Missing Middle

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In December 2019, Arlington County announced its intent to explore new land-use tools that would include a possible major change to single-family neighborhoods, called Missing Middle housing.  The approach was first developed by Opticos Design in 2010, as one potential way to provide additional housing in areas experiencing shortages.  Missing Middle refers to a type of housing that fits "between" single family homes and mid- to high-rise multi-family dwellings.  It is designed to be moderately-priced, marketable, and in or near transit and shopping areas.  Arlington adopted one type of "Missing Middle" policy with its approval of accessory dwelling units in 2019; changing zoning from single-to multi-family housing in many neighborhoods, however, would represent a significant change to our community.  ASF is opposed to new density without proper planning tools, noted on our platform page.

In January 2020, Housing Arlington (HA) staff began briefing county advisory commissions on the Missing Middle concept.  HA staff have posted details, including links to study documents and other reference material, at its Housing Arlington website. The county began community briefings Feb-March, with an intent to kick off an 18-month policy review in April 2020.  ASF asked the county in March and July to improve the community engagement process in light of Covid-19 constraints; the board told us engagement has been sufficient and says outcomes have yet to be determined.  Yet the board still appears poised, through next steps on a scoping process in late September, to green-light policy options that will expedite removal of mature tree canopy, pack in more concrete and cars on residential streets, and add to runoff so Arlington can build a possibly very small number of pricey 3-bedroom duplexes with narrow landing strips of yards. 

The county has told ASF that its only objective for Missing Middle is to provide new "types" of housing -- possibly to include duplexes, triplexes, or quadplexes -- in single-family zoned areas, and that it has "no affordability targets."  Yet public outreach, board member comments, Housing Arlington's website and research documents (links below)  -- and partner events sponsored by "affordable housing" organizations -- are raising false hopes by strongly implying MM will deliver both affordability and diversity.  ASF believes that while a half-duplex in some areas of the county could be less expensive than a new single-family home, the yield from existing residential lots will increase 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.  It makes things more difficult for everyone else.  Current property owners will see their assets appreciate, but those on fixed incomes might have to sell as tax bills rise steeply.  Renters will suffer.  Adding more high-end housing (chased by higher-earning residents) will widen the income inequality gap, leading to gentrification.  Affordable housing funds will go less far as rents and overall prices escalate, adding to the vicious circle of displacement.  And while the county dismisses the "affordability" argument with us, until it admits this more broadly, we will continue to highlight a July 2020 study by Arlington economist Dr. Jon Huntley and researcher Kody Carmody, that show very limited gains towards improving affordable housing stock with these "new types."  As the Huntley/Karmody study illustrates, and as ASF has argued in its August 2020 letter for civic associations (link below), increasing supply of housing in the county has been shown to simply keep pushing prices higher.

Despite the enormous investment and interesting results delivered in the new Missing Middle bulletins, we question the utility of a major revision of our zoning code for a benefit the county can only vaguely define as offering "new housing types."  As an end unto itself?  Nowhere have our leaders or the new bulletins revealed -- including in the most recent community update held September 2 (see link below) -- how many potential units would be built, in which R-zoned areas, how much would they go for in today's market, and which types of diversity would they deliver?  Nonetheless, the process is advancing.

Resources:

Arlington County Documents

ASF Documents

 

Third-Party Documents

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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

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