The city of Fort Worth is continuing efforts to tackle its missing middle housing and looking closely at local regulations for a local solution: new zoning. 

The city’s development services department has put out a request for proposal in hopes of finding a company to help it create a zoning category that would allow what is known as middle housing to be built across Fort Worth. 

The term middle housing refers to house-scale buildings with multiple units in walkable neighborhoods. It’s neither a single-family home nor a multifamily apartment complex.

Middle housing is often characterized as missing because moderately priced dwellings like townhomes, duplexes, and fourplexes have not been built very often since the 1940s. 

What is missing middle housing?

Midsized, often moderately priced dwelling types are often referred to as “missing” because very few have been built in the United States since the early 1940s. The term as used in Fort Worth describes a set of residential building types between detached single-family houses and large apartment buildings. The shortage of middle housing is largely due to zoning constraints, the shift to car-centric patterns of development and the challenges developers face in financing multi-unit dwellings. Some notable benefits of promoting middle housing are affordability, walkability and increased living options for residents.

Caption: (Rendering courtesy | Opticos)

The new zoning classification will be known as “mixed residential” and will allow any multifamily developments between 4 to 100 units only. Current requirements for multifamily zoning do not allow projects of this size. 

This new approach to housing options is in response to gaps in the current city ordinance and zoning code that have limited the types of accommodations developers and homeowners can build. 

By creating a new zoning classification, the city hopes to diversify housing stock while allowing things to be built faster. This will help achieve more balance between the housing supply and demand, said D.J. Harrell, director of the city’s development services department. 

Mary-Margaret Lemons, president of Fort Worth Housing Solutions, said a diverse housing stock accommodates people throughout the different stages of their lives. 

The current real estate market and some of the local zoning requirements have made it challenging to bring different types of housing developments to Fort Worth, she said. Anything to further the goal of bringing all types of housing to the city is appreciated.

“Being prepared when the market comes back with zoning that allows for (middle housing), it’s really smart to get in front of some of the challenges we’ve had in the past,” Lemons said. 

The proposal also wants to create new regulations allowing secondary dwelling units to be rented out in single-family zones near bus routes. 

Fort Worth’s zoning ordinance was last updated in 1999, and the subdivision ordinance was revised in 2007. At the time, both ordinances focused heavily on growing greenfield suburban developments across the city. 

“While the zoning ordinance hasn’t had a full overhaul in some time, staff regularly works with our community stakeholders and council members on minor updates/text amendments,” Harrell said in a statement.

As a result, the city has identified at least 15 text amendments to the zoning ordinance that need to be updated or be entirely created as part of the 2023 budget, according to city documents. Those amendments will shift focus toward encouraging more urban infill development.  

When Fort Worth first started rapidly growing, the urban sprawl moved toward the edges of the city, Lemons said. Coming back to the inner city and reinvesting in areas that have long been neglected will benefit communities with rich and vibrant histories. 

“Anything the city can do to make the process more streamlined and easier to get through all the different layers that you have to go through when you’re taking on a development — that is going to be easier on us but it’s going to be more efficient which saves everybody money,” Lemons said. 

City staff said this request for updates to the zoning ordinance comes from city council. However, instead of tackling all 15 amendments in one year, staff selected the two highest priorities first: the missing middle housing and accessory dwelling units. 

Other high-priority ordinance change requests include the codes for short-term rentals and urban forestry. 

Overall, city staff hopes to allocate $100,000 a year over the next two to three years to address all 15 needed text amendments, documents show. 

This project is meant to kick off a multi-year process of reviewing and potentially updating the zoning ordinance in response to community concerns and proactively managing growth, Harrell said. 

Other recently completed zoning amendments include car wash regulations, urban forestry standards and boarding home guidelines. 

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at or on Twitter at @ssadek19

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Sandra Sadek is the growth reporter for the Fort Worth Report and a Report for America corps member. She writes about Fort Worth's affordable housing crisis, infrastructure and development. Originally...