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Decatur hosts missing middle housing forum, discusses zoning proposals

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Decatur hosts missing middle housing forum, discusses zoning proposals

Decatur City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — The city of Decatur is considering two proposals to allow missing middle housing in the city. The term “missing middle” refers to duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes, which is a type of housing that’s between a single-family home and a large apartment building.

The city hosted a missing middle housing forum on Aug. 17 to discuss the data about the need for missing middle housing options in Decatur.

“What we’re really looking at and considering is housing options,” Mayor Patti Garrett said. “We don’t have many options currently available. How do we expand those options so that more people can find a place that they can call home in the city of Decatur. I’ve stated this before, but we have to be bold and intentional in our efforts. It’s just not going to happen if we let the status quo continue. We have to be intentional in our efforts to create the change necessary to support our core values in the city of Decatur of diversity and inclusion.”

Missing middle housing was disallowed in Decatur in 1988. Currently, new duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes cannot be built and homes cannot be converted into these types of housing within the city. Single-family homes are the only housing type allowed in residential zoning and 67% of the city is single-family zoning, Planner Kristin Allin said.

The average home price in Decatur was over $700,000 in 2021.

“The trajectory of Decatur’s neighborhoods since around the time this was passed has trended to larger and more expensive homes, families with children, higher incomes and has trended away from smaller homes and housing diversity,” Allin said. “We’ve trended away from some of these middle income options and housing for all stages of life like the 20-34 [year old] range and older residents.”

The city is considering updating its code to allow for this type of housing.

Here are the two missing middle housing proposals under consideration:

1. To allow construction of and conversion to duplexes (2-units) and walk up flats (3-4 units) in R-50, R-60, R-85, and RS-17 zoning districts by limited use, and to comply with same size and setback requirements of detached homes.

2. To require parking compliance of 1 space per dwelling unit – as is currently required for detached homes – and to allow up to 50% of parking to for duplexes (2-units) and walk up flats (3-4 units) to be on-street parking, so long as frontage space meets requirements, and on-street parking is allowed.

Between 2000 and 2020, the city added 478 single-family homes, 410 townhomes and 1,100 apartment units. But the city has lost housing with two to 19 units within that period. The missing middle housing under consideration is two to four unit dwellings, of which the city has lost 342 units.

The recommendation to re-allow duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes came from the city’s Affordable Housing Taskforce Report in 2020.

Maria Pinkelton is the public relations director for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities. She was also a member of the Affordable Housing Taskforce, which created 23 affordable housing recommendations for the city to implement, and many of them are either complete or in progress.

“When you look at them, you see that we were trying to get it from every angle. Looking at missing middle and why we added re-allowing the missing middle types of housing into that list of recommendations was because it was one of our largest points of lead,” Pinkelton said.

The amount of available quadplexes, duplexes and naturally occurring affordable smaller homes were going away at a fast rate, she added.

“We knew that using rules that flipped the script and took us back to a time when these options, like a street like Drexel, were openly available was one way in which we could really stop the halt and bring affordability, options and diversity into Decatur’s market,” Pinkelton said. “The more innovative that we are able to get in zoning, the more innovative we’re able to get with rental assistance programs, we will be able to change the trajectory so that we’re not ending up in a space where we’re San Francisco and where most of us our priced out of our communities.”

During the forum, Mike Carnathan, manager of research and analytics at the Atlanta Regional Commission, shared some insights into the metro Atlanta region when it comes to affordable housing. He said that traditionally one of the primary selling points of metro Atlanta has been its affordable housing.

The region hasn’t lost that competitive advantage compared to other cities, like New York or Los Angeles, but that advantage is decreasing.

“What’s happening is folks are moving in from those more expensive cities and bidding up prices here, so it’s making our housing stock less affordable, which means that competitive advantage we have is quickly eroding,” Carnathan said. “That’s a major threat to us remaining competitive, to us remaining a thriving, vibrant region when compared to some of our peers that we compete with.”

The ARC also has a concept called lifelong communities, which is the idea that someone can live in the same community throughout their entire life. Carnathan said it’s also another way to describe missing middle housing.

Decatur already has the amenities related to the lifelong community concept, such as walkability and transportation.

“What we don’t have is the actual housing stock. We don’t have that diversity of housing. We don’t have that missing middle,” Carnathan said.

Some tactics Carnathan suggested to address affordable housing is to increase supply, preserve the existing supply of affordable housing, reduce costs all together, ensure housing stability, get more money in the housing ecosystem, and develop local leadership around these issues.

To learn more about the city’s efforts to create more affordable housing, click here.

Writer Mary Margaret Stewart and Editor Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this story. 

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