There’s a deep connection between parking policy and housing affordability. The more space New York devotes to car storage, the less space is available to house people. And yet, 50 year old laws mandating the construction of parking in new residential development persist in most of the city, driving up construction costs and hampering the supply of housing.
The housing plan released by the de Blasio administration Tuesday could have announced one simple but major step to align parking policy with the city’s affordability goals: the end of parking minimums. Instead, the plan is strangely passive about parking reform, even though it plainly states that parking mandates contribute to the high cost of housing in the city.
Aiming to add 80,000 subsidized units and 100,000 market rate units to the city’s housing supply in 10 years, de Blasio has laid out more ambitious housing targets than Michael Bloomberg did before him — though not by much. An across-the-board elimination of parking mandates is the kind of measure you’d want to see from an administration that has basically pledged to use every lever at its disposal to keep rent increases in check. It would lower the cost of construction, and it could be used as a tool to extract more subsidized housing units from developers when they build new projects.
But the plan released Tuesday only says City Hall will “re-examine parking requirements.” And the specific parking minimums the plan puts in play won’t touch all development.
The good news is that the plan calls for housing development to be coordinated with transit and street safety improvements, and it does put parking reforms on the table in three respects. It proposes lower parking mandates in subsidized housing near transit, in commercial development that can also support housing, and in housing for seniors.
Of these three, the relaxation of parking mandates for commercial development looks like the biggest step forward. It not only would make it easier to build mixed-use projects, but it would also lead those projects to become more walkable and less car-oriented. A parking space attached to a store can generate several car trips per day — much of that traffic won’t materialize if this reform is enacted.
The other reforms are pretty much in line with where the Department of City Planning was already headed. At the end of the Bloomberg administration, DCP was sending signals that it would loosen parking requirements for affordable housing near transit. Lower parking requirements for senior housing is a new proposal, but based on the same logic as lower mandates for subsidized units — people can plainly see that mandatory parking “often goes unused by senior housing residents.”
What makes the housing plan such a letdown in terms of parking reform is that it sticks with the basic assumption that planners should guess how much parking people will use, then dictate how much developers should be required to build. Hence, even for affordable housing and senior housing, it calls for parking requirements to be reduced but not eliminated. And nowhere does the document explicitly say that parking requirements should be cut across the board for market-rate housing, even though parking mandates raise costs for all types of construction.
A real affordable housing “moon shot,” as the Times put it, would have recognized that parking mandates are a drag on all housing. The best you can say about the de Blasio plan is that it doesn’t rule out the possibility of eliminating parking minimums. To make that happen, though, it looks like advocates will have to press the administration to think a lot more boldly about parking reform.