Is it time for Dayton to rethink rooming houses?

Right now, I’d venture that Dayton has an ample supply of affordable homes. Right now, the economy is tanking and people can’t get credit. Out of work, under-employed, trying to get by.

When this country was going through its industrial boom at the turn of the twentieth century, immigrants and rural Americans flocked to the city centers, where there were jobs, and quickly- there was a housing shortage. Rooming houses were often the solution. Sharing a bathroom, kitchen and common area, with a furnished private bedroom was an accepted practice. Young single people, would rent week-to-week or month-to-month to follow jobs, opportunities and their dreams- without having to tie themselves to a lease, the inter-dependency of a “housemate” situation. Moving from city to city wasn’t as difficult.

Come to think of it, I lived that way when I was in the army. My possessions all fit in a footlocker, a duffel bag and one suitcase.

Somehow, our society has twisted to a material world- where ownership of things; houses, cars, furniture, kitchen gadgets, TVs and all the other things that supposedly are required to be “established” and a full-time, card-carrying part of “modern society” have become more important than what’s in our heads and in our hearts.

To become “homeless” is to be a drop-out from civilization- when in fact, civilization may just need some reality-field adjustments. Not all of us need or want a MacMansion in suburbia with 1.7 children and 2 cars in a 2.5-car attached garage. Maybe the person with no mortgage and no moving truck required, is really living the true American dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness- and the rest of us are just tied to paying the man for the privilege of property ownership?

Rooming houses, the regulated and inspected type, aren’t that much different from hotels that rent by the week or month, they just don’t have corporate branding attached. We find no problem with an “extended stay hotel”- but a rooming house is considered one step above a drug den.

Maybe as a strategy to bringing people back to Dayton and spark urban revitalization, we need to look at bringing back the rooming house as an accepted form of residential housing. Tough times, require some new looks at old ideas.

This post is dedicated to F. B. who better make it out of the hospital.

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Donald PhillipsDavid LauritgJeffDrexel Dave Sparks Recent comment authors
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Drexel Dave Sparks

Too many bad experiences with boarding houses full of 30-40 year old men who use the boarding house as a drug and alcohol central, in between fits of public urination. That was THE problem in the fairgrounds district before much of the rehab.

I have friends who lived on Frank Street who were BEDEVILED with addicts from the boarding houses (flop houses really) wandering all around the neighborhood, whipping their dicks out wherever the hell they felt and taking a piss.

No way.

But with housing prices like they are in Dayton, it’s a perfect season for urban pioneer types like you and I. In fact, I am in the process of procuring my next ghetto mansion with giant dog to eat potential intruders while I am away.

And in the process, I’ll be lowering my monthly housing cost 75 percent.

If that’s not a siren sales call for bankrupt suburbanites to enter the ranks of urban pioneers, what is?


Back when I was poor I used to live in rooming house in Lexington, KY. It was actually built as a rooming house. It was run by these two old ladies. They rented out to older good-old-boys and one mentally ill person who would go to the nearby state hospital for his meds (they sort of looked after thim). I was the youngest person there. My room was different as I had a little kitchenette, but I still shared the bathroom with the rest of the house (I think the owners had their own restroom). If you ever saw the movie “Wise Blood” it was sort of like the rooming house in that movie. There is a housing type that is not quite a rooming house but similar in concept: The SRO, or Single Room Occupancy building. These come in various types, and are a lost housing form. The apartments over the Arcade part of the arcade sound like they might have been SROs. My partner lived in one of these in downtown Sacramento, too. He said they had sink in the room, but the floor shared a bathroom. So these come in different styles and levels of in-room amenities. There was a book that came out a few years ago on SROs called “Living Downtown”, by Paul Groth. It had a lot of examples from San Francisco, wThe book made a point that the disappearance of the SRO means there are fewer housing options for poorer single people. Dayton used to have a lot of rooming houses and probably SROs, too. There were enough single intinerant people here to have a “hobo convention” in town during the years around WWI (hobos where customers for SROS and rooming houses). The 1934 housing study has a map of the city showing where these were all at, and IDed a “rooming house district” around downtown. I guess I could scan that map and post it on my blog as a historical curiosity if anyone is interested. There was also the lodging or boarding house, which provided meals as well as rooms. Or… Read more »


Richard Florida of Creative Class fame wrote not too long ago that mortgages are the equivalent of a ball & chain to the creative workers. They are better off renting than buying a home so they have more freedom & flexibility to move from one job to another when opportunity presents itself.

I love to tell stories of growing up in South Park – of families with 14 kids living in 3 bedrooms houses with 1 bathroom. Mom stayed at home, Dad was a firefighter and all 14 kids went to Holy Angels.

For some of the reasons Drexel Dave so vividly described, I think some people may shy away from granting rooming house code variances, but people may start considering downsizing into more manageable sized homes.

Think of the lessons learned when you share a room with a sibling or a bathroom with the rest of the family – setting boundaries, compromise, consideration, time management, respect.

I think the most interesting aspect of this financial meltdown may indeed be getting back to the basics.

David Lauri

16 people and 1 bathroom?! OMG, I am so glad to have 1 person (myself) and two bathrooms, one for me and one for guests. Ah, the joys of being single!

Donald Phillips
Donald Phillips

Richard Florida of Creative Class fame wrote …