Toga! Toga! | Urban Living
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Toga! Toga!

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One all-time classic movie is Animal House. Filmed in Eugene, Ore., in the fall of 1977 and telling the story of a fictitious group of frat boys who challenge the dean of their college, it lives on as one of the most successful American film comedies of all time. The plot was based on Harold Ramis' true experiences at his frat house during college and starred 28-year-old Saturday Night Live actor John Belushi. In the movie, the slovenly Delta Tau Chi frat house was a complete disaster inside, with out-of-control parties a daily occurrence.

A frat house is the closest example I can provide of an SRO, or single-room occupancy building, where tenants have private bedrooms but share kitchens and baths. One example of an SRO in Salt Lake City is the Rio Grande Hotel (428 W. 300 South). The capital city used to have more single-room rental options apart from hotels and Airbnbs, but neighbors' protests and city permits and licensing have made it hard to offer this kind of housing anymore.

As you know, the major metro areas in our state are desperate for housing—both for rent and sale. Salt Lake City is attempting to expand the areas SROs can operate by changing zoning ordinances in about two dozen neighborhoods. The city council was scheduled to vote on these amendments at its May 7 meeting. As of press time, the vote had not taken place. SROs are an excellent type of low-income housing for people who cannot pay average rents. The problem from a living standpoint is that a single-room space is quite small, even smaller than a hotel room. The city has proposed a minimum standard of 200 square feet for rooms occupied by two people.

The sad reality, though, is that SROs bring out NIMBY foes. Salt Lake planners are aware that folks living in residential neighborhoods not zoned for multiple units often perceive SROs as bringing masses of people to their 'hoods, with problems of increased traffic, parking issues and noise. The planners suggest that SROs be limited to the downtown business district and mixed-use areas in some parts of Sugar House and around The Gateway.

You can bet the May 7 meeting was a rousing Animal House-like verbal orgy, with low-income housing advocates pleading for affordable rooms and NIMBYs yelling, "No go! No go!" (echoing shouts of "Toga! Toga!" from the movie). Who are the real frat boys here? Certainly, the ghost of Belushi's character, Bluto, could be heard yelling from the city hall rafters, "Food fight!"