Innovating for Missing Middle Housing

September 25, 2019
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capitol-hill-mix-of-housing-19As America’s housing affordability crises worsens, “Missing Middle” housing is trending – big time. Over the past three years, Clarion Associates’ planners and code drafters have worked to expand opportunities for Missing Middle housing in communities as diverse as Aurora, Colorado; Bloomington, Indiana; and Henrico County, Virginia.  While several popular graphics show Missing Middle housing as a defined set of housing types between duplexes (on the less intense end) and apartments (on the more intense end) that zoning has often ignored the reality is more complex that that. The absence of Missing Middle housing is not just a failure to accommodate historically accepted housing designs (such as cottage housing, triplexes, and  fourplexes), but a failure of zoning to allow the intensification of the existing housing stock over time.  One key fact to keep in mind is that the U.S. replaces less than five percent of its housing stock each year, so 95 percent of the housing that will be available for occupancy next year already exists.  The most powerful ways to encourage more housing variety and affordability is not simply to allow the construction of new types of housing, but to allow the conversion of existing buildings to include those new types of housing.  Stated more bluntly, any solution that requires us to build our way into a more varied housing stock through new construction based on a defined building form will only bear fruit over a long time period. Solutions that allow conversions of the existing stock in appropriate locations will reach the Missing Middle much faster.

While the right solutions in each community will differ, Clarion has recently worked with our partner communities to implement the following solutions.

Aurora, Colorado, decided to add three new defined land uses – cottage houses, co-housing, and live-work structures. While the first two are likely to be accomplished through new construction, live-work uses can be achieved through building conversions in some zone districts.

Henrico County, Virginia, is in the early stages of considering a wide variety of housing alternatives, including pocket neighborhoods, mansion apartments, live-work units, ECHO (Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity) units, accessory dwelling units, and reductions in minimum lot sizes and/or setbacks for single-family homes in some zone districts.

Longmont, Colorado, has adopted zoning regulations that add duplex, triplex, and fourplex housing structures to the list of available housing options in some existing zone districts.

Bloomington, Indiana, is also considering adding duplex and triplex dwellings to its list of Conditional land uses in some existing single-family zoning districts. Because of intense pressures for student housing and fears that duplexes and triplexes may have several bedrooms filled with lots students, these new uses are subject to maximum bedroom and occupancy limits designed to preserve most new or converted units for workforce housing.

Clarion Associates will continue to work in partnership with each of our client communities to find new housing options that improve housing affordability while reinforcing the intended character of each residential and mixed-use neighborhood.