single-family homes alone could provide. It was the definition of walkable urban living and smart growth.
But that was before modern zoning codes shut the door
on most missing middle construction by separating different forms of housing from each other based on their
density. The onslaught of suburban subdivisions helped
keep the door shut by focusing on just one form of
housing — traditional single-family.
“We call it missing primarily because it hasn’t been built
very often in the last 50 or 60 years,” said Dan Parolek,
principal at Opticos Design in Berkeley, Calif., who
coined the term missing middle. “The biggest barrier is
that most city zoning codes (continue to) limit what is
allowed in single-family zones. If zoning allows for missing middle housing types, they will get built.”
It’s a simple matter of demographics. “There’s this convergence of what the millennials want, which is walkable
urban living, and what the baby boomers need, which
is living without having to rely on a car,” Parolek said.
“The demand is high.”
Missing middle housing is affordable to a range of incomes.
As cities and developers strive to meet the demand, building new and rehabbing old missing middle housing is
emerging as a way to expand the supply of walkable urban
housing besides constructing more downtown high-rises.
“There’s a real need for this missing middle type,” Parolek
said. “It’s neighborhood living versus (downtown) living
and that’s attractive to a lot of people.”
The question is can the missing middle also play a role
in addressing the nation’s shortage of affordable housing
— not subsidized but market rate? The answer is yes,
although not necessarily everywhere for everyone. “A lot
of it has to do with the supply and demand equation,”
Land to build missing middle housing in established
neighborhoods is scarce and expensive in hot housing
markets. The affordability of infill development in places
like Seattle is relative — $500, 000 for a row house versus $1 million for a traditional single-family home is a
reasonable hypothetical — and only matters to people
with six-figure paychecks.
Millennials want walkable urban living, and baby boomers
need living without having to rely on a car.
Courtesy of Michigan Municipal League/ mml.org
(Below) An example of a missing middle housing type
built by Urban Village Development in Omaha, Neb.
Courtesy of Urban Village Development