A Vote for Parking Minimums Is a Vote to Keep the Rent Too Damn High

Photo: Google Street View
Mandatory parking minimums add construction costs, restrict the supply of housing, and help put rents out of reach. Photo: Google Street View

[Editor’s note: With the City Council debating potential reforms to the city’s parking mandates today, we’re republishing this piece that originally ran in December. Stay tuned for coverage of the hearing later today.]

Jimmy McMillan may have retired from politics, but the rent is still too damn high and New York City’s mandatory parking minimums are a major reason why.

That’s because parking costs a lot of money to build and takes up a lot of space. With city rules requiring parking in new construction, New York ends up with higher rents and less housing to go around than would otherwise be the case.

The de Blasio administration has proposed doing away with parking minimums for subsidized housing near transit. Predictably, a lot of community boards still want to compel the construction of parking spaces, even if the city knows most of them will go unused.

Members of the City Council, which will negotiate the final rezoning plan with City Hall, are by and large on the fence about the proposed parking reforms. This is an issue Streetsblog has covered a lot over the past several years, so here are five reminders that a vote for parking minimums is a vote to make housing in New York City less affordable.

1. The Time Building a Project Without Parking Made It More Affordable

Navy Green is an affordable housing project in Fort Greene that consists of 458 homes, 75 percent of which will be affordable to households earning between 30 and 130 percent of the area median income. That level of affordability was possible because the project includes zero parking spots, developer Martin Dunn told Streetsblog.

2. The NYU Reports That Proved Parking Minimums Distort What Gets Built

Developers in New York don’t build parking because that’s what people are demanding — they build it because they’re forced to. A 2011 report from NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy showed that developers of Queens affordable housing projects were overwhelmingly building the exact minimum number of spots required by law — or fewer, when they could manage a waiver.

Parking requirements, in other words, are compelling builders to construct storage for cars instead of housing for people. In a follow-up report, the Furman Center expanded its research, showing that the distortion caused by parking requirements affects all five boroughs.

3. The Time Parking Requirements Forced an Affordable Housing Project to Shrink

An architect working on a HUD-sponsored project in the Bronx was forced to cut units from the development after a new zoning classification required additional off-street parking. It was a small project, resulting in a 16-unit building instead of an 18-unit building. But the effect of parking requirements adds up across the scale of the whole city — imagine if every affordable housing project could be built with 12 percent more units.

4. The Affordable Housing Developer Who Said Parking Requirements Killed Projects

Alan Bell, who’s built thousands of units of affordable and market-rate housing in the NYC area, told Streetsblog he’d turned down or completely avoided multiple projects because the mandated parking wouldn’t fit on the site. “If you have a modest size building,” he said, building parking “is really prohibitive.”

5. When the Public Housing Authority Came Out Against Parking Requirements

Former NYCHA Chair John Rhea questioned whether Department of City Planning parking rules were “working against us instead of supporting us” in 2011. Speaking at a Municipal Arts Society-sponsored panel, Rhea named parking minimums as a key impediment to a proposal that could increase the city’s affordable housing stock by increasing density at existing developments.

  • mikecherepko

    On the other hand, the chair of Brooklyn CB1’s land use committee said that the committee thinks it’s “demeaning” to reduce parking requirements for affordable projects because it implies the people who live there can’t afford or shouldn’t have cars.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    instead of a parking requirement, how about providing the ability to su substitue bicycle storage for car storage. a developer could build a bike room with 50 Spaces instead of storage for 50 cars !

    FYI – rule of thumb is a parking space requires 300-400 sqft. plus requiring parking completely destroys any human scale at street level because cars are just so big.

  • BladeRunner

    Demeaning to who? What is he a mind reader the chair ought to speak for himself.

  • dr2chase

    If someone could develop a parking-space-sized microhousing unit, renters could sublet their unused spaces. Main problem is wastewater removal, since power and water can come in any old way.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    most smaller airstream type trailers fit in a Parking space – Extension Cord plus Garden hose and then Clean Out waste tank once a week.

    http://www.airstreamclassifieds.com/ads/2008-airstream-safari-se-20-new-york/

  • mikecherepko

    She said it’s demeaning to people who live in affordable housing because it implies that they can’t afford or shouldn’t have cars.

  • dr2chase

    Sounds like a business plan!

  • zstewart

    We have these; there are a number of trailers that could work.

    There are several problems though:

    * They are less dense than equivalent housing; you can’t stack trailers
    * Many jurisdictions don’t allow living in these things
    * Some jurisdictions don’t even allowing parking them long term
    * Trailers require capital to purchase

  • zstewart

    It’d probably be far cheaper to allow tenants to store bikes on the walls of their apartments, especially since doors would already have to be wide enough to fit wheelchairs anyways in new construction.

    A dedicated bike storage room is ideal, but that too has costs at small scale development levels. Far less than cars, of course.

  • Joe R.

    I had an alternate idea where the city would allow people to put storage units in parking spots. The theory here is everyone pays for these spots but only people with cars currently get to use them. Allowing people without cars to use them to store personal items in a container would be fairer. Carrying the idea a bit further, I think you can also have containers designed for microhousing. Without the need for an engine or running gear like trailers or motorhomes, these would probably be less expensive. And containers are inherently stackable. You just need some means for the tenants to reach the upper containers.

    Another plus to this idea is that moving is a breeze. Just lift the container onto a container truck, go where you’re moving, and unload it. You could probably even remain in your “house” while you’re moving.

  • Joe R.

    It’s not demeaning at all. It’s simple reality. If you living in affordable housing, which in most cases means it’s subsidized by either taxpayers or other tenants paying market rent, then this implies you shouldn’t have car. A car is a huge expense. If you can afford a car, then that means you can afford to pay more rent. Or it means you shouldn’t be in affordable housing at all.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    If a Studio these days costs $2,000+ / month, than a cozy trailer in a off street Parking space at $1,000/month Is a steal

  • davistrain

    As someone who is familiar with the “Recreational Vehicle” scene, in many places it’s illegal to be in a trailer when it’s being moved (referring to the last sentence above. In Los Angeles and San Francisco they’ve had problems with “residentially challenged” people living in decrepit RVs on the public streets, especially when they dump the holding tanks into a storm drain, or even worse, into the gutter. Of course, there’s nothng “recreational” about living in an RV full-time.

  • BladeRunner

    Like I said the chair needs to speak for himself and not presume that anyone who doesn’t drive is living in poverty or feels demeaned by not owning a car. There are many people who are not poor but choose not to drive. Over half the population of NYC doesn’t drive that doesn’t make them all poor.

    To the contrary, the huge expense of car ownership is often financially burdensome and a contributing factor to making people poor.

  • WalkingNPR

    I’ve long wanted to do a demonstration where I just start putting my things out on the street in parking spots. Like, just leave a rack of clothing out there. I could use the extra closet space and if we’re using the streets for free storage of private property anyway….

  • bolwerk

    I’m too lazy to look this up right now, but wasn’t there some case in the Upper West Side a few years ago where ritzy fuckers were getting their briefs knotted because some guy who owned a Winnebago or something kept moving it around with alt side parking? Basically, he found a rent-free way to live in Manhattan and wasn’t even doing anything illegal.

    (No idea what ended up happening to him.)

  • reasonableexplanation

    Minimum bike storage requirements for new buildings isn’t a bad idea. Doesn’t take much space, and provides a huge benefit, while encouraging cycling. It would need to be secured in a more elaborate way than a simple lock for a common area though; bikes are super easy to steal. (I’ve had multiple friends who had their locked bikes stolen from communal apartment building garages).

  • mattkime

    lack of a bike parking minimum is demeaning

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