Will de Blasio’s Affordable Housing Plan Take on NYC’s Parking Mandates?

With a plan due by May 1, the clock is ticking for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing team to come up with a plan to improve housing affordability. Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been, who authored reports on the city’s regressive parking mandates before joining the administration, is at the center of the team producing the plan. But it’s still not clear that the final product will consider the elimination of parking requirements as a strategy to create more affordable housing.

Will the city give developers a break on parking in exchange for more affordable housing? Photo: Graham Coreil-Allen/Flickr
Will the city reduce parking mandates in exchange for more affordable housing? Photo: Graham Coreil-Allen/Flickr

Parking mandates, which apply almost everywhere in NYC outside the Manhattan core, are a key piece of the larger affordability puzzle. The city and housing advocates have long recognized that parking requirements contribute to the high cost of new housing.

The Department of City Planning, acknowledging that low-income households have low car ownership rates, has eliminated parking requirements for affordable housing in zoning reforms for the Manhattan core and downtown Brooklyn. The department has also suggested eliminating affordable housing parking requirements as part of reforms for “inner ring” neighborhoods in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Affordable housing advocates cheered this approach. “We see parking as a major drag on affordable housing projects,” said Alexandra Hanson, policy director at the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, the trade association representing developers of affordable housing. “It’s a requirement that isn’t really serving the residents or the community.”

Other advocates want a guarantee that lower parking requirements will lead directly to more below-market housing. Moses Gates, of the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development, a coalition of non-profit affordable housing advocates and developers, said the city should link any reduction in parking requirements to the creation of more affordable units.

“If we’re going to change the parking rules to make it easier to build,” he said, “that should be explicitly tied to the creation of affordable housing.”

It’s an approach that appeals to Council Member Steve Levin, who told Streetsblog he’d like DCP to review parking requirements along the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront. So far, a handful of the area’s proposed developments have already been built. “I’d be really interested to see, right now, what the parking utilization is,” Levin said. If parking garages contain lots of empty spaces, he said, the city should pare back or eliminate parking requirements for future developments in exchange for community benefits, such as affordable housing.

In 2012, Levin argued for a similar arrangement in downtown Brooklyn. Right now, DCP is setting the stage for parking reforms in “inner ring” neighborhoods. Levin said Greenpoint-Williamsburg could serve as a “test case” for the next round of parking reforms.

During the campaign, de Blasio promised to institute mandatory inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to build affordable units as part of their market-rate developments. Using this stick will likely involve the carrots of increasing allowed density or reducing development costs.

The elimination of parking requirements seems like an ideal carrot. So far, though, the administration has given no outward indication that broad parking reforms will figure into its affordable housing plan. The New York Post reported last month that the city is considering inclusionary zoning, higher taxes on vacant land, and overhauling the approvals process, among other strategies. Parking was not mentioned.

NYSAFAH’s Hanson wouldn’t discuss inclusionary zoning, but ANHD has been leading a campaign for mandatory IZ. I asked Gates if, with structured parking costing up to $50,000 per space in New York City, eliminating parking requirements should be one of IZ’s carrots to create more affordable units. Gates said ANHD was supportive in concept but, since parking isn’t the organization’s primary focus, the group hadn’t given it much consideration. “Adjusting the parking standards is something that hasn’t been at the forefront of our minds. It hasn’t been an explicit campaign,” he said. “We should take a look at it.”

Pointing to the cost savings for developers, the environmental benefits, and the potential to create more affordable units, Gates said the benefits are clear, even if the path to implementation is not. “Reforming parking is a win-win-win,” he said.

  • valar84

    The problem is that without a parking mandate, NIMBYs will fight twice as hard, for fear of losing their free on-street parking spot. This is a problem everywhere and why weakening parking requirements is so hard to do.

    The only place that solved the problem is Japan. They have solved the problem by demanding proof of off-street parking as a requirement to register cars and getting license plates. So potential car buyers have to either own a parking spot or rent it from someone else before they can register their car. That has created a market for renting parking and allowed the local governments to reduce parking minimums to nearly zero. It also means that the people who have cars need to pay at least for the residential parking. Developers only build as much parking as car owners are willing to pay for.

    So you can increase density as much as you want, people don’t fear losing their parking spots since they know that the newcomers will have to find their own spots in order to buy cars.

    It also helps tremendously to keep Japan’s narrow streets clear of parked cars, since every car that stays parked overnight in a residential area should have its own off-street parking spot.

    You’d probably need support from Albany to implement the same system, which I’m highly skeptical of. So you’d need some creativity to apply the system in New York. In the meanwhile, implementing residential parking permits, with a limited number per block and reserved parking from, say, 6 PM to 6 AM would be best. And you’d give them out in a first come, first served basis, so current residents could buy them and then know for sure that they will always have parking spots for their cars no matter how many people move into their neighborhoods.

  • webrawer

    In Malmo Sweden, car pools (AKA car shares) are provided for residents of Westen Harbor and other neighborhoods. They are offered free membership and pay only when using a car. Why doesn’t NYC give this sensible affordable consideration? – see #8 here: http://www.malmo.se/English/Sustainable-City-Development/Sustainable-Top-Ten-Malmo.html

  • Peter

    New York has at least three competing car share services.

  • AnoNYC

    Unfortunately they are not municipal and charge expensive fees.

    To webrawer: It’s un-American such practices. The state legislature would be up in arms in reaction to such “socialism.” (/sarcasm)

    Although a municipal car share like Autolib would make perfect sense in NYC, it won’t happen anytime soon. It’s going to be a fight getting Citi Bike public funding in the future.

    As for a car pool service. People in NYC are hardly progressive in the relatively car centric areas of the city. I couldn’t see the Staten Island and East Queens crowd making as good use out of it a this time. A lot of people here still think NYC has among the highest crime rates in the country (or in some cases worldwide). Can’t risk getting dragged into an abandoned building in the South Bronx ending up robbed/raped/murdered via car pool setup right?

  • pta

    Public subsidies for car sharing is unnecessary, inefficient, unfair, and counterproductive. Car use should not be encouraged. Bike share, transit, and privately owned cars should not be subsidized either. If this means that people cannot afford to get around, then cash subsidies should be given out liberally, let them choose how to get around on their own. It would be most American to give them this freedom.

  • Peter

    ZipCar membership is $6 per month. Hardly expensive.

  • qrt145

    Membership is cheap, using the car not so much. Still, Zipcar is a good option for certain kinds of round trips, especially when they are long in terms of distance but short in terms of time, and you need to carry a lot of stuff or there is no practical transportation to your destination.


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