A three-decker home

A three-decker home

What if your town decided to use the definition of a house that is used by major mortgage insurers like the VA, FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac?

These mortgage providers consider 1-4 units plus 20-25% additional non-residential space to be a house, a dwelling.  All these agencies have mortgage programs designed to finance what turns out to be a pretty wide range of building configurations.  

Think about it. This could be four little cottages on the same parcel, a cottage court tucked behind a little storefront office.  It could be a fourplex, or a Dorchester three decker (photo attached). It could be a house with a cottage on the back of the lot for your 80 year old mother.

Maybe it is time to get past the needles drama of special use permits just to have a granny flat.  Why should it be a big deal if an empty nester couple wants to convert their big 4 bedroom house into a duplex? 

The mortgage outfits' 1-4 units plus some non-residential space seem like a reasonable threshold for what works in a predominately residential neighborhood.  I do recognize that changing any zoning rule has a very good chance of causing otherwise reasonable people to completely lose their minds, so maybe bringing your town's rules in line with how mortgage lenders look at houses is too much to expect.  So how about in just a portion of your town, perhaps a piece of the town that needs new investment and revitalization?  

A four-plex in Little Rock, AR

A four-plex in Little Rock, AR

I recently read a book by Dr. Arthur C. Nelson titled Reshaping Metropolitan America.  I recommend it, with the warning that reading Dr. Nelson's book may cause you to lose sleep if you are involved in municipal governance, transportation planning, affordable housing issues, or real estate in general.  Nelson's forecasts of the kind of housing needed and where housing should be located to meet market demand is based upon rather straightforward analysis of demographics and housing preferences.  The short version is that everyone who is going to need to buy or rent housing in the next 15 years has already been born and counted.  Nelson sees a dramatic increase in households with no children (over 80% by 2030) and in households with only one person in them (over 50% by 2030).  Think about that while you consider how many 3 and 4 bedroom homes have been built in your town over the last 20 years.

We are headed into a significant mismatch between the way the supply of housing is configured and located and the demand for housing.  Our nation's mortgage finance system can accommodate some big changes in how we deliver housing.  Can the same be said about your town's zoning rules?  Is it time to launch a pilot project and figure out how to do things differently?

Read more about Reshaping Metropolitan America on John's blog.

(All photos courtesy of John Anderson)


Like what you're reading? Interested in learning how to be a small scale developer?

Upcoming Incremental Development Alliance Workshops

Dallas Small Developer Bootcamp

Dates: February 26-28

Location: Rodriguez Photography Studio in Dallas, TX

Details: Join us for the Small Scale Developer Boot Camp with John Anderson, Jim Kumon, Gracen Johnson and Monte Anderson, a weekend long workshop on the basics to small scale real estate development in the North Oak Cliff neighborhood. 

Providence Small Developer Bootcamp

Dates: April 1-3

Location: City Annex Building in Providence, RI

Details: Save the date for the Small Scale Developer Boot Camp with John Anderson, Jim Kumon and company for a weekend long workshop on the basics to small scale real estate development in New England. 

Other Upcoming Workshops:

March 23: Louisville, KY

April 22-24: Fayetteville, AR

June 7: Hamtramck/Detroit, MI

June 23: Cedar Rapids, IA

July 29-31: Eugene, OR

Check back on the Incremental Development Alliance website for more details as they become available.