What is Meant by "Missing Middle Housing” and How a Greater Vancouver-Based Study Proposes to Rectify It
By: Diana Petramala with research assistance provided by Jodee Ng
September 20, 2017
Where does the term “missing middle” come from and what does it mean?
The “missing middle” is a term coined by a well known American urbanist and architect, Daniel Parolek, to define a North American phenomenon of little to no new construction of low-to-mid sized housing in major metropolitan centres. Parolek defines the missing middle as a type of a house that is somewhere between a single-detached home and an apartment in a high-rise building. True to his definition, the missing middle includes multi-plex homes, courtyard bungalows and apartments, townhomes and stacked townhomes. Construction in major urban centres is often concentrated in the more expensive single-detached segment of the market or high-rise apartments. But the “missing middle” helps balance housing affordability and density objectives.
For the purpose of this blog, we define the “missing middle” using Census of Canada definitions of the occupied housing stock, which includes semis, townhomes, duplexes and apartments in buildings that are under five floors.
Is there a missing middle problem in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)?
The answer to this question is loaded, as that depends on what the housing stock should look like for anticipated demographics and incomes. CUR plans to explore this question in an upcoming research report. The existing research does show, however, that more mid-density housing types helps improve housing affordability, for both renters and homeowners.
A recent CUR report has explored the topic of declining townhouse construction in the GTA area. The construction of single-detached homes has declined over the last decade, and its been replaced with more high-rise construction rather than townhomes. However, rising townhome resale activity and ballooning prices over the decade suggests there is still robust demand for many of these housing types if they were built.
What’s more, the GTA has lagged behind its major counterparts in Canada in creating the “missing middle.” The 2016 Census suggests that 30% of the occupied housing stock in the GTA is of the “missing middle” variety. The housing stock, however, is more tilted towards the “missing middle” in other major regions, like Montreal and Vancouver, where over 50% to 60% of the housing stock is in the missing middle category.
The Greater Toronto Area is also building less of the missing middle than most other metropolitan areas across Canada. 20% of completions in 2016 were in the missing middle in the GTA, compared to near 30% in both Calgary and Vancouver and 43% in Montreal. That’s not to say that the rest of Canada is building enough of mid-density units themselves, but it does highlight that the GTA is falling behind.