What is the ‘Missing Middle’ of Housing?

Filed in Affordability, Education, Land Development, Multifamily by on November 1, 2019 0 Comments
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Jurisdictions such as Washington, D.C. are struggling with increasing housing supply because of restrictive zoning that limits density in high-demand neighborhoods. In the case of D.C., such zoning has resulted in less construction of new homes to meet demand, and more expansion of existing homes. This not only fails to help meet rising needs, but also increases home prices and puts homeownership further out of reach for many.

Less restrictive zoning would allow for more of what’s been termed “missing middle housing” and provide more solutions to an increasingly diverse range of income and generational housing needs.

Missing middle housing, as defined on missingmiddlehousing.com, is “a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types, compatible in scale with detached single-family homes.” In a recent NAHB webinar, Dan Parolek of Opticos Design, explained that it’s called “middle” for two reasons: because of its scale and because of its ability to deliver affordability to middle-income households. Whether in urban or suburban locations, these types of homes can take many forms, including bungalow courts, townhomes, duplexes or triplexes and courtyard apartments.

One of Parolek’s main points was that changing neighborhood zoning is an important first step to allow builders and developers to produce the sort of accommodating and affordable homes that today’s buyers want. This doesn’t always mean a single-family home with 3,000 square feet, or an apartment or condo in a luxurious high-rise tower. In fact, according to Parolek, 59% of millennials are looking for missing middle housing in the for-sale and rental markets, versus 39% who are looking for single-family homes.

Between 1990 and 2003, however, less than 10% of housing units produced would have classified as missing middle housing. Part of the issue is that these types of homes don’t often fit within current zoning definitions of single-family or multifamily homes.

“There’s almost a new classification that needs to happen to define and effectively regulate these missing middle housing types,” Parolek added. One of the most effective tools his team has used is form-based codes. He highlighted his team’s work with the city of Cincinnati to directly embed missing middle housing types within a range of form-based zones as an example of what he sees as a growing trend across the country.

One challenge is the stigma surrounding upzoning because of what Parolek noted as “some really incompatible, fairly ugly multifamily buildings” produced in the 1960s through the 1980s. Today’s designs, however, are far more attractive and intentional in the way they fit into their surroundings. He explored projects his team has designed as examples of the types of missing middle housing communities that are currently being developed. These include rehabilitation of existing missing middle-type housing structures, smaller-scale urban infill developments, and the country’s first full neighborhood of missing middle housing.

A replay of the webinar, Missing Middle Housing: Addressing Unmet Demand for Housing Choice, is now available. Register online to view the presentation, which is free to Multifamily Council members.

NAHB’s new report developed with Opticos Design, Diversifying Housing Options with Smaller Lots and Smaller Homes, shines a light on how state and local policy changes and good design can address this “missing middle” in housing today. The report and additional materials are available through NAHB’s Land Use 101 toolkit.

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