Advocates: New Parking Requirements Make Housing More Expensive

Reforming New York City parking policy is a critical component of reducing automobile use and building better public spaces. It’s becoming increasingly clear that rethinking how we store cars can help address New York City’s housing crisis as well. Requiring parking not only creates traffic, it also prevents housing from being built and drives up prices.

dyker_heights_curb_cut.jpg A front yard parking pad, which the residential streetscape amendment is intended to prevent. Photo: DCP

A zoning change passed by the City Council this month — the Residential Streetscape Preservation Text Amendment (RSPTA) — could be a step in the wrong direction for both parking reform and affordable housing. By tinkering with off-street parking regulations, housing advocates say, the Department of City Planning has obstructed the construction of safer and more affordable housing stock.

The RSPTA was intended to cut down on the curb cuts and front-yard parking pads proliferating in the city. It’s a laudable goal. As we reported last November, curb cuts put pedestrians at risk from cars crossing the sidewalk.

But that’s not all the amendment does. Though PlaNYC calls for creating homes for a million more New Yorkers that are more affordable and sustainable than the buildings of today, the amendment erects new barriers to the construction of housing in a market where the scarcity of residences drives rents and prices higher. 

Streetscape_Pic.pngWhen you have to put parking in a side yard, you can’t build new rowhouses or add to existing attached housing. Image: DCP

Under the amendment, adding a new unit to residential buildings in many places across the city now requires adding an off-street parking space as well, which will ultimately prevent many units from ever being built, housing advocates say. 

In some mid-density neighborhoods, like parts of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn and Forest Hills in Queens, the RSPTA forbids putting parking in the front or rear yard of a building, but off-street parking is still allowed in driveways along the side of a building, or in a household garage. Many of these zones, though, are typified by one- or two-story attached housing. "A lot of those properties are not going to be able, physically, to add a side-yard parking spot," said Jerilyn Perine, the executive director of the Citizens Housing and Planning Council and a former housing commissioner under Giuliani and Bloomberg. "You can’t do it if you’re attached on both sides."

The RSPTA therefore makes it impossible to create new units, through construction or bringing previously informal units up to code, in those areas. "That’s a very strong statement to come in an amendment that’s ostensibly about parking and front yard plantings," said Perine.

Elena Conte of the Pratt Center for Community Development agreed with Perine’s analysis. "By requiring a new parking space," she said, the amendment "erects a significant barrier to the creation of new units in these zones."

In areas where new development is underway, the result is similar, though less drastic. "By restricting parking to a side-yard ribbon only," said Perine, "in a new development environment you essentially can’t do a row of little two-story buildings and meet the parking requirement." The result, she said, will be less-dense and less-energy efficient detached houses. 

Conte agreed that the RSPTA will lead to more detached units being built than if the amendment had never passed. "This runs counter to the widely accepted principles of smart growth," she said. 

In addition, the RSPTA’s parking requirements will force builders to spend more money on housing construction. The cost of a parking space in a low-density neighborhood isn’t make-or-break for most developments, said Perine, but it’s no coincidence that "obligations keep getting added to new housing development and then people are dismayed when the cost of housing continues to increase."

The RSPTA’s effect on housing prices will add to the more significant burden imposed by parking minimums for larger residential developments, said Perine. "On the multi-family side," she said,
"there’s no question there’s a clear cost hit there."

The Department of City Planning contests the claim that the changes will affect the housing market. DCP sees the changes as simply clarifying existing regulations, according to a spokesperson, who emphasized that the amendment will "enhance the walkability of neighborhoods by regulating where curb cuts may be placed."

Despite her belief that the city’s parking regulations will impede efforts to build more housing and drive up housing costs in many parts of the city, Perine isn’t calling for scrapping the city’s off-street parking minimums. "We just wish there would be a bigger picture discussion of land use and parking and housing development," she said, "instead of these piecemeal text changes." The Department of City Planning’s ongoing citywide analysis of parking demand provides a perfect opportunity to take a step back and assess the whole situation, she added. 

Until that’s complete, Perine argued, the department should stop sneaking new parking requirements into unrelated amendments, like one theoretically targeted only at preventing curb-cuts. "What’s that got to do with streetscapes?" she asked.

  • JK

    It’s a good bet that when Mike Bloomberg leaves office there will be a lot more parking per person in New York City than when he came into office. The Department of City Planning and EDC sound like State DOT’s during the highway widening era.

  • Joby

    This is a major problem in some nabes in Queens. If they need to go back and change it a little so that you can build a building with no parking at all at some point in the future I’m fine with that.
    It’s not as though there will be too many tear downs for the next few years given the housing market.
    Anything is better than what we have. Has anyone been to one of these circa 1950’s inner suburbs where people have paved over thier front lawns and where there is no grass whatsoever? The front yard is completely concreted over and given over to parking.

  • jsd

    Joby,

    This is common in Staten Island as well. Many of the streets are completely filled with parked cars, and most driveways accomodate two cars, at the most. The solution for many has been to pave over the front lawn to accomodate two or more cars.

    It makes the streets look like randomly placed strip malls. But with wide roads, speeding drivers, no local bike infrastructure, crumbling sidewalks, short red lights, long green lights, nearly invisible crosswalks, and no regard for the few pedestrians there are, this is par for the course. It’s what they built for, and it’s what they got.

  • christine berthet

    Parking minima must go. NOW. There is no safety, health or scarce resources argument here.
    It is a left over of Moses’ totalautorian era where he redesigned the city for cars.
    50 years later, Moses is gone, the internet is here, and people ought to be able to build a room for their aging parents rather than a parking for a car.

  • Joby

    To claim preventing the addition of “units” is somehow akin to preventing an addition for grandma seems like a mischaracterization to me. Assuming this passes – if you tear down two one family houses and replace it with three or four you will be required to provide parking facilities for the new units – on the side of the units not where the front lawns used to be. There are entire nabes in this city where people have torn down two single fams and replaced them with three, paved over the front lawns and used that for parking. Surely this solution (requiring parking on the side) is better than what is currently transpiring (parking where there used to be grass on the front lawn).
    I’m not saying this is perfect but it is an improvement. Quite frankly, the rules should be mindful of density of the area and proximity to transportation facilities. In neighborhoods without very good transportation facilities (Eastern Queens and SI) there should be an understanding that building densely is a bad idea. In areas where transportation is readily available density should be encouraged. The problem with the rules as they are now, is many units are being added in areas where the transportation infrastructure can’t support them. Not to mention the problems that are caused by precipitation and impermeable surfaces.

  • t seems that many people are actually opposing one another in giving each of their opinions regarding the parking policy. To the investors and businessmen, it somehow sounds negative since the parking spaces we used to have are on the front yard and they can’t actually do a row of little two-storey buildings. But, with the new parking policy, they can also give a higher price to the units which is a positive note to them but a negative one on the buyer. With the not-so-good-news gong on in real estate when it comes to sales because of the crisis the whole world is experiencing, it seems that this whole idea is somewhat untimely. This is just my opinion.

  • I happen to disagree with cut curbs create more accidents. It’s both incompetent drivers & pedestrians not looking where they’re walking that creates the problem. As a homeowner responsible for the repair the sidewalk at my expense, it should be my right to have driveway. Homeowner’s pay the taxes having these driveways. Pedestrians just use the services of the sidewalks, but pay nothing toward the repair or replacement.

  • Gasoline taxes do not pay for residential streets or sidewalks. Residential streets and sidewalks are paid out of your property taxes. Freeways are supposed to be paid out of gasoline taxes, but are subsidized out of general revenue.

  • “Homeowner’s pay the taxes”

    Education in New York has obviously gone downhill. Back when I was in elementary school, they taught us how to form the plural of a noun.

    Mr. Class, show that you are literate by writing “homeowners,” and maybe people will take you more seriously.

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