When Zoning Reform Isn’t Enough: How To Boost Missing Middle Housing

For upzoning efforts to result in a significant rise in new housing units, cities and states must do more than just change zoning codes to ensure missing middle housing is easy and affordable to build.

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December 13, 2022, 9:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Row of white two-story townhomes with black trim

1Roman Makedonsky / Townhomes

A new paper from David Garcia, Muhammad Alameldin, Ben Metcalf, and William Fulton outlines the barriers to building more ‘missing middle housing’ and the benefits of encouraging more construction of this housing type.

Although many cities and states are moving to legalize mid-density buildings, these zoning changes may not be sufficient to result in a large number of new housing units. Design and utility requirements, impact fees, and other factors also have a significant impact on how many new homes will be created.

The paper examines the history of missing middle housing in the United States and the benefits of this type of development, describes findings from two roundtable discussions with developers, and provides several recommendations for addressing challenges.

The authors’ recommendations include: states should assess other development code changes that can spur missing middle development; cities should examine their land use regulations to ensure building codes don’t impede missing middle production; and cities should consider going above and beyond state regulations to encourage more housing production. Ultimately, “parallel policy changes” are needed alongside zoning reform if reform efforts are to provide a real path to boosting housing affordability.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022 in Terner Center for Housing Innovation

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