deliberately obscured, and completely useless in an emergency) so it's not exactly a housing paradise.

But at any rate, housing rentals have leases. Boarding house rentals could have leases. Leases can guarantee rights on both sides. There's nothing about being an apartment landlord specifically that prevents one from being an exploitative asshole, which would automatically evaporate in a boarding house situation.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:47 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Okay, boarding houses etc. *can* have locks, although I can also tell you that they don't always and that the creepy tenant with a mysterious in with the landlord has a copy of the master key. Anecdotal? Lived experience? Both! Has not happened to me in an apartment, though of course it could.

This is much less unnerving with four-to-six housemates than with twenty-to-thirty, which is one of the reasons I think Apodments the size of townhouses are a good idea and Apodments the size of apartment buildings eventually won't be. Also less unnerving if you have a toilet in your actually private space.
posted by clew at 2:51 PM on June 15 [6 favorites]


Some of these arguments for-and-against sound a lot like the ones I’ve heard about the Tiny House movement.

Pro: Cities need to amend codes so that smaller dwellings can be built and owned. This will permit home ownership for people who don’t want to (or are unable to) get locked into a $250,000+ mortgage just to be able to have a place to call their own, etc.

Con: This will just lead to further deterioration of housing equality, as capitalism will tend to push these Tiny Houses as acceptable substitutes for larger, more traditional home ownership, etc.

Both address valid points.
posted by darkstar at 2:55 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


As noted above, there are numerous issues affecting what is coming to be understood in most metro areas as a true housing availability crisis in the U.S. That said, restrictive zoning is generally seen to be one of the largest obstacles that needs to be overcome in order to create more density, as well more kinds of housing options (Like ADU's, one of the hottest ideas in this area right now).

There is no single solution, and while many cities are currently working to change local zoning laws, it can be a very expensive (not to mention confusing) task for city politicians to navigate. Add on the fact that communicating the reasons for changing any zoning regulation to the public can be difficult and often misunderstood, often hitting a knee-jerk 'Not In My Backyard' response.

For those interested in different kinds of housing often zoned out of existence, there is the whole idea of the 'Missing Middle' which came out of Daniel Parolek's Opticos Design studio. And if you are curious about people experimenting with new ways to provide housing, there is a very inventive, if controversial, approach to using all those 'spare bedrooms' Ms. Lind mentions, in Atticus Blanc's PadSplit platform, which specifically is geared toward generating housing similar to SROs for lower income or struggling individuals.

The U.S. housing gap is huge and not many people are aware how significant it is ... but, not surprisingly, it's far worse for lower income individuals and families. There is a ton of articles and papers and Op-Eds out there, but Curbed put out a simple primer about the lack of affordable (which, incidentally, is NOT low-income) housing in 2019.
posted by buffalo at 2:58 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


A quick sidenote about the growth of multi-generational housing. While it is, in general, a great idea, many might assume it is mostly prevalent among a number of ethnic and cultural communities as well as many new immigrant households. And yet, much of the recent growth (at least in the couple of papers I have read) appears to be younger people (Gen Y, Gen Z) moving back home to live with their parents. Technically multi-generational, yes. But maybe not what one first imagines ... especially when housing the senior population is one the biggest housing problems after housing lower-income individuals. And yes, there is a big crossover there, too.
posted by buffalo at 3:15 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Another alternative is to live in a hotel, which rich people did in New York, and people still do today. it has some advantages over rooming houses. https://www.anyplace.com/blog/can-living-in-a-hotel-be-cheaper-than-an-apartment-pros-cons-more/
posted by binturong at 5:08 PM on June 15 [7 favorites]


How can we be sure this "trend" towards deregulation isn't just capital eyeing an untapped resource of spare rooms with the aim of disrupting housing by doing an end run around regulations governing long-term leases?

Because that was airbnb.
posted by bashing rocks together at 5:22 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


"Excuse my boarding house lean."

Interesting. A regionalism? I've always heard it as boarding house reach.
posted by BWA at 5:44 PM on June 15 [7 favorites]


"I don't think it's practical to set up a boarding house for six people if you're then going to have to find parking space for six cars."

I don't think living on this planet is going to be practical if we assume everybody needs their own car and drives it every day.
posted by bfields at 6:17 PM on June 15 [14 favorites]


much of the recent growth (at least in the couple of papers I have read) appears to be younger people (Gen Y, Gen Z) moving back home to live with their parents.

This "recent" trend has been a thing since at least 2008, when there were a spate of handwringing articles about how Millennials were boomeranging home after college. At least this time they're blaming it on the actual housing crisis and not, as before, those lazy 20 somethings getting mom to do their laundry.
posted by basalganglia at 6:41 PM on June 15 [8 favorites]


Boarding in the past tended to come with huge regulations on times you had to be in by, visitors, and all sorts of other things.

When I was a student boarding houses were still a thing in Ireland and you could rent in one. They were all horrors as far as I heard, as they tended to attract mad Catholic landladies.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:16 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


or single women, it gave respectability as well as room and board

My great-great grandmother ran a boarding house after her husband died, so it was also a way to make money to keep a family afloat if you were suddenly down an income.

Adult Family Homes

We went this route for my great grandmother (on the other side) when she wasn't able to live alone anymore. It was in the neighborhood next to ours and her daughters (my grandmother) in a single family home. I was very young, so I don't remember the details, but the woman who ran it seemed very nice.
posted by ghost phoneme at 7:19 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Wait, so co-op shared housing was illegal in WA til just recently? Having more than 4 unrelated adults in a house was illegal? Jesus, most happy healthy communal places I lived as 20-something would be against the rules in WA, then. Blows my mind.
posted by cnidaria at 7:26 PM on June 15 [7 favorites]


My 1870 town house has the ghost outlines of locks on the bedroom doors and jams so I assume that they were rented out at some point during the house's 151 years. We know the history of the house and the same family owned it from 1905 until we bought it in 2007 and as far as we know, they always lived in the house but they probably made some extra cash renting out a couple of rooms to friends or family at times.

This neighborhood is all big mansions that mostly became boarding houses in the 20th Century as the rich folks moved out the the suburbs. By the 70s, most of the were abandoned or semi-abandoned and were bought by young boomers and converted by into single family houses. In 1950, the neighborhood had 3300 people and now it's got less than 500 without losing any housing stock.
posted by octothorpe at 7:27 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Wait, so co-op shared housing was illegal in WA til just recently? Having more than 4 unrelated adults in a house was illegal?

Having more than 3 unrelated adults in a unit is still illegal in Pittsburgh although not very well enforced.
posted by octothorpe at 7:28 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


cnidaria, it was apparently illegal or at least constrained after the 1960s but I sure lived in a bunch of share houses bigger than three people in Seattle, as did all my friends. Those houses weren’t shut down by the law, they were repurposed by the economy.
posted by clew at 7:41 PM on June 15


On the regulation issue, I can't speak to Washington state specifically, but most places I've been there are both too many bad regulations and not enough tenant protection regulations - more the wrong regulations rather than the wrong number of regulations.
posted by eviemath at 10:01 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


When I was a student in Pittsburgh, a nebby neighbor crashed our summer housing plans because she spotted floor of us moving in. We had to buy out a planned roommate and he found another place.
Mostly, our expectations of housing in the US are warped by the mid to late 20th century’s cheap fuel, available land and subsidized growth. People who own have far more square footage on a per person basis. Even early suburbs might have had a family of four or five in 1200 SF. We are going to need a gradual reset to a bit less hoarding and a bit more sharing, across all contexts
posted by meinvt at 4:49 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Interesting. A regionalism? I've always heard it as boarding house reach.

Entirely possible - I think his family was from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but I'm not sure about that.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:46 AM on June 16


I lived in one of these in Summit, NJ, of all places, in the 2010s. Old Victorian house right by downtown. The back of the first floor was a separate one-bedroom; most of the house was a rooming house with a single shared bathroom and kitchenette. It was fine.
posted by Ptrin at 6:04 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Mr. gudrun's parents had a kind of large house in New Haven, CT. When money got tight, they usually would have boarders. They had an upper floor with a room and bathroom, so sort of a separate living arrangement (yes, it locked), and they rented to Yale grad students who were going to places like the law school, i.e. hard programs where they spent a lot of time in the library or studying. Some of them were from outside the U.S., and often had very little money, and Mr. gudrun's Mom took a number of them under her wing to help navigate the foreign culture of the U.S (some stayed in touch right up until her death). Later when his parents separated, his mother rented some larger apartments around New Haven and then had roommates who were from the same pool of people. It seems like this happens in towns with large universities and I think there is a place for this type of housing/arrangement.

My friend rents a tiny basement apartment in a house in a university town. Another friend in D.C., who is a widow, converted the basement of her house into an English basement type apartment and rents it out. It has a separate entrance. She shares the wifi with the renter, and got an extender to make sure the wifi is good.

Group houses have famously been a thing in D.C.. (Of course Covid complicated that.) My friend was living in a large walk in closet in a group house for a number of years. She was not officially on the lease, so every time the landlord wanted to stop by, she had to tear up her "room" to make it look like her stuff was just being stored in the closet.
posted by gudrun at 6:37 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I forgot to add that I owe my existence to a boarding house. My great-great grandparents, Col John A Bradshaw and Mary Bradshaw, moved to New York after the Civil War and opened a boarding house on Central Park West, near what's now The Great Lawn. My great grandfather, Charles Henry Thurston, moved to the city from Connecticut in the 1880s to seek his fortune and rented a room there where he met the owner's daughter, Bessie, who after an almost 20 year courtship(!), he married and they subsequently had my grandfather and saddled him with the name Bradshaw Thurston.

I also owe my existence to the New York City Public School System because if they hadn't changed the rules about letting married women continue their teaching careers, my great-grandmother would have never agreed marry because she wasn't going to give up her career. This is why she didn't give birth to my grandfather, her first child, until she was 43!
posted by octothorpe at 6:43 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]


the creepy tenant with a mysterious in with the landlord has a copy of the master key. Anecdotal? Lived experience? Both! Has not happened to me in an apartment, though of course it could.

There was literally a post on my neighborhood Nextdoor last week from a young woman who had just rented an apartment and found out that the landlord's son, who lived below her and was prone to violent screaming racist rages and smashing his furniture about, had keys to every single unit in the building. She found this out when she came home to find him showering in her shower.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:11 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Just...everything you're worried about happening in these boarding house situations is almost certainly already happening, but people are paying 3x the price for the "privilege."
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:12 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]


All the bad stuff is happening in the article Ahniya linked, frex.

I realized one of the things bugging me (beyond particular personal experiences): with wood and especially coal heat, boardinghouse rooms weren't really private because you needed daily maid service to keep everything from getting dirty (literally, smutty). For analysis of labor, see Ruth Goodman's The Domestic Revolution, C. S. Peel's The Labour-saving House, or H. G. Wells' Kipps. It turns up as a plot point in... an early Kipling? Doyle? The maid knew more than anyone else but no-one had asked her. Also in Zola and the less flashy Trollopes. And that's the huge period of boardinghouse dominance, so I keep thinking of it, but we're cooking with gas! We can lock our doors and do things the landlady disapproves of, like Katherine Whitehorn Cooking in a Bedsitter (more accurate historical term for what's being proposed).

However! We probably have the wrong laws for this even where they are enforceable, as afaict the horrible landlord's son event We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese mentions is illegal as not giving proper notice. The US recognizes the apartment boundary -- it's its own address. I can't see that the US recognizes the room as a boundary; you either live at the address and have rights there or you don't. So the US would need some different laws. I was expecting to find some surviving bylaws in Boston, but all I got was Queensland AU (roomers' rooms are definitely private). Vancouver BC has a lot of excellent publications on the value of SRO/SRA and the need to replace them with microhousing, not more expensive housing, but I can't find anything on the rules between landlord and roomer. ??
posted by clew at 12:18 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


I mean, these are basically small-scale dorms, right? I'm a little surprised that no one has (as far as I know) tried dorm living for adults as a business model, though that may be due to housing regs.
posted by DebetEsse at 8:09 PM on June 16


They have... But apparently some of them couldn't survive the pandemic.
posted by flamk at 10:05 PM on June 16


There is a new dorm-like building just finished here:
Helm on the Allegheny also brings something new to the residential market: co-living with 32 apartments, arranged in two 16-unit “neighborhoods.”

“It’s essentially an interconnected social living space,” says Guy. “Each of those 16 living units is fully self-contained. It has a private sleeping area, private bedroom and kitchen with a secure access door. So the tenants have their privacy. You’re not sharing bathrooms with anyone or anything — it’s your space.”

“Those smaller units circle a two-story common core. That includes things like a private rooftop terrace, a chef’s kitchen with appliances that are significantly higher-end than you’d see in a typical apartment unit, a multipurpose dining room that can be reconfigured for workshops or potlucks or whatever … There’s a media lounge, a bar/game room with a wet bar, and a conference room as well.”

Co-living is offered at a lower price point, ranging from $995-1,280 per unit. The 154 market-rate units have yet to be determined, but Guy sees a range between $1,300-1,700. The 33 other conventional units will be designated as affordable, though a price hasn’t been decided.
I don't think I would consider $1,280 affordable but YMMV.
posted by octothorpe at 6:43 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]


I don’t see that that’s particularly a dorm, either - nice apartment buildings have had shared amenities since… the late 1890s, at least. Certainly the 1990s.

Maybe 'dorm' here is marketing code for 'all young people cool sexy'?
posted by clew at 1:08 PM on June 17


I don't think the apartments have their own kitchens.
posted by octothorpe at 1:22 PM on June 17


The wording is a bit confusing, with the list of private sleeping area and bedroom (maybe that's supposed to be bathroom?) with mention of a secured access kitchen tacked on. So I'm assuming you share the kitchen with your floor?

Which reminds me of the senior dorm at my university: bathroom was semi private (adjoining singles) and I think each floor had a kitchen. I never lived in it, so I don't know how well used or cleaned it was.
posted by ghost phoneme at 2:18 PM on June 17


(inevitable murders notwithstanding)

The fact that this is a well known trope does not attract me to the close-quarters lifestyle.


By that logic, you should also avoid country manors that host parties of quirky guests, cozy little vacation towns where the bookstores have cats, and... well, lots of other places too.

Having lived in a variety of rented rooms AND owned a house for a while: I'm glad to see some of these old options opening up again. Sure, it's nice to own your home and be able to do whatever you like with it... but that has some downsides. In a rental, if the roof starts leaking you can call the landlord (and if they're terrible and don't fix it, you can move). When you own the place, you're ultimately responsible for all repairs and maintenance. If you're traveling, or probably-moving-here-but-not-sure-yet, or just busy and not inclined to spend much time at home, then renting a room can be pretty great. (Bonus: housemates = another potential social circle. Sure, sometimes you get unpleasant ones, but they can be good at least as often as bad. One of my best friends is a former housemate.)

I do hope this zoning deregulation dovetails with some of the new tenant protections that are rolling out on the west coast - between the two, it actually seems like we might get to have affordable housing again some day.
posted by sibilatorix at 2:21 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


"Each of those 16 living units is fully self-contained. It has a private sleeping area, private bedroom and kitchen with a secure access door. So the tenants have their privacy. You’re not sharing bathrooms with anyone or anything"

Private bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom in each living unit -how is that not a studio apartment?
posted by clew at 2:56 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


They keep tearing down houses in my neighbourhood and replacing them with small scale dorms. They are low rise (usually 4story) buildings that fill the entire lot, one unit per floor (including the basement). Each unit has 7 to 9 bedrooms, with a couple shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen and common area.

I am not a fan, as they are really changing things for the worse. Short term tenants, usually students, so you don’t really have neighbours you get to know. Lots more noise, trash, and parties. No parking at the buildings, so the streets are full of cars. We are in a post war neighbourhood with no sidewalks, and the increased car traffic and street congestion makes it more dangerous to walk and bike around.

I much prefer the low rise apartment buildings, duplexes, triplexes, or row houses, which is what people had been building as infill before, but what can you do. We are close to downtown and don’t want to give that up.
posted by fimbulvetr at 4:27 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Your city could push for Shoup-style no free parking, fimbulvetr - all streets metered, but the price is the lowest price at which there is (on average) at least one free spot per block. A big goal of the system is to reduce driving-around-hunting-for-parking. Another should be to pay for transit!

Unlikely to get popular support until traffic is spectacularly bad, but once you’re there… Seattle resets the prices regularly based on use, and they were creeping upward until 2020, and are now 50c an hour downtown.
posted by clew at 5:50 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't care about the cars on the streets as much if we could have sidewalks, but there is no hope of getting old neighbourhoods retrofitted like that, and I'm sure there would be all sorts of people objecting to having part of their front lawn taken away for sidewalks.

Right now our neighbourhood is trying to push for limiting parking to only one side of the street. Of course, that opens up the debate about whose side of the street gets stuck with all the parking. Ya can't win.
posted by fimbulvetr at 6:41 AM on June 18


I’m surprsised by an old neighborhood without sidewalks- round here I think of that as a post WW II design. And I suspect most of those neighborhoods originally had walkable verges, now gravelled and turned into parking.

Duh, you are postwar. Yeah, that’s going to be harder to densify.
posted by clew at 1:53 PM on June 18


My dad used to sing this to me (he also says "boarding house reach" when he reaches too far across the table for food):

In the boarding house where I lived
Everything was growing old
Long gray hair grew on the butter
And the bread had turned to mold
When the dog died we had sausage
When the cat died, catnip tea
When the landlord died I left there
Spare ribs were too much for me


I was pretty young when I first heard this and it took me years to figure out where the sausage and spare ribs came from. Anyway, thanks to this thread now there will be a hint of "eat the rich" when I sing the last 2 lines.
posted by Tehhund at 9:28 AM on June 21 [2 favorites]


It's been floated in Los Angeles that one reason for the explosion of people living on the street is the death of the SRO. When SROs went away, a lot of people cheered because many of them were substandard, and had reputations as dangerous places, especially for women. The stories I heard while volunteering at a food bank near skid row about various SROs back in the 90s were horrifying. And yet, I near hear people talking about the need to bring them back, as at the very least they provided shelter for thousands on a nightly basis, and could be used as places to meet and work with unhoused people looking to get into more permanent situations.
posted by chaz at 12:54 PM on June 21 [1 favorite]


We used to sing that, Tehhund! And one of my grandfathers remembered the sentimental song it was a parody of.

(Dunno why this is still bugging me, but in big boardinghouse times the landlady was often of a lower social class than the boarders and as likely to die poor. Houses weren't speculative investments for most of US and UK history, she might even have been a renter herself; she was converting the houses' use-value and her domestic labor into cash to live on. But lots and lots of boarders were either single men or the equivalent of Ive-Been-Moved yuppies, plausibly expecting to be richer later. Holmes is not poorer than Mrs Hudson.)
posted by clew at 1:27 PM on June 24 [4 favorites]


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