Missing Middle Housing: The Rediscovering of an Old Solution to a Current Problem

August 17, 2017

Billy Parrish, BillyParrish Consulting

This article appeared in the August 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Billy Parrish
As more Americans, including Georgians, look for affordable, walkable city living, and how to provide housing choices that can fit more modest budgets—from millennials looking for their first homes, to Gen X looking to move into a city, to Boomers looking to age-in-place—continues to be as elusive as Sasquatch. Creating more housing choices within our historic cities may just be the single biggest challenge we face now that Georgia cities have again become desirable places to live. But a promising new idea may help cities create more housing choice that can fit gracefully into the existing fabric of cities large and small. The irony is, we have had this exciting new idea right in front of us for over a hundred years.

Around 2013 Opticos, a California Architectural firm, coined the term “Missing Middle” to describe housing types that could create more housing choice. Opticos defines Missing Middle Housing as “...a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types—such as duplexes, fourplexes, and bungalow courts—that are compatible and in scale with single-family homes.” The National Association of Realtors defines the Missing Middle as “the new name for an old mix of residential choices that are neither traditional single-family homes nor large apartment or condo buildings, but something in between.” Simply put, Missing Middle Housing is a rediscovery of a range of housing choices that fit neatly into our cities’ historic fabric and provides diverse and affordable housing options for those seeking to live in walkable neighborhoods. “A duplex, fourplex, sixplex, and up can all be dignified buildings providing quality housing choices to a range of folks from Millennials to Boomers and everyone in between,” says Eric Kronberg, Atlanta architect and an active participant in this emerging housing trend.

All over Georgia are examples of housing styles well suited to the creation of more housing across a continuum of needs, the best examples of which are often the small-scale historic apartment buildings that are seen by their community as a valuable part of their architectural fabric and heritage. The catch is, we usually prohibit any new structures of this type and style from being built even though they offer the best way to create “soft density” that fits neatly into our historic cities and neighborhoods, because, well, they have fit neatly into those areas for over a hundred years.

The Missing Middle is the most exciting housing epiphany of the last several decades. Focusing on the development of Missing Middle housing invites a civil dis-course around housing choices without becoming ensnared in the stigma placed on the term “affordability” and the fear of large-scale apartment or condominium developments. Changing the conversation to Missing Middle housing can lead us into a more fruitful discussion of the market demand for more housing choices and will usher in a new trend toward smaller, more incremental development through the empowerment of small-scale local developers. The next big thing isn’t tiny houses, it’s The Missing Middle. Just ask Decatur, or Midtown Columbus or Thomasville...

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