Missing the Middle on Purpose

So Chris Bradford wrote an interesting article on the missing middle in Austin’s housing market. I live in a neighborhood with all of these types of housing just around the corner (as well as large apartment complexes). And they’re a huge source of two of the things Austinites say they desire most – affordable housing and students for urban public schools.

But our current code doesn’t support building these sort of buildings, and we have ordinances like McMansion that makes it harder to build them. McMansion was extended to my area so many of the homes could not be replaced with what is currently on the property or what is across the street.

I think that’s somewhat intentional. Look at the following points:

  • I hear again and again that we need to make urban areas more attractive for families so they don’t move out to the suburbs.
  • The majority of kids in urban schools come from multi-family housing.
  • Areas with underpopulated urban schools frequently fight new apartment complexes, duplexes, and fourplexes.

When I look at this I can’t help but think that these neighborhoods are fighting to try to bring suburban kids back. You know, the kind of kids who make a school into a “good school”. I think a lot of our zoning has to do with this perception that allowing lower-income residents a foothold in our neighborhoods will make the changes permanenent.

But the changes are permanent. Affluent white parents are never going to have the approximately 4 kids that each single-family home needs to have in these areas to make up for all the singles. Aging suburbs will never again reach the concentration of kids they had when they were brand new. That’s the nature of suburbs (and almost all of Austin’s urban neighborhoods began their lives as suburbs).

Perhaps we need a new slogan. How about:

“Multi-Family is Family Housing”

You got something better?