Monday, August 16, 2021
If you haven't checked it out yet, be sure to take a look at Norfolk, Virginia's new Missing Middle Pattern Book.
More than any other idea floating out there about how to produce more affordable housing, I tend to think this is the best option. Essentially, these are pre-approved designs that can be developed "as of right" in certain districts of the city. One of the major problems with small-scale infill, which so many people seem to increasingly imagine will resolve our affordable housing crisis, is that it is incredibly risky from a developer and lender perspective. As a result, I am generally dubious that upzoning from single-family to duplexes or fourplexes will actually yield much new housing except in areas where land values are low compared to a regional average. I don't think small-scale developers will be able to get loans otherwise. Of course, the other option would be just to build huge duplexes and fourplexes to get the returns their lenders will demand, which doesn't really help affordability.
The pattern book idea is brilliant because it gives the city some say in what will be developed, should keep costs low by yielding economies of scale, and gives certainty to developers and lenders that will permit them to take on risk of more modest developments.
Not to mention, most of the places we now view as beautiful or "historic" were built with pattern books commercially available in the late 19th century. The idea is as good now as it was then.
More on Norfolk here.