A overlooked solution to the affordable housing crisis: hotels | by Matthieu Okazaki
TThe argument for embracing hotel living is straightforward and clear: it offers ultimate domestic flexibility in terms of time, cost, size and sociability.
Legally, the definition of “hotel” is vague and varies by district and state, mainly defined by case law. It is a generic term that goes by many names, such as guesthouse, rooming house, motel, inn, flophouse, or ORS.
But at their most basic level, all hotels have three distinguishing features that differentiate them from other forms of domesticity. First, they offer very flexible rental terms – usually by the day, week or month. Second, they offer amenities, furniture, and utilities: beds, lamps, desks, soaps, shampoo, water, television, and electricity, to name a few. And finally, they provide a range of domestic work services, which may include cooking, cleaning, laundry, or babysitting. At a minimum, almost all hotels offer a room cleaning service, as well as washed sheets and towels.
In these hotels, you can stay overnight or live at home for the rest of your life. You could pay for an empty room or enjoy a fully furnished and maintained life. You might find yourself holed up in solitude or find yourself in a bustling integrated community. In theory, the hotel could be a drop-down menu of domestic accommodation, a mix of private or shared amenities and services. The combinations are endless and can accommodate large families or single tenants, permanent residents or short-term nomads, the extravagant rich or the incredibly poor. Historically, it is this kind of domestic flexibility that has made the hotel such a popular way of life and could make it popular again, if adopted.
Despite the benefits, I often meet resistance from friends and family when suggesting hotels as a way of life that is both viable and desirable. The most common complaints:
“Hotel life is too expensive – it’s for the rich Millennials, the celebrities or the billionaire recluse. “
This is simply not true. Exclusion zoning and the efforts of large hotel companies have indeed made many hotels expensive by limiting hotel development to the most expensive places in the city. Tourist and occupancy taxes also add to the total bill, but despite their seemingly good-natured intentions, these fees often go immediately in your hands of the companies themselves.
It is a matter of policy that could change. Bottom line: hotels don’t have to cost as much as they do. Of course, if you stay at the Fairmont for a year and get room service every day, you will need to pay extra. However, hotel life doesn’t have to be prohibitive; it can often be a more affordable option, and expenses such as water, electricity, cable, gas and garbage are already included in the bill. Plus, let’s not forget how expensive home ownership is in itself – it’s only really accessible because of Generously subsidized lending practices and policies by the government.
“So, are you talking about ORS, like the ones you commonly find in the net?” “
Single room occupancy, or the ORS, is perhaps the most minimal version of the hotel and has its own unique place in SF. With these units, the resident pays for a lightly furnished room and has access to shared sanitation facilities, sometimes with occasional room cleaning. While they typically lack amenities such as kitchens and private bathrooms, this means that ORS historically have been, and still remain, some of the cheapest forms of housing in the city.
San Francisco has a rich history of ORS – like Tenderloin’s Cadillac Hotel, North Beach Sierra House, or the many described in this previous article in Bold italics – and for many on the economic fringes, ORS is often the most accessible form of housing. Also, unlike houses or apartments, hotels and SROs generally do not require a person to have outstanding credit scores, high income, assets or equity, and they do not require any down payment, which can be prohibitive. However, while certainly important and necessary, PBOs occupy only a part of the hotel spectrum.
“What about all my things?” “
For those who are reluctant to give up all of their belongings, I would say a lot of people don’t want, don’t need, can’t afford, or still have to accumulate a lot of belongings. There is also a younger generation turning to Marie Kondo, preferring access and experience to ownership and accumulation. It certainly pays off not spending a ton of money on mattresses, tables, dressers, and chairs and then constantly lugging them around with you every time you are on the move.
But even so, hotels can accommodate a wide range of arrangements. Some are fully furnished, while others are delivered vacant.
“Should I be sharing things with a stranger?” “
Not necessarily. Just like in an apartment or condo, it can depend on what you pay for. Some hotels, like the ORS, have shared bathrooms and kitchens. Mid- and high-end hotels can provide these amenities for each individual unit. But more than half of adults renting in San Francisco already have roommates they are not married or in partnership with – largely because the majority of the city’s housing stock consists of three or more bedrooms – which means that a majority of us are already used to sharing a lot of equipment and services.