"Middle Housing": Equal Access or a War on Suburbs?

Jan 2, 2020

Credit AP Photo / John Bazemore, File

Zoning decisions are usually made by your local government. But, lawmakers in Richmond are thinking about getting into the act.

Most neighborhoods across Virginia are filled with single-family houses, suburbs that surround Virginia’s urban areas. But those land-use decisions may be about to change if Delegate Ibraheem Samirah has his way.

The Fairfax Democrat wants to allow for what he calls “middle housing” development on all lots currently zoned for single-family residential units. That would include duplexes, townhomes, cottages and multi-family residential units. 

“We need to make sure we are doing democracy well in Virginia," he explains. "We’re representing everybody and not just the few loud voices that come and end up shutting the conversation about increasing density.”

But increasing density in suburbia would be a mistake says Tim Hannigan. He’s chairman of the Fairfax County Republicans. 

“If you introduced a city-urban type environment out into the suburbs," Hannigan says. "It’s going to greatly change the character and will cause the demise of suburbs as we know them.”

Some critics call the idea a war on suburbs, although Samirah dismisses that idea with a laugh — adding that people of color and low-income people also deserve to have access to the suburbs.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.