What is the Missing Middle?

How a text change called TC-5-20 can help improve Raleigh’s housing options


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Housing: The Missing Middle What does TC-5-20 do? Why should existing neighborhoods allow more housing? Middle Housing and Sustainability Commonly Asked Questions

Raleigh aspires to be an inclusive city with a wide variety of housing for households at different stages of life, at different income levels, and with different neighborhood preferences. Raleigh is a great city and by growing together, we can become even greater.  

Check out why Raleigh and other places such as Minneapolis, Sacramento, and Portland have adopted laws to accommodate Missing Middle housing.

Housing: The Missing Middle

Housing: The Missing Middle

Middle Housing Types 

Missing middle housing types occupy a middle ground between single-family homes and large apartment buildings. Once common, and still present in the city’s older neighborhoods, they have largely been excluded by zoning that favors or mandates single-family use. 

Scroll through the slideshow to view missing middle housing examples.

Two-family home

Small apartment building with 2-3 units.

Cottages

Townhomes

What does TC-5-20 do?

Text changes (TC) are amendments to Raleigh’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The UDO contains all the development and zoning rules for the city. TC-5-20 expands missing middle housing options in many residential zoning districts.

  • Density, measured as units per acre, will no longer be regulated in all districts except R-1. Instead, standards for lot size, yards, and building height will determine what can be built. This approach is known as form-based zoning.
  • Two-family homes will be permitted in all districts except R-1 under the same standards as single-family homes.
  • Townhouses, previously only permitted in the R-10 district, will now be permitted conventionally in R-6, as well as R-2 and R-4 when part of a development that includes significant open space.
  • Apartment buildings, already permitted in R-10, can now be developed on smaller lots when only including three units. 

This text change allows for more flexible options. For example, prior to the adoption of TC-5-20, in the R-10 district, the minimum lot size for a two-family house was 6,000 square feet. However, density restrictions limited the total number of units to no more than 10 units per acre. This means at least 8,712 square feet of land were needed to construct a two-family home. After the adoption of TC-5-20, a two-family house can be built on the minimum lot size of 4,000 square feet.   

 TC-5-20 also allows townhouses in more places and on smaller sites and lots. Whereas previously side and rear yard setbacks were measured based on the individual townhouse lot, they are now measured from the perimeter of the development allowing for greater flexibility in design. In addition, two-unit townhouses (each unit on its own lot) can be built to the same dimensional standards as a two-family house on one lot in the R-6 and R-10 districts.

Why should existing neighborhoods allow more housing?

Raleigh is growing. For much of the 20th century, this growth occurred by developing land at the edge of town. Starting in the 21st century, much of Raleigh’s growth shifted to already developed areas, as more people want to live in core neighborhoods and near established amenities. 

Raleigh’s growth policies, adopted in the 2030 Comprehensive Plan, contemplated that growth would primarily occur in mixed-use centers and corridors and that existing neighborhoods would see little change. The result has been a lack of new, family-friendly housing types in these areas. Growth has resulted in high-density apartments covering relatively small amounts of land area (a lot of units in a small amount of space!). At the same time, the neighborhoods near these new developments have become increasingly expensive, which prices single-family housing out of reach for many if not most households.  

By allowing incremental change over a much wider area, growth can be accommodated with a variety of housing types and in different neighborhood settings, meeting the demand for living in these areas at different price points and for households at different stages of life.

Middle Housing and Sustainability

Missing middle housing types are an important means of reaching the city's goal of reducing carbon emissions and other air pollutants. This occurs in two ways.

  • Because missing middle units share walls or ceilings with other units, they are substantially more energy-efficient than detached houses. According to the Department of Energy, a unit in a two-to-four-unit apartment uses half the energy of a detached house, and a townhouse uses about two-thirds of that amount.
  • When these homes are allowed in places that are close to jobs and shopping they produce shorter car trips and more walking and transit trips than the average home in the region. This means carbon output from transportation, a major source of emissions, is substantially reduced.

Commonly Asked Questions

Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about middle housing.  

What guarantee is there that housing built as a result of this text change will be affordable?  

Unless explicitly subsidized and subject to legally binding affordability restrictions, this new housing will be market-rate—the price or rent will be determined by the willingness of households to pay. Most sellers, even those committed to the idea of housing affordability, generally sell to the highest bidder. If demand in an area is very strong, prices will be high, even for smaller units in multiple dwellings.  

Within the same neighborhood, though, townhouses sell for less than single-family homes, and multi-family condominiums will sell for less than townhouses, as buyers trade-off indoor and outdoor space and privacy for location and access.  

An example is the Yarborough Park development in Mordecai. Primarily a townhouse development, it also includes two single-family lots at the entrance. The single-family homes are assessed at over $600,000—the townhouses behind, about half of that.  

Further, if households cannot find housing they can afford in their preferred, high-demand neighborhood, they will look for housing in other nearby neighborhoods with lower price points. This will drive up prices in these currently affordable neighborhoods, a process we already see happening south and east of Downtown. Absorbing more demand elsewhere is one way to relieve pressure on currently affordable areas.

Homes with bike rider in front

Will this lower the value of my house? 

This is a common fear, but there is little evidence for it. The closest thing we have to a natural experiment is the existence of missing middle housing in old neighborhoods such as Oakwood, Boylan Heights, Mordecai, and Cameron Park that predate exclusive single-family zoning. These neighborhoods are among the most valuable in the City. The presence of two- to four-unit buildings and townhouses in these neighborhoods does not appear to have suppressed the value of these areas. Yet, as the Yarborough Park example shows, they provide housing options that are more affordable than single-family.

How will traffic and parking be impacted in my neighborhood? 

The incremental increase in housing units allowed by this text change will be modest and is not predicted to generate large amounts of new car traffic in neighborhoods.

How can this impact the amenities surrounding my neighborhood?

Many residents value diversity, access to jobs, shopping, and other urban amenities. Neighborhoods with diverse housing types improve the spending power of a neighborhood. They also support more neighborhood-scale retail such as small restaurants or corner stores. More residents and increased commercial activity can also lead to a greater need for investment in public amenities like parks and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes.

How will this impact neighborhoods with a Neighborhood Conservation Overlay District (NCOD)? 

Most NCODs regulate the subdivision of land through minimum and maximum lot sizes, lot widths and depths; and the form and scale of buildings through restrictions on height and setbacks. These regulations remain unchanged under this text change and will apply to any new building types permitted under TC-5-20, such as two-family homes. However, as is the case with the current code, anything not regulated by an overlay district is regulated by the underlying zoning.

Department:
Planning and Development
Service Categories:
Zoning

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