“Missing Middle” Housing

As written for Alliance For Housing Solutions March 2018

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for a person to reach their full potential their most basic needs must first be met. At these highest levels when we are not worrying about our basic needs of breathing, food, water, sleep, clothing, and shelter we are free to focus on things such as job performance, effective parenting, attending to our civic duties, or volunteer work.

The current measure of housing affordability is shelter that cost less than 30% of household income. When households spend more than 30% of their paycheck on housing, it puts them in a situation of instability where they have less to cover food and other necessities such as childcare, healthcare, or saving for unexpected expenses.

Although housing affordability has typically been a concern for the lowest income households, housing prices in Arlington have escalated to the point where even those earning moderate incomes struggle to find housing that meets their most basic needs.  For example, in 2016 the median sale price for a single-family home was $805,000. The average rent for a two-bedroom was $2,400 a month. To cover the cost of rent requires an hourly wage over $40 an hour, or more than five full-time minimum wage workers. However, condominiums tended to be significantly more affordable as the median sale price last year was $364,000.

The lack of housing options that fall between more expensive single-family homes and condominiums or apartments within smaller multi-unit buildings has been referred to as the “Missing Middle” of the housing market. The Missing Middle is a term that can be used to define a range of multi-unit or clustered housing options that are compatible with single-family homes and help meet the growing demand for affordable and walkable urban living. The scale of the structures falls in between single-family homes and mid-rise multifamily housing, and is generally compatible in height and bulk with single-family neighborhoods.

These housing types, including duplexes, four-plexes, and other small multi-unit properties, were often built in the early 1900’s in many American cities and towns but became much less common in the latter half of the 20th century. This vital form of housing is now missing for a variety of reasons such as land use restrictions in planning, zoning, and parking. In addition, area residents often oppose development that they think will negatively impact neighborhood character. However, increasing the availability of these missing middle housing types can provide more variety in housing options and price points for a community.  An increase in Missing Middle housing options makes it more possible for households such as young professionals, retirees, small families and others to find a place to live that meets their needs, contributing to a more diverse and vibrant community.

Resources for this Missing Middle article and more info can be found on the Alliance for Housing Solutions issue page.

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