July 28, 2016

Field Notes: Piloting Accessory Dwelling Units for West Denver’s Missing Middle

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Diagram of the “Missing Middle” Housing Types. Source: http://missingmiddlehousing.com/

The current Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellows share their ideas, inspirations, and photos from the field on our blog. Learn more about the Fellowship.

By Ai-Lien, Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellow

The movement to create and maintain existing “Missing Middle” housing typologies in increasingly unaffordable U.S cities is rapidly gaining momentum among advocates for walkable, urban neighborhoods that allow for a range of housing options.

As described by the Congress for New Urbanism, whose member Dan Parolek was the first to coin the term “Missing Middle,” defined as “a range of multi-unit or clustered housing types compatible in scale with single-family homes that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living. These types provide diverse housing options along a spectrum of affordability, including duplexes, fourplexes, and bungalow courts, to support walkable communities, locally-serving retail, and public transportation options. Missing Middle Housing provides a solution to the mismatch between the available U.S. housing stock and shifting demographics combined with the growing demand for walkability.”

So what does this movement have to do with Denver?

Well, Denver is currently experiencing an affordable housing crisis and population boom that is skyrocketing home and rental rates. Many city neighborhoods have already felt the impacts of the real estate wave, but one area in particular that may be most vulnerable to displacement is West Denver. One of the city initiatives looking at how to stabilize and create resiliency against gentrification in these neighborhoods is the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative (WDRC). Established in January 2016, the WDRC is a collective impact organization integrating the efforts of community members, public agencies, non-profits, and foundations working to create and implement a model for resilient urban regeneration in West Denver.

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West Denver Renaissance Collaborative. Source: West Denver Renaissance Collaborative

Developing an Accessory Dwelling Unit Pilot Program

As part of the WDRC team and the DHA Rose Fellow, I am currently drafting a potential Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Pilot Program that would seek to use secondary dwelling units and ADUs, or habitable living units added to, created within or detached from a primary single-family dwelling and contained on one lot as a strategy for mitigating displacement in the largely detached, single family, lower-income neighborhoods of West Denver. Along with creating more affordable housing options for a market desperately in need of it, ADUs would provide flexibility in living arrangements that work well socially, economically, and culturally for many neighborhoods in West Denver. The majority of residents in the WDRC West Denver focus neighborhoods are Hispanic, many of them families. ADUs would allow a homeowner greater flexibility to support their multi-generational household onsite, reduce overcrowding and even provide a source of wealth generation if the ADU were rented.

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Life Cycle Diagram of an ADU. Source: https://raleighbackyarddwellings.wordpress.com/about/backyard-dwelling/

Other cities, like Austin and Portland, are also testing out accessory and secondary dwelling units as a way to add new housing to the current market, and both cities have seen revision to their zoning in order to ease the path for ADUs. Right now, DHA and the WDRC are researching the existing landscape of ADU regulation in Denver and evaluating the potential benefits and challenges to implementing a streamlined ADU program that encourages more of the “Missing Middle” to be built in West Denver.

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