They’re small, but for $250,000, we’ll take them. Atascadero should approve micro-home project

A neighborhood of small homes that don’t cost an arm and a leg?

In pricey San Luis Obispo County?

It is possible, and one may be coming soon to the city of Atascadero.

Grand Oaks Paseo is a 30-unit, micro-housing project proposed on El Camino Real in Atascadero, between the Kmart shopping center and downtown.

Homes would sell for between $250,000 to $350,000 — roughly half of SLO County’s current median price of $640,000.

If the developers can really deliver that — and we urge the city to do everything in its power to ensure they do — it would easily be the least expensive housing development in San Luis Obispo County, helping fill a niche in our county that’s been ignored for way too long.

For that reason alone, the City Council should give its blessing.

A word of caution: These units aren’t called “micro” for nothing. They’ll range in size from 500 to 900 square feet. To put that in perspective, the average house in the Western United States is 2,386 square feet, according to the U.S. Census.

In other words, they’re not for everyone, yet for a growing slice of the population, micro is just fine.

Demographics are changing; there are now far more one-person households than there used to be — they make up 24 percent of California households — and they don’t need a lot of space.

Micro units are trending in big cities likes Seattle, New York and Washington, D.C., where they’re especially popular with young singles, though they also work for empty-nesters.

They’ve been slower to catch on in more rural areas like San Luis Obispo County, where builders still concentrate on large, three- and four-bedroom homes with all the amenities — even though affordable housing advocates and planning professionals have been clamoring for alternatives.

Smaller, more affordable projects do get built, but they’re generally subsidized and restricted to residents who meet income guidelines.

Grand Oaks, on the other hand, would be market-rate housing that truly is affordable by design.

Path to home ownership

Unlike urban areas, where most micro-units are designed as rental housing, Grand Oaks’ homes would be offered for sale.

Buyers would own the land underneath their homes, which means they wouldn’t have to pay the space rent that mobile home parks typically charge.

Still, skeptics aren’t convinced that paying $250,000 for such a small living space is worth it.

“$250,000!!!! That’s completely insane!!!” one commenter wrote on The Tribune’s Facebook page.

It’s true that micro-homes are a relatively expensive product: at $250,000, it works out to $500 per square foot for the smallest units at Grand Oaks. That’s substantially more than the California average of $323 per square foot.

But it’s still a path to home ownership that’s less expensive than many of the other alternatives out there.

Condos, for example, are typically priced at $300,000 to $400,000 or more in SLO County, and include homeowner association fees.

Tiny homes on wheels can be less expensive, but buyers have to find a place to park them.

Micro-homes provide the stability that comes with ownership and, unlike mobile homes, as long as they’re well maintained, they should appreciate over time.

One drawback: El Camino Real is not the most bucolic location, but fencing and landscaping should cut down noise and soften the views.

Other than that, the site — which was previously planned for a condos — is a good choice.

It’s not in the middle of a single-family neighborhood where residents could be bothered by the density, and it’s within walking distance of shopping and other city services.

Another advantage: The layout — which includes shared outdoor spaces — would be more conducive to socializing than the typical single-family neighborhood. That’s a big plus, since loneliness and isolation have been linked to health problems, especially in older people.

This isn’t the solution to the housing crisis, but it is a huge step in the right direction.

We urge the Atascadero City Council to approve a project that will provide much-needed housing, boost the city’s tax revenue, help local merchants and could encourage similar developments throughout San Luis Obispo County.

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