Is the Missing Middle a Missing Link?

Our schools are reflections of our community and right now, our schools are  unbalanced.

On July 24, 2017, the Planning Committee invited Steve Clarke, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning for Bellingham Public Schools (BPS), to discuss the impacts of Bellingham’s growth on schools.

Two major impacts are overcrowding of north end schools and socioeconomic imbalances across schools. Currently the district is in the process of redrawing school boundaries in efforts to re-balance class sizes and diversity in schools. The Bellingham community values public education, and its neighborhood schools are part of Bellingham’s valued character. BPS are guided by the Bellingham Promise. The Promise strives to create schools where children are loved, recognizes that diversity enhances a strong and healthy community and works toward ensuring every child has what they need to succeed. Currently about 40% of students are living at or below the poverty line.

Few schools reflect the demographic with some elementary school serving 80% students experiencing poverty and others less than 20%.

Lack of economic diversity in neighborhoods is reflected in neighborhood schools, creating significant challenges for BPS to fulfill the Promise. It was the conclusion of the Planning Committee that redrawing the school lines alone will not solve BPS current and future concerns.

Is the ‘missing middle’ the missing link?

On August 14, 2017, the Planning Committee took a deeper dive into the ‘missing middle’, and if it may be the missing link to the long-term health and sustainability of our community.

Missing middle housing refers to 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. Examples include carriage houses, duplexes, triplexes, tiny homes, small lot homes, live/work units, and cottage housing.

Missing middle housing provides more housing options for community members across a range of incomes and lifestyles by filling the gap between apartments and single-family homes.

This type of housing is prevalent in many of Bellingham’s neighborhoods because communities across the country used to be organized into and developed around mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods. Zoning ordinances of the 20th century led to the segregation of uses and prohibition of building many of these housing forms in single-family neighborhoods.

If it was determined inappropriate for us to discriminate based on someone’s race and race and socioeconomic class are highly intertwined, then why do we perpetuate and allow discrimination by class?

Over the past few decades, communities have started looking again to small-scale, well-designed housing in urban areas as a growth strategy that meets many economic, social and environmental goals. Economic benefits include the efficient use of land and resources by developing in areas served by existing infrastructure and focusing limited funds on improving existing areas. A social benefit includes fostering equitable communities by increasing diverse housing types, creating the opportunity for a diversity of people to live in neighborhoods with good schools, parks and amenities.

Our built environment must evolve to reflect our values of equity and inclusion.

Lastly, environmental benefits of missing middle housing include protection of open spaces and rural lands outside the City limits and encouragement of alternative modes of transportation, including more robust public transit. The City’s Infill Housing Toolkit, which includes housing forms synonymous with the missing middle, was originally intended to implement the housing and infill goals from the City’s 2006 Comprehensive Plan. However, in 2009 the ordinance passed by City Council only allowed the Toolkit to be used in multifamily zones and in single family zones that were annexed after 1990’s.

Where can you build the missing middle in Bellingham?

The white areas on the link below currently only allow for development of a single family detached home and in some cases an attached accessory dwelling unit (A-ADU). The legend explains what housing the colors represent for other areas. InfillToolKit_Allowed (1)

Resources I find helpful

Missing Middle resources

Impacts of Zoning on Communities–%20racialoriginsofzoning.pdf