Arlington Think Tank Says “Missing Middle” Housing Is Unaffordable

Comments at Arlington County Board Meeting, July 18, 2020.

The following are excerpts from a July 15 statement issued by Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF) on the cost of so-called missing middle housing.

Arlington County‚Äôs “Housing Arlington” Missing Middle initiative — launched in December 2019 — is premised on the assumption that increasing the supply of housing even in an elastic/high demand market will provide significantly more affordable housing.

In particular, proponents of this initiative have speculated that Missing Middle housing “types” would be affordable for those at or near Arlington’s Area Median Income (AMI) of about $120,000 a year. By rezoning districts that are now limited to detached single-family homes (SFHs) to allow for duplex, triplex or townhouse development, as the country is strongly hinting, more homes might indeed be built — but at great cost in new services, infrastructure, traffic/transportation, school seats, environmental impact and park demand.

This assumption is challenged by a July, 2020 analysis of the consequences of duplex development on SFH sites by Dr. Jon Huntley, a senior economist and Kody Carmody, a communications specialist, both employed at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.

Huntley and Carmody show that Arlington property and land values are so high that duplex ownership will remain beyond the means of a household earning 100% of area median income (AMI) in all but a few neighborhoods. In order to make them attractive for builders, new duplexes will need to compete on price with new SFHs, which typically start at $1 million and above in all areas of the county. Thus they will be unaffordable to median income earners, who can afford to pay no more than $525,000 for housing. So much for affordable Missing Middle housing.

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