De Blasio Team Gradually Beefing Up Its Parking Reform Proposals

New York is one step closer to overhauling a discredited policy that drives up the cost of housing and makes traffic congestion worse, but the scope of the reforms the de Blasio administration is pursuing remains limited.

The city is proposing to eliminate parking requirements in a new transit zone -- but only for subsidized units. Map: DCP
The city is proposing to eliminate parking requirements in a new transit zone — but only for subsidized units. Map: DCP

Last week, the Department of City Planning came out with the broad strokes of a major update to the city’s zoning code, including the elimination of parking mandates for affordable housing near transit. It’s the first time City Hall has proposed completely doing away with mandatory parking minimums for any type of housing in such a large area outside the Manhattan core. However, market-rate projects, which the administration expects to account for most new housing in the next 10 years, would still be required to include a predetermined amount of off-street parking.

The new proposal is a step up from the housing plan that City Hall released last May, which sought to reduce but not eliminate parking minimums for affordable housing close to transit. To cut the costs of housing construction, DCP is now seeking to get rid of parking mandates for affordable housing within a newly-designated “transit zone.”

Similar parking reforms for affordable housing are already in effect in Downtown Brooklyn and the Manhattan core. What’s encouraging is that the transit zone is much larger than those areas. Most new construction in the city will probably fall within its boundaries.

The transit zone overlaps in large part with areas less than half a mile from a subway station where multi-unit housing is allowed. Some neighborhoods with low car ownership rates just beyond the reach of the subway are included, while others with subway access, like Bay Ridge and Howard Beach, are not. It covers just about every part of the city where large-scale housing construction is likely.

Within this new zone, parking requirements would be eliminated for new affordable housing, including senior housing and “inclusionary” housing attached to market-rate projects. Existing senior units in the transit zone would be able to get rid of parking without requiring special approvals, while other affordable buildings in the zone must be reviewed by the City Planning Commission before eliminating unused parking.

Outside the transit zone, parking requirements for all types of affordable units would be simplified and reduced. Mandates for senior housing in high-density areas outside the transit zone would be eliminated entirely, while areas that allow single-family houses would retain existing parking rules.

Parking policy experts lauded the city’s move, but noted that it falls far short of what other cities are doing. “Overall, this is a really positive step,” said Columbia University city planning professor David King. “Recognizing that parking requirements are a burden for supplying housing, and affordable housing, is a big deal.”

While the city acknowledges that mandatory off-street parking contributes to high construction costs, it proposes solutions to this problem only for subsidized units. Market-rate units, it seems, will have to continue under the current parking mandates.

“If it’s good for affordable housing, why isn’t it good for all housing?” asked King.

The city’s proposal offers a glimmer of hope for market rate units in the transit zone, but it applies only to new mixed-income developments. Projects that combine market rate units with subsidized units could get out of parking mandates by obtaining a special waiver.

This provision is designed not to offer the carrot of lower parking minimums in exchange for adding affordable units to a market-rate development, but to simply improve the balance sheet for mixed-income projects. “It’s not bargaining for affordable units,” said Eric Kober, director of housing, economic and infrastructure planning at DCP. “It’s really a matter of enabling the city to use its affordable housing resources as efficiently as we possibly can.”

Kober declined to discuss whether broader reforms are in the works. “We have a focus on affordable housing at this point,” he said, “and I can’t really speak to further initiatives in the future.”

Still, the sense seems to be that the latest proposal is a breakthrough that should lead to bigger reforms.

“Whether it’s between the lines in this document, or in the future,” said AIA-NY Executive Director Rick Bell, “reduction of parking requirements for all housing, not just affordable housing, is in the cards.”

Next, the proposal must go through environmental review and public approvals, which DCP expects will last through the fall.

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