How Long Will NYC Let Parking Mandates Stand in the Way of Affordability?

One year after Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing reforms reduced some parking requirements, momentum is building to finish the job.

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

More than five decades have passed since planners baked mandatory parking requirements into NYC’s zoning code. In those 56 years, the public consensus has shifted dramatically. Today, it’s widely acknowledged that transit and walkability, not car capacity, underpin the health of the city; that climate change poses an imperative to reduce driving; and that New York is in the grips of an affordability crisis that demands an all-out effort to make housing more abundant and accessible.

Parking mandates cut against all of these objectives, but they have barely changed since 1961.

Last year, the de Blasio administration did enact reforms that reduced parking requirements for subsidized housing within walking distance of transit stations. It was a significant step because it showed, politically, that parking mandates can be changed. For most development, however, parking requirements remain in place except in the Manhattan core and parts of Long Island City.

Against their better judgment, developers must build an outrageous number of parking spots — which often sit empty. That raises housing prices both by limiting how many total units can be built and by constraining developers’ ability to subsidize below-market units.

Fortunately, there’s already a substantial appetite to expand on last year’s parking reforms. At a forum yesterday held by NYU, Transportation Alternatives, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, advocates, developers, and policymakers discussed the problems with the status quo and started to outline next steps.

Every day that parking requirements remain in the zoning code takes New York in a less affordable, more car-centric direction. Take Blesso Properties’ 545 Broadway project in Williamsburg. Built around an existing bank building, the development will add a 27-story mixed-used tower with 226 rental units, of which 30 percent will be below market-rate.

But Blesso has to build one parking space for every two market-rate units, one for every two below-market units set aside for households making more than 80 percent of the area median income, and one for every 1,000 square feet of commercial space. The surface parking and garage will take up the building’s front yard, basement cellar, and parts of the first and second floors. That’s despite the fact that the location is transit-accessible to Manhattan below 110th Street, Long Island City, and downtown Brooklyn in 20 minutes or less.

Overall, Blesso estimates that it’s eating a $12.1 million loss by building parking instead of retail on its first and second floors. New York City’s affordable housing strategy relies on private developers to subsidize rents in some units. So if not for parking requirements, Blesso could have put millions toward building more apartments or lowering rents instead.

“If it weren’t for this parking requirement, we wouldn’t do any parking, most likely,” said Blesso President David Kessler. “There isn’t the need for parking in this location.”

Last year, the city eliminated parking requirements for senior and affordable housing developments within the orange areas on this map. Click to enlarge.
Last year, the city eliminated parking requirements for subsidized housing within the orange areas on this map, but most housing and commercial development remain saddled with parking mandates. Click to enlarge.

New York’s on-street parking policies — which allow anyone to park on most streets for free — make the politics of off-street parking reform challenging. Many New Yorkers see off-street parking requirements as a safeguard against competition for free on-street spaces. Perversely, the city’s reluctance to charge for parking — which most households never use, because they don’t own cars — is making housing — something that everyone needs — more expensive.

“Basically, New York City has for parking what we wish we had for housing,” said Fred Harris, a former NYCHA executive who now serves as managing director of the real estate firm Jonathan Rose Companies. Free or low-cost parking is available for the masses, while a small segment of wealthier residents pay for luxurious off-street spots.

To further reduce parking mandates, Harris thinks the city needs to package parking reform in a way that “makes life better” for people who drive, perhaps by tying it to an on-street parking permit system. “A political solution really has to address the people who are out there using the parking, and somehow make it a little better for them,” he said.

Commercial parking requirements, which are less politically touchy than parking attached to housing, are another possible next step for reform, the panelists said.

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Mancera’s efforts to reduce parking requirements could offer some lessons for NYC policymakers. Advocates there won public support for the reforms by showing “real numbers” that explain how the money spent on parking could instead fund housing or transit, according to Andrés Sañudo of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s Mexico City branch.

“If we are able to show [citizens] that there are other mechanisms on which we can… finance transportation or to finance affordable housing, I think it can be easier,” Sañudo said.

  • The residential parking requirements at 545 Broadway, an R7-equivalent district, are 50%, not 100%. They only need one parking space for every two market-rate apartments. It’s too much, but it’s not as high as one stall for every apartment.

  • Yes. Post has been amended.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The eliminated parking requirements for affordable housing in Orthodox areas, and would-be Orthodox areas.

    Streetsbloggers and the Orthodox on first glance have little in common. But the fact that the Orthodox don’t use motor vehicles on the same day they visit their religious institutions forces them to live in the way Streetsbloggers might approve of.

    They even have buses to their summer colonies in Upstate NY.

    And Boro Park is a surprisingly active business center.

  • Gareth

    In areas such as northern Bronx and queens, all developers use quality housing and the 50% mandate. Mind you these are areas with limited public transport options,.

    In northern Bronx, developers are turning communities with 1-4 family homes to 50-100 unit apartments due to rezoning. These are communities were a car is needed and public transport isn’t a real option or is non existent.

    Before you only had 30 cars per block and 80% of those cars had driveway parking in 1-4 family homes. But with new high-rise apartments, you now have 120 cars per block and only 50% of those 120 car have internal parking.

    In these communities the lack of internal parking spaces for new building have been a curse not a blessing and street parking is very scarce and competitive.

    Advocating for less parking within buildings without considering giving the masses more public transportion options and developing the current public transportation to accommodate the rise in population density is a huge trump sized flaw by NYC government

  • Vooch

    a car isn’t needed anywhere is the 5 boros. period

  • ohnonononono

    Where is there a newly-built “50-100 unit apartment” in the Bronx where “a car is needed and public transport isn’t a real option or is non existent”? Seriously, give me an example.

  • JK

    For future mention — the reason there is no minimum parking requirement in Manhattan South of 110th and LIC is because of a mid 1970’s Clean Air Act lawsuit, not enlightened City policy. Also, it’s always worth mentioning that there is abundant, real-world evidence that no parking minimums are required. Not one pre-war neighborhood was built with a parking requirement. A good start would be to eliminate parking minimums everywhere. If there are neighborhoods where parking is a must to attract residents, a developer can build it. Lastly, the idea that City housing and transportation policy should be based on the availability of free curbside parking in residential neighborhoods makes no sense.

  • reasonableexplanation

    developers must build an outrageous number of parking spots — which often sit empty

    I’d be curious to see actual data on this. At least in my part of Brooklyn, there’s a waiting list for in-building garage spots for every building in the neighborhood. i wonder if my neighborhood is typical or an outlier.

  • The northern Bronx (Baychester, Westchester Square, Williamsbridge, etc. – all with very real transit options, I might add) was downzoned during the Bloomberg years, not upzoned. What the hell are you talking about?

  • JarekFA

    I tweeted at my CM all the out-of-state plates I saw on just one block back in November. They bitch and bitch and bitch about bikes taking up car parking but look the other way as their neighbors commit insurance fraud and store their vehicles on the block.

    Just 1 block of South Slope this morning. All violating NYS law. Including a NJ Police Training Commish @placardabuse pic.twitter.com/nhwiQihdxf— JarekFA (@JarekFA) November 5, 2016

  • Joe R.

    My take on this is that parking spots are like free food. Demand is always going to exceed supply so long as the supply consists of free curbside parking and in-building spots whose cost is either bundled with the rent, or for which the charge is very low. For example, one of my friends lives in Coney Island and they charge $50 a month for parking in the complex’s lot. There is a 4 year waiting list. I suggested to him that perhaps they should raise that to $100 to $200 a month. The idea is keep raising it until there is no waiting list.

    The fact is in NYC many people own cars even if they seldom use them given the low cost of parking. Higher prices for parking will get those who seldom use their cars to get rid of them. My friend has put fewer miles on his 2011 Sonata since he bought it than I’ve put on my bike, a fact I remind him of every time the subject comes up. I can’t help but think a higher price for parking, combined with the difficulty of curbside parking in his area, would have swayed him into not owning a car. Even he admitted he doesn’t really need one but he basically bought it because he would have lost his parking spot if he didn’t. His old car was flooded out during Sandy.

  • reasonableexplanation

    In my neighborhood, in-building sports go for about $150. And there’s still a huge demand. The way they’re structured is that they come with an apartment, and you can use it yourself, or rent it out to someone else. You don’t lose it if you don’t use it, as long as you keep paying the monthly fee.

    It sounds like your friend is making a bad financial decision. For people who only use their cars once in a blue moon, zipcar et. al. are the way to go. In my neighborhood the cars are used often. It;s easy to tell too: just look at the disc brakes of parked cars: they get a thin coating of rust after sitting around for a day or two. If the discs on a car are shiny, it’s been driven recently. Around my neighborhood all the discs are shiny.

  • Andrew

    In my neighborhood, in-building sports go for about $150. And there’s still a huge demand.

    Indicating that $150 is well below the market-clearing price.

    The way they’re structured is that they come with an apartment, and you can use it yourself, or rent it out to someone else.

    At best, that seems like an unnecessary hassle that anybody without a car needs to incur in order to avoid paying for a costly yet useless amenity. How about simply unbundling the parking from the apartment, so that people who need only an apartment pay only for an apartment while people who need for an apartment plus parking pay for an apartment and pay for parking?

    You don’t lose it if you don’t use it, as long as you keep paying the monthly fee.

    Now I’m confused. I thought you said they come with an apartment. So what’s this monthly fee?

  • Andrew

    At least in my part of Brooklyn, there’s a waiting list for in-building garage spots for every building in the neighborhood.

    Strongly suggesting that developers would build the parking even if it weren’t required, assuming there are no laws in place constraining price.

    If a developer would build the same amount of parking with or without a parking requirement, then the parking requirement is accomplishing nothing. If a developer would build less parking without a parking requirement than with one, the parking requirement is causing damage. In neither case is the parking requirement beneficial – at best, it’s neutral. So why have it?

  • reasonableexplanation

    They come with the apartment, and there’s a monthly fee. If you don’t want to pay it the spot goes to the next apartment on the waiting list. In 15 years nobody has ever given up a spot, since it’s so easy to rent it out, even if you don’t own a car yourself. The neighborhood always has ‘looking for garage’ ads next to the lost dog ads on the light poles.

  • Andrew

    As I said before – Strongly suggesting that developers would build the parking even if it weren’t required, assuming there are no laws in place constraining price.

  • reasonableexplanation

    On the hand I don’t disagree, on the other hand though, if a new multiple unit building goes up where there once was a single family home, and the developer decides not to put down any parking, it will make the parking situation for the existing residents of those blocks worse. Will it eventually reach equilibrium? Maybe. But in the short term it may not be fun for those already in the neighborhood.

    We have a huge housing shortage in NYC, and if keeping the parking minimums means there won’t be any push-back from the community about upzoning, it’s worth keeping. At least around me the in-building parking is being built in the basement, where residential units would be illegal anyway.

    Overall I don’t really know how to feel about it.

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