More Togetherness Could Ease Affordability. First, Zoning Codes Must Change

Miami Herald
July 15, 2019

Miami defied the bleak market predictions following the Great Recession, bouncing back with an unprecedented surge of new development over the past decade. Despite a seemingly endless supply of apartments and condominiums that have come online, the region remains one of the least affordable places to live in the country. The challenges presented by rising land costs, a changing climate, population growth, and the need for more sophisticated infrastructure promise to deepen the housing affordability crisis that plagues the region. 

In the years ahead, local governments and developers will need to flex some creative muscle in rethinking how we design and build our living spaces to meet the needs of future generations. Miami has a unique opportunity to set the standard for innovative housing solutions through changes to local zoning codes. 

“Affordable Housing” should not be confused with the development of housing that is simply “affordable.” Elected officials and community leaders consistently stress the importance of providing Affordable and Workforce Housing options in Miami. These must meet federally mandated rental rates and fall under more traditional patterns of construction and financing, often requiring heavy subsidies from local, state and federal governments. Much less time is spent in the public discourse exploring creative private market solutions for housing affordability. 

Enter co-living. The model offers a more affordable, connected and community-oriented space that has become increasingly popular with young professionals and others living independently with less need for large homes. The concept consists of individually leased bedrooms and shared communal spaces, typically located in an urban neighborhood offering easy access to mass transit. 

The co-living model reduces construction costs per unit, making it economically feasible for developers to offer lower rents in in more centralized locations. Residents of co-living spaces may also enjoy higher quality amenities. For example, developers who can avoid the expense of installing a kitchen in every single dwelling unit can then provide residents larger shared cooking spaces with higher-end appliances. Other building amenities such as concierge and cleaning services make up for smaller individual living spaces.

This housing model also responds to shifting market demands. Young professionals are typically looking for reasonable housing costs on entry-level salaries while also seeking built-in social opportunities. The communal atmosphere created by shared cooking, living, and work spaces offers more occasions to connect with neighbors — a major selling point for the diverse, young demographic Miami is working to attract. 

While co-living isn’t a new idea, its arrival to Miami is recent and local zoning regulations are not designed to effectively accommodate this housing type. Clients who have successfully brought co-living to market in the area have done so in buildings subject to current residential design and density restrictions. Were the zoning code to allow for higher densities or more floor area within co-living projects, development costs may be further reduced, providing the financial breathing room to charge individual tenants lower rents.

Last fall, the City of Miami Beach adopted development regulations for the North Beach Town Center to revitalize the area with higher densities and a greater mix of uses. The district guidelines also allow for co-living units, requiring that 20 percent of each co-living building be dedicated to shared community space. This geographically limited test run for co-living will provide new housing options in Miami Beach with lower rents and more amenities. 

The City of Miami also took a first step toward implementing more innovative co-living regulations earlier this year with its approval of Robert Wennett’s Miami Produce Special Area Plan (SAP) in Allapattah, which our firm represents. The SAP regulations governing the project allow for the development of co-living spaces. Four or more individual co-living rooms will share kitchen and living facilities, with each room having a private bathroom. Each co-living room within the SAP counts as one fourth of a dwelling unit as defined under Miami’s zoning code. A co-living residence consisting of four individual co-living rooms sharing kitchen and living facilities, for example, will be counted as one dwelling unit for zoning purposes. This approach allows for increased density and reduced parking requirements, advancing the principals of quality urban design and lowering costs for developers and residents alike.

SAPs are unique under the Miami zoning code in that they are permitted to create specifically tailored zoning regulations relevant to the project. The co-living regulations applicable to the Miami Produce SAP are currently unavailable elsewhere in the City of Miami.

Miami is not necessarily behind the curve on co-living regulations. Zoning codes around the country contain antiquated definitions of “households” and are written within the framework of traditional notions of privacy and the family unit. In fact, many jurisdictions still prohibit the cohabitation of more than a few people not related by blood except in the context of college dorms or group home facilities. 

The co-living model is not designed to serve all audiences but offers a unique and more accessible approach to housing that has proven successful in other cities across the globe. As co-living developers work within the confines of outdated residential regulations, Miami has an opportunity to lead the charge in creative housing solutions. Co-living can offer a strong private market solution to the growing housing affordability crisis, as long as local zoning codes can catch up.

This article was reprinted with permission from the Miami Herald.

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