Category Archives: Missing Middle

Missing Middle Housing Since the 1700’s

May 22, 2018  I just returned from the 26th Annual Congress of the Congress for the New Urbanism in Savannah, GA where I took the opportunity to go on the “Missing Middle Housing: Found!” walking tour with Savannah architect, Eric Brown, his two young staff members and about two dozen Congress attendees.  It was revealing!

As a city that has preserved a great deal of its 285-year history in its buildings and neighborhood layout, Savannah (founded 1733) is an ideal place to understand how what we now call “Missing Middle Housing” was an integral part of the development of our towns and cities in this nation since the 1700s.  Duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes along with carriage houses and lane houses coexisted nicely beside single family homes and mansions.

Since the current top priority of the Portland Small Developer Alliance is to get fourplexes allowed as a use by right in all Portland neighborhoods, I will focus on fourplexes first.  I believe the images speak for themselves but do read the captions!

Fourplex Clapboard

This fourplex with 2-way shared stoops was built as worker housing. It fits in well with the mix of homes, including single family, on this well-landscaped street. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Fourplex next to Single Family

This is the same street as the previous photo. The grey/blue building in the background is also a fourplex–with each entry having its own stoop. It has Single Family homes on either side. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Four Row Houses w English Basements

This series of four row houses seemed common in the 1800s when these were built. They are each painted a separate color and at least one has a canopy over the stoop. Each have English Basements that are often rented out separately. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

While many of Savannah’s row houses from the 1800s came in sets of four, some are in sets of three–as illustrated below.  I’m calling this a triplex!

Triplex Row House

This series of three row houses, while part of one structure, are sold separately as fee simple–as are the fourplex row houses above. They may have been workers housing for the staff of the elegant Single Family home next to it on the left. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Three Floor w Flags

The realtor is advertising this structure as three floors–implying that each could be separate units. The bottom floor is used for a business (a day spa). And the flogs make it appear that there may be separate households sharing the other two floors. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Duplexes were somewhat common too. They came in a variety of forms.

Duplex with English Basements

These duplexes with English Basements are being sold by different realty companies. This corner lot structure first appeared to be one large single family home. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Duplex Mimic SF

Another duplex that first appears to be a single family home. Note the difference in setback from the structure on the left. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Double Row House with English Basements

This double row house has substantial English basements that are often separately occupied–offering rental income or business space for the owners. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Built for Bridget Carey

Some of the row houses had simple signs about original ownership. I was surprised about how many seemed to be built for women. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Built for MargaretDibble

I talked to the current occupants of this home, originally built for Margaret Dibble. The woman of the couple had served many years on the neighborhood association board and was excited that CNU was in town. Although the siding of this home is different, it shares a wall with the Bridget Carey house. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Although many of the English basements serve as ADUs, I found this one off a courtyard that appeared to be a shared space.

ADUs off Courtyard

There appear to be two apartments off of this enchanting shared courtyard. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Corner Single Family w Carriage House

This corner single family home has a carriage house in the rear–a lovely accessory dwelling unit or ADU. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Corner Carriage House

It appears that a second story was added over an original carriage house. Today, the upper story has a separate entrance, leaving one to believe that it holds two small apartments. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

Apartment buildings were an occasional part of the scene too.

Small Apartment Building with retail

This small apartment building was the only place I saw off-street parking on my tour–and that was likely added afterwards as the building probably had neighboring structures that were torn down to make way for it. Photo by Mary Vogel/PlanGreen.

I saw a number of drivers parallel park on the street while I was taking these photographs.  They did not appear to have been circling to find a place as there were empty places on the street–even though I was photographing during “rush hour”.

I hope that the above images make a compelling case that fourplexes, triplexes, duplexes, ADUs and small apartment buildings can fit nicely into a neighborhood.  They were certainly part of our early historic heritage–a heritage that I hope we will learn from as we now make single family-only neighborhoods a part of our history–a part of our history that has proved unsustainable.  Let’s give our young people the opportunity to share our close-in walkable neighborhoods with housing prices that allow them to thrive.  Let’s give our small developers the opportunity to build in ways that make sense for our current desire for 20-minute neighborhoods. The survival of our planet may depend upon it!

FOR PSC COMMISSIONERS READING THIS POST

The following is an amendment proposed by Portland Small Developer Alliance that we would like you to sponsor:

PSC Proposed Amendment to RIP

Allow four housing units on all residentially-zoned lots, by right, if within walking distance along a continuous pedestrian network to transit. Four units is considered by the Federal Housing Administration for mortgage lending to be a “house.” It is common sense to synchronize our zoning regulations with existing federal policy and definition. Given the high cost of land and development in Portland, new single-family houses on full-size lots affordable to average residents cannot be built. Dividing up the costs of site acquisition, design, permitting costs, impact fees, construction, and lending by four units allows the resulting cost per new home constructed to be affordable to a middle-class Portland household. Unit counts have a tiny impact on the surrounding community compared to building scale; within the regulated size of new projects, we should allow more units. Allowing a fourth unit gives us the opportunity to make the units we build more affordable to more people while still maintaining the scale and character of the neighborhoods we all enjoy.