Groundwork Housing Summit: Missing Middle Housing

On May 8, Groundwork hosted "Creating Home: A Summit Exploring Policies, Practices, and Promising Solutions" where urban designer, architect, author, and founding principal of Opticos Design, Daniel Parolek presented the benefits and implications of Missing Middle Housing.

Traditionally, development in Northwest Arkansas has been focused on large single-family homes, or large-scale multifamily apartment buildings, leaving out the smaller options such as townhomes, multiplexes, and cottages.

This past May 8, Dan Parolek, creator of the concept “missing middle housing” presented as the lunch key note for Groundwork housing summit, where he discussed how these new building options are key to addressing our housing challenges.

Rethinking Housing Priorities

The complex issue of housing affordability can be impersonal when there is focus only on density, traffic, infrastructure, and NIMBY opposition. It is vital for the conversation to remember that housing is a basic need. In Northwest Arkansas, a significant portion of the population cannot afford single-family homes, yet that is almost exclusively what is being developed. It is essential to prioritize building solutions that align with the diverse needs of the community, ensuring inclusivity and access for all residents.

Parolek highlighted the significance of walkability as a primary consideration for communities, indicating that many individuals prioritize access to pedestrian-friendly amenities over the size of their home or yard. However, despite this demand, smaller homes and walkable neighborhoods are often illegal based on current zoning codes. The solution is simple: reform zoning codes to prioritize flexible and inclusive approaches that prioritize neighborhood form over rigid density classifications. By making simple solutions legal, communities can better meet the needs and preferences of their residents.

Introducing Missing Middle Housing

Missing Midding housing addresses a critical disparity in the housing market, focusing on options that bridge the gap between detached single-family homes and large-scale apartments. This middle ground, encompassing duplexes, townhomes, live-work, and cottages, offers more diverse and flexible housing choices. However, these options are absent from the current housing landscape across the nation. Regulatory frameworks predominantly dictate zoning codes that favor either single-family neighborhoods or high-density developments, effectively rendering other housing types illegal.

Benefits and Implications

Missing middle housing provides options for a wider range of income levels and preferences and can blend seamlessly into existing neighborhoods. Parolek explained that there can be house-scale buildings that have the same look and feel as single-family homes but contain multiple units.

Several tools Parolek suggested for adopting Missing Middle Housing include ensuring projects are feasible and profitable for developers, maintaining a level of attainability for residents, creating livability and thoughtfulness in design and addressing policy barriers. By implementing these strategies, communities can create more inclusive and resilient neighborhoods that cater to a diverse population while fostering economic growth and stability.

Public Sector Solutions

To implement Missing Middle Housing, Parolek emphasized the need for zoning reform and utilizing form-based codes especially in districts writing new zoning codes.

Opticos Design, Inc, Parolek’s founding organization, also offers a Missing Middle Scan and Deep Dive to cities to assess current land use, prioritize where missing middle housing should be applied, identify any barriers and geographically test the zoning code. An important aspect of this service is a displacement assessment tool, which evaluates the impact of zoning reforms on neighborhoods and provides suggestions to mitigate these impacts.

One example provided was that of Puget Sound, where Opticos Design, Inc. created a "Regional Shared Missing Middle Zoning Toolkit." This regional shared model is an important example for Northwest Arkansas. As a polycentric region, implementing this type of shared zoning system would make Northwest Arkansas more cohesive and collaborative.

Private Sector Solutions

In terms of private sector solutions, Parolek highlighted Opticos Design’s success in using infill developments, multifamily neighborhoods, allowing developers to innovate, removing density caps from regulation forms and allowing ADUs to be sold separate from a primary unit.

These solutions would create housing optionality that Northwest Arkansas currently lacks, offering a more diverse range of housing choices to meet the evolving needs of residents.

A variety of housing options serves not only the workforce, but also any individual seeking smaller, low-maintenance homes. This is especially important for senior citizens wishing to age in place, as it is crucial to consider housing solutions beyond large single-family homes and assisted living facilities. Opticos Design, Inc., in collaboration with AARP, has highlighted the importance of multi-generational incremental development. This approach integrated Missing Middle Housing into existing single-family neighborhoods, enabling senior citizens to age in their community.

By recognizing housing as a fundamental human need and acknowledging the diverse needs of the community, we can begin to address the pressing challenges faced in NWA. Missing Middle Housing offers a promising avenue towards bridging the gap between housing demand and development, providing a diverse range of options to meet the needs of residents. Through collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors, along with zoning reform and innovative design, we can pave the way for a more equitable and resilient community.

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