Missing Middle Housing
This page provides an overview of housing types that are considered part of the "Missing Middle Housing" in Washington State, including descriptions and examples of local codes defining and regulating each housing type.
New legislation: Effective July 23, 2023, E2SHB 1110:
- Requires certain cities to allow minimum development densities in residential zones and include specific provisions for middle housing in their development regulations.
- Requires the Department of Commerce to provide technical assistance to cities in implementing the requirements, develop model middle housing ordinances, and establish a process for cities to seek approval of alternative local actions.
For more information, see our blog post Major Changes to Washington's Housing Laws.
"Missing Middle Housing" refers to homes that are on the building spectrum (or "in the middle") between single-family homes and high-density apartment buildings. In the past, it was sometimes referred to as "infill housing." Buildings such as duplexes and townhouses contribute to the diversity of housing options both in form and affordability. Developing Missing Middle Housing increases the housing stock while catering to a variety of demographics including millennials and multigenerational households that are looking for smaller homes in walkable neighborhoods.
This page provides information on the following Missing Middle Housing types: duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes, cottage housing, townhouses/rowhouses, courtyard apartments, and live/work buildings.
Duplexes, Triplexes, and Fourplexes are multi-family homes that have two, three, or four units, respectively, in one building. Units can be side-by-side or stacked on top of each other. Each unit has a separate entrance and complete living spaces. Properties are often kept by one owner but occupied by two or more households. These options can be appealing to a number of different household types, including the growing number of multigenerational households in Washington as a way to stay close to older family members who may need help caring for themselves and young families looking for a less expensive housing option. It is notable to mention that each of these housing types may be subject to different zoning laws, and local codes and regulations may vary as to what is considered a multifamily development.
Image credits (triplex and duplex): © Opticos Design, Inc.
Image credit (fourplex): Steve Butler, MRSC
Examples of Codes
- Issaquah Municipal Code:
- Sec. 18.102.080 — "Duplex” means a building, located on one legal lot, containing two dwelling units designed exclusively for occupancy by two single households living independently of each other. A single-family dwelling containing an approved ADU is not a duplex.
- Sec. 18.102.240 — “Triplex” means a multifamily building, which is located on one legal lot, containing three dwelling units designed exclusively for occupancy by three single households living independently of each other.
- Sec. 18.102.100 — “Fourplex” means a multifamily building, located on one legal lot, containing four dwelling units designed exclusively for occupancy by four single households living independently of each other.
- Port Orchard Municipal Code Sec. 20.139.055 — Provides side-by-side duplex and attached house design standards
- Port Townsend Municipal Code Sec. 17.16.010 — Categorizes and regulates duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes as single-family homes
- Puyallup Municipal Code Sec. 20.26.100 — Provides duplex and triplex design standards
Cottage housing or cottage clusters are groups of smaller detached housing units, typically 800 to 1,200 square feet, which are oriented around a common open space like a courtyard, garden, or walkway. Parking areas for these developments are located on the side or rear of the cottage to emphasize community space. This community-oriented, close knit, and smaller scale housing is frequently used as an infill option for single family neighborhoods since it can match the existing aesthetics while adding more housing units. Cottage housing provides a degree of privacy and some of the benefits of single-family housing, combined with the lower cost and maintenance of attached housing. The clustered arrangement can also contribute to a strong sense of community within the cottage housing site itself. Although these small units can offer its owners a quality living experience that is less expensive than traditional single-family housing, they can, depending on the neighborhood, be not as affordable as other Missing Middle Housing options.
Image credit: HUD Kirkland Case Study/Wenzlau Architects
Examples of Codes
- Normandy Park Municipal Code Sec. 18.52.040 — Provides the following cottage housing definitions:
- A one- or one-and-one-half-story, detached, single-family dwelling unit, no less than 500 square feet and no larger than 1,050 square feet in total floor area
- An alternative type of detached small single-family residences clustered around a common open space with parking located away from the houses and screened from the street
- Clark County Code Sec. 40.260.073 — Establishes development and design standards for cottage housing
- Kirkland Zoning Code Ch. 113 – Establishes standards for cottage, carriage, and two/three-unit homes
- Port Townsend Municipal Code Ch. 17.34 – Provides cottage housing development design standards
- Langley Municipal Code Sec. 18.22.180 – Sets regulations applying to cottage housing developments
- The Housing Partnership (Seattle):
- Cottage Housing in Your Community: A guide to drafting a cottage housing ordinance (2001) – Brief guide that is old, but still contains useful information
- Cottage Housing Development (2000) – Still an excellent overview, although the economics/market information is now outdated
- Oregon Department of Transportation and Smart Growth: Character-Compatible, Space-Efficient Housing Options for Single-Dwelling Neighborhoods: Cottage Clusters (2016) – Provides common code elements and development case studies
Rowhouses are attached single family homes that generally include a backyard and one-to-three stories of living space. This type of home is sometimes viewed as being distinct from townhomes because rowhouses are not typically set back from the sidewalk, when townhomes can be. However, most municipalities will use the terms interchangeably and have regulated them in the same manner.
Rowhouses tend to vary drastically in size, from hundreds to thousands of square feet. Many, due to their size, luxury features or locations, tend to not be affordable for households making less than 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). However, there is a trend of seeing smaller townhomes at more affordable price levels.
Image credits: City of Shoreline
Examples of Codes
- Redmond Municipal Code Sec. 20A.20.190 — “Single-Family Dwelling Unit, Attached. A building designed for occupancy by one family on an individually owned lot where the building abuts one or more property lines and shares a common wall with an adjacent dwelling unit(s), also known as a ’row house’ or ’townhouse.’ For transportation impact fee, trip generation, and concurrency purposes, a townhouse use will be considered as a multi-family use. (Ord. 2482)”
- Chelan Municipal Code Ch. 17.14 — Sets design standards for townhouses, showing good and bad examples of design
- SeaTac Municipal Code Ch. 15.505 — Contains a detailed set of design standards for both townhouses and duplex development
- Wenatchee Municipal Code Sec. 10.47.130 — Regulations for attached single-family dwellings
Some cities allow the development of "courtyard apartments," which consist of several attached dwelling units (either rentals or owner-occupied) arranged on two or three sides of a central courtyard or lawn area. This type of housing is usually one or two stories in height and sometimes serves as a buffer between arterial roadways and single-family neighborhoods. Each unit should have access to the courtyard area.
Image credits: Steve Butler, MRSC (left photograph), © Opticos Design, Inc.(right photograph)
Examples of Codes
- Lake Stevens Municipal Code Sec. 14.08.010 — "A residential development that shares a landscaped courtyard. The structure or structures are arranged around a garden court with parking typically consolidated and located to the side or rear of the development."
- Edmonds City Code Sec. 22.110.010(2) — Development and design standards for courtyard buildings
- Wenatchee Municipal Code Sec. 10.47.120 — Comprehensive standards for courtyard housing and its purpose
Live-work spaces typically contain one or more dwelling units attached or detached from a non-residential space. The flexible non-residential or workspace may have a taller height and a shopfront frontage. Live-work options are good solutions for connecting jobs and housing for improving density and facilitating economic activity. As more people decide to permanently work from home, live-work buildings could prove to be an increasingly attractive investment option.
Image credits: City of Tukwila
Examples of Codes
- Battle Ground Municipal Code Sec. 17.135.095 — A live/work unit is defined as a single unit (e.g., studio, loft, or one bedroom) consisting of both a commercial and residential component.
- Ferndale Municipal Code Sec. 18.69.240 — Establishes regulations for live/work units
- Wenatchee Municipal Code Sec 10.47.140 — Sets standards for live-work dwellings
- Port Orchard Municipal Code Ch. 20.35 — Provides design regulations for live-work buildings and shopfront houses in residential mixed-use, neighborhood mixed-use, business professional mixed-use, commercial mixed-use, downtown mixed-use, gateway mixed-use, commercial corridor, and industrial flex districts.