Affordable Housing and Parking Reform: A Great Match for Mayor de Blasio

Despite a policy book that included a top-notch street safety plank, Bill de Blasio never quite linked progressive transportation policy to social equity during the campaign. But the candidate’s campaign promises to reduce inequality did focus on the high price of housing, including a pledge to require developers to set aside a certain percentage of their projects for below-market units. To make housing more affordable for everyone, the de Blasio administration will have to revamp the city’s zoning code, and parking reform — an affordable housing issue the Bloomberg administration barely touched — should be part of that.

Bill de Blasio has an opportunity to include parking reform in his affordable housing plans. Will he make it happen? Photo: ##

The Bloomberg administration’s “inclusionary zoning” policy, launched in 2005, allows developers to build bigger projects in exchange for including affordable units. The program has yielded 2,700 units, which is 13 percent of the total number of units built in areas that qualify for inclusionary zoning. Affordable housing advocates say the city needs a more aggressive policy [PDF], and de Blasio has promised to make inclusionary zoning mandatory in a bid to deliver an ambitious 50,000 units of affordable housing in 10 years.

To create that many affordable units would require rezoning significant swaths of the city, as well as providing sufficient incentive for developers to build.

In most of New York outside the Manhattan core, developers are required to include off-street parking in new projects. Parking is expensive to build, with above-ground garages in New York costing at least $21,000 per space. That’s a big cost that pushes up the price of housing in an already-unaffordable market, all while inducing more driving and congestion on city streets.

While parking reform on its own would deliver substantial economic and environmental benefits, mayors and planning commissioners often hesitate to address it as a standalone issue. In Washington, DC, parking reform was included as part of a comprehensive rewrite of the city’s zoning code, and even then, reforms were watered down after drawing opposition from residents afraid that eliminating parking requirements would make it harder for them to find a place to park on the street.

Even the Bloomberg administration’s biggest outer-borough parking reform was only a modest change, cutting parking requirements in Downtown Brooklyn in half, rather than eliminating them altogether. By and large, the Bloomberg administration has retained parking mandates as a way to appease residents skittish about new development, rather than eliminating them as a way to reduce the cost of housing and curb traffic.

Enter de Blasio’s inclusionary zoning plan. De Blasio himself has acknowledged that parking adds to the cost of housing: “We need to fundamentally reevaluate the amount of parking included in new developments,” he said in response to a StreetsPAC questionnaire. “That excess parking induces unnecessary driving, and it also adds costs to projects that make it more difficult to provide affordable housing in new construction.”

De Blasio’s platform also promises to target rezonings and new housing construction in “locations with strong transit connections, encouraging higher-density development at and around transit hubs, while preserving lower density neighborhoods located further from mass transit.”

Since mandatory inclusionary zoning will have to entail significant upzonings, it makes sense to focus along transit corridors. These places also make for a natural first step in reforming the city’s parking requirements.

Linking parking reform with mandatory inclusionary zoning could help sweeten the deal for all parties. Affordable housing mandates should be more appealing for developers if paired with the cost savings of parking reform. And by making inclusionary zoning mandatory, rezonings and parking reform could be seen by affected communities not as a harbinger of luxury condos, gentrification, and scarce on-street parking, but as a way to guarantee an increased supply of affordable housing in the transit-rich neighborhoods that need it.

  • JK

    Great piece Steven. When you’re tallying up the direct costs of off-street parking, don’t forget to include maintenance. Garages have all kinds of maintenance costs from cracked concrete, water leaks, oil/transmission fluid spills, and can require super expensive rebuilds. These costs are bundled into overall building fees. It would be a huge reform to get rid of parking minimums, and de Blasio could do it — especially if he puts a reformer into City Planning.

  • alex

    could one somehow set aside affordable housing for those that use mass transit only and allow for a reduced required parking? I feel like it may encourage smote sustainable means of getting around and put more people that don’t drive in denser areas further reducing the load on the roads.

  • anon

    Required parking is often to appease existing residents in the area. They worry that new development will bring people competing with them for on street parking. Would you ask them to sign a contract that says they won’t park on the street or let their visitors?

    You could institute a permit parking system. Sell permits cheap (maybe $100 a year) to existing residents rising to parity with newcomers (maybe $1000 a year over a decade). Use the money for parks or transit in the area. Play with the prices so you don’t have people circling the block looking for spaces.

  • New Brooklyn Resident

    What excess parking? We need every space we can get! Where are we supposed to park our cars when we return from our weekend places in the country?

  • Ian Turner

    Poe’s law in action.

  • Ian Turner

    Seriously, if parking is to be built then drivers should be the ones to pay for it. All this business of mandated parking is ridiculous.

  • Joe Linton

    Right on! This is exactly what’s needed. Too often parking’s huge cost is ignored in discussions of housing affordability.

  • Danny G

    In the garage right next to the Holland Tunnel, of course.

  • Oregon Mamacita

    Unfortunately, the new no-parking apartments tend to be just as expensive
    even when parking mandates are abolished. In theory, lower development costs should push prices lower, but that theory assumes a more rational real estate markets than the one we have here in the USA. If Detroit (or India) comes up with a cheap, small zero emission car, all the anti sov measures will be regretted.

    BTW- if you think that the real estate market works well, look at Case & Schillers recent Nobel Prize in economics for their studies proving that the real estate market in the US at this time is irrational. Do we not remember when developers cratered the economy back in 2008? Why trust their judgment now?

  • Oregon Mamacita

    Pushing the problem on the neighborhood rather than making space for the inevitable cars is no better. Maybe there’s a better way to store cars, rather than pretending that we don’t own them.

  • Daniel

    The problem is free on street parking. If we charged a market rate for those spots such that there were always two free spots on each block at peak hours then there would be never be a issue finding parking and we could eliminate parking minimums and spend our time worrying about reasonable parking maximums.

  • Joe R.

    The small, zero emissions cars already exist. For some reason there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for them in the USA where a “sub-compact” is still pushing 2000 pounds, if not more. For urban use a great small, zero emissions vehicle is either a bike or an e-bike. Or even a velomobile (i.e. enclosed recumbent).

  • Ian Turner

    Who says the cars are inevitable? You don’t think the price of parking is a deterrent to driving?

    Anyhow, are you saying the costs JK is referring to should be borne by non-drivers? Why?

  • Andrew

    This is an article about New York, where most households do not in fact own cars. Why can’t car owners take responsibility for their own storage needs rather than pushing the problem onto their carfree neighbors?

  • Ian Turner

    Not entirely. If you charged market rate for on street parking and eliminated parking minimums, you would still probably expect the cost of parking to trend upwards toward the real cost of providing parking (essentially, the real estate opportunity cost plus the parking construction cost), since nobody would be likely to build new parking below that price.

  • wkgreen

    You need to come up to speed on the problems inherent with real estate in NYC. This has nothing to do with lower development costs and everything to do with the expensive reality here, which is simply that there is no more land. How this limited resource gets developed comes down to the basic economic concept that if the supply of something increases then the cost goes down. The question is not about the expense of an amenity in any given development, but whether we want to force developers to spend precious floor area available in a zoning build out on units of parking or to allow more space for units for living.

    The pipe dream of a zero emission vehicle aside, in a dense city where most people do not own cars, which of these costs do we really want to favor?

  • Bolwerk

    Besides what @disqus_dlP91vGbzC:disqus and @wkgreen:disqus said, emissions are mostly an indirect problem with cars themselves. A bigger problem is the emissions of energy-inefficient dwellings and buildings in car-dependent suburbs and neighborhoods. Even worse is the voracious consumption of land for highways and subdivisions, the health problems, and the supply problems endemic to car culture.

    Urban transit buses are probably roughly on par with private automobiles for per-passenger-mile emissions. They are still significantly more “green” because of the type of development and lifestyle they facilitate.

  • JK

    Steven has proposed a potential political mechanism for trumping the highly irrational sense of entitlement that curbside parking NYC car owners have from spending frustrating hours looking for free parking. The Bloomberg administration viewed parking as the crucial political lubricant for getting local approval for dense development. Parking minimums are still bad public policy and are rooted in the conceit that current residents have a claim to public curbspace to store their private car. In the neighborhoods where most New Yorkers live, this has long been a fantasy. There is no way near enough free curbside parking to satisfy demand. This lack of free parking — not income, and not the availability of abundant transit — is why New York City has by far the lowest car ownership in the United States. In neighborhoods with multi-family dwellings there is never enough curb space to allow everyone who wants a car to park on the curb. However, the current residents who do invest time hunting and claiming curbside spots are fanatical about protecting their entitlement. Lastly, the cost of building apartments — not their market value — directly impacts how many units of affordable housing can be built. Developers can’t raise rent/cost of an affordable development to absorb cost of parking construction. This is why parking minimums disproportianately effect affordable housing developers and lead to fewer units being built.

  • finktaco

    Parking Space – I want you!


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