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.

  • JK

    Congrats to DCP and de Blasio for taking this important step. This is the beginning of breaking out of the Bloomberg administration’s policy of using promises of more parking whenever increasing density. Bloomberg officials said it was simple political pragmatism, but maintaining the parking requirement for new development was one of Bloomberg’s worst environmental and urban planning decisions.

  • J

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

    Yes. I would rephrase the question, asking, if it makes subsidized housing more affordable, wouldn’t is also make non-subsidized (market-rate) housing more affordable? Isn’t their a general crisis of affordable housing in the city? Does subsidized housing have a realistic chance of meeting the demand for affordable housing in NYC? If not, shouldn’t we be pursuing a whole host of strategies to lower housing costs beyond just expensive subsidies that benefits a very small number of New Yorkers?

  • dporpentine

    When news of this gets to the level of community board land use committees, those people will be apoplectic.

    In other words, a real victory, I think.

  • Joe R.

    The mandatory parking minimums shouldn’t exist, period. Or if they do, then those who use the parking should be charged a rate in line with what it actually cost to build it. As things stand now, those who don’t own cars indirectly subsidize those who do in the form of higher rents. Even if there wasn’t an affordable housing crisis in NYC this would be bad policy purely from a fairness standpoint. It’s also bad policy to give away parking for free on city streets. All parking in this city should be at whatever rates the market dictates. Moreover, if parking compromises lines of sight, or causes other safety issues, then it just shouldn’t exist at all in that location. If all these things were so, my guess is car ownership would plummet. Along with that, so would most of our traffic violence problems.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I wonder what the deal is with Bay Ridge.

  • Daniel

    Parking minimums are always the wrong way to deal with a parking problem. They are only popular because the costs are hidden and perceived to apply to someone else. In congested areas of the city there should be a parking cap, like they have applied in Zurich and active traffic management. The active traffic management could take the form of timing the lights (Zurich) or it could be in the form of congestion pricing (many places). And of course in those areas on-street parking near businesses should be dynamically priced so there is always a spot available every 50 ft or so. Outside congested areas, and yes there are lots of such areas even in NYC, there are a whole range of solutions. Two popular solutions are issuing zone based (and priced) parking passes (done in many places) or you can require that a car have an off-street parking spot available to it before issuing a car registration (Japan). — All that said, I’m glad the mayor is at least acknowledging we have a problem and moving in the right direction, even if this is a baby step.

  • BBnet3000

    “But only for subsidized units”

    You can’t make this shit up.

  • ohnonononono

    Looks like Bay Ridge, Howard Beach, and Broad Channel are the only neighborhoods where you’ll still be required to build off-street parking for subsidized affordable housing even if you’re right on top of a subway station. What do these 3 neighborhoods have in common. Hmmmmmm…

  • Alex

    Bay Ridge loves its cars. Of course, on the western side you have the terrible combination of lots of dense apartment buildings and a complete lack of retail due to 1960s zoning. Once you get passed 3rd Ave, there’s not even a bodega to be found. People would rather deal with parking than have to walk 15 minutes just to get a quart of milk.

    That and the R train has notoriously long headways and is a very long slog into Manhattan. It’s that feedback loop problem of people not taking it because it’s infrequent, then when ridership sags the MTA reduces the frequency.

  • Alex

    I frequently note that imposing a residential parking permit program, even with a rate well below market, would almost immediately eliminate the people who keep a car here but register it out of state to save on insurance. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a NYC car owner say, “Oh I keep it registered in ________. I couldn’t afford the insurance here.”

  • Alex

    (Not that Larry needs any of this explained, hah. Just making conversation.)

  • millerstephen

    I asked DCP’s Kober about that specifically. “While the extent of the subway system is a good measure of where car ownership is relatively low, there are some areas where the car ownership characteristics are more like the areas outside the transit zone,” he said. “We tailored our map to take that into account.”

    Not much of an answer, really.

  • chekpeds

    First the no parking requirements should apply to all housing that has an affordable component. This would encompass all new housing since we understand that Diblasio is going for a certain percentage of mandatory affordability.
    Second there should be incentives for market portions of the programs to build at a lower parking ratios.
    Third the plan still does not address surface parking that definitely should be banned.

  • Nathanael

    Yeah, this is a big point…

    Including too much parking is bad for the Return on Investment of developers. They WANT to avoid the parking minimums.

    So if they can avoid the parking minimums by including, say, 20% affordable units, *THEY WILL*. Cheap way for de Blasio to get massive amounts of integrated affordable housing built…

  • Nathanael

    It’s actually usually insurance fraud to do that. You’re required to tell the company where the car is *garaged*. Insurance companies generally won’t insure it if it’s routinely garaged out of state, unless you’re actually a non-resident (for instance, going to college) — even if they will insure it, they’ll charge you by where it’s garaged, not where it’s registered.

    It’s nice of the insurance companies to generally not investigate these cases of insurance fraud. But these car owners are risking getting their policies revoked *and* having no payouts.

  • ohnonononono

    I hear ya, but I find it hard to believe that Bay Ridge (and Howard Beach and Broad Channel) are so unique in this regard as opposed to every other block of this designated “Transit Zone.” The Rockaways? Rockaway A train headways are worse than the R train and it’s obviously a longer “slog to Manhattan,” and seems to me that more of the Rockaway peninsula is without “even a bodega” within a couple blocks than little ol Bay Ridge. I’m not denying that there may have been some objective criteria used to determine that the 3 ‘hoods got the pass on this change, but it seems fishy that the exact technical specifications for doing so aren’t outlined.

  • Jpeevy

    that is false my friend. Look at the Census data ACS survey for bayridge. If my memory serves me correct, somewhere around 56% of households own a car. That is within the range of nyc total. You are correct in citing anything west of 3rd ave. is all residential. But, car ownership there is only slightly higher than the city as a whole. However, we repeat these falsehoods and it becomes a fact in popular memory

  • Jpeevy

    I was thinking the same thing. But, bay ridge is far more diverse than the other places. Still, stupid, older-guard politicians though.

  • AnoNYC

    I would also like to see parking banned from in front of new buildings. This is especially an issue with rowhouses. These vehicles pull out into the sidewalk/park on the sidewalk/out into traffic at numerous points. Instead, any parking should be constructed BEHIND the building. One way in and out.

  • kernals

    Parking requirements shouldn’t apply to any housing period, if there’s a demand for parking, developers will build it.

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