Missing Middle

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In December 2019, Arlington County began a Missing Middle Housing Study (MMHS) and on Apriil 28, 2022, staff released a Phase Two framework report recommending the County Board approve a countywide change from single to multi-family zoning, allowing up to 8-plexes on larger lots and reducing tree canopy coverage to as little as 10% (from 20% or more).  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, but Arlington will allow these housing types in all areas, essentially transitioning the entire county to multi-family zoning and multifamily housing.  This will raise land values, increase displacement of residents who are not "keeping up" with rising incomes, and benef existing property owners and wealthy newcomers at the expense of many lower and middle-class residents. 

ASF is pressing the county to first address how new zoning would shape fiscal, environmental and diversity and to fully define the population growth contained in the Missing Middle Housing Study Phase Two report issued April 28, 2022.  Staff intends to brief the Board in a July work session on its recommendations, then commence Phase 3 where it will draft ordinances to consolidate irrevocable and expansive changes.  We encourage you to fill out the online feedback form below, and to contact countyboard@arlingtonva.us, echoing concerns expressed by ASF and the Arlington Civic Federation, whose request for more time for community input has been rejected by the Board.  See also messages from four Civic Associations in west Arlington, from Donaldson Run, and the Glencarlyn Civic Association President. 

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The Phase 2 Missing Middle report projects up-zoning for all single-family areas that do not already permit it, from duplexes up to 8-plexes, and assumes the largest of these will be limited to the largest lots (however, there appear to be no guards against lot consolidation in smaller-lot areas, which would change that dynamic).  Essentially, the county is dispensing with the commitment it made when embarking on Metro construction in 1979 that it would preserve single-family areas as a counterbalance to the extreme density that the Metro corridors would provide.  Extreme density will become the new default.  While builders will still be able to construct single-family homes, the only check on 100% urbanizaton is whether our labor market will continue to support rapid expansions of luxury high-end housing.    

The Phase 2 report acknowledges but dodges key concerns of ASF, i.e. gentrification, inadequate budgeting for new infrastructure, and the loss of mature trees and pervious surface (safeguards against flooding and urban heat islands).  While county staff projects only 20 Missing Middle "teardowns" of single family homes (on top of teardowns already occurring for large single-family homes), ASF counters that:

-- the increased yield will accelerate sales by residents who want to realize greater profit or who cannot afford higher taxes that will come with those new assessments;

-- this in turn increases the likelihood of lot consolidations, that will allow EVEN greater lot coverage for single family homes if built, and make it more likely that the Missing Middle six-plexes and 8-plexes will begin to fill in former single family areas;

-- the increased yield from existing residential lots as their development potential rises will drive out existing residents who fall below the median income of $108,00 projected for these new units. 

Added density delivers the most value to the developer/current owner and to those who develop the landIt 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 exceed average household incomes for African-Americans, Latinos, seniors, new immigrants, the disabled.  Local supporters of MM in Arlington are essentially acceding to the "voluntary displacement" of many current residents -- to accommodate wealthier in-migrants.  This is precisely the effect of such up-zoning predicted by UCLA Professor Michael Storper

 

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.  MM quadplexes under construction in Arlington are selling in the $800,000's, and have not promoted diversity.  Noted local 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).  ASF also questions the "major housing crisis for mid-level earners" battle cry that has accompanied Arlington's MM campaign.  Zillow in January 2021 showed 335 homes/townhomes for sale in Arlington under $800,000 out of 536 total units, showing relatively robust supply.  The Missing Middle effort -- like an October 2020 failed effort to change affordable homeownership programs -- seems to favor higher income households at the expense of lower income groupsASF believes the County is subordinating true equity as part of a larger focus on helping middle-class newcomers (who have been white and Asian).  It may offer some element of diversity but it will displace many Arlingtonians who are not keeping pace with rising incomes (African-Americans, Latnos, seniors, immigrants who already live here).

ASF is concerned that the county's MM plans, as with its other development plans -- including extensive new density along Langston Boulevard, is untethered from fiscal reality.  See the January 2021 ARLNow article by Peter Rousselot (ASF member) for more information on the tax implications of growth. Arlington in 2018 committed to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments that it would add residents equal to the combined populations of Charlottesville and Culpeper, approximately 65,000.  But five years on, the County has not budgeted for any added facilities such as schools or parks for these new residents.  In February 2022, the County Board approved a new sector plan for Pentagon City that will add 12,000 new residents to the 8,000 now living in that area over the next 40 years -- almost equal to the entire population of Falls Church -- without budgeting funds or public space to add adequate infrastructure. The County says it also won't need to budget for infrastructure or public services as it looks at densifying the Langston Boulevard Corridor.  And, no surprise, the April 28 Missing Middle study and corresponding analysis projects no new schools or facilities are needed despite up-zoning all remaining single-family areas that do  allow new multifamily projects currently.  The claim is not credible.

May 27 is just around the corner, most residents are still unaware of the looming change.  County staff has indicated it is not providing further community outreach.  Please write to the county board, sign up to speak at the May 14 board meeting, speak to a board member at Open Door Mondays, and ask ASF for a briefing.  Request a delay in new zoning and meaningul analysis of the new zoning's costs and benefits, espeically demographic, environmental, and fiscal. 

 

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