Missing Middle Housing in Montgomery County

Providing a mix of housing options to address the county’s housing crisis  

Montgomery County, like many high-cost jurisdictions, has struggled with how to ensure its housing is affordable and attainable for residents at all income levels. The county’s housing affordability crisis is the result of multiple converging factors, including market forces, policy decisions, declining federal housing resources, stagnant income growth, the increased cost of development, the diminishing availability of land, and demographic shifts. These shifts, including a growing population, create more demand for housing, but we have not built enough housing units over recent years to meet the demand.

“Missing Middle” housing refers to a range of building types that are compatible in scale, form and construction with single-family homes, but include multiple housing units. Missing Middle housing is typically a two-to-four story multi-unit, clustered housing such as smaller townhouses, duplexes, triplexes, quadraplexes, detached courtyard cottages, attached courtyard apartments, or smaller apartment buildings (with fewer than 20 units) that are typically in walkable, transit-accessible neighborhoods.

Missing Middle housing was common during the pre-World War II era, but largely disappeared in recent decades with most new construction comprised of either single-family homes or taller multi-family apartment buildings.

Missing Middle housing provides housing options affordable to a range of incomes for an increasingly diverse population of downsizing seniors, professionals without children, young families and newcomers to the region. However, developing these projects is challenging due to market and economic obstacles, unfavorable neighborhood perceptions and burdensome regulatory requirements. Generally, many of the existing Missing Middle housing structures could not be built under the current standards of the single-family zones in Montgomery County.

Missing Middle housing can provide a transition from low-density single-family neighborhoods to high-density apartment, retail and office districts. In these transition areas, there are opportunities to provide zoning in the more commercial areas that will encourage Missing Middle housing. In addition, there are opportunities to make changes to single-family zones in these transition areas to allow Missing Middle housing production. These actions will not eliminate single-family neighborhoods. It may result in some single-family homes being replaced in a compatible form, if a property owner decides to take advantage of future zoning changes or if a developer combines multiple properties. The goal of Missing Middle housing is to allow Montgomery County residents to access more choices in housing to meet their needs.

Recent Missing Middle Housing Initiatives in Montgomery County

Montgomery Planning is undertaking two planning initiatives that have a significant focus on Missing Middle housing.

  • The Silver Spring Downtown and Adjacent Communities Plan will re-examine downtown Silver Spring and parts of the predominantly single-family-home neighborhoods just outside of the downtown area to determine how new and diverse housing types not presently allowed might be permitted in certain areas. We anticipate that the Montgomery County Council and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will adopt the plan in Fall of 2022.
  • Thrive Montgomery 2050 is the update of the county’s General Plan, a long-range policy framework for guiding future land use and growth for the next 30 years. Thrive Montgomery 2050 provides the opportunity to look for new tools such as Missing Middle housing, to increase our housing production to meet the needs of current and future residents. We anticipate that the Montgomery County Council and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission will adopt Thrive Montgomery 2050 in 2021.

For both projects, Montgomery Planning will be working with the community, the Department of Housing and Community Affairs and the Housing Opportunities Commission to explore ways to create and expand housing opportunities.

Planning staff also recently completed master plans (the Veirs Mill Corridor Master Plan and the Forest Glen/Montgomery Hills Sector Plan) where they introduced creative solutions to encourage Missing Middle housing. Some previous approaches to Missing Middle housing in these plans include rezoning to the CRN zone (the least dense zone in the Commercial Residential family of zones), capping the building heights to align with the typical Missing Middle product, and providing guiding language in the master plans such as “greater variation in housing types” or “medium-density housing.”

The 2018 Missing Middle Housing Study also highlighted additional strategies that may help inform future action, including:

  1. The creation of a Missing Middle Optional Method of Development near transit through a Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA).
  2. The creation of a Missing Middle housing floating zone for specific locations in the county.
  3. The rezoning of transit accessible neighborhoods to a CRN zone.
  4. The creation of a Missing Middle housing Functional Master Plan for the entire county that identifies ideal locations for this typology and results in a Sectional Map Amendment that would rezone appropriate areas.
  5. Evaluation and suggestion of potential financial incentives for Missing Middle housing typologies.
Last Updated: August 28, 2020