MIDDLE HOUSING STUDY
Check out the other sections of the Middle Housing Study. Links will become live as reports are published
“Missing middle housing” refers to housing that occupies the “middle” ground between large-lot, single-family homes and large apartment complexes. It can encompass a variety of often multi-unit buildings that are house-scale, facilitate neighborhood walkability, accommodate changing demographics and preferences, and are available to people with a range of incomes. Middle housing offers the potential to increase the supply of housing, but at a scale that is less objectionable to most neighbors and with strong design quality that can improve upon neighborhoods.
It is clear that the single-family form is highly favored among Utahns. It is also clear that new multi-unit development can be built in a manner that mimics that form and blends seamlessly into a variety of neighborhood types. And while there are obstacles to the creation of middle housing, there are also various means of opening the way.
Ultimately, to ease the pressure on housing prices, communities will need to consider a range of strategies. Ongoing population growth seems to be an inevitability. There are a host of affordability measures that policymakers might take. But addressing these growth pressures for the market-priced households will also require more middle housing.
SELECT KEY FINDINGS FROM THIS STUDY
- More than 80% of Utahns feel that home prices and rents are too high. Indeed, the cost of housing in Utah has been skyrocketing – with a year-over-year appreciation of 29% at September 2021. (Part I)
- Utah’s rapid population growth is projected to continue. While the younger population is expected to shrink in percentage terms, the number of young households is expected to grow in sheer numbers – suggesting a need for lower-cost, entry-level housing options. (Part I)
- Middle housing offers an important response to Utah’s need for more housing choices at a variety of price points, to the growing demand for walkable communities, and to the increasing number of households with fewer and older people. (Part II)
- Middle housing development has shifted over time. Most of Utah’s small multiplexes were built between the early 20th century and the 1980s, but since 2000, townhomes have become the predominant middle-housing type. (Part II)
- Housing development is changing; for example, in Salt Lake County, single-family detached development is becoming less common (24% of new units in 2020), while middle housing is on the increase (32%), and larger multifamily units are taking up the lion’s share of new development (44%). (Part III)
- Utah Foundation survey respondents prefer single-family detached housing, but they offered positive responses to some small middle housing with the appearance of a single-family home. (Part III)
- Utahns’ preference for the appearance of single-family homes suggests that middle housing will meet with greater acceptance if developed in a manner that mimics the style and scale of single-family dwellings. (Part III)
- A key barrier against new middle-housing development is zoning. Zoning trended significantly toward single-family residential with automobile-oriented development patterns in the 1900s. As a result, development shifted away from walkable medium-density housing in many areas, reducing the relative supply of the now “missing” middle. (Part IV)
- Parking spaces increase construction costs and research shows that these costs tend to increase rents. It is important for local policymakers to take a hard look at their parking needs to discover whether the requirements suit actual needs and whether the payoffs in terms of driver convenience are worth the tradeoffs in housing affordability. (Part IV)
- Overlay zones may be used to open the way for middle housing. This type of overlay could allow middle housing in traditional single-family zoned areas, particularly those near transit and retail, around main street areas, in downtowns, and as transitions between more dense areas and single-family ones. (Part IV)
- Upzoning to allow small multifamily (or smaller-lot single-family) in existing single-family zones holds the promise of creating new housing opportunities. However, to avoid negative impacts on quality of life and neighborhood character, it may be prudent to begin by trading single-family zoning for two-family zoning and, if successful, build to four-family zoning (or more, depending on the location). (Part IV)
- Form-based codes provide a zoning approach that allows developers to focus on placemaking, rather than use, possibly opening the way for middle housing. However, a successful form-based approach must avoid being both ambiguous and overly prescriptive. (Part IV)
Visit our Middle Housing Project Page for more information and resources.
Special thanks to Salt Lake County, the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, the Utah League of Cities and Towns, the Wasatch Front Regional Council and Y2 Analytics for providing project-based support.