Arlington County Reviews Refined Scope and Charge for Missing Middle

Published on September 23, 2020

Yesterday, staff from the Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD) presented to the County Board a revised Missing Middle Housing Study Scope and Charge, which was shaped by community feedback and informed by research. The Missing Middle Housing Study is anticipated to kick off in late October. Under the umbrella of the Housing Arlington program, this study will investigate the possible role of missing middle housing in increasing the County's housing supply and diversifying the range of housing choices.

"Missing middle" housing, such as duplexes, courtyard homes, and small multiplexes, fits design-wise between single-family detached houses and mid-to-high-rise apartment buildings. Arlington's land use policies and Zoning Ordinance currently restrict missing middle housing types in many neighborhoods, and this has had an impact on racial and economic diversity. Staff's research suggests there is a strong relationship between Arlington's exclusionary zoning and land use policies and a lack of diversity and of housing opportunities for Arlington's households of color, especially Black or African American and Hispanic or Latino households.

From January to March 2020, County staff shared a draft scope of work and met with advisory boards and commissions to collect feedback. Staff also received input from the broader community through an online feedback form. During that same period, County Board members met with civic associations and other community groups. The resulting feedback informed the scope and charge presented today.

"The input received on the draft scope from residents, community organizations, government, and other stakeholders has allowed us to refine the study process," said Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey. "If we are to meet the housing needs of our diverse Arlington community, we must work together to plan for inevitable growth and to correct the past mistakes of exclusionary land use policies. Without changes these policies will exclude ever more people from being able to live in Arlington."

Study Rationale: A Regional Housing Market under Pressure

The demand for housing in the Washington metropolitan region is high. In Arlington, the amount of housing and the range of housing choices are limited. As detailed in the Missing Middle Housing Study Research Compendium, the County's Metro and Planning Corridors (Rosslyn-to-Ballston, Columbia Pike, and Richmond Highway) provide medium and high-density multi-family housing. Other neighborhoods provide single-family homes, townhouses, and a limited quantity of two- and three-family dwellings and smaller apartment communities. But these existing housing types do not meet all community needs. The County's 2018 Big Idea Roundtables and the 2019 Housing Arlington Community Conversation Series made clear that Arlington residents are frustrated by rising housing costs and lack of housing options.

Scope of Work

The refined scope of work affirms a commitment to the study goals of increasing supply and housing choice. It also acknowledges that housing affordability may be identified in the course of the study as a potential community priority. Guiding the study will be the importance of addressing how to modify a currently exclusionary land use framework—one that, without intentional policy updates over time, has furthered racial disparities in access to housing and opportunity—to  align with the County's diverse and inclusive vision. The refined scope also clarifies that the study will be truly Countywide; in other words, single-family detached neighborhoods will not be disproportionately considered for missing middle opportunities.


The Missing Middle Housing Study is envisioned in three phases that will kick off at the end of October:

  • Phase 1 - Developing a common understanding of Arlington's housing challenges and community priorities;

  • Phase 2 - Focused study of housing types that address the County's housing shortage and limited range of housing options;

  • Phase 3 - Consideration of how to implement the conclusions of the previous phases, possibly leading to recommendations to amend the Zoning Ordinance, the Comprehensive Plan, and other policies and work programs.

Community Engagement

Robust community participation will be embedded in all phases of the study. While the refined scope of work upholds the early engagement goals of broad, equitable participation and the establishment of a community partner network, community feedback has resulted in incorporation of additional communication with stakeholder groups and technical experts. Specifically, a Technical Advisory Group will serve as a sounding board for staff in analyzing community concerns and drafting reports.

While the County considered other engagement models, such as a working group, the imperative of inclusivity made the distributed engagement process ideal. A distributed engagement process offers the least possibility of excluding anyone who wants to participate, which is critical from an equity perspective. Staff recommended convening a Technical Advisory Group—membership to be determined— to help ensure that any recommendations are consistent with County policies, mitigate community concerns, and apply development and regulatory considerations. Staff also recommended inviting community partners to facilitate more discussion of the Missing Middle Housing Study.

County staff will collaborate with the community partner network to share information and gather feedback, as these individuals and groups can help the County reach more and wider segments of the community and raise awareness about the study. A virtual orientation for community partners is planned for mid-October. Now is an ideal time for renters, homeowners, students, employees, businesses, community groups, civic associations, and all Arlington stakeholders to sign up to be community partners.

You can also watch the County Board work session from September 22, 2020.

About Housing Arlington

Arlington benefits from an evolving economy and growing population. However, as housing demands have increased, pressures on the regional and local housing market have intensified, causing shortfalls in housing supply, fewer options in housing types, and rising housing costs. These are regional issues that will require regional solutions and local action.

To locally address this challenge, the County Board established an umbrella program, Housing Arlington, to take a proactive, expanded approach to reach an equitable, stable, adaptive community. Over several years, Housing Arlington will generate holistic housing solutions through planning and implementation tools, housing policy, financial resources, and innovative local and regional public-private partnerships.
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