Missing Out On Missing Middle Housing Eugene, Oregon’s Opportunity To Create Housing Choice
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Housing is a basic human need. But as the cost of living continues to outpace the growth of incomes across the country, more and more people are having difficulty finding housing that appropriately meets this need. Economic principles of supply and demand tell us that high prices reflect the intersection of strong demand and limited supply, and is exactly the situation Eugene, Oregon finds itself in. Eugene is particularly impacted by widely unaffordable housing, but it is certainly not unique. Cities and researchers have scrambled to find solutions to this housing crisis. Many have fallen short due to the complexities of the issue, while other concepts have gained traction around the country. One of these is the concept of the Missing Middle. A concept popularized by Daniel Parolek, Missing Middle Housing consists of a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable, urban living. This concept can also be used as an affordable housing tool. Diversifying the housing stock to accommodate different income levels, lifestyles, and demographics can lead to positive affordable outcomes. Simply, Missing Middle Housing is about creating housing choice in a world that has little of it. This study focuses on identifying why development of these housing types in Eugene has been so sparse in recent years, even while the housing market has continued to demand more housing stock. It is thought that in a builder’s market, where both consumer demand for walkable, urban housing and land values are high, there must be barriers within the regulatory system significant enough to be suppressing development of Missing Middle units. Therefore, emphasis in this study has been placed on identifying these restrictive regulatory barriers within the City of Eugene’s Development Code and recommending solutions to overcoming them. After applying sections of Land Use Chapter of the Eugene Code to eight sample developments, it is found that Eugene’s regulatory environment does, in fact, pose significant roadblocks to development of Missing Middle Housing. Most notably, development code regulations such as minimum lot sizes, maximum densities, and siting standards, remain particularly restrictive to Missing Middle Housing types. Many of these regulations were adopted into City Code long ago and are now out of date. The Code is neither dynamic enough to adapt to Missing Middle housing proposals nor is it forgiving enough to allow flexibility in the development process. Additionally, it continues to be prohibitively expensive to building Missing Middle housing in Eugene. System Development Charges place Missing Middle units at a severe disadvantage and force developers to explore other opportunities that will provide them better return on their investment. All people deserve access to the kind of safe, accessible, and adequate housing they need. Therefore, the City of Eugene must take swift and robust action to reverse this situation by opening up lines of communication with citizens, incorporating their comments and experiences, and by breaking down these regulatory barriers.