What are the Benefits of Middle Housing?

At Cultivate, we’re passionate about creating more sustainable home and neighborhoods and expanding homeownership access for all. That’s why we’re so excited about middle housing. Middle housing offers numerous benefits compared with single-family housing. We will focus on the three most important benefits: 

  1. Middle housing helps address Oregon’s mounting housing crisis.
  2. Middle housing bolsters access to homeownership.
  3. Middle housing improves walkability and sustainability. 

Middle Housing Addresses the Housing Crisis

Middle housing allows more homes per lot which increases housing supply. It tends to deliver smaller, more affordable homes, which are a better match for today’s smaller households (see graph). This helps meet the growing demand for housing in Oregon, reduces competition and eases price pressure on the market. 

Furthermore, middle housing development is inherently more cost effective than single-family housing. It requires less land per home, often includes efficient shared-wall construction, and more efficiently utilizes city infrastructure such as sewer, water and transit systems.  

Formerly, a developer in Oregon was limited to building one home per lot, which incentivized the construction of the largest, most expensive home a developer could sell. Now a developer has the option to build multiple smaller homes per lot, each of which can be sold individually at a lower cost per home. 

In many cases, developers and homeowners now have the option to decide whether to provide off-street parking. This allows them to choose how to allocate precious urban land between housing, greenspace and parking areas instead of being forced to dedicate space exclusively to parking. Taken together, these factors represent a tremendous advance in tackling Oregon’s housing crisis.

Average house size vs household size in u.s.

Average House Size vs Household Size in America—among other social and environmental ills, suburban housing policy has driven ever-increasing home sizes despite the decreasing size of households. Source: US Census Bureau, National Association of Home Builders, Population Education

Middle Housing Bolsters Homeownership Access

Homeownership has long been the economic foundation of the (mostly white) American middle class. In recent decades the suppression of housing development options paired with limits on land-consuming sprawl have made homeownership among first-time buyers less and less accessible. 

That’s even more the case for members of marginalized communities. Middle housing development can begin to expand access to homeownership in Oregon—especially smaller, more affordable homes located in existing, walkable neighborhoods.

Cultivate’s C Street Co-op, completed in 2021, created six homeownership opportunities for roughly $100,000 each. In contrast, a single home on the same lot would have cost an individual buyer $600,000. The development utilized attached housing units and a cooperative ownership structure, similar to a condo, to make this possible.

By providing more affordable homeownership options compared to detached single-family homes, middle housing can allow more Oregonians to find economic stability through fixed monthly housing costs, growing homeowner equity, and property value appreciation.

Middle Housing Improves Walkability and Sustainability

Middle housing can support “walkable urban” neighborhoods. Increasing housing density in car-dependent suburban neighborhoods can help them achieve the “critical mass” people density needed to support neighborhood businesses, thereby improving walkability and supporting bus lines to run more frequently. This can also lower residents’ cost of living by enabling them to drive less and live closer to amenities, employment centers, and public transit.

Lessening the need to drive everywhere reduces traffic congestion (and the associated mental stress) and decreases a community’s carbon footprint. Furthermore, by utilizing energy-efficient, shared-wall construction, middle housing can offer an intrinsically lower carbon footprint than standalone single-family homes.

For all these reasons, studies have shown that higher density neighborhoods have a much lower carbon footprint than low-density suburban areas. Middle housing is a key component in creating a more sustainable future for our cities and for our planet.

Entrance of fourplex unit with covered front porch at C St development in Springfield, Oregon.

The C Street Co-op designed and developed by Cultivate in 2021 delivered six permanently affordable homeownership opportunities. The total project cost of each unit was approximately $100,000, about half the cost of most affordable rental housing units. While the same physical scale as other homes on the block, it achieves a housing density of 48 homes per acre, supporting a transition toward a walkable urban neighborhood without dramatically changing the visual character.

Making a Case for Middle Housing in Oregon (and Everywhere)

Middle housing presents a transformative opportunity for Oregon to foster more inclusive and equitable communities, and address our housing and climate crises. It offers an opportunity to deliver smaller, more affordable homes for today’s smaller households, especially first-time buyers. Middle housing won’t solve Oregon’s housing shortage overnight, but it’s a critically important step in that direction and will counterbalance the trend of unaffordability.

Moreover, middle housing can provide the “critical mass” housing density needed to support efficient transit options and dispense with the necessity for everyone to own and park a car. This has huge implications for the health of our environment and the health of our communities.

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