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:

 

      ASF Presentation:  Missing Middle Consequences, Jan/Feb 2021

ASF Article on Missing Middle Housing, August 2020

ASF Response to Arlington County MM Housing Survey Dec 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) staff began outreach to communities from January-March 2020 then suspended the process due to Covid-19.  It published five research bulletins in Summer 2020 and updated its scope of work and timeline by September (see the Housing Arlington website.).  The Covid-amended timeline -- to include implementing new zoning -- extends through Spring 2022.  By early 2021, we were in Phase I "building a common understanding."  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 Summer 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.  The county will bring us $800,000 triplexes with narrow picture-frame yards with no trees, bringing us closer to full urbanization and gridlock. 

In official presentations, the county says new housing types are the sole objective -- to include duplexes, triplexes, or quadplexes -- in single-family zoned areas; it offers "no affordability targets."  In public outreach, however, it raises hopes of affordability and diversity.  The reality is that the density of Missing Middle (MM) housing will 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.  Adding more high-end housing 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.  Most telling, one year 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.  MM quadplexes uncder construction in Arlington are being marketed "from the $800,000's."  Wharton school 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? 

​Most objectionable is the moral posturing on equity.  County officials seem confident that vulnerable populations (who tend to be more diverse) won't call them on long-term development policies now boosting inflation and gentrification.  It is not clear why others are 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, 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, please complete the county's survey by consulting the quick links above and ASF's own survey replies  Speak up at the county's listening tours on Missing Middle, from Jan 27-Feb 4; see our events page for the relevant dates for your neighborhood.  Or write to the county board or attend and speak at a monthly meeting. 

 

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

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