Opportunities and Obstacles for Closing the Missing Middle

September 9, 2019
Concord Riverwalk Photo: Nat Rea

Zoning regulations and NIMBY sentiment have saturated the country with single-family detached homes, leading to a shortage of diverse and affordable housing.

The National Association of Home Builders recently teamed with Opticos Design to create a new report, “Diversifying Housing Options with Smaller Lots and Smaller Homes.” Opticos coined the term “missing middle” to describe housing types that are scarcely built and are on the scale of single-family houses but contain multiple units, like duplexes to sixplexes, and pocket neighborhoods with cottages, and bungalow homes.

The report indentifies more than 100 codes and ordinances from across the country that enable the construction of a greater mix of housing types and smaller, more affordable homes. The ordinances were evaluated under four categories: accessory dwelling unit, small lot, cottage court, and form-based codes for infill and greenfield. 

Implementing these types of new tools can be difficult, as many may have found. It is important to understand the options for applying new codes on top of or in place of conventional zoning. The report describes application options, with benefits and challenges; for example, overlay zoning is a good option when new standards are needed but there is not support for revising existing zoning.

For practicality and cost effectiveness, it is critical to update standards or codes to provide clear direction and to streamline the development review and approval process for these new housing types. The report drills down on the details within beneficial codes and presents case studies from across the country, showing the process of adoption, results, and challenge

The report also highlights examples from across the country and includes NAHB resources that profile successful strategies for enhancing the diversity and affordability of housing such as the Housing for All website and Land Use 101 toolkit.

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