Three zoning reforms for compact housing
A beautifully illustrated article on the Placemakers website offers ideas on compact living, based on case studies of “missing middle” housing types in a village in Wales. Author Susan Henderson, an urban designer and coding expert who is based in New Mexico, relates lessons learned to housing regulations in the US.
In America, the typical house is large, and zoning codes often get in the way of more compact housing. Market demand is substantial for smaller units, but the context is critical—and that conclusion informs Henderson’s suggested zoning code reforms. She writes:
Living small successfully necessitates access to the benefits of a neighborhood; places outside the residence to spend time with friends, parks or natural areas to recharge, and recreational opportunities for adults and children alike. In this country we have placed a significant burden on our residences, spending a disproportionate amount of our income on them. To circumvent that here are three zoning code reforms that municipalities should consider to encourage compact housing:
- Allow for increased density: Many zoning codes restrict the number of units that can be built on a single lot or within a certain area. To permit missing middle housing, municipalities should consider increasing the allowable density. The most effective way to do this is remove the density regulation altogether. Density is more predictably and effectively controlled by lot coverage, setbacks, and building heights.
- Reduce onsite parking requirements: Parking is one of the largest barriers to compact housing, particularly if two spaces per dwelling unit are required on site. If housing is located in an area that reduces dependence on automobiles, parking requirements should be removed or reduced to reflect that context.
- Allow Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs): ADUs can be an affordable and flexible housing option for individuals and families, but many zoning codes either prohibit them or place significant restrictions on their construction. By allowing and encouraging ADUs, municipalities can create more opportunities for compact, affordable housing that is integrated into existing neighborhoods and communities.