Tanzer: The “missing middle” is not missing

This triplex, in the Hammocks Off 6th neighborhood, was built in the 1960s. Photo by Kim Tanzer.



In recent years, we have heard much about “missing middle” housing, typically referring to a lack of available duplexes, triplexes, quadruplexes, townhouses, bungalow courts, and cottage neighborhoods.  

Our local New Urbanism enthusiasts have echoed national talking points. They assert that Gainesville lacks these small multi-family housing types which, they maintain, provided affordable housing prior to the 1950s. They further argue that national zoning adjustments made in the 1950s exacerbated racial segregation because people of color could not afford single-family homes and therefore could not move into integrated neighborhoods.

In Gainesville, at least, these arguments have been wrong: the missing middle is not missing.

According to the City’s own 2020 Blueprint for Affordable Housing, nearly 1/3 of Gainesville’s residents (29.1%) live in “missing middle” housing.  

Also, as architect Dan Parolek, who popularized the term “missing middle,” explained, the vast majority of this housing type was built between 1960 and 1990, not prior to the 1950s. Indeed, relatively little was built earlier, and since Jim Crow laws were in effect in the South, even if more “missing middle” housing had been built prior to the 1950s, in Gainesville it would still have been segregated.

Gainesville’s recent land use debates have been so contentious because those arguing in favor of allowing multi-family housing in single-family neighborhoods are making arguments that do not ring true. Those of us who know Gainesville’s development patterns, or who have studied land use segregation, and especially those who have endured the impacts of segregation, are not persuaded by these false arguments.

Let’s start the discussion afresh. First, as an architect, I want to be clear that I endorse every house-form, including those in the so-called “missing middle,” if well-designed, well-built, appropriately located, and code-compliant. Unfortunately, recent projects in Gainesville make it clear we cannot trust that any, much less all, of these important conditions will be met. Herein lies the rub, as will be clear from this brief description of commonly understood “missing middle” house forms.

Some “zero-lot-line” dwelling units are separately owned but take the form of duplexes. Cumberland Circle, pictured here, Ironwood, and Hobbits Glen include this house-form. All were built in the 1970s-1980s. Photo by Kim Tanzer.

A duplex is one building containing two dwelling units on one lot.  Each has its own entry and designated living, bathing, and kitchen spaces. A triplex is the same, except it includes three, not two, independent dwelling units under one roof. Simple enough.

Many single-family homes in Gainesville include accessory dwelling units, which were often originally garages. This example, from the Duck Pond, was built in the 1930s. Photo by Kim Tanzer.

Here we come to a Gainesville-specific complication: In 2020, the City Commission considered an ordinance allowing one accessory dwelling unit (ADU) on any single-family lot. An ADU, sometimes called a granny-flat or a mother-in-law suite, is a second dwelling unit, but it is smaller than the primary residence. Customarily, ADUs are built either within the primary residence (under one roof) or detached from that residence. Most who spoke at the 2020 City Commission meeting supported the proposal allowing one ADU.  

At the last minute, the City Commission voted to allow not one but two ADUs on any lot. As a result, any single-family residence in the City is now allowed three dwelling units, effectively allowing every single-family lot to contain the equivalent of a triplex.  

This quadruplex in the Northeast neighborhood, likely built in the late 1940s, has one front door and four dwelling units. Photo by Kim Tanzer.

Moving on to quadruplexes: These buildings have four complete dwelling units under one roof. In 2022, the City Commission approved quadruplexes on any single-family lot, and that ordinance is currently under legal challenge.

Mill Pond, a condominium complex built in the late 1970s, includes townhouses. Photo by Kim Tanzer.

The townhouse type refers to more than two dwelling units in a row. Rows of townhouses, each with its own front door facing the street, typically include four or more dwelling units joined together. 

A cottage neighborhood, the 88th Street Cottages off Archer Road, includes more than two dozen single-family homes organized around several courtyards. Each courtyard is accessed from the street-facing parking lot.  his 3.8-acre development was built in 2020. Photo by Kim Tanzer.

Cottage neighborhoods, sometimes called bungalow courts, have historically been organized around a central, shared courtyard. They are often symmetrical, with three to six or more dwelling units on each side of the courtyard. Their front doors enter onto the shared pedestrian courtyard, and parking is typically in the rear. Historic bungalow courts—many were built in Los Angeles in the 1930s–either had no parking or were serviced by alleys.

Each of these house-forms can be charming, if designed and built well. Parolek’s book, Missing Middle Housing, describes the process municipalities should use to identify appropriate locations for “missing middle” infill, and he proposes highly prescriptive design guidelines to achieve the outcome that he and other New Urbanists seek.

In Gainesville, though, the locations of existing “missing middle housing” have not been mapped, counted, nor considered in relation to transit, schools, or job centers. Existing ADUs—and there are likely thousands—are similarly unaccounted for. As a result, it is not possible to make informed decisions about adding more “missing middle” housing strategically.  

Until the City provides the data and analysis of our current land uses that would be necessary to guide good decision-making, and until everyone involved learns about the many restrictions necessary to build good “missing middle housing,” Gainesville will remain at the mercy of aggressive developers preying on our community neighborhoods.

Kim Tanzer lives in Gainesville. She is a former UF architecture professor, who was also dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture.

The opinions expressed by letter or opinion writers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of AlachuaChronicle.com. Letters may be submitted to info@alachuachronicle.com and are published at the discretion of the editor.

  • Thanks Kim. Dead on as always. I rode around G’ville the other day taking some of the old roads made new and was reminded just how much housing, of every shape and size, that there is here. And, they’re building more and more every hour it seems. Local developers tore my neighborhood apart that was once a neighborhood of quads, tri and duplexes and SF. Who knew Robbinswood was so far out ahead of the curve! But alas, no more. They’ve torn down or boarded up most of the lots. Just a few of us left now. But, Gainesville, there is “progress” ahead here in Robbinswood. Just found out today that the majority of those now empty lots has been purchased. We will be getting a Twin Peaks restaurant! The owner describes his restaurants as “like Hooters but raunchy’er”. How nice to be where nature and culture clash. Enjoy the show.

  • I agree that this is a cautionary situation and needs to be carefully investigated

  • I had some duplexes & triplexes all adjacent to each other and combined them and raised the rents as a result of the C of G’s landlord Ordinance…The city should have minded their own business…Their interference in me providing affordable housing just resulted in me doubling the rents….the unintended consequences of government intervention. They just want to make that $125/unit permit fee to make money which of course gets passed on to the tenant….any aggravation that government causes will get passed on to the tenant.

      • The tyranny they forced on me backfired and made me richer by rents going up…they should have left well enough alone…the Marxist commies thought they were going to strongarm landlords with a tenant bill of rights & inspections, etc. that was not needed,…there’s code enforcement anyway and their stupidity backfired and made rents go up to make that $125/unit permit fee…it all gets passed to the tenant…it’s worse and more expensive for the tenant…I didn’t need to become richer but it was the result of the city forcing their ordinance on me that I maneuvered out and now have the benefits of higher rent….

    • what do you mean by “affordable”. Bullwinkle…. city won’t tell … will you?

  • Driving around less traveled streets in Gainesville there are a great number of small housing units. Gainesville had it’s own “white flight” from neighborhoods like Highland Court Manor, Ridgeview, and the Phoenix apartments. UF students used to inhabit the Phoenix years ago when it was new but section 8 did them in. It is still a crap hole, but it is “affordable”.

    Out of curiosity, what is the average life expectancy of an apartment building? Of a single family home? Wood or CBS construction?

  • Gainesville is just another “relocation” and/or “migration” college town. The more affluent students move to the newer developments once they’re completed and vacate the older ones. If they don’t disenfranchise certain neighborhoods they raze local longstanding businesses to provide unaffordable housing to students who have the means, ($$$$), to pay the high rents. The developers have already gotten their tax breaks, local taxpaying residents have already experienced the impacts and the locusts have moved on. It’s a neverending cycle.

    I would say what’s missing is common sense in local leadership.

    • Those high student rents and tax breaks are needed on such high value land close to campus. The more the merrier, I say. But it doesn’t excuse the housing needed for non-college single young adults here — just on cheaper land further out.

      • But the approvals of such development contradicts what the progressive liberal Democrats are selling. Then they attempt to “camouflage” affordable housing within a project by making it mandatory that it be made available. Sometimes they instead just renege on agreements that would have made affordable housing available.
        It’s about supply and demand and the supply is limited and the demand is high.
        The real problem is the price is often higher. Much like having a child, the initial cost of buying a home isn’t always the highest, it’s the years of continued rising costs associated with maintaining the home.
        In Gainesville we know what those are – taxes and utilities.

  • Nothing is affordable in Gainesville anymore. So people with fix income (seniors) can not afford rental apartments.

    • You can thank the c of g for wacking small ma pa landlords that provided affordable duplexes, triplexes, & quarts. Who’s the boss, the tenant or the landlord? The landlord is the boss.

  • The “inclusive zoning” nonsense was never about housing. It was about attacking one of the foundations of capitalism- home ownership. The regressives are trying to make as many people as possible across this country dependent upon government. They use the very people they claim to help to forward this agenda. And don’t underestimate them- they’re fooling a lot of people.

    • It’s about codifying the desires of millennials on college debt who want to live downtown but it’s too expensive. So they dreamt up a new housing code to force it to appear. That’s what happens when only 3% of city residents decide city elections.

      • I hear you and good points, but I really think it’s more insidious than that. Consider not just this idea of “inclusive zoning,” but also people on governing bodies all across the nation (like Tina Certain, for example) who state that “equality is not equity.” Consider the anti-policing movement, “fair pay” schemes, etc. In other words, merit doesn’t matter, the government will make sure you get paid, and don’t worry about stealing from “those who have.” These are all part of a national movement to tell certain audiences things they like to hear but which ultimately result in making those same people dependent upon government. And what better audience than college students (hence the millenials you reference and their political views)?

  • Thank you Kim. Well researched and well written. Do you know how many SF home lots are large enough to accommodate ADU’s? An addition to or a retrofit within the main home plus a cottage would add to the mix nicely plus the vast majority of such ADU rents will supplement income for the homeowners.

    • Most of those “old home” neighborhoods that have large lots are/were the attractions to Alachua County. Of course I’ve always gotten a laugh out of many who want to cry out the needs for such structures but instead do everything they can to conserve/preserve the space around their homes by putting up barriers when it appears such developments are approaching. (See property proposals for old vacated church property.)

      I’m not a hypocrite, I don’t want it in my backyard.

      • Kirkwood and Florida Park, others would be ideal for ADUs that don’t already have them. Problem is construction costs make them $80,000 a pop. Do they allow modular ADUs to plop down instead, if cheaper and designed alike?

        • Jeff:
          We have a LOT of ADUs. Many are separate mother-in-law suites or garage apartments. Some are separate structures. The neighborhood could be considered “heritage” since created in the 1930’s in what was then the county.

  • The thing that’s really missing and would truly revolutionize society, are owner-occupied efficiency and studio floorplans. Starting with local high school grads or GEDs, age 18 single adults. In planned developments with security, HOA rules and crimewatch measures.
    We built that for retirees on SSA fixed incomes. The same could be built for minimum wage unskilled single young adults. So they can build credit, pay a mortgage and decide in good time whether they want to start a family and move somewhere else.
    But the status quo wants more feral kids, more juvenile behavior issues in skools, more crime to feed lawyers, more problems so gov’t workers keep their jobs doing “programs” often with NGOs who want the same and fund political campaigns to make sure it does.

  • Kim uses data, photos, relevant facts and figures to support her opinion. Many others do not.

    The City should consider how changes in the ADU ordinance and other recent ordinances came about. Major last-minute changes proposed by typically only one commissioner have become a common practice and need to be stopped.

    In the course of one meeting, the commission was persuaded to drop a long, carefully thought out and negotiated ordinance between all parties including the planning department. Hence, one ADU with an owner-occupied home became two ADUs, no requirements for owner-occupied and up to 3 stories. I suggest reviewing why. HINT: Who owned what at that time and what was not in compliance?

  • As a former mayor commissioner I and my colleagues would have begged Kim Tanzer to be on the plan board or in any other advisory position to help guide us. Sadly, however, recent and current City Commissions prefer to be guided by special interests and costly second class planners and contractors

  • Kim, as is not uncommon, is one of our most perspicacious thinkers. This was very interesting.

  • There are 3 small house that were just built on SE 9th St. & SE 2nd Ave. One of them is 1206 square feet without a garage, the price is $350,000! That is $290 a square foot. The 1% rule states that it should rent for at least $3500 a month. A new 600 square foot ADU would cost $175,000 and should rent for $1750 a month. This is not and will never be affordable housing. The only way to have affordable housing is for someone (government) to subsidize it.

    • Your PHIMBY leaders must be proud of you. “Only government has the solution…Trust in government…” Oh! Wait! These are NOT the only three properties for sale in the Gainesville area. There are plenty of properties for around 200K or less. How could that be if the government didn’t make it happen? SMH

    • “The only way to have affordable housing is for someone (government) to subsidize it.” Is that a joke? That was sarcasm, right? Please tell me you’re joking.

      In the area surrounding The People’s Republic of Gainesville, 57%-80% of homes are owned. And not by the grace of government subsidies. Only in Gainesville are less than 50% of the homes owned. Hmm, maybe because of regressive thinking like this? The free market is what provides affordable anything my friend.

  • Excellent informed commentary on this issue by Ms Tanzer, as she has been providing throughout. Most comments seem to miss the fact that that arrogant City Commission majority is no longer and voters put in place a majority opposed to their last minute, out the door law, and are in the process of reversing it. Believe it or not, that’s how democracy works, not through hostile takeovers by the Governor and his partisan hacks like Clemons and Perry.

  • Another wonderful article. We are so lucky to have your input on these important issues.

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