Missing Middle Housing Study: Research Compendium

The Missing Middle Housing Study Research Compendium is a precursor collection of Arlington-specific data and existing conditions that will serve as a resource for all who wish to participate in the Missing Middle Housing Study which is set to kick off in the Fall of 2020.

Comprised of five bulletins, the collection introduces housing types and terms, provides an overview of Arlington’s current housing inventory, presents background information on housing affordability, reviews the history of land use and zoning policies, and illuminates how the combination of these elements have shaped the way Arlington exists today.

The information provides everyone with a common background of knowledge and serves as a starting point for community discussion. More research and analysis will be conducted throughout the study’s process to support the development of recommendations.


Five Research Bulletins

Each research bulletin can be viewed as a standalone document, or as a chapter in a larger body of knowledge. Bulletins were published from June through August 2020 in anticipation of a Missing Middle Housing Study kick-off in the Fall.


bulletin 1

  • Bulletin 1 provides an overview of the study’s purpose and scope, and introduces the other bulletins.



bulletin 2

  • Bulletin 2 examines Arlington’s housing market, its gaps, and the costs associated with housing.



bulletin 3

  • Bulletin 3 provides an overview of Arlington’s housing stock, with a focus on “existing” middle housing.



bulletin 4

  • Bulletin 4 reveals the 90-year evolution of Arlington’s zoning and land use policies and their influence on neighborhoods.



bulletin 5

  • Bulletin 5 identifies how additional policy areas beyond land use, planning, and housing — such as energy, stormwater, and trees — influence development in Arlington.



History of residential development planning and zoning

Racial Context

During the production of the Research Compendium, the world has been profoundly affected by events and experiences virtually unparalleled in recent history. During the first half of 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic began to impact the United States, Virginia, and Arlington. While at the time of publication of this document, the duration of the pandemic and the extent and severity of its impact is unknown, communities throughout the country are dealing with housing crises that have been created or exacerbated by the pandemic. People of color have been disproportionately burdened and impacted by this crisis across multiple measures, most notably in COVID-19 cases and deaths, but also in loss of jobs and income, and in food and housing insecurity. Arlington’s commitment to addressing these issues, including housing affordability, remains steadfast.

During this same period, the United States and the world have again experienced and witnessed multiple acts of racialized violence toward African Americans, in many cases carried out by local government law enforcement. These actions, coupled with the recognition of racial disparities in COVID-19’s impacts, call on our nation to address the systemic racism ingrained in our communities until it is eradicated, at which point progress can be made toward a more just, peaceful, and prosperous society for all.

Arlington has introduced a racial equity framework, Race: Realizing Arlington’s Commitment to Equity, which builds on existing efforts to expand equity in the areas of digital access, housing, and public health and seeks to make equity a basic consideration in all functions of County government. These research bulletins also seek to shed light on the role that Arlington’s land use and zoning policies have played in contributing to racial segregation and disparity.

While Arlington’s progressive policies to support growth along the Metro and Columbia Pike corridors have allowed for production of multifamily housing that is more affordable than single-family detached housing, the exclusionary nature of Arlington’s planning vision has been translated into a long-established policy that only single-family detached housing and townhouses, in very limited circumstances, should be permitted in the majority of the County’s land area. As a result, missing middle housing types, such as duplexes, triplexes, or small apartment buildings, have been allowed in only very limited locations.

These decisions made in the past, without intentional policy updates over time, have contributed to racial disparities in housing and access to opportunity. The areas of Arlington zoned primarily for single-family detached housing overlap with census tracts where 70% or more of the population is white. There is a strong relationship between Arlington’s exclusionary zoning and land use policy and a lack of diversity and lack of housing opportunities for Arlington’s households of color, especially Black or African American and Hispanic or Latino households.

A true equity agenda for Arlington requires more listening, more action, and more change to the status quo. Work to address the land use policies and zoning regulations that create barriers and exclusions cannot begin soon enough. The Missing Middle Housing Study and Housing Arlington will be just two of the many ways that the County responds to the need to eliminate systemic and institutional racism.