As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate California's housing crunch, the City of Long Beach could soon become the latest jurisdiction to turn to micro-unit apartments as a way to produce more affordability.

On September 3, the Long Beach Planning Commission is scheduled to consider a staff recommendation to launch a micro-unit pilot program, in which up to 500 such apartments could be built in the City's Downtown and Midtown communities.

Micro-unit apartments, commonly defined as studio units smaller than 350 square feet in size, were identified by the Long Beach City Council in 2017 as a potential means of generating more moderate-income and workforce housing without public subsidy.  The staff report points to data showing that micro units typically command rents that are 20-to-30 percent lower than a conventional studio apartment in the same market.

The staff report describes micro-units as addressing a niche in the housing market - specifically younger professionals under 27 years in age.  Developments focused on the smaller apartments have been successful in other cities, according to a study by BAE Urban Economics, when coupled with the relaxation of density limitations and parking requirements.

Long Beach's proposed pilot program is billed as an opportunity to explore the feasibility of micro-units and conduct research on best practices.  The 500-unit limit is expected to generate between 5 and 10 projects, which would then inform development standards for future micro-unit projects.

Long Beach follows in the footsteps of several other Los Angeles County jurisdictions that have recently paved the way for micro-unit developments, including Pasadena and Culver City.  Santa Monica also permits the construction of micro-unit apartments as small at 150 square feet, but only in the case of 100 percent affordable housing developments.

The City of Los Angeles, though it has not formally adopted a micro-unit program of its own, has nonetheless approved several housing developments which have been billed as such.  These include a 111-unit complex in Leimert Park, where studio apartments are as small as 281 square feet, and an under-construction project in Hollywood with an average unit size of 375 square feet.