What is “missing middle”?

Opticos Diagram

“Missing middle” is a commonly-used term that refers to the range of housing types that fit between single-family detached homes and mid-to-high-rise apartment buildings. Examples include duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, and more. Used in this context, “middle” references the size and type of a home, relative to its location – in the middle – on a housing scale spectrum. The cost of these homes vary based on style, size, location, and market forces; therefore missing middle housing types do not correlate with a specific income bracket.

There are many benefits to this style of housing. Missing middle homes can:

  • Bridge between low- and high-density areas
  • Support walkable neighborhoods and locate enough residents nearby needed to support neighborhood retail and transit options
  • Appeal to a broader range of residents and meet the needs of a more diverse and inclusive cross-section of our community, such as:
    • Young adults, who are just starting their careers
    • Growing families who may need an additional bedroom for a child, or, an on-site dwelling unit for a grandparent
    • Older adults who wish to age in their same community, near family and friends
    • Empty nesters who wish to downsize
    • Public servants in search of mid-scale homes, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters

Missing middle forms exist in Arlington neighborhoods; however, today’s zoning and land use policies restrict them from being built in most areas of the County. In fact, 75% of land zoned residential in Arlington is exclusively for single-family, detached homes.

As part of the pre-planning phase, Missing Middle Housing Study staff have researched various elements of missing middle housing, including typologies, where they exist in the County, real estate market forces, a history of zoning and land use policies, and more. A compendium of this research, consisting of five bulletins, will be published from June through August 2020. Explore the Missing Middle Housing Study Research Compendium.