Since the 1930s, Arlington (like most cities around the United States) has practiced exclusionary zoning. The majority of land zoned for residential development is restricted to single-detached homes. This was intended to keep black Arlingtonians, and lower-income families in general, out of these neighborhoods. Today, neighborhoods with the highest portion of single-family homes are the least diverse.
As transit-oriented development brought more density to Arlington’s corridors, high-rise apartment buildings dominated in narrow patches of land, while the vast majority of land was still reserved for only detached homes. This created a “missing middle” in residential development. Mid-density homes - those between a high-rise and a single-family home - were squeezed out of the housing market.
Arlington is now poised to update its zoning law: to end exclusionary zoning and reopen the housing market to mid-density homes. On March 18, the County Board could vote to allow duplexes, townhomes, and house-sized condos on all residential land. This would allow denser development that is more sustainable and less polluting than suburban sprawl and allow types of homes that are more attainable and a better fit for the diverse sizes, types, and income levels of Arlington families.
If approved, this would benefit both existing homeowners, aspiring homeowners, and everyone who lives and works in Arlington. Existing homeowners would have more options to adapt their property to fit their needs, such as aging in place. Newly-built mid-density homes would create a new stock of starter homes for Arlington families, potentially starting as low as $600,000 for a small two-bedroom condo. Adding gentle density in Arlington neighborhoods would allow more people to live near Arlington’s great amenities, including transportation, recreation, and jobs.
Missing middle housing will only fulfill these goals if it is actually built and if the most attainable units are allowed. That’s why the YIMBYs of Northern Virginia are calling on the Arlington Board to pass the Missing Middle zoning reforms that are the most flexible.
Allow up to 6 units per building by right on all residential lots
Apply the same building standards for 2-6 unit buildings as the current building standards for detached single residential structures
Have no parking mandate for lots near transit
Give flexibility in lot coverage, design standards, and gross floor area
Do not impose a cap on permits for Missing Middle homes.
Restrictions on Missing Middle style homes will only continue the status quo of escalating housing costs, more people priced out, continued teardowns and McMansion construction, greater sprawl in neighboring counties, more traffic driving through Arlington, and continued racial and socioeconomic segregation of neighborhoods.
Arlington should be a diverse, sustainable, and inclusive community. We must open our low-density residential neighborhoods to more types of housing that are more attainable for families of different racial backgrounds and different income levels, and support a more walkable and lower-carbon lifestyle.
Actions you can take:
Resources for Missing Middle Zoning Reform: