Parking Requirements Force Affordable Housing Project to Shrink

This block of Bathgate Avenue will have two fewer affordable apartments as a result of parking minimums. Image: ##,+NY&aq=0&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=35.273162,77.871094&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Bronx,+New+York&ll=40.854746,-73.891672&spn=0.004147,0.009506&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=40.854613,-73.891787&panoid=tEROiOsQukQT9lmIflAjKA&cbp=13,40.04,,0,-0.52##Google Street View.##

Parking minimums continue to stymie the creation of affordable housing in New York City, according to an architect who frequently designs those projects. When a rezoning suddenly put parking minimums in effect for an affordable housing project in the Bronx, Richard Ferrara of DeLaCour & Ferrara Architects was forced to cut apartments out of the building.

The HUD-sponsored project, located on Bathgate Avenue between 183rd and 184th Streets, was originally slated to be an 18-unit building. Under the zoning that used to govern the site, the parking minimums were low enough that fewer than five spaces were required, said Ferrara. With such a small number of required spaces, the project was eligible for a waiver, meaning it didn’t need to build any parking at all.

In October, however, the area was classified as a “neighborhood preservation area” by the Department of City Planning in its Third Avenue/Tremont Avenue rezoning. The new zoning, known as R6A, carries slightly higher parking requirements for affordable projects [PDF]. “When we went down to an R6A,” said Ferrara, “it put us in a position where we couldn’t get the parking waived.” In effect, the rezoning added parking requirements where there hadn’t been any before.

Including the now-required parking in the project came at the cost of affordable housing. “We had to reduce the number of apartments. We wound up losing two apartments,” said Ferrara.

In general, said Ferrara, parking minimums add to the cost of projects. “There’s a cost implication,” he said. “In some places you have to go into the cellar, it becomes more expensive.”

Even though he reported that it’s “not uncommon” to subdivide a project into smaller buildings in order to receive a waiver for each half, Ferrara said even that “is a cost item.” If you subdivided a taller project to avoid parking requirements, you’d have to spend twice the money and space on elevators, he offered as an example.

Two affordable units are not, on their own, the difference between an affordable housing market and an unaffordable one. But if it’s routine for parking requirements to cut 11 percent of the units out of other affordable projects, the impact would be substantial indeed. That’s not a price worth paying for the dubious goal of making it easier and cheaper to drive in New York City.

  • House people, not cars.

  • It’s time for DCP to modernize – or unmodernize, where modern = more traffic.

    The negative impacts on livability are clear, but you raise a hidden point in your reporting. We are losing critically-needed affordable housing in order to achieve these negative impacts. Lose, lose, lose.

  • Niccolo Macchiavelli

    The affordability of housing is clearly not all that important to the polity that has just downzoned most of the city. Downzoning itself drives up per square foot construction costs and per sqaure foot rents while simultaneously driving down per square foot property values. A perverse incentive tri-fecta when you throw in the increased transportion inefficiencies.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I wonder how a parking waiver — or even prohibition — for affordable housing would play. Perhaps if the tenants had to promise not to own a car in order to qualify for occupancy at subsidized rents.

  • Larry, under such a plan, residents would register their cars at grandma’s house, then complain that there was nowhere for Grandma to park when she came to visit.

  • bystander

    @ Larry and Jonathan: There isn’t any parking associated with the building where I live. I get to decide whether or not I want to own a car (without subsidized parking) and I get to decide whether or not I want to park it on the street or pay for a garage somewhere else –possibly even my neighbor’s driveway. And if I decide not to own a car I don’t have to pay some extra increment to cover the added cost and lost revenue of sacrificing two income generating apartments for the luxury. Why should the new construction be different?

    Worse yet, I shouldn’t have to pay higher rents because the housing market got shortchanged (in this example by two apartments, but sometimes you don’t get any construction at all because the non-productive parking means the project won’t pencil).

    There’s a parking max for Manhattan south of 110th on the east side and south of 96th on the west side. Parking max=parking prohibition. Does that “play” differently from how a parking max in the Bronx would play?

    Finally, the developers, by seeking the waiver to which they were entitled under the previous zoning, were certainly staking their investment calculus on a positive pro forma (without parking spaces supplied).

    I’m with Mark on this: “House people not cars”

    More apartments implies more density which implies greater opportunities for more effective transit and non-motorized mode use.

  • Looking at the zoning map, it seems that that lot at 2297 Bathgate Ave is still zoned C-3, although the area around it is indeed R6A. Considering that its current use is as a parking facility, perhaps the net addition of 16 apartments (and the loss of however many parking spaces are being fit on an 1133 square foot lot) is not such a bad thing overall for the “House People Not Cars” faction (to which I belong).

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Looking at the zoning map, it seems that that lot at 2297 Bathgate Ave is still zoned C-3, although the area around it is indeed R6A.”

    I think you meant C1 or C2, as C3 is waterfront zoning.

    C1 and C1 are not the only zoning designation within their boundaries. They are “overlay” districts within the broader district that control buildings housing busineses on the local commercial streets. So the zoning for the residential portion of the building is indeed R6A.

  • Larry, thanks for clearing that up. The PLUTO record says R7-1, with commercial overlay C2-4. I guess the update to R6A hasn’t cycled through yet. So if I understand correctly, for a residential building on the lot, it would be R6A, for a commercial building, it would be C2-4. Confusing.

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