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side-view of new high-density housing complex

Encouraging the Development of Missing Middle Housing

Despite recent zoning reform successes, regulatory, financing, and construction barriers still pose challenges to making missing middle housing, with its benefits for affordability and sustainability, a more widespread form of housing development. UC Berkeley's Terner Center for Housing Innovation recently released a new policy brief examining the barriers that developers of missing middle housing are facing. It reviews the history of missing middle housing as well as why facilitating this type of development has benefits.

"In 2020, less than 10 percent of all new homes built were smaller than 1,400 square feet, with implications for the cost of both owning and renting." Smaller homes are typically more affordable for families making 50 to 110 percent of area median income (AMI), and they provide environmental benefits, as well. The brief explains that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that residents in multifamily and single-family attached homes in higher-density neighborhoods use about 40 percent less electricity and 50 percent less water than residents in low-density areas. Higher density construction can also create more walkable neighborhoods, resulting in fewer vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and often better public transportation.

The brief authors noted that although California has passed legislation to such as SB 9 to enable homeowners to subdivide single-family lots and build up to two new home on each lot, local regulations still provide barriers to implementing more density. Cities need to change regulations to increase allowable building area commensurate with the increase in units. For example, guidelines for setbacks, building heights, roof pitch requirements, floor area ratios, easements and parking can hamstring attempts to increase density despite zoning changes. In addition, clarifying rules around subdivision, infrastructure and utilities can help developers deliver more housing. Streamlining permitting and approval processes for missing middle housing would provide a significant boost in many towns and cities.

To read the brief, click here.


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