Can “Missing Middle” Housing Maintain Millennials in Urban Areas?

Washington Post article (2017-12-09) reported that urban planners, concerned over the potential migration of millennials who want more space and privacy for their children, are turning back to the “missing middle” of housing: “duplexes, triplexes, bungalows, rowhouses with multiple units, and small buildings with four to six apartments or condos.” The article noted that these types of housing are also designed to provide affordable urban housing options for the middle class. From the article:

“There’s been this huge wave of people in cities all over the country. Then they grow up. Then what?,” said Yolanda Cole, who owns a D.C. architectural firm and chairs ULI Washington, part of the Urban Land Institute, a research organization dedicated to responsible land use.

In the District, about 35 percent o f the housing stock — mostly rowhouses and apartment buildings with two to four units — qualifies as missing middle, planners say. But many of the rowhouses have been carved up into smaller units, shrinking the supply of larger homes and sending prices soaring just as older millennials began seeking them out. Several years ago, in part to preserve larger homes for millennials trying to remain in D.C., the city began limiting when rowhouses could be divided into more than three units.

 “We’re starting to research where and how we can encourage more of the missing middle,” said Art Rodgers, senior housing planner for the D.C. Office of Planning. “I think urban areas in general have to make tough choices between maximizing land capacity and maintaining this housing supply.” …

Some cities have rezoned their single-family neighborhoods to allow duplexes, triplexes and other multiunit structures that look like single-family homes from the outside, particularly in areas near transit lines. To allow more homes per lot, others are considering relaxing requirements on yard sizes and setbacks, the distance required between properties. Some are beginning to allow bungalows clustered around courtyards by changing long-standing requirements that front entrances be on a street. …

Gwen Wright, planning director for Montgomery County, said more homes in the missing middle would serve as a transition needed between the high-rises of growing downtowns like Bethesda and surrounding neighborhoods of single-family houses. Home buyers of all ages need more options in a county where a starter home can command up to $900,000, she said.

“I think we can provide what millennials are looking for — being close to transit-oriented areas but having the same benefits of a single-family house, even if not in a traditional sense with the yard and picket fence,” Wright said. “My sense is millennials are looking for more than that half-acre. They’re looking for community and walkability. They’ve gotten used to those” in cities.

The article also discussed the potential impact of increasing “missing middle” housing on developer profits and whether the initial trend will continue:

Fred Selden, planning director for Fairfax County in the Northern Virginia suburbs, said he hasn’t seen an exodus of millennials from the county’s more urban areas. But he senses the uncertainty in his profession. …

Experts say it’s too early to know how many urban millennials will try to stay versus follow the well-worn path to the suburbs once they have school-age children. The ULI Washington study found nearly two-thirds of those 30 and older said they planned to continue living inside the ­Beltway in the next three years. But nearly half of that age group also didn’t have children and didn’t expect to in that time. The survey also found 58 percent of millennial renters believed they would need to move outside the Beltway to buy a home.