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Hardships inspire Belmont Shore resident to downsize living space, reduce housing costs

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Photos courtesy Kendra Beal
Dr. Kendra Beal, a chiropractor who works in Belmont Shore, is planning to purchase a tiny house similar to the one pictured here. A tiny home is typically a small house that is between 100 and 400 square feet, according to thetinylife.com.

For Dr. Kendra Beal, 43, being married, owning a home and having adventurous retirement plans meant a successful life.

“Something that was told to us, culturally, is that when you get married, have a career, buy a house, have a good mortgage and retire, then you get to do some fun things,” she said.

Beal currently works in Belmont Shore at Wolff Chiropractic Center, which has been there for over 25 years. She has been a licensed chiropractor for over 12 years now. She also practices functional medicine, which studies how eating patterns impact medical laboratory results for patients. Beal is also finishing her certification to become a yoga instructor.

She said she has worked with thousands of patients throughout her various working environments, but now she sees a smaller number of patients and gets to have more one-on-one time with them.

“I have a spectrum of things, all for the purpose of empowering people and making their lives better, healthier and happier,” Beal said.

Based on her standards, Beal was on the right track for success. Until life as she knew it drastically shifted.
“My life has changed quite a bit in the last year and a half,” Beal said. “I went through a divorce, and part of that decision process was recognizing happiness.”

She had built a home and life with her husband, and the divorce radically changed her life. Beal had been married for 13 years.

Throughout the last days of her marriage, Beal’s friend was combating stage-four lymphoma. It was a battle that he was not winning. Her friend’s conditions, along with other factors, led her to question some of her life’s decisions, and she wondered if they had really made her happy.

It was these hardships that turned on a lightbulb for Beal.

“It really shook me, and it brought me to a realization that we need to live now,” she said. “A lot of the ways that we are living are holding us back from doing that.”

Following the divorce, Beal moved to Sunset Beach, where she has resided for the past year. After moving out of the home that she and her husband had owned in Belmont Heights, it was a decent place for her to live while she figured out the next step in her life.

However, Beal said that paying rent in Sunset Beach is the same as paying a mortgage in a luxurious place and that something had to change.

While scrolling through her social-media feeds, Beal came across a solution that would facilitate her new lifestyle.

“I started looking at these tiny homes, by chance at first. It was something that popped up on my feed either on Facebook or Twitter,” she said. “I started reading more and looking more into this. I realized, ‘Hey, I can buy one of these, flat-out, in cash, really easily and have no mortgage obligation, therefore, have no pressure to do the things that I haven’t.'”

A “tiny home” is typically a small house that is between 100 and 400 square feet and the focus of a social movement in which people choose to downsize the space they live in, according to thetinylife.com.

At times, the tiny-house movement goes hand-in-hand with minimalism, which is an artistic term used to define a lifestyle in which people strive to live with only basic, day-to-day needs.

Beal fell in love with the idea. However, her new revelation came with slight complications.

“It appears as though every county has certain rules about the specifications on how that could be done,” Beal said. “Within each county, there are different zoning issues you have to look at. It changes where you can put a tiny home.”

Municipalities across the nation have certain rules as to what kind of housing projects can go in specified city zones. Long Beach is no different.

Beal said that she made it very clear to herself that if she was going to pursue living in a tiny home, she wanted to do it right.

To help her traverse the legal mazes standing between her and her housing goal, Beal recruited the help of realtor Joanne Morris, who works for real-estate company Realty One Diamond.

Morris had worked for Keller Williams Pacific Estates— a real-estate company— for over six years. She recently moved to a new office, where she currently works. The two met at an open-house event Morris hosted at Beal’s previous home.

“She came by to pick up some packages that had been accidentally sent there,” Morris said. “We started chit-chatting for a while, and she was telling me about the history of the house. We were talking about the trees. I think I mentioned the trees were great for a tree house, and she said she was really interested in tiny houses. We just began a great conversation from there.”

A month after that discussion with Beal, Morris attended a tiny-house workshop hosted near Joshua Tree National Park.

“I completed it at the end of March. There were probably 10 tiny-house experts and about 30 people that wanted to learn how to build them— I was one of the participants,” Morris said. “We got back in touch when I returned, and she’s been exchanging information with me on how to not only build a tiny house but where to park them and what restrictions there are.”

Morris said that Beal is looking for a place in Long Beach to settle her tiny home. The realtor has provided Beal with information, and she has spoken with the City’s planning department to gather more information on tiny-house limitations citywide.

“The minimum square foot for a studio, or tiny house, would be 300 square feet in Long Beach,” Morris said. “For a one-bedroom unit, the minimum is 450 square feet— most tiny houses are less than 400 square feet. That in itself restricts [Beal] from being able to park it somewhere as a permanent dwelling or a temporary dwelling in Long Beach unless it’s in an RV park or if she doesn’t do it legally.”

In late 2016, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1069 and Assembly Bill 2299. These two bills loosened many restrictions that governed granny flats— now called accessory dwelling units (ADUs), according to leginfo.legislature.ca.gov.

“Her idea of a granny flat is similar to this. It’s all-inclusive now,” Morris said. “Last summer, the City of Long Beach refined its building code for it, and it added a few extra stipulations to it as well. If she’s planning to go with 300 square feet and put it on a permanent foundation, then it would be legal.”

Courtesy Kendra Beal
Dr. Kendra Beal and her blue doberman, Lexi

For an ADU to be installed, the land has to be at least 5,200 square feet. Depending on the size of the house, 800 square feet is the maximum building size in Long Beach, according to Morris.

She believes the statewide housing crisis was a main component as to why the rules about ADUs were loosened.

“I think one of the whole points of making tiny houses, or ADUs, legal in Southern California was to help with the housing crisis,” she said. “My understanding is that we need approximately 180,000 new housing units per year, and the building industry is just not keeping up with that. So, that’s one of the main reasons they legalized it. It helps with affordability as well.”

Morris is not alone in her thinking. The Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA recently released a survey stating that citizens living in Los Angeles County are concerned about the future of housing and housing costs in the area.

According to the survey, “The cost of living continues to be a significant driver of negative opinions, particularly the cost of housing and particularly among younger people. Income also significantly correlates with overall satisfaction, as well as many individual elements of quality of life. On housing issues, residents strongly prefer allowing new apartment buildings in multi-family zones only, as opposed to also allowing them in all residential zones.”

During a phone interview with the Signal Tribune Tuesday morning, Beal said that tiny homes could be a possible solution to the housing crisis.

“This is bigger than me and my personal journey. This is bigger than getting people to see that tiny homes are actually attractive and well-built houses,” she said. “It is about giving the population the choices that they should have, really, to live better economically and even to support each other.”

Beal said that she understands the criticism some residents may have with the idea of tiny homes. She said she wouldn’t want tiny houses to lower someone’s property value.

“I think that there are wonderful ways to have it all,” Beal said. “I don’t necessarily like the idea that someone can buy land here in Signal Hill next to other stand-alone houses and shove 10 tiny homes there. There is an in-between somewhere.”

As she collects information on the legal guidelines with the help of Morris, Beal is also making fliers to reach out to property owners in the area to find a place to put her tiny house. She plans to pay the property owner, similar to rent.

Beal hasn’t bought a tiny home yet. She said she wants to find a location first then have it delivered.

“I really love this area so much,” Beal said. “I would like to find someone that has a property and would like to make a little extra money. [I can] pay them rent for a piece of their back yard. They would have to commit to a maximum of six months to try that out and see how that feels for them.”

Beal has been offered work in Aspen, Colorado, and she has looked into property options in Hawaii. Her ultimate plan is to have ADUs in different corners of the nation. She would travel and work seasonally.

“How great would it be that one summer every couple of years I just go to my tiny home in Kauai and do some work out there? The rest of the time, I can rent other tiny houses out to someone else,” Beal said.

With her rescue dog Lexi— a blue doberman— by her side, Beal’s ultimate investment would allow her to live out her new ambitions.

“I would never want to ask someone to do something that was wrong,” Beal said. “That has been a big part as to why I’ve put so much time and effort into it. I care, and I am an established business professional. I’m not just trying to live a gypsy life. I plan on working seasonally and living in different communities, just like this one, and having the freedom to do that with great ease.”

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Hardships inspire Belmont Shore resident to downsize living space, reduce housing costs