Missing Middle Housing

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Missing Middle Housing consists of multi-unit housing types such as duplexes, fourplexes, bungalow courts, and mansion apartments that are not bigger than a large house, that are integrated throughout most walkable pre-1940s neighborhoods, often integrated into blocks with primarily single-family homes, and that provide diverse housing choices and generate enough density to support transit and locally-serving commercial amenities. Although many of these are a common feature in pre-war building stocks, these housing types have become much less common (hence the “missing”). The term was coined by architect and urban planner Daniel Parolek, Principal and Founder of Opticos Design, Inc.[1]


The American Association for Retired Persons recently released a new report, which showed that more and more, Americans want to “age in place,” and need easy access to services and amenities available in walkable, urban, transit-oriented communities.[2]

Millennials have also been shown to drive less, and seek housing choices in walkable neighborhoods close to transit.[3] The numbers of automobile miles traveled increased each year between 1946 and 2004; today Americans drive less than 2004, and no more per person than in 1996. The decline in driving is most striking among young people aged 16 to 34, who drove 23% fewer miles on average in 2009 than their age group did in 2001.[4]

“Millennials prefer amenity rich housing choices. These amenities are within walking distance,” presented Howard Ways of the Redevelopment Authority of Prince George's County in Washington D.C. “They prefer smaller units with open floor plans and are not interested in yard work at all.”[5]

“There’s a convergence of the demand created by Baby Boomers who are moving back, not just into city centers but into surrounding single-family neighborhoods, and the Millennials who want walkable urban living. The demand is just going to continue to grow," said Dan Parolek in an article on the National Association of Realtors website.[6] “I find in my development work my primary buyers are empty nester Boomers who are selling the big house, the big lot, the kids are grown and gone, and they’re looking for more lifestyle freedom,” said Linda of The Cottage Company in the same article.

"The structure of the traditional North American suburb has failed to live up to the expectations of many who settled in suburban neighbourhoods, and new ways are being sought to re-engineer suburban living and re-build those settlement patterns." — Innovations in Small-scale Living from North America, Small Housing B.C.[7]

Building Types[edit]

  • Duplexes
  • Fourplexes
  • Bungalow courts
  • Mansion apartments
  • Live/work units
  • Carriage house
  • Multiplex
  • Townhouse
  • Courtyard apartments




Missing Middle Housing offers greater choice in housing types that still blend into existing single family neighborhoods, unlike mid-rise apartment buildings. They are typically more affordable than a single-family home because they are smaller and share communal parking and lawns. These building types typically have a residential unit density in the range of 16 to 30 units per acre but are often perceived as being less dense because they are smaller in scale.[9]

Residents of The Cottage Company's cottage court developments are looking for a detached housing option that is smaller in size and requires less maintenance than a single-family home. The cottage court concept meets that need by grouping several small detached houses around shared lawns and parking. Residents get the benefit of their own detached home, and association fees take care of the lawn and parking maintenance. The most prevalent demographic groups in The Cottage Company's cottage court housing tend to be single women, empty nesters, and young professional couples.

Pursuing these housing types can also offer a financial benefit to developers. In a recent blog post, Daniel Parolek writes that a small infill builder in Norman, OK, recently made the decision to renovate an existing fourplex rather than turning it into a duplex. "He told me that if he had renovated the building into a duplex like he had planned before talking to me, he was expecting to get $600/month per bedroom and each unit would have been three bedrooms for a total of $3,600 in revenue per month for the two units. He was happy to tell me that he is now renting each of the one-bedroom units for $1,000 each for $4,000 in total monthly revenue. That is an 11% increase in monthly revenue! In this one project Keith has blown the top off of this market and is getting $1,000 per bedroom for these small, well-designed micro units located in a walkable context," Parolek wrote.[10][11]

Lloyd Alter of Treehugger says there is a certain amount of density required for building green cities that support transit-oriented development, but that you don't want it to be too dense. "I have made the case that you don't want it too high; that there is a Goldilocks density that's just right. One form of housing that gets close to Goldilocks is the stacked townhouse," he writes.[12]


Portland, OR, has a number of historic Missing Middle housing types located throughout the city, most of which are duplexes, that were built before the 1920s before the city's first zoning plan was approved. Zoning for single-family homes was expanded in the 1950s and the building of duplexes or triplexes largely became illegal in Portland. Some local developers are now advocating for these Missing Middle types, saying that they are key to building the bike-friendly neighborhoods Portland is known for.[13]

South Main in Buena Vista, CO, founded by siblings Jed Selby and Katie Selby Urban.

Hamilton Square is a Missing Middle Housing project in Novato, CA, on a two-and-a-half acre site located on the former Hamilton Air Force Base along Main Gate Road. The site plan includes a variety of buildings oriented around a 4,380-square foot square with a postal pavilion less than a quarter mile from the future SMART Station area.

Conover Commons is a community developed by The Cottage Company in Kirkland, Wash.

Habersham is a waterfront New Urbanist community near Beaufort, S.C. Habersham features Missing Middle housing types including cottages, granny flats, townhouses, live/work lofts, and mansion apartments. The town plan was designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., the Miami architects who were among the founders of New Urbanism.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Parolek, Daniel. "Missing Middle Housing: Responding to the Demand for Walkable Urban Living" (PDF). www.smartgrowth.org. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-03-10.
  2. ^ "Aging U.S. Population Boosts Demand for Missing Middle Housing". Opticos Design, Inc. Retrieved June 3, 2014.
  3. ^ Toppo, Greg. "Rocking the walking: Millennials drive new urban spaces". USA Today. Retrieved June 17, 2014.
  4. ^ Moore, Patrick J. "U.S. Temporary Housing Trend: Millennials and the "Walkable Urban Neighborhood". Bristol Global. Archived from the original on 2014-11-20. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
  5. ^ Yung, John. "APA14: Demographic Preferences Shifting in Favor of Walkable, Urban Communities". UrbanCincy. Retrieved April 28, 2014.
  6. ^ Van Gieson, John. "Mid-Range Density". National Association of Realtors. Retrieved December 6, 2013.
  7. ^ "Innovations in Small-scale Living from North America" (PDF). Small Housing BC. Small Housing BC. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-05-21. Retrieved 2015-05-07.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ Agnew, Spencer. "CNU 21: Missing Middle Housing". University of St. Thomas.
  10. ^ Parolek, Daniel. "An Important Win for Housing Diversity". Opticos Design, Inc. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
  11. ^ Parolek, Daniel. "A win for housing diversity". Better Cities & Towns. Archived from the original on 2015-03-08. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
  12. ^ Alter, Lloyd. "Density creeps are coming to a city near you, and that's a good thing". Treehugger. Retrieved May 26, 2015.
  13. ^ Andersen, Michael. "Why are these 11 buildings illegal in most of Portland?". BikePortland.org. Retrieved June 19, 2015.

External links[edit]