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‘Missing middle’ accounts for only 2 percent of new Austin home construction in the past decade

The city hopes to address density and affordability with a new development code

Four connected contemporary two story homes with a variety of horizontal structures that differentiate them.
Row homes in Austin
Shutterstock

Only 2 percent of Austin homes built in the past 10 years are considered “missing middle,” according to a Community Impact report. According to CI, Austin City Council Housing and Planning Committee staff told councilmembers of the finding at a Tuesday committee meeting.

Missing middle housing is generally defined as that which fills a void between single-family homes and large, mid- or high-rise residential buildings—housing structures with two to eight units, including duplex- to fourplexes, townhomes, row homes, and bungalow courts. Such homes, which in the past have tended to be more affordable than single-family homes or “luxury” condos in large buildings, were once common in cities, but fewer and fewer have been built over the last several decades. The reasons are several, but for the most part have to do with zoning, construction trends, and the housing market.

City staff reported that most middle-missing housing in Austin was built more than a decade ago.

Changing regulations to allow more missing-middle types of housing, with the goal of increasing the amount of affordable housing, has been a trend across the country, as more people are priced out of owning or even renting homes in larger cities.

Austin organizers and lawmakers have been working on the missing-middle issue since at least 2013, with ill-fated land development code rewrite Code Next. With that process abruptly scrapped in 2018, the city began working on a new code rewrite, still in process, that looks to address—some might even say micromanage—the affordability problem, at least the zoning part of it.

Laura Keating, an urban planner with the city, told said that “the new land development code is working to make it easier for developers with projects of three to 10 dwelling units to get through the development review process. Keating said the current code’s strenuous development review process for such projects poses a major obstacle for developers,” according to CI. She added that the new code draft would show a reduction in the size of proposed missing-middle zones, however—one that it is hoped will be offset by the amount of housing created by incentives in a city density-bonus program, which allows builders more entitlements (basically allowing larger buildings) in exchange for their agreeing to build or finance new subsidized housing. Whether that will ultimately result in more affordable housing in the city is still largely an open question.