Missing middle housing could be the solution to the Phoenix housing inventory crisis

by Aly Perkins

There is a middle ground for those who want fast and furious development and those who desire neighborhood maintenance, and it just might ease the housing crisis.

Missing middle housing, a term coined by architect and urban designer Dan Parolek, refers to the “middle” residential housing options between detached single-family homes and mid-rise apartment buildings. The most well-known missing middle housing options include duplexes, triplexes, condominiums, and townhomes. These housing options are referred to as “missing” due to mid-1940s era restrictive zoning laws systematically outlawing their existence under most cities’ zoning codes.

However, today, communities show a growing appetite for a more diverse and affordable housing supply. In February 2022, Phoenix REALTORS® polled 800 voters in Phoenix, looking to gauge residents’ attitudes on their general quality of life and outlook on the current state of housing. Over three-quarters of respondents acknowledged affordability as a very or fairly big problem, while 56% expressed a similar sentiment in regard to availability.

However, when forced to choose between increasing density and maintaining the character of their neighborhoods, voters displayed a strong preference for protecting neighborhoods as they currently exist, with 42% in favor of maintenance and 53% of respondents preferring to add more dense development.

With a population split on whether to preserve neighborhood traits or build higher and further, which preference do we act upon in order to ease the inventory shortage? Turns out — everyone can win.

Missing middle housing units are built to the scale of a large single-family home and provide gentle density, intentionally designed to fit within existing neighborhoods and meet growing demand for walkability, proximity to transportation options, and other amenities among homebuyers, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

With rent and home price increases leading the nation in Phoenix and wages slogging to keep up, cries for affordability are at an all-time high. Supply shortages, both locally and nationwide, exacerbate the problem.

According to the Housing Phoenix Plan, a policy proposal passed in 2019 by the Phoenix City Council to create or preserve 50,000 housing units by 2030, Phoenix needed over 163,000 units to address chronic underbuilding since the turn of the century. From that figure, two-thirds, or almost 100,000 units, must be priced below market rate to address the financial needs of specific groups, including seniors, veterans, residents with disabilities, and Phoenicians experiencing homelessness. Though with nearly 200 people moving to Phoenix every day, the number of housing units needed to house the population has likely dramatically increased.

Missing middle housing options, smaller units than a typical detached single-family home, are less expensive to build, purchase and maintain, making them more affordable options to add to the housing market. Its smaller footprint also allows builders to divvy up land costs among a few units, resulting in more manageable land costs for homeowners. With the affordability crunch more exacerbated than ever in Phoenix’s history, our community needs more diverse housing options that are within reach for low- to middle-income consumers.

Few dispute that Phoenix, and the country at large, faces a severe inventory shortage that raises prices beyond reach for many homeowning hopefuls. While many housing solutions can be controversial among community members, missing middle housing addresses the societal need for housing stock, while mindfully integrating into existing Phoenix neighborhoods.

Phoenix REALTORS® has launched a public awareness campaign educating Phoenix residents about this middle ground solution. Learn more about missing middle housing to understand how we can shift our urban planning to give as many people as possible a shot at the American Dream.

Alyson Perkins is Government Affairs Director for Phoenix REALTORS®.

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