Missing Middle

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In December 2019, Arlington County began a Missing Middle Housing Study (MMHS).  Missing Middle (MM) was first developed by Opticos Design in 2010 to promote housing types "between" single family homes and mid- to high-rise multi-family units.  Opticos says MM homes should be moderately-priced, marketable, and near transit/shopping.  Arlington in 2019 approved construction of accessory dwelling units (also MM) and by January 2021 was advancing up-zoning for duplexes or multifamily units beyond Metro corridors.  ASF believes the county must address how new zoning would shape fiscal, environmental and diversity outcomes in a small county that lacks undeveloped space.  We propose alternate strategies -- such as preserving existing moderate housing -- better planning tools, and meaningful community dialogue.  See our home page and our platform page for details.

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Quick Links:

Presentation for ASF Public Meeting, What Do New Density Plans Mean for Me? Peter Rousselot, YouTube video, June 2021

Myths vs. Reality, April 2021, ASF responds to Missing Middle advocates

Missing Middle Housing is High End Housing, Peter Rousselot, ARLNow, March 10, 2021

Spending Growth and Real Estate Taxes, Jon Huntley, Arlington Analytics, March 2021

ASF Response to Arlington County on its MM Housing Survey  Dec 2020

Arlington Duplexes and Missing Middle, Jon Huntley/Kody Carmody, Arlington Analytics, March 2020

Blanket Upzoning A Blunt Instrument Won't Solve Affordable Housing Crisis, Dr. Michael Storper, March 15, 2019

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Housing Arlington (HA) conducted community briefings in Spring 2020 (along with Board members), published five research bulletins in Summer 2020 and finalized the project scope of work and timeline by September (see the Housing Arlington website.).  The Covid-amended timeline -- to include new zoning -- extends through Spring 2022.  By mid-2021, the county moved to Phase II, studying "typologies" of new MM that they might select for Arlington (see ASF responses to the county's typology study here).  There are no outcomes short of up-zoning in current study documents, and a missing middle survey offered November-February is extremely prejudicial to up-zoning.  Given this process, ASF projects we will see a Phase II recommendation by late 2021 for Missing Middle up-zoning -- most likely in areas within one mile of Metro that will be rebranded as "walkable," or along transit routes (Lee Highway, Columbia Pike, Shirlington) being redeveloped now.  Such up-zoning will accelerate mature tree loss, pack in more concrete and cars in residential areas, and worsen runoff/flooding.  Key Board approvals -- the first projected April 2020 -- have been bypassed, the next one is projected to move on from Phase II.

 

The county's official line is that new housing types are the sole objective -- to include duplexes, triplexes, or quadplexes -- in single-family zoned areas.  However its public engagements continue to reference affordability -- and as a subset of affordability -- a tool for more diversity.  The reality is that higher densities increase the yield from existing residential lots as their development potential rises, driving land/housing prices and tax bills up for ALL owners/residents.  Added density delivers the most value to the developer/current owner and to those who develop itIt makes things more difficult for everyone else.  Current property owners will profit, but those on fixed incomes will find higher taxes a challenge.  Renters will suffer.  New MM home mortgages, as evidenced by units currently being built where zoning allows, are affordable to average white household incomes, but greatly exceed average household incomes for African-Americans, Latinos, seniors, new immigrants, the disabled.  Local supporters of MM in Arlington seem to be advocating we have to push out these current populations, including seniors -- to accommodate wealthier in-migrants who want to live here (see Storper arguments on in-migration).  One MM said that “when seniors vacate their large home, it allows people to trade up into those homes, and eventually, the filtering process reaches the more affordable homes where those owners can also trade up.”  Consistent evidence of luxury home construction is not showing evidence of this "filtering effect," Arlington continues to lose racial, ethnic, age, and income diversity.

MM policies will widen the income inequality gap, exacerbating gentrification.  If public funds for truly affordable housing (households at 60% of area median income (AMI) and below) do not keep pace with up-zoning inflation, the circle of displacement widens.  18 months into the process the county has presented zero data on price points.  MM units in Falls Church (see gallery below) sold for over $700,000, although they were touted as successes by MM advocates in Arlington.  Moreover, MM quadplexes under construction in Arlington are being marketed "from the $800,000's."  Noted economists at Arlington Analytics produced a June 2020 analysis of new duplexes showing they would be affordable in only a handful of areas, even to households earning $120,000/year (100% of AMI).  Using this quadplex pricing, Zillow in January 2021 showed 335 homes/townhomes for sale in Arlington under $800,000 out of 536 total units.  Is this a "crisis" of missing homes?  ​County officials seem confident that vulnerable populations (who tend to be more diverse) won't call them on long-term development policies boosting inflation/gentrification.  Why are other so complacent? Are they unaware of the severe loss of market-rate affordable housing, also noted in ASF's August 2020 letter for civic associations? Or the county's efforts to favor higher income households at the expense of lower income groups, which included a failed October 2020 attempt to reduce access for those at 60% of AMI to special home ownership programs?  ASF believes the county is subordinating true equity as part of a larger focus on helping middle-class newcomers. 

ASF is also very concerned that the county's missing middle planning, as is the case with all development planning -- including extensive new density along Lee Highway east of Rosslyn to East Falls Church, is untethered from fiscal reality.  Arlington in 2018 already committed to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to add population numbers that equal the current populations of the cities of Charlottesville and Culpepper, approximately 65,000.  By 2021, it had not budgeted for any added facilities such as schools or parks for these new residents.  See the January 2021 ARLNow article by Peter Rousselot (also of ASF) for more information on this aspect of MM that should concern anyone who is following the tax implications of growth. 

If you have concerns about MM, see our events page to attend an ASF presentation, email us to request a briefing for your civic association, and write to the county board or attend and speak at a monthly meeting to note your concerns about the county's growth template. 

 

Resources:

Arlington County Documents/Resources

ASF Documents

Third-Party Documents

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BEFORE: Two homes, owned by African American Arlingtonians on a treed lot in the historic Green Valley neighborhood

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AFTER: Eight townhomes, each priced at $850K, in the new "Towns of 24th" development violate budgetary, environmental, and diversity principles

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Ballston Row townhouse list price $1.1 Million, July 2020 Photo: Gary Anthes

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Photo: Gary Anthes

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Common Arlington cottage being torn down, along with with surrounding mature trees, to build a McMansion

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Single family home on tiny 1500 square foot lot sold in 2020 for $440,000. Zero yard. Missing Middle taken to the extreme?

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Newly built duplex in Halls Hill — a traditionally African American neighborhood — sold for $1.1 Million per unit

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Foxcroft Heights neighborhood — the last remaining area of the Freedman's Village — affordable homes give way to high-priced replacements

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Lyon Park Auxiliary Dwelling Unit (ADU) adjacent to a single family home provides a source of rental income for homeowners.

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Falls Church Railroad Cottages "affordable" units cost $700,000+

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Falls Church RR cottages - Missing Middle exemplar. City kept budget costs down by only allowing seniors (no school spending)

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Falls Church Railroad Cottages MM were developed in 2016 on land owned and inhabited by African-American families and businesses since just after the Civil War