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Columbia's First Affordable Housing Summit Focuses on 'Missing Middle Housing'

Tony Perez stands, speaking into a microphone.
Kelly Kenoyer / KBIA

The City of Columbia hosted its first Affordable Housing Summit on Thursday with a keynote focused on missing middle housing. The term refers to house-sized buildings with multiple housing units built in walkable neighborhoods, according to the keynote speaker, Tony Perez.

Missing Middle Housing includes everything from duplexes to a small apartment building surrounding a garden, and it appeals to baby boomers and millennials alike because it’s more affordable and it’s close to amenities like shops and restaurants.

Perez said his own daughter is uninterested in taking over his single-family house. “She says, ‘I want to live near the action,’ like all the millennials, right? And that’s the funny thing, we’re saying the same thing!” Perez said. “I want to walk down to that jazz club, I don’t want drive half an hour to get there.”

Existing residents are often very resistant to new zoning and new construction in single-family neighborhoods, Perez said. But when that construction is scaled to fit in with the existing buildings, there’s a lot less resistance.

“What you do is you find the biggest house you want to emulate in your new standards, and you find the smallest one, the cottage, and that’s your range for house scale,” Perez said. “Like the fraternity houses, those are pretty big houses, like mansions. That could be at the top of your scale in terms of size […] I’m talking about house scale buildings.”

That kind of dense development can provide more affordable housing options and allow for more density without changing the character of the neighborhood, Perez suggested.

Mayor Brian Treece said Columbia will need a lot more affordable housing in coming years due to new construction bringing new jobs to the area.

“For every 100 jobs that are created in Columbia, our city staff estimates that we will need 30 additional housing units. And half of those 30 new units will need to house lower income wage earners,” Treece said.

Around 30% of Boone County households are burdened by housing costs, according to the census. That means the households are paying more than 30% of their gross income on housing costs.

“Affordable housing continues to be a growing challenge in communities across the country and here in Columbia as wages are outpaced by the cost of construction,” Treece said. “Workforce housing is critical to housing a productive workforce and growing our local economy.”

Perez suggested that the city government could win residents over to the plan by running a pilot project in a neighborhood. “Buildings are more than the numbers,” Perez said. “You have to figure out what types of buildings and sizes fit on the lots we have.”