Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Single- vs Multifamily Housing: Lansing Housing Rules

Did you catch Joan Nelson's piece in the City Pulse about "granny flats"? 

The article describes Lansing's "demographic mismatch", that is, our large amount of land dedicated to detached single family housing. As it turns out, single-family zoning covers 83% of Lansing’s residential districts (and 90% of our residential land!) while only 40% of households consist of single families, i.e., parents and their children under 18 years of age.

A detached house is probably what you'd think of as a typical "suburban" home, that is, something that is freestanding (ie, not a duplex), has a yard on a lot of at least 4,000 sqft, and historically houses one family. However, that doesn't really describe most of Lansing; many of us live here temporarily due to jobs or school or because we want to go somewhere else eventually. Others do not want the responsibility of a home yet, or maybe ever. Some live alone and so might purchase a single family home to share with a roommate or to cover all the bill themselves.

Detached family housing zoning restrictions also have their roots in the racist practices used to prevent people of color from owning in all white neighborhoods. 

The Missing Middle

There are a variety of types of multifamily housing types that can be built in theory; much ink has been spilled in recent years about the "missing middle": this is the medium density housing that exists between a single family house and a large apartment building like Fountain Place or the Motor Wheel Lofts.

This multifamily housing could be a condo, duplex, a few cottages with a shared courtyard, a rowhouse, or another type of multiplex. Medium density zones can also have low density housing (a single family home) as well, but the reverse is not true (you cannot build a rowhouse on land zoned for low density, for example.)

Lansing's Zoning/Form Based Code was decided in 2022 (updated from an older zoning plan which has fewer multifamily housing zones) and is publicly available online. Here's where we stand in terms of housing. You can see there are some red areas designated as "downtown" districts, which are typically encouraged to be mixed use and can consist of housing (but also commercial). The blue areas are designated as single or multifamily of various types. The yellow areas are single family detached only.

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