Characteristics

What are the characteristics of Missing Middle Housing?

Map of walkable places; Missing Middle Housing characteristics
Development patterns in walkable urban neighborhoods make walking and biking convenient and support robust public transit. Map shows: Bouldin Creek neighborhood in Austin, TX.

Missing Middle Housing is not a new type of building. It is a range of building types building types exist in cities and towns across the country, and were a fundamental building block in pre-1940s neighborhoods. They are most likely present on some of your favorite city blocks—you may even have them in your own neighborhood.

Combined together (and sometimes even with single-family homes), Missing Middle building types create a moderate density that can support public transit and services and amenities within walking distance, and make up some of the most popular up-and-coming communities in Denver, Cincinnati, Austin, and San Francisco.

So what do Missing Middle building types have in common?

Walkable Context

Missing Middle housing types are best located in a walkable context. Buyers and renters of these housing types are often trading square footage for proximity to services and amenities.

Small-Footprint Buildings

Missing Middle Housing characterstics
Missing Middle housing types generally have a similar size footprint to single-family homes.

These housing types typically have small- to medium-sized footprints, with a body width, depth, and height no larger than a single-family home. This allows a range of Missing Middle types—with varying densities but compatible forms—to be blended into a neighborhood, encouraging a mix of socioeconomic households and making these types a good tool for compatible infill.

Lower Perceived Density

Due to the small footprint of the building types and the fact that they are usually mixed with a variety of building types even on an individual block, the perceived density of these types is usually quite low—they do not look like dense buildings.

But one of the primary benefits of Missing Middle is that the neighborhood densities are often higher than 16 dwelling units per acre—the threshold needed to create a supportive environment for transit and neighborhood-serving main streets.

“From the perspective of my work, Missing Middle Housing has a natural complement in MMP (missing middle plan), a.k.a. a ‘hybrid grid’ or as named it in my work, a Fused Grid … The Fused Grid proposes a set of neighborhood modular layouts (reminiscent of Savannah) that incorporate all the desirable elements—livability, safety, security, sociability, and delight—as do MMH buildings.” — Fanis Grammenos, Director of Urban Pattern Associates and author of “Remaking the City Street Grid – A Model for Urban and Suburban Development”

Smaller, Well-Designed Units

Courtesy of The Cottage Company.
One characteristic of Missing Middle Housing is smaller, well-designed units. Courtesy The Cottage Company.

Most Missing Middle housing types have smaller unit sizes. The challenge is to create small spaces that are well designed, comfortable, and usable. The ultimate unit size will depend on the context, but smaller-sized units can help developers keep their costs down and attract a different market of buyers and renters who are not being provided for in all markets.

Fewer Off-street Parking Spaces

Because they are built in walkable neighborhoods with proximity to transportation options and commercial amenities, Missing Middle housing types should not provide more than one parking space per unit.

If more off-street parking is provided, buildings typically become very inefficient from the perspective of development potential or yield standpoint, and the additional space needed on the lot drops neighborhoods below the 16 du/acre density threshold. In addition, large, unattractive areas of paved parking should be seen as being just as incompatible with residential contexts as larger buildings.

Simple Construction

Missing Middle Housing is simply constructed (Type V), which makes them a very attractive alternative for developers to achieve good densities without the added financing challenges and risk of more complex construction types. This aspect can also increase affordability when units are sold or rented.

As providing single family detached sub- $200,000 starter homes is becoming more and more out of reach for builders across the country, Missing Middle can provide an attractive and affordable alternative starter home.

Missing Middle Housing characteristics
Missing Middle housing types help to create walkable communities.

Creates Community

Missing Middle Housing creates community through the integration of shared community spaces within the building type (e.g. bungalow court), or simply from being located within a vibrant neighborhood with places to eat, drink, and socialize.

This is an important aspect in particular considering the growing market of single-person households (nearly 30% of all households) that want to be part of a community.

Marketable

Because of the increasing demand from baby boomers and millennials, as well as shifting household demographics, the market is demanding more vibrant, sustainable, walkable places to live. These Missing Middle housing types respond directly to this demand.

In addition, the scale of these housing types makes them more attractive to many buyers who want to live in a walkable neighborhood, but may not want to live in a large condominium or apartment building.