Building typology for housing: what is missing in Michigan

Understand the different housing typologies that are currently in demand by those entering the market.

Michigan finds itself in a position needing to attract population, especially talented knowledge workers. Recent research on housing market preferences show a marked preference for certain housing types not prevalent in Michigan’s communities according to Arthur C. “Chris” Nelson in Reshaping Metropolitan America: Trends and Opportunities to 2030. Baby Boomers (today’s emerging senior citizens) and Millennials/generation Y (born in early 1980s to early 2000s) enter the housing market looking for smaller urban housing units and housing types that are not prevolent in Michigan. But at the same time, Michigan has a surplus stock of housing types designed and built for previous market demand.

A building type is a structure intended for a specific use that has recognition and familiarity. Building types are defined by three main characteristics: function, disposition and configuration. These characteristics result in a predictable socioeconomic performance within the community. Function defines the likely uses within a building and lot. Disposition is the placement of the building on the lot, as determined by setbacks or build-to requirements. Configuration is the three-dimensional form of the building. Access is an important component as well and is determined by disposition and configuration.

Housing types fall into four main categories: edgeyard, sideyard, rearyard and courtyard. These categories are primarily determined by disposition. A structure surrounded by yard is an edgeyard. A structure occupying one side of the lot with its primary yard to one side is considered a sideyard. A rearyard building is one that occupies the entire frontage of the lot with the yard to the rear and a courtyard structure is one that occupies the parcel and surrounds the yard.

Within these broad categories are subtypes of structures. In rural areas, an edgeyard house is often called an estate or county house. In more urban areas, edgeyard house types include singles and cottages which are differentiated by their form. Mansion apartment houses are also an edgeyard housing type which incorporates three or more housing units into a structure with the form of a single house utilizing private or shared entrances facing the street. If a sideyard housing type shares a common wall with another sideyard unit on a separate lot it is a twin or duplex. Rearyard structures that share common walls with the façade forming a continuous frontage are referred to as rowhouses or townhouses and are typically found in more urban settings. Courtyard housing is typically a multi-family with private entrances fronting the yard. All of these housing types belong in the appropriate context, but rowhouses are out of place in agricultural areas and a country estate home would be out of place in an urban downtown.

According to Michigan State University Extension, it is important in Michigan is for communities to allow and encourage all of these housing types in their appropriate locations. Most of the housing stock in the state falls into single-family housing or courtyard-attached. Most the other housing types are not prevalent, or in some cases entirely missing in Michigan Communities. To attract talented workers – who are looking for these missing housing types – communities can change their zoning codes and allow the private sector to meet the coming demand.

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