Housing Playbook

Missing Middle Housing

Incremental Density: Missing Middle Housing
Too many communities lack a range of multiunit or clustered housing types. These missing middle homes are compatible in scale with single-family homes, and help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living, respond to shifting household demographics, and meet the need for more housing choices at different price points.

These housing types are considered “missing” because, even though they have historically played an instrumental role in providing housing choices and affordable options , we are building very few of these housing types in the past 30 to 40 years until today

The term “middle” has two interpretations. The first, and most importantly, it represents the middle scale of buildings between single-family homes and large apartment or condo buildings. The second relates to the affordability or attainability level. These types have historically delivered attainable housing choices to middle-income families without subsidies and continue to play a role in providing homes to the “middle income” market segment that typically straddles 60% to 110% AMI, in new construction, for sale housing. This varies across different markets.
Missing Middle Housing is about
buildings that have more than one unit within them. House scale has a maximum width, depth, and height.
Caption: Illustration demonstrating varying types of housing, including a wide range of “Missing Middle Housing” (

Climate Benefits of Missing Middle Housing
There are many climate benefits of gradual density like missing middle housing. Coupling infill development with broader legalization of -plexes—from duplexes to fourplexes—throughout California could mean millions of additional homes that are close to where people want to work and play, dramatically reducing GHG emissions, something we need to do to meet the state’s climate goals.

Increasing Housing Density in San Jose

In August 2020, the San Jose General Plan Task Force made a recommendation to planning staff to explore studying the allowance of up to four unit residences in single family neighborhoods citywide. This effort, known as Opportunity Housing, would concentrate new development in infill areas and protect open space, both necessary to achieve emissions reduction. Efforts like this add density to existing neighborhoods in a way that cost-effectively expands housing options for San José residents while maximizing land use and infrastructure.

A 2019 study found that “80,000 commuters drive between the northern end of San Joaquin County and the Bay Area, an average of 120 miles, 75% of them alone in a car.” With incremental density unlocked via Opportunity Housing, more people can afford to live closer to where they work and play, allowing options for biking or walking, thereby decreasing the greenhouse gases emitted from driving. Opportunity Housing supports transit, especially as transit-oriented development places homes near bus and rail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Opportunity Housing does not stop the production of single-family homes, it simply removes existing restrictions and allows homes to be converted into 2-4 homes in single-family zoning areas. The new buildings would also still need to blend in with the single-family home landscape and the duplexes or triplexes built under the plan will not alter a neighborhood’s character.

As cities around the region move forward with initiatives to reform single family zoning like Opportunity Housing, there have been bills passed at the state level to make this easier and financially viable. State bills such as SB9 (Adkins 2021) and SB10 (Wiener 2021) make it easier to add incremental density, provide increased financing options and streamline the process making it possible for homeowners of all income levels to add density to their properties.

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In addition, building missing middle homes choices in cities would decrease wildfire risk. Fire science shows that medium-density development in the wildland - urban interface presents the highest risk of loss of life and homes to wildfire (read more on the Wildfire[LINK] chapter). The arrangement of homes in subdivisions and rural communities in fire-prone landscapes is increasingly not viable. Placing missing middle homes in cities and towns near services, jobs, and transit reduces wildfire risk. This does not, however, negate the risk of evacuation during a wildfire. Cities are grappling with how to add the needed housing while maintaining existing and future residents safe. It is essential to consider evacuation routes when building or deciding where to zone additional housing.

Critical Actions to Take Now
Advance zoning and implementation changes that encourage sustainable, small, and mid-sized, multi-family, and workforce housing, especially in lower density in non Fire Hazard Severity Zones
. Expand form-based zoning to increase multi-family housing in low-density neighborhoods near transit, jobs, services, parks, high quality schools, and other amenities. Increase heights and remove restrictions on density in non Fire Hazard Severity Zones where existing or new high-capacity transit is planned to encourage housing and the creation of mixed-use corridors.
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