News from the Top

Middle Housing for Downtowns


Does your downtown need middle housing? The resounding answer should be YES! Here’s why.

  1. Does your downtown need people like police officers and firefighters? The hospitality industry? Administrative support?
  2. Would you, or would they, prefer to live in a home with a front door rather than a multi-story apartment complex?
  3. How about a walkable neighborhood?
  4. Would a strong sense of community be an asset?
  5. Are affordability and attainability important?

See? The answer is yes!

If you operate or work within an urban place management organization (UPMO), you know that UPMOs don’t usually wade into housing policy. If you’re in a downtown already zoned for high-density, your role is to advocate for housing built in adjacent neighborhoods. The role of smaller downtowns is to advocate for middle housing within their boundaries.

What’smiddle housing? These are the types of homes that were commonplace before single-family-only zoning essentially eliminated them. These are duplexes, triplexes, 6-pack buildings, live-work arrangements, and townhouses – buildings with two to twelve units.

Unfortunately, there are obstacles in every direction when trying to get them built. Regulatory, financing and construction barriers all pose challenges. Necessary zoning changes are many and may take years to implement. Parking requirements need review. Building issues like sprinkler requirements and utility connections must be addressed. In an industry where time is money, expedited or by-right permitting is particularly useful. That’s where UPMO advocacy comes in.

There is help. Cities such as Memphis, Tennessee, Portland, Oregon, and South Bend, Indiana, that began this process five or six years ago, are often eager to share their journey. There are also expert consultants in the field. But you can start by checking out the Top Issues Council publication, Middle Housing: Playing a New Game. It makes the case that updating local housing policies and zoning codes to allow more varieties of housing can deliver big benefits for downtown districts’ economic viability. If your city hasn’t started addressing middle housing as a solution to the housing crisis, the time to start is now.

IDA is actively involved, and your advocacy for affordable middle housing is essential. Sounds hard, doesn’t it? It IS hard. But it’s worth it. The people who keep your downtown economy running deserve it.

To learn more about the 2023 Middle Housing Top Issues Council Report Brief, please visit IDA’s Publications page. The brief is free for IDA members.


IDA U.S. Government Relations Update:  

In the U.S., IDA is working with a broad coalition of organizations to advance bipartisan legislation that would create a federal tax incentive for converting unused office space into affordable housing; legislation under consideration may include help for the so-called “missing middle,” people who are not eligible for low-income housing support but cannot afford market-rate housing. IDA also is engaged with lawmakers and allies on legislative proposals to create a federal Middle Income Tax Credit.  

The urgent need for more affordable housing is increasingly garnering the attention of policymakers. Late last month, the Biden administration published a resource guide that identifies existing federal programs that can be used or repurposed for office-to-residential conversions, ranging from transit-oriented development funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation to Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding from HUD.