ULI Washington News

Recap- Living with Amazon- How Developing the Missing Middle Can Address the Region’s Housing Needs

The sold-out event “Living with Amazon: How Developing the ‘Missing Middle’ Can Address the Region’s Housing Needs” explored Amazon’s looming impact on the Greater DC area and how the city can best equip itself for their arrival. We would like to extend a large shout-out to our panelists for their hard work and insightful dialogue: Vicki Davis, Patricia Harris, Bo Menkiti, Michelle Winters, and moderator Yolanda Cole.

Yolanda delivered a concise educational summary on the growing “Missing Middle” dilemma and why citizens should care as their city thrives. The panel displayed a strong consensus that the area, in conjunction with “edge cities”, can respond successfully through a multi-faceted approach. Bo Menkiti notably claimed that Washington DC has a chronic housing problem that has not received tremendous attention because the city has gotten by without addressing it. Perhaps, Amazon is the needed catalyst for solving this issue. One initiative that Amazon can utilize for a smooth transition into National Landing, among many, is to be an active corporate citizen. Generally speaking, Amazon’s presence will extend to encompass a massive radius within Greater DC. In order to effectively acclimate, they will need to work with local/corporate governances and be another pillar to this city.

So, how can we address the “Missing Middle”? Vicki Davis appropriately noted that Washington DC did not, nor does it, grow in a deliberate path like master-planned communities. She went on to say that this dilemma’s solution will start with the people, not the product. Citizens have “an economic balance of choices” for where they choose to live and landowners can deliver creative solutions to address the housing shortage. Vicki pointed out that three landowners on Georgia Ave near Walter Reed have converted existing townhouses, by rights, to include nine units a piece. Michelle Winters agreed with this claim, going further to explain that this comes at a time when changing demographics play a role (Millennials are creating families as Baby Boomers retire). She continued by offering a piece of advice to developers: under-amenitize and depart from the typical (and costly) amenity package that renters come to expect. Pat Harris agreed that this dilemma cannot be addressed with a single prescription. She acknowledged one area that could help ease the burden: denser residential areas where obsolete buildings and empty plots can be utilized. In order to appropriately respond to this dilemma, the private sector will need to develop creative solutions that consider changing consumer needs.

Questions from the audience focused on topics such as zoning challenges, the shared economy, Baltimore’s relationship with the area, and the impact of opportunity zones.

Thank you to the panelists, attendees, and Urban Land Institute for the thoughtful discussion and education on DC’s “Missing Middle” dilemma as Amazon joins our area!

By Wilson West

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