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The Old New Way to Provide Cheap Housing

Homelessness is an American tragedy, but it’s not hopeless. In a recent column, I explored how Houston has become a national model by reducing homelessness by more than 60 percent.

One takeaway is that homelessness, above all, reflects a shortage of cheap housing. So I’m intrigued by an approach to providing such housing that’s gaining ground around the country. It’s an idea so old, it seems new: converting single-family houses to rooming houses.

Rooming houses, boardinghouses or single room occupancy (S.R.O.) hotels used to be ubiquitous. President Thomas Jefferson stayed in a boardinghouse for several months before moving into the White House. At the seedier end, S.R.O.s largely disappeared over the past half-century, partly because of zoning and economic development projects.

Gregory Walker in front of his PadSplit home in Houston. Credit...Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist, who reported from Houston


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