Who would have thought a studio apartment smaller than 350 square feet without bathrooms and parking would cause such a stir? But that's exactly what has happened in housing-hungry San Francisco, where SROs (or single-room occupancies) have appeared on the housing scene.

According to Charles Breidinger, owner of Breidinger and Associates, a San Francisco-based developer producing such units, SROs appeal to entry-level professional workers and students. “They're in demand from people who want their privacy,” he says.

Originally, nonprofit developers built these units in affordable deals. But now Breidinger and other for-profit developers have jumped into the mix, and some don't like the idea. “It is closing a loophole that allows this housing type, which we once assumed would be built for low-income people, to be built for the affluent,” says Tom Ammiano, a supervisor on the San Francisco city council. He has proposed that these micro-apartments remain affordable and only be available for people earning $39,600 a year or less.

But Kate White, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition—a group that says it aims to provide more housing opportunities for all San Franciscans and preserve existing affordable housing resources—says that that the size of these units combined with their lack of bathrooms and parking will keep prices down. (SRO residents typically share common hall bathrooms as in old-style college dorms and fight for limited parking—only about one spot for every 20 units—at their buildings.)

“If they're well-managed and well-designed, why shouldn't the private market build these?” White asks. “You can rent one of these units for a thousand [dollars] a month, which is very reasonable for San Francisco. Because these units are small, the market won't go up that high to preclude moderate- and low-income people from living in them.”

Breidinger is also concerned about Ammiano's proposal. If it passes, for-profit developers (who can't receive building subsidies in San Francisco) would be shut out of the SRO market. “It brings rents down to $633 a month,” Breidinger says. “It's not financially feasible to build at those rents without subsidies.”

COMPACT LIVING: Many of the tiny apartments in the Bay area are located near public transit stops, virtually eliminating the need for a car.