Three good reasons to invest in Missing Middle housing
The benefits of walkable living are well documented. As noted in the Surgeon General’s new Step It Up campaign, walkability positively impacts the mental and physical health of residents. It also contributes to better environmental stewardship, by avoiding sprawl and it’s over-use of our land resources, and by reducing dependence on automobiles. As such, cities must invest in walkable neighborhoods to support the environment and health of their citizens.
In addition, the market is demanding walkable living, and both cities and developers must listen up. The Urban Land Institute (ULI) reports that 76% of Americans are interested in a walkable lifestyle and 50% consider it a high priority. This demand creates financial opportunities for developers. For cities, studies have proven clear economic benefits to walkable communities. For instance, walkable living requires amenities, such as local-serving businesses, which can increase sales and business tax revenue for cities. The annual tax yield per acre for mixed-use low-rises, such as those that might be found in a neighborhood center, can be many times higher than conventional retail buildings in suburban areas. Importantly, the use of Missing Middle Housing (MMH) can contribute to these financial benefits for cities and developers while also providing lower total housing costs for residents and a great place to live.
Consider these key ways Missing Middle Housing is benefitting residents, cities and developers:
Meeting the demand demand for neighborhood living (rather than city living)
Too often, the demand for walkable living is mistranslated into a demand only for city living. In fact, walkable places exist on a spectrum — from a downtown core (city living) to walkable neighborhoods located everywhere from cities to small towns. Plenty of developers and cities invest in their downtown core, building skyscraper cities or even 5- to 8-story city centers. Many people, though, still want to live in neighborhoods. The demand for neighborhood living is high and unmet, providing an untapped market for developers and a call to city governments to step up. The challenge is how to meet it. Here’s how:
Walkable neighborhoods can’t survive with only single-family, detached houses. A community of only single-family homes simply will not provide enough residents to support amenities such as local-serving businesses or transit. As we have discussed previously, a neighborhood without amenities is not “walkable.” To use a loaded term, single-family, detached homes alone do not provide the density necessary to support amenities. But the demand is for the single-family neighborhood feel.
Missing Middle Housing is the solution. MMH housing fits in with the form and character of a neighborhood of single-family homes, contributing to the neighborhood appeal that so many people want. At the same time, Missing Middle types increase the density of a community, providing enough customers for business to thrive. This density can also make it possible for a town to support other amenities, such as a public transit system. Missing Middle Housing manages the perceived tension between a neighborhood feel and the density necessary to achieve walkability. Residents get the neighborhood form and character that they want, along with the amenities that make the neighborhood truly walkable.
According to James Tischler of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, “development of Missing Middle is now recognized as a housing and economic development strategy,” because it is the fastest growing housing preference. Why? Walkable neighborhoods offer a community, a sense of “place,” that people seek. As people move to the walkable neighborhoods that are available, businesses follow suit.
Offering more diverse housing options
The 21st century “household” no longer necessarily consists of a father, a mother, and two point five children. Today, many American households consist of older “empty nesters,” millennials who are putting off traditional marriage and families, single parents and non-traditional family units. Thanks to modern technology, more physically handicapped people are able live independently than ever before. Multigenerational households are on the rise.
These diverse households need and demand more diversity in housing choice. And yet, according to Dr. Chris Nelson of the University of Arizona’s College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, 90% of U.S. housing stock is made up of single-family homes in conventional suburbs.
Missing Middle Housing provides the range of options to meet these households’ diverse needs. Cities and towns can meet the needs of their residents, providing high-quality housing in a range of unit sizes and configurations. Developers can work with communities to respond to this unmet demand.
The cost to live in walkable neighborhoods is skyrocketing due to the high demand and low supply. The ULI 2015 report notes that 78% of Americans want to live in a community with a mix of ages and 66% percent prefer a mix of cultures and backgrounds. Affordable housing is required in order to provide these opportunities to people of all income levels and to create communities that are not divided by financial status.
Again, Missing Middle Housing can help. Across the country, cities and towns require an increase in the supply of affordable housing. Missing Middle Housing provides more units on less land than single-family detached housing. This increases housing supply. The smaller units in the Missing Middle Housing spectrum provide residents with a lower overall cost than they would find in single-family, detached homes on the same property. At the same time, developers can make more money on the same property, because the cost will be shared among units. Residents are willing to pay for the tradeoff of a smaller unit for the added amenity of a walkable neighborhood.
The demand for walkable neighborhood living has been proven, but the supply of these neighborhoods is still woefully short. Missing Middle Housing is the win-win-win solution for residents, cities and developers. What are you doing to bring more Missing Middle Housing to your community?
Karen Parolek is a principal of Opticos Design, an architecture and urban design firm with a passion for vibrant, sustainable, walkable urban places. This article originally appeared on Logos Opticos: Composing Vibrant Urban Places.