So much of the real estate industry is extractive, where far-away investors mine the value from properties that line our streets. We are working toward a more generative real estate model, where local people can invest in their own neighborhoods and in that process, create new life and value that benefits their community. The kind of places we want to live in are built and maintained by people who really love them.

Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.
— G.K. Chesterton

 small is adaptable


Even beloved and successful places are at risk. We all know stories of boom and bust. Buildings, neighborhoods, cities are all put under great stress in times of fast economic change, whether growth or decline. At the local level, the best way we know to protect against the negative impacts of both growth and decline is this: spread the risk and the reward. We need more neighbourhood-based small developers creating buildings that can adapt in times of trouble.

Scale makes all the difference. The small-scale developer is limited by their size to a certain scope of project. They don’t have the team or the resources for mega-developments; they need to stick with small, simple buildings in a fairly concentrated area so they can easily keep an eye on things. Instead of large apartment blocks or a subdivision of single-family homes, small developers are more likely to build duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, live-work buildings, backyard cottages etc. These buildings are too small for a conventional developer whose profits depend on an economy of scale. Small developers depend on economies of resourcefulness and relationships, and that economic model is what makes small developers so adaptable in times of trouble.

I’m going to give you the total secret to being successful as a small developer. Ready? Pick a place and stay with it for the rest of your life. Commit the rest of your life to it. I really mean this because what will happen is if you do a project that doesn’t do so good, doesn’t make money, you’ve still fixed something up, still done something, so even in a loss you gain.
— Monte Anderson

Missing Middle Housing spans the gap between detached single-family homes to large apartment buildings. Diagram from our friends at Opticos Design.




Our favourite adaptable buildings for small developers are the Missing Middle, spanning the gap between single-family houses and large apartment buildings. Time has proven how important and practical these buildings are in stitching a neighborhood together through thick and thin, generation after generation. Missing Middle buildings strengthen local economies. They are to real estate development what the small business is to commerce. And it helps that they are more than a little charming. People value having these buildings around and regular people can find the resources to build them.

Missing Middle buildings are perfect tools for adapting neighborhoods on a lot-by-lot basis. These buildings are well suited to the kind of infill lots available in most urban areas and they help add units without substantially changing the feel or scale of the street. Missing Middle buildings allow neighborhoods to keep their charm but grow their market. With more people living in the same land area, there is a greater customer base to sustain amenities like stores and restaurants nearby.

And earning a living while we're at it

Buildings that don't earn their keep don't last very long in this world. We believe it is both possible and important for a small developer to focus on buildings that earn money. Seeing a development project with clear eyes rather than rose-colored glasses is the surest way to build something that can be maintained and even improved over time.

If you can’t get the rent, you can’t build the building.
— John Anderson

There are many creative ways to ensure that a building's income exceeds its expenses, and small developers are uniquely positioned to make the most of creative strategies. This country is covered with inspiring precedents of buildings that punch above their weight, giving back to the city through taxes, to the neighborhood through street appeal, and to the owner through a positive cash flow.

Continent wide, communities are realizing that big developers cannot be induced to come build the neighborhoods they want. No one is coming to save them from the status quo. They’ve got to do it themselves. We believe this movement toward local ownership and neighborhood-based development is an important and powerful one. Our Alliance exists to support it.