Apartment units — or possibly even condos — as small as 220 square feet could soon be coming to Long Beach.

The Planning Commission approved at its Thursday, Sept. 3, meeting a pilot program that would allow developers to build up to 500 “micro-units” in the city’s Downtown and Midtown neighborhoods as one way to address the area’s housing shortage.

Currently, housing units in those neighborhoods must be at least 600 square feet. Projects approved under the program could instead be as small as 220 square feet, but other regulations — such as parking requirements — would still be enforced.

The program must go before the City Council, which will likely happen this fall, before kicking off.

The idea behind the program, city planner Cynthia de la Torre said, is to diversify the city’s housing stock and allow for more units to be built in the limited available space; micro-units, she said, could help chip away at the projected 26,000 housing units that Long Beach will need to add over the next eight years, according to the Regional Housing Needs Assessment.

While the units, which are typically 300-to-350 square feet, aren’t for everyone, de la Torre said they could provide cheaper housing for single young adults, including recent college graduates, before they move onto more traditional housing options.

One benefit of the units, she said, is that they are typically 20-to-30% cheaper than other market-rate studios.

While the program would only allow for a maximum of 500 units, Development Services Deputy Director Christopher Koontz said it still would likely take years for the program to reach that number.

Between designing a project, getting permits, going through construction and leasing units, he said, any given building would take about five years to complete.

“I would anticipate that this is a multi-multi-year effort,” he said, “to see this through from beginning to end.”

And, by the time the program is finished, he said, the city will have a better understanding of what types of regulations these projects would need before allowing micro-units citywide in the long term.

“This is an opportunity for us all to learn by doing,” he said, “and we would then take that information, and we would look to apply it, not just Downtown and Midtown, but in our overall zoning approach as we think about the whole city.”

Koontz also said that while the city expects most of the units built through such a program to be leased on a rental basis, Long Beach would be open to developers interested in building for-sale condominiums through the program.

Acknowledging the work the city is doing as part of its Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative, Koontz said, “Part of addressing the racial wealth gap is opening up home ownership to a broader set of people, including a greater number of people of color.

“And the only way we’re going to do that,” he said, “is to rethink some of our long-held beliefs and deliver products that are different and deliver financial incentives that are different.”

For people who may not have access to the resources to buy a $700,000 or $800,000 home, Koontz said, a for-sale micro-unit “provides them a much more doable point of entry into ownership society.”

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