Editor’s Letter: The Middle Ground

We should look at these Canadian townhouses as a playbook for patching up the middle of the housing market.

Brutal bidding wars. Ten rejected offers. Undercuts from cash buyers. Twenty rejected offers. We’ve all heard stories, or have our own, about house-hunting headaches—or maybe searing migraines.

To call the market "overheated" understates how hard it is to buy a home in many places right now. Single-family properties are regularly selling for way above asking price, but the only available alternatives are often apartments with far smaller square footage. For many people who are doing relatively well—middle class by any measure—there seem to be fewer areas where they can afford to have children or just get a bit more space. They are staring into the "missing middle" of the housing market. 

But some designers, builders, and organizations have come up with creative ways to construct medium-density multifamily developments close to city centers, with homes that they can sell at approachable price points and still make the numbers work.

Pearl Block, a group of attached townhouses named for its street in Victoria, British Columbia, offers a playbook. The project was conceived when developer Ryan Goodman found an unloved lot that had languished unsold because its odd dimensions weren’t ideal for the kinds of single-family homes traditionally built in its desirable, close-to-downtown neighborhood.

Pearl Block by D’Arcy Jones Architects in Victoria, British Columbia

Then architect D’Arcy Jones determined how to fit six comfortably scaled units on the site. They ultimately listed starting at USD $650,000—which might seem like a lot, but it’s still 25 percent less than the current median in Victoria. And with its striking, neobrutalist facade, Pearl Block doesn’t compromise on aesthetics, either.

We're also looking at a trio of other projects following similar strategies: a studio designing moderately priced homes for Chicago’s narrow unused lots, a Seattle designer turned developer building an infill project on a steep site, and an organization in Massachusetts partnering with homeowners to develop their existing single-family lots into higher-density co-ops.

By seeing opportunities in overlooked spaces—and using creative design to build there—they all are sizing up the missing middle and discovering an open field for innovation.

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