Commission says the units, no larger than 750 square feet, are cheaper to build and buy because of their size.

SARASOTA COUNTY — One of the solutions to Sarasota County’s affordable housing shortage is actually quite small.

The Sarasota County Commission on Wednesday unanimously approved multi-family dwelling units no greater than 750 square feet to be considered half-dwelling units, which the board says creates more affordable housing because the tiny units are more affordable to build and buy because of their size and come with significantly lower water and wastewater fees. The new half-dwelling designation, however, is restricted from barrier islands to avoid units being used as vacation rentals, according to county documents.

The move allows hard-working area residents to achieve the American dream, Commissioner Nancy Detert said.

“They’re great little starter homes,” Detert said. “It works for singles; it works for the elderly; it works for a starter home. It’s a building block to building wealth.”

The decision, admired at Wednesday’s meeting by some in the development community, however, came with some detractors who claim the move will create dense housing projects that won’t necessarily be more affordable since the commission didn’t require a certain number of units be designated as affordable, or below market value, for a certain number of years.

“This, as it is now, is way too much of a giveaway to the developers and way too much burden on the public, which is burdened enough with all the traffic and neighborhood compatibility and other problems created by the density that’s allowed today,” said Dan Lobeck, a Sarasota-based attorney and president of Control Growth Now, a community group opposing overdevelopment in the area.

Wednesday’s move by the board is the latest in a list of actions it has taken to create affordable homes that working-class residents can afford in a heated housing market. The commission in November rubber-stamped recommendations from the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee — a board required by the state to review a jurisdiction’s established policies, procedures, ordinances and land development regulations to advise actions to foster affordable housing.

The commission at the time approved expediting the review and approval process for organizations receiving assistance through the Office of Housing and Community Development, nonprofits seeking to construct affordable housing, and developers who are applying for federal or state affordable housing programs. Another approved recommendation extended the lease of an affordable housing property from the current 10 years to 30 years, so individuals or families could rent at a fair rate for a longer period. Other recommendations the commission approved included: the reduction of parking and setbacks and the offering of other structural bonuses, such as density, height and lot coverage for entities building workforce housing.

The commission earlier last year also reduced parking requirements and mobility fees for smaller units.

Affordable housing has been notoriously hard to find in the area for renters and buyers alike. Spiraling housing costs, coupled with state lawmakers shortchanging affordable housing programs, have led to a shortage of affordable housing, forcing many who work in the area to live elsewhere.