Add new housing by lifting NYC parking mandates

Add new housing by lifting NYC parking mandates

New York is in dire need of more housing. A Regional Plan Association analysis shows that the state needs to build 817,000 more homes over the next 10 years. Within the five boroughs, according to the city’s most recent Housing and Vacancy Survey, the typical available apartment has a median rent of $2,750, affordable to a family making $110,000 a year. But the median renter household in the city only makes $50,000 a year. This housing shortage and affordability crisis bears a good deal of the blame for the city’s homelessness crisis, with more than 100,000 people in shelters as we speak.

But there is a proven method to catalyze more affordable housing production — removing parking mandates from our zoning code. Since 1961, zoning has required that new housing include parking spots, regardless of whether they’re needed or wanted. In some cases, the rule forces valuable space to be used to store cars when it could be used to house people. Parking mandates add tremendous cost to a project; creating just one below-grade parking spot costs an average of $125,000 (and can cost up to $150,000).

These rules are part of the far-reaching, dysfunctional policy that has, over decades, dramatically diminished New York City’s housing production and caused our current housing crisis. But the recently released City of Yes Zoning for Housing Opportunity text amendment proposes fully lifting parking mandates to spur desperately needed housing development. To reverse generations of damage to our city’s livability and affordability, it is crucial that this proposal pass in the final zoning amendment. 

Parking mandates add undue costs to developments that get passed on to renters in some projects and stop others from being built. In affordable housing developments, parking mandates are especially deadly. The required city subsidy essentially doubles when one parking spot per unit of housing is required, an increase that thin financial margins (and the stretched city budget) cannot accommodate.

By requiring housing projects to take on construction costs for car storage, New York makes many affordable developments totally unfeasible. This is especially tragic given that low-income New Yorkers who need affordable housing are less likely to own cars in the first place.

We can look to other cities for proof that parking reform is a key that unlocks housing growth. In 2019, San Diego lifted parking requirements near transit for market rate and affordable housing. Just one year later, affordable housing production increased sixfold – 1,500 new units were built. It has happened in New York City, too.

In 2016 the city’s Zoning for Quality and Affordability zoning text amendment allowed affordable housing in the Transit Zone to be built without mandated parking. After that passed, new affordable housing production increased 36%. The benefits were especially impactful for units of the deepest affordability — 63% more units were built for households making no more than 30% of the area median income. But the Transit Zone covers less than half of the city — why are we restricting such a successful policy to this limited area? 

Mandatory parking minimums cause disinvestment in public transit and create sprawl that traps communities in a vicious cycle where cars become a necessity. Parking requirements in low income neighborhoods are especially counterproductive because car dependence is a financial burden. In New York State, the average cost of car ownership was $10,728 in 2022 and that’s expected to keep rising.

The cost of relying on a vehicle is an unavoidable burden for many New Yorkers whose neighborhoods — often working-class communities of color — have been designed to prioritize cars over transit and walkability; parking mandates are a part of that entrenched injustice. Forcing low-income New Yorkers into a system of onerous car dependence is dangerous, damaging policy. Lifting parking mandates will facilitate equity and opportunity, rather than perpetuate a costly cycle of car dependence.

In the decades since 1961, we have come to understand the immense harm caused by car-centric development. Yet our zoning code still reflects the misdeeds of this bygone era. Mayor Adams’s City of Yes zoning text amendments are New York City’s once-in-a-generation chance to fix this — to govern for the New Yorkers not of 60 years ago, but of today and tomorrow.

Adhering to parking mandates forces us to live in a world shaped by men like Robert Moses, one that prioritizes cars above all else. But the time is now to reshape that world — New York needs to catch up to cities like Minneapolis, which has eliminated parking requirements citywide. By not mandating space for cars, we can begin to develop a new paradigm for housing that prioritizes livability and affordability for all New Yorkers.

Lind is the co-executive director at Open Plans. Milstein is the president and CEO of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH)

Check Also

Adams defense fund spending up to$743K on legal fees amid FBI Turkey probe

Adams defense fund spending up to$743K on legal fees amid FBI Turkey probe

Mayor Adams’ legal defense trust has spent more than $743,000 on lawyer fees so far …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *