Missing Middle Housing: The Key to Scaling Affordability?

Kreisman Initiative on Housing Law and Policy Symposium


In the U.S. today, it is estimated that for every 100 families needing an affordable home, only 37 affordable homes are available. If a family is seeking an affordable home in a well-serviced neighborhood, the options are far less.

As government subsidy falls far short of need, there is an urgent need to preserve—or build more of—the nation’s supply of un-subsidized, “naturally occurring affordable housing” or “NOAHs.” Such housing is typically in small buildings (2-19 units) and is sometimes described as the “missing middle” because so much housing is focused on single-family houses or highrise apartments and condos. In many cities, this middle tier of naturally affordable housing is disappearing at an alarming rate.

“Missing Middle Housing: The Key to Scaling Affordability?” the next Kreisman Housing Law and Policy Initiative Symposium, on May 1, 2023, spotlighted the intersection of middle housing — whether missing or disappearing — and affordability. We want to know: what are the prospects for affordability via unsubsidized, “missing middle” housing? Is the middle tier of housing really more affordable, and under what circumstances does it stay that way?

The conference focused on two overall strategies for growing and preserving the supply of unsubsidized affordable rental housing: 1) the preservation of existing affordable “missing middle” rental units, and 2) the creation of new “missing middle” housing units via new construction.

The day-long conference was structured around the following three themes.

One. Design and Context

 Our first task is to get the lay of the land – what is missing middle housing, how “naturally affordable” is it, and where is it located? We will present research from Chicago and elsewhere estimating the parameters of unsubsidized affordability. How is it possible to determine the level and location of unsubsidized affordability? What datasets are available? Most importantly, we want to know the neighborhood contexts of the missing middle. How do levels vary by high cost vs. stable vs. disinvested markets? What levels of pedestrian quality, servicing, transit-access and walkability are associated? We will estimate the trends in terms of where missing middle affordability is being lost, how quickly, and what the future holds.

Two. Preserving existing supply

A second topic will be to focus on proven strategies and best practices for preserving existing affordability in missing middle housing. We will explain the policies options, including those involving the non-profit sector, and report on progress being made. How do strategies change depending on context, building type, and the local market? What obstacles need to be overcome? What has been successful for scaling the renovation and preservation of existing affordable units in missing middle housing?

Three. Creating new supply

Our third topic is to look at the prospects for building new and affordable missing middle housing. Who is going to build affordable missing middle housing, overcoming the many hurdles encountered? Where might it be located? Is it possible to build unsubsidized affordable rental units, in missing middle format, in well-serviced areas? What kinds of resources, such as training programs, are available for growing the supply of small-scale developers who can build missing middle housing?

The event was be held on Monday, May 1, 2023, at the David Rubenstein Forum, 1201 E 60th St.

About the Kreisman Symposium

The Kreisman Initiative for Housing Law and Policy hosts an annual, one-day symposium that brings together leading housing academics, policy makers, and practitioners from the public, private, and innovation spheres, with an emphasis on knowledge creation, including new data and tools, and the comparative analysis of perspectives and solutions, including between domestic and international participants. The symposium is made possible by substantial support from David Kreisman AB ’60, JD ’63, and his wife, Susan.