Missing Middle Housing

Remember when I wrote In Defense of the Rural Millennial and urged New Hampshire’s smaller, more rural communities to take an active role in solving the state’s housing crisis? Welcome to a new series Housing Solutions for Rural New Hampshire. Here you’ll find practical advice for how New Hampshire’s smaller, more rural communities can be part of the solution. Missing Middle Housing is part one of this series.

Greenwood Avenue Cottages in Shoreline, WA. Photo courtesy of Ross Chapin Architects.

The term “missing middle” is often incorrectly attributed to an income bracket or demographic group, so let’s start with a definition. Missing middle housing actually refers to a housing typology and includes a range of house-scale buildings with multiple units, which are compatible in scale and form with detached single-family homes and typically located within a walkable neighborhood. Missing middle housing includes duplexes, triplexes, and quads, courtyard apartments, bungalow courts, pocket neighborhoods, and cottage clusters, townhouses, multiplexes, and live/work buildings (everything between detached single-family homes and mid-rise apartments).

Missing middle housing. Graphic courtesy of www.missingmiddlehousing.org.

Missing Middle Housing types provide diverse housing options, such as duplexes, fourplexes, and bungalow courts, that fit seamlessly into low-rise walkable neighborhoods and support walkability, locally-serving retail, and public transportation options. They provide solutions along a spectrum of affordability to address the mismatch between the available U.S. housing stock and shifting demographics combined with the growing demand for walkability.

If you’ve heard me speak to this topic, you probably know I live and breathe the equation housing diversity equals people diversity. The more we can diversify our housing stock (type, price, size), the more diverse our neighborhoods will be. I imagine, not housing developments, but neighborhoods where people of various ages, incomes, and lifestyles live. 

The Cottages on Vaughan. Tiny cottages in Clarkson, Georgia, from the Microlife Institute www.microlifeinstitute.org

Missing middle housing is a solution that works in New Hampshire, even in our smallest, most rural communities. Yet, many NH communities don’t allow missing middle housing types to exist despite their relative affordability and ability to add much-needed supply. Other parts of the country, including the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota and the state of Oregon have gone further to embrace missing middle housing. In 2018, the Minneapolis City Council adopted a measure which virtually ended single-family zoning citywide by allowing duplexes and triplexes in every single-family zone, effectively tripling the city’s housing capacity. Oregon followed suit in 2019, becoming the first state to effectively do away with single-family zoning. The measure adopted by Oregon lawmakers, goes a step further requiring cities in the Portland metro area to allow quadplexes and cottage clusters in addition to duplexes and triplexes.

It is hard to say what the housing market will look like post-pandemic. More on that later. The one thing we know for sure is that your advocacy will be needed more than ever. If you live in one of New Hampshire’s more rural communities, challenge local leaders in your town to consider missing middle housing.

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