Classic SRO Hotels Decked Out with Classy Green Upgrades
Guest blogger: Landon Bone Baker Architects
Residential hotels constructed in Chicago between 1880 and 1930 served as an indispensable component of the city’s housing stock, offering an affordable housing option in prime locations. These single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels served a critical role in housing a large segment of the city’s middle- and working-class residents, and many continue to do so today. Chicago lost more than 30% of its SROs between 2008 and 2016. Despite the stigma that developed in the late-20th century surrounding SRO residences that has undoubtedly contributed to their decline, policy makers and housing advocates are now recognizing how crucial these buildings are to maintaining affordable housing options in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
As the first SRO sold under Chicago's 2014 SRO Preservation Ordinance, an initiative created to retain affordable housing units in redevelopment plans for SRO buildings, the renovation of the unique and historic Carling SRO in the Old Town neighborhood serves as an innovative template for the renaissance of a much-needed housing type in Chicago, particularly for aging, low-income individuals.
Built in 1927, the Carling’s previously dreary and unkempt substandard interior spaces were reconfigured from 155 to 80 units to provide residents with larger apartments that include private bathrooms and kitchenettes. The common areas consist of expanded social spaces with updated technology and modern finishes, as well as amenities including a computer lab and bicycle storage. The historic interior courtyard was preserved for the enjoyment of residents, staff, and visitors. Historic elements such as exterior masonry details, terrazzo flooring, plaster walls, and arched doorways were also restored.
The Carling project received Enterprise Green Communities Certification, the “gold standard” for affordable housing developments, which features healthy building materials and emphasizes connection to the walkable neighborhood. Existing materials such as masonry, plaster finishes, wood floor joists, clay tile, and wood millwork and trim were repaired and reinforced when possible, instead of demolished and replaced. Several of the historic unit entry doors and closet doors were re-used on the project as well.
The Carling’s building systems were replaced with modern, high-efficiency, ductless equipment like Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) units and packaged terminal air conditioners (PTAC) for conditioning the apartments. (PTAC’s are self-contained, combination air-conditioner/heat pump units.) Also, low-flow plumbing fixtures were used in all residential and common spaces. Energy Star rated and LED lighting fixtures and appliances were utilized throughout, and Energy Star roofing was installed. The courtyard was planted with a custom native drought-resistant seed and soil mix developed by Omni Ecosystems.
The Carling and its nearby sister building, the Marshall SRO, also built in 1927, were preserved and rehabilitated thanks to a Multiple Properties Documentation Form (MPDF) that provided a basis for listing such residential hotels on the National Register of Historic Places, and thereby becoming eligible for federal historic tax credits. Two key participants in this project were a developer interested in both affordability and preservation, the Michaels Organization; and MacRostie Historic Advisors, an experienced historic building consultant.