Miamians looking for affordable apartments soon might have a new option — living in a home that’s slightly larger than the average parking space.
The city is on a path to change its regulations to permit 275-square-foot apartments, a decrease from the smallest currently allowed square footage of 400, in parts of Miami.
The City Commission on Thursday tentatively approved the measure, which is set for a final vote Dec. 14.
“We don’t want to continue urban sprawl, and we want to provide solutions that create affordability,” said City Commissioner Ken Russell, a co-sponsor of the plan. “By limiting how small a unit can be, we are really tying the hands of what development is possible and what development is available for people who want to live in the city.”
Miami already is home to smaller homes. At Wynwood 25, which is under construction, the average apartment will be 750 square feet.
The city would impose new rules for the tiniest apartments. Each unit must have a full bathroom and kitchen, and micro-unit buildings cannot abut low-density residential areas, according to the city planning department.
Developers would be allowed to build micro-units only in areas with transit-oriented development areas, which is considered within a half mile of Metrorail and Metromover stations. As a concession to developers, no minimum parking requirement would be set, and a maximum of one spot for unit would be imposed.
“The conceits of a micro-unit is that you are taking on a smaller living space, but you are sort of exchanging you own personal living space for the city as a whole, the livability of Miami. Your living room becomes the streets of Brickell, downtown,” said Joe Eisenberg, a city planner.
The requirement to build close to mass transit stops and the lack of mandated parking go hand-in-hand.
“Limiting them to TOD (transit-oriented development) areas ensures that somebody who lives in these areas doesn’t have to own a car,” Eisenberg said. Residents “are expanding their range. They can now get to South Miami and Miami Beach. They can get to major job centers. It really expands their range in that way.”
And requiring a parking maximum but no minimum would help make micro-units more affordable, he added. Parking requirements tend to push up the cost of development and in turn rents.
This measure is another push to make Miami more of an urban environment, said Anthony De Yurre, an attorney with the Bilzin Sumberg land use and zoning practice in Miami.
“This is one of the urban planning tools they use across the country to promote the urban planning trifecta: More affordability, proximity to transportation and attracting new talent,” De Yurre said. “In affordability, we rank poorly. We rank poorly in terms of public transportation ridership and, as a result, we struggle to maintain our young talent here and they go elsewhere.”
PATH TO AFFORDABILITY
The smallest units would leave more money in the hands of tenants but allow developers to charge relatively more per square foot, Eisenberg said.
The rent per square foot in Miami now averages about $3 per square foot, according to Eisenberg. That translates to $1,200 a month for a 400-square-foot unit. If the rent for a 275-square-foot unit is increased to $4 per square foot, the renter would pay $1,100 or less.
But Russell said micro-units are no silver bullet for affordable housing — and warned they could push up rents in a neighborhood.
“If you are in a very high-end area like Brickell and someone decides to take advantage of the new reduced-size limit, they’ll probably dress those units to the nines. They’ll outfit them with the highest amenities and try to get the highest square-foot price, which could actually drive the overall square foot price of everything in that area,” he said.
City staff is looking at how it could weave into the measure incentives for developers to keep units affordable, Russell said.