August 15, 2016

Is The U.S. Ready to Choose Affordable Housing Over Mandatory Parking?

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With numerous metropolitan regions in the U.S. facing affordable housing issues, some cities are tackling the issue by revising off-street parking requirements, which, in their current form, contribute to the increasing costs of housing. In February, the New York City the Department of City Planning proposed to eliminate mandatory parking requirements for certain housing types within a specific geographic boundary. New York City is just the latest in a line of cities and states to recognize that affordable housing and off-street parking requirements may not support each other, and are taking a look at long-accepted policies which mandate that developers build a certain amount of parking per unit, regardless of demand or transit accessibility.

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Chelsea Neighborhood, New York City

This movement has been spurred by the negative impact mandatory parking requirements have on affordable housing. Building often unnecessary parking is often a major
developer expense, resulting in fewer
residential units built, or increased rent while adding to congestion, climate change, and health problems, not to mention underutilized and valuable space.

Parking requirements should be reconsidered to fit local scale, demographics, and need, providing many benefits on top of the increase of affordable housing such as “revitalized and thriving town centers; significant reductions in private car trips; reductions in air pollution; and generally improved quality of life.”

NYC Transit ZoneThe New York City Department of City Planning proposed a “transit zone” that encompasses land allowing for “new multi-family housing within a half-mile of a subway line,” where off-street parking requirements would not be mandatory for “new public housing, senior housing, or apartments reserved for people earning below a certain income.” This is significant for New York City, where 56% of all households do not own a car and rely on mass transit and other modes, according to a recent University of Michigan study. This proposal, supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio, is a substantial step forward. The proposal not only recognizes that residents of the above housing types do not typically own a car, but take this understanding further by deregulating the mandate.

Minneapolis was one of the first major cities in US to look at the costs imposed by parking requirements and the effect on housing affordability. The Minneapolis City Council in July 2015 universally passed an ordinance that eliminates the parking requirements for new developments with 50 units or under, and reduces requirements to .5 spaces per unit, in areas that are “within a quarter mile of high-frequency transit.” Council Member Lisa Bender notes this policy was pursued in effort to avoid a “housing crisis in the future,” as the market, coupled with dated parking regulations, have caused “affordable-range rents to be far less affordable.” Bender notes that the ordinance would ensure that residents would “not have to pay for parking that they’re not using,” and would give “people an option to live in a lower-cost housing situation.” City council members are planning for the long-term need of city dwellers – affordable housing with low car ownership, living in the midst of TOD.

California was next, the first state to address housing affordability and parking. California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill in October of 2015 to “create more affordable housing by easing parking requirements.” The Assembly Bill (AB 744) will guarantee that developers can request minimum parking to help build more affordable housing units, lowering the standard to .5 parking spaces per unit for affordable and senior housing, and .3 spaces per unit for special needs housing. This is one of the first public acknowledgements of the relationship between affordable housing and mandatory parking.

Parking Space GraphNYU’s Furman Center analyzed trends regarding parking spaces built against spaces required from 2000-2008.  Reviewing the corresponding table (left), developers build the minimum number of parking spaces when required to provide spots (red & green). Developers barely provide spaces when they are not obligated to do so (blue). Given the choice, developers would build significantly less parking than what’s required.  

As this effort gains momentum, other cities have taken action. In Portland, parking requirements vary around access to transit, with buildings required to be within 500 feet of a transit line.  In Chicago, Mayor Emanuel created incentives for affordable housing, by increasing Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and decreasing required parking for buildings with at least 50% affordable units. In San Diego, requirements are recommended to be determined by access to transit, and in London, deregulation, maximum standards, and parking taxes are deployed in response to parking minimums. Finally, in Washington D.C, the Zoning Commission just approved the elimination of parking requirements in the majority of the downtown area and decreased parking requirements everywhere within 0.5 miles of metro station entrances and within 0.25 miles of streetcar or “priority bus corridors” by 50%. The new regulations go into effect September 6, 2016.

Is the U.S. ready to choose affordable housing over mandatory parking? From the shifting attitudes of various cities across the country, the answer seems to be yes, however, while the government may not be requiring off-street parking for affordable housing, many financing entities still do. Only time will tell if parking, congestion, and the cost of housing projects will decrease and the number of affordable units built will increase due to the efforts to re-think off-street parking regulations.


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