Queens BP Melinda Katz Prioritizes Parking Over Affordable Housing

Few things set off alarm bells for car-owning New Yorkers more than the thought of having less parking. So when the Department of City Planning proposed a minor reduction in parking requirements, the community board chairs of Queens got a case of road rage, with Borough President Melinda Katz at the wheel.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz thinks parking mandates are more important than Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Here’s the problem: The city requires parking for most new development — a mandate that jacks up the cost of housing, even if residents don’t own cars. Senior citizens and low-income households, especially near transit, are less likely than other New Yorkers to own cars, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As part of a package of reforms, DCP has proposed removing parking requirements for new senior and affordable housing developments within a half-mile of the subway, and to reduce or simplify them elsewhere.

This is a small step in the right direction, unless you’re a car-owning Queens community board chair. The crowd at Monday’s borough board meeting was apoplectic over the idea of eliminating some government parking mandates, reports the Queens Chronicle:

“Where are they going to go? This is crazy,” Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri Jr. said…

“I can’t think of any development in this borough where parking wasn’t an issue to some degree,” said Betty Braton, chairwoman of CB 10.

Joseph Hennessy, chairman of CB 6, added that many senior citizens still own cars and don’t get around using public transportation…

Dolores Orr — chairwoman of CB 14, which represents the Rockaways — said the agency was not looking at the “quality of public transportation” in the areas where it seeks to loosen the requirements…

Arcuri added that parking is already hard to find, a point echoed by several other board members.

“I can’t see anywhere in this borough where people would be supportive of downsizing parking requirements,” Braton said, according to the Forum.

They were joined in their opposition by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who heads the borough board and appoints community board members. She issued a statement after the meeting:

Serious concerns were raised by the Queens Borough Board. In a transit desert like the borough of Queens, the reality for many families is having to rely on cars to get to work. For our seniors, we want them to maintain an independent, active quality of living for as long as possible. Our current mass transit system — including subways, buses and Access-A-Ride — is simply insufficient in reliability, frequency and reach to warrant stripping parking requirements. We share the goal of creating more affordable units, however, and we’re glad the city is coming up with outside-the-box ideas to reach this goal. We look forward to continuing discussions with the agency about alternative solutions for fair and smart growth.

First, let’s clear up something: Despite Katz’s claim to the contrary, the entire borough of Queens is not a transit desert. Areas that are transit deserts wouldn’t be affected by DCP’s biggest proposed changes, which focus on developments within a half-mile of the subway. That excludes all of Staten Island and, yes, a majority of neighborhoods in Queens.

Secondly, it’s rich for Katz to talk about the need for “smart growth” while shrugging her shoulders at the status quo of auto dependence and lackluster transit. If Katz truly wants to reduce the incentive to own a car, she shouldn’t support government mandates for parking lot construction.

Katz defends driving as a way for seniors to stay “independent” and “active,” though they are especially vulnerable to traffic violence, including behind the wheel.

While Katz and her community board chairs push for parking lot construction, the people paying the price are seniors and other New Yorkers struggling with the ever-increasing cost of housing.

  • Ther Lack

    Stephen, based on this article I’m guessing you don’t live in Queens and/or own a car. I have no problem in making exceptions for certain types of housing construction in certain situations, but making blanket exemptions is not a good idea. The builder should have to make a case by case argument for not including parking instead of the community trying to fight the opposite battle. The default setting should favor the larger community, exceptions can always be made, or bought.

  • c2check

    Builders will include parking if that’s what people want to pay for, I’d say.

  • JudenChino

    based on this article I’m guessing you don’t live in Queens and/or own a car.

    Based on your logical reasoning I’m guessing you didn’t graduate high school.

  • Jesse

    What’s wrong with letting the market decide how many parking spaces Queens needs? Why do people become socialists when it comes to auto infrastructure?

  • AnoNYC

    You’re thinking backwards and anecdotally. You should read the numerous studies regarding excess parking in urban areas rich in public transportation.

    More parking encourages more driving which brings with it numerous negative externalities including but not limited to more expensive housing.

  • Joe R.

    Perhaps part of the reason transit might be lacking in Queens is precisely because government has directly and indirectly subsidized car ownership via parking mandates and allowing free curbside parking. And perhaps reducing both these things, effectively making it harder and more costly to drive, will encourage some to get rid of their cars and spur demand for new transit which will allow many more to do the same.

    Regardless, government shouldn’t interfere in a private affair like housing construction by either mandating parking in new developments or prohibiting it. The market should decide. Also, in order to not skew the market for parking, the city should no longer allow free curbside car storage. We should either prohibit curbside parking altogether, or charge whatever the market will bear for it. Again, my guess is if people had to pay the true cost of storaging their car, many would opt to get rid of it, spurring demand for the transit which is lacking in some parts of Queens.

    By the way, I’ve lived in eastern Queens for the last 37 years with no car and no driver’s license. Those who act like a car is essential out here are just plain wrong. There are (very rare) occasions where it may be a tad inconvenient but that’s it. I’ll glad trade a slight amount of inconvenience, like maybe having to have a large item from Home Depot delivered about once every six years, for not having the expense of owning a car. The problem is people can’t separate wants from needs these days. For most, even in Queens, a car is a want, not a need.

  • JudenChino

    I don’t know about banning all curbside parking but it should at least be subject to residency registration requirements with a possible annual fee like they do in DC. Crazy to see Hummers with NC plates parked on the street in Park Slope.

  • Joe R.

    Speaking of NC plates, NYC could probably dramatically reduce car ownership rates just by cracking down on residents who illegally insure their cars in other states. If many had to pay the going rate for insurance, they couldn’t afford a car. Perhaps we should immediately pass a law prohibiting overnight curbside parking for vehicles with out of state plates. Any politician who was against it would be on record as basically condoning insurance fraud.

  • c2check

    And properly priced!

  • Some Asshole

    Parking built this city! Rome fell due to lack of parking! /s

    If the developer wants to build parking, fine, they can pass that cost along to the buyers/tenants, but if they don’t, it shouldn’t be mandated. People know going in what the parking situation is. If it’s that important to them, they’ll go to a place that has greater parking supply.

  • Some Asshole

    So, what is the benefit? Less competition for free spaces? Why is it anyone’s concern that folks in this area have free curbside parking? Why would the even larger community of the city support maintaining free parking in that neighborhood?

    Is it also in the community’s interest to drive up the cost of development, thereby raising prices? Is it in anyone’s interest, city-wide?

  • Larry Littlefield

    “In a transit desert like the borough of Queens.”

    Someone should remind the Borough President that she is a younger member of an increasingly unrepresentative political culture that successfully FOUGHT subway expansions back when they might have been possible.

    “So, what is the benefit? Less competition for free spaces?”

    Yup. If you have a car, and don’t have an off street space, that’s your obsession. That one day you may return home and there may literally no place to put your $20,000 piece of equipment. Then what do you do? A nightmare that haunts them every day of their lives.

  • Daniel

    I think many city council members would gladly go on record as being for insurance fraud. For each of the Brad Lander, Margeret Chin, and Ben Kallos of the council we have a Daniel J. Halloran, Matieu Eugene, Miguel Martinez, or Larry Seabrook. If you want to feel quesy, look at all the backbencher’s districts where there isn’t participitary budgeting and then look where those members’ discretionary fund goes. It’s open air corruption.

  • sbauman

    Open data is wonderful. 50% of Queens residents live within 1/2 mile of a subway entrance. Approximately 15% live between 1/2 and 1 mile of a subway entrance. Approximately, 15% live more than 2 miles from a subway entrance.

    The 50% who live within walking distance of a subway entrance includes most of the people living in Queens Community Boards 5, 6, 10 and 14. Many of these boards habitually complain about poor access to transit. In actuality most of the residents in these boards have excellent subway access and continually grab transportation money that would be more wisely spent on the 50% who really lack decent subway access.

    Many of the communities that have decent subway access are under siege. People without cars who have been chased out of Manhattan and close by Brooklyn have discovered these communities. So have builders. That’s why CB 5, 6,10 and 14 are worried. Their base is in danger of being replaced. Make it economical for developers to build there and the base will be gone.

  • Mark Walker

    But cars, like corporations, are people too and therefore have a basic human right to car housing. I am my car!

  • Joe R.

    It boggles my mind why anyone would fight a subway expansion. Even if you never use the subway, more subway service equals fewer cars on the road equals a faster trip for drivers.

  • Some Asshole

    Which is funny, because in neighborhoods like where I grew up, Canarsie, Mill Basin, Flatlands, etc., there was a car or two in the driveway and on the street. Some of those may have been for tenants of the multifamily houses there, but there are also plenty of folks in those areas with two or more vehicles per household. But, this kind of urban sprawl is being subsidized with rules like these.

    If you purchase a vehicle, new, and go through the expense of gas, oil, maintenance, and high insurance (assuming NY plates), then paying for your own storage shouldn’t be that big of an issue. If it is, a reassessment is in order.

  • Some Asshole

    Same reason why there’s no exit to Bergen Beach off the Belt Parkway and the name mindset that fights any kind of project like subway expansion in these neighborhoods, they don’t want to connect to the rest of the city. They’ve got their commuter express buses running to and fro for the workday and they drive the rest of the time.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “It boggles my mind why anyone would fight a subway expansion.”

    Race and class.

    The original MTA plan had a subway from south Jamaica via the Montauk Branch to the 63rd Street tunnel. It was feared that subway access would bring Black people to Archie Bunker land. Former candidate for Vice President Geraldine Ferraro got her start fighting that plan.

    In the late 1980s, Black politicians fought a planned E train extension because it might bring poor Blacks to more affluent Black areas of Southeast Queens.

    Today people in Southwest Queens might fight a subway because it might cause more affluent in theory (and merely more willing to live in less space) yuppies to move in and price them out.

    Northwest Queens politicians whipped up fears that the N to LaGuardia might cause criminals to stop off and rob them on their way to visit friends at Rikers Island. Today the bus to Rikers picks up and drops off at Queens Plaza.

    This tribal crap from the past is increasingly irrelevant to the vast majority of New Yorkers. But these pols are part of an oligarchy that is increasingly unrepresentative.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    Excellent post! I would add, based on life in Bensonhurst (as a non car owner), is a crackdown on illegal curb cuts. This would add on street space and roll back from what, in many cases, reduces sidewalk space and is all around ugly.

  • Alex

    Well your opinion doesn’t really resonate if its coming from an Anti-car blog. Sure folks are entitled to their opinion, the car companies will have their opinion, transportation alternatives will have theirs and so on.

    In other words don’t expect people to take your opinion seriously, if its coming from an anti-car website. Would I expect a fair and balanced opinion about marriage and family from an a christian right website or a place like the heritage foundation, of course not.

    As far as subway expansion, it has to do with lack of funds and bureaucracy. Queens is more auto-centric than manhattan. Parking is not the reason for lack of affordable housing, zoning and other regulations are the issue, as well as the fact that people pay low rents while other’s pay higher rents for similar apartments.

    It will take 2 hours by public transit to get from parts of Queens to parts of brooklyn and no I’m not talking coney island, it could be a person working at SUNY in flatbush or parts of downtown brooklyn. With a car your looking at 20-30 minutes.

    Transit centered cities like San Francisco,portland, and anti-car cities like Seattle which are trending that way are not more affordable even though they are transit orientated.

  • Alex

    Cars are not subsidized in New York, due to regulations and lack of them insurance rates are high,gas is high,etc.

  • Alex

    I think the issue is funding and bureaucracy, besides parts of manhattan there hasn’t been a serious move to expand subway access.

    They should for instance make an express lane for the j train rather than alternating stops, in the 1950s it was fought, and in the 1980s an additional express track for queens was fought.

    Even if there is little opposition, where will the funding,bureacracy, and cost overruns come into play today. Come to think about it, I have doubts people will be motivated to build subways like they did 100 years ago if the same political climate like today is here.

  • Alex

    Parking is not the reason for high cost of housing, zoning, rent regulations,etc is the reason. One can easily have an underground parking lot or an above lot parking.

  • Alex

    That’s ridiculous, if you ask most people in eastern queens who work in manhattan most of them will tell you that they use public transit. The fact that it takes them more than an hr and a half and longer due to the trains and buses becoming more unreliable, and this has been going on for over a decade, doesn’t change a thing, regardless if they own a car to do their shopping nearby.

  • Alex

    Not true, transit centered cities like SF don’t have more affordable housing. Anti-Car seattle’s housing hasn’t gotten cheaper. Try Again.

  • Alex

    There’s nothing wrong with letting the market decide but regulations in new york mean that the free market isn’t really there.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, but a fair number of people in eastern Queens don’t work in Manhattan. They work in other parts of Queens which really can’t be reached in reasonable amounts of time by public transit, so they drive. NYC’s subway system is wonderful but it’s mostly designed to get people into Manhattan in the mornings and out in the evenings. Demographics have changed. A lot of people work and live in the outer boroughs but we never expanded the subway to deal with this. Remember 50 years ago when subway expansion was still possible people made a choice, the wrong choice in my opinion. They could have expanded subway service in the outer boroughs. Instead the choice was made that the car would be the future so we widened streets, built highways, and allowed car owners to store their vehicles on public streets for free. We’re living with the consequences of those awful decisions now.

  • Joe R.

    There’s a reason transit centered cities still have expensive housing — the demand exceeds the supply because on a national level we still don’t have enough such places to live. If every large and medium city and inner suburb decided to become transit centered by adding more transit, and encouraging more development near existing transit, such housing would no longer be expensive. You’re trying make a correlation where there is none. Simple supply and demand is all that’s at work here. 40 years ago when cities were declining it was actually cheaper to live near transit because nobody wanted to be in the cities. Now the reverse is true.

  • Joe R.

    What about the free curbside parking? How much would it cost to rent that 200 square feet of space if you went by local rates. Factor in that apartment buildings will get some tens of square feet of rentable space per square foot of ground area by virtue of having many levels. You might arrive at a figure of some thousands of dollars per month potential rental income being lost to NYC by giving free curbside parking to car owners.

  • Yuno

    tens of square feet of rentable space per square foot of ground area

    And in your neighborhood it’s 0.5 square feet per square foot of ground area, and you don’t want it any higher.

  • Joe R.

    It doesn’t matter what the ratio is because the fact is car owners pay nothing for parking. Sure, in any area of single family homes the going rate for curbside parking should be a lot lower than in midtown Manhattan but the fact is right now we’re generally not charging a dime. Since you’re big on density we could do a lot with the space, even in areas like mine. As far as I’m concerned take the space on my block currently used for cars and use it to build micro housing. Make the street ten feet wide, and make what is currently one of the parking lanes the travel lane. Take the other parking lane and travel lane to use for housing. You’ll have a nice space about 20 feet wide and a few hundred feet long. If we make micro housing maybe 20’x40′ you can put about 5 or 6 of them on my block, potentially housing another 15 to 40 people. I’m fine with the idea. I welcome it even because I’ll probably like the new neighbors and the houses will certainly look nicer than the ugly rows of parked cars.

    Anyway, my point here is you bitch about low density areas but we can densify the city quite a bit just putting some of the space wasted on cars to better use. Everybody is happy that way. The single family home owners do lose anything, the city gets more people and taxes, we create a big disincentive to own a car by making it a lot harder to store it.

  • ahwr

    Reminds me of this:

    http://narrowstreetssf.com/mcallister/

    How feasible would that sort of project be? I don’t mean the politics. Ballpark how much would it cost to ready the land, so move everything under the road to the sidewalk so when you need to replace a water pipe you can do it without going into someone’s basement etc… And to widen and rebuild the sidewalks, whatever you’d have to pay to acquire that strip of someone’s property etc…

    If you allowed a FAR on the reclaimed space of 1, what sort of cost per buildable square foot of housing would you get?

  • Joe R.

    Not saying it’s feasible. I’m just throwing an idea out there on how to make the city denser without altering any existing living arrangement. When you look at pictures of NYC from the air, it’s staggering how much space we devote to roads. Personally, I feel our transportation infrastructure, like our water/sewer/electrical infrastructure, should be entirely buried underground other than narrow above ground paths suitable for people on foot or on bikes. It’s illogical to talk about increasing density when we’re literally wasting 30% to 50% of the land just getting from point A to point B. And we need to look into novel ways to transport things. Something akin to a pneumatic tube system, or perhaps working on maglev principals instead, would be ideal for delivery of goods and also removal of waste.

  • AnoNYC

    Not an opinion, actually a fact. It is statistically proven that excess parking within a development contributes to increased housing costs.

    I wouldn’t call Queens autocentric either when the vast majority of residents live within one mile of existing lines and utilize mass transportation. Could it be more mass transportation oriented, of course. And yes, inconvenient trips exist but are comparably uncommon. People typically live within a manageable distance from work via mass transportation in NYC.

  • AnoNYC

    What you pay at the pump, tolls and meters does not cover the true costs of driving.

  • AnoNYC

    Parking does contribute to increased housing costs. It is not the only reason but who do you think pays for an underground or multilevel parking lot?

  • AnoNYC

    Excess parking does contribute to increased housing costs. No one has stated that it is the only reason.

  • AnoNYC

    Developers around NYC typically provide the least parking allowed, even when authorized significantly more. For example, a developer will often build two smaller buildings which allow them to circumvent parking minimums than build one larger construction. Happens all the time.

  • ahwr

    I wouldn’t call Queens autocentric either when the vast majority of
    residents live within one mile of existing lines and utilize mass
    transportation.

    Not exactly what you said, but 46% of units in Queens are within a half mile of a subway station.

    http://furmancenter.org/files/State_of_the_Sustainable_NYC.pdf

    Couldn’t find anything about a mile from the subway. And I’m not sure the units closer to the subway don’t have fewer people than the ones further out.

  • AnoNYC

    Most of Queens is built up around rapid transit lines. Most people reside within one mile of a subway station.

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