It Is Time For Portland To Eliminate Minimum Parking Requirements

Minimum parking requirements “have a disproportionate impact on housing for low-income households because these families tend to own fewer vehicles but are nonetheless burdened by the extra cost of parking’s inclusion in the development.” This is the verdict of the Obama administration’s recently released Housing Development Toolkit, a report which “highlights actions that states and local jurisdictions have taken to promote healthy, responsive, affordable, high-opportunity housing markets.”

The toolkit lists a host of cities: New York, Denver, Seattle, and Minneapolis which have taken steps in recent years to reduce or mitigate parking requirements in order to encourage affordable housing and more environmentally sustainable development patterns. Portland is notably absent from this list. Our city has, historically, been a trailblazer for progressive parking policy. City Council enacted a controversial, but very successful, “parking lid” on downtown parking stalls in 1975 and in 2002 a City Council featuring future mayor Charlie Hales, eliminated parking requirements for housing developments near frequent transit. But in 2013 Mayor Hales and City Council yielded to neighborhood anxieties and took a step backward, re-implementing requirements in much of the city. In doing so, Portland’s reputation as an example of forward-thinking urban policies took a hit.

The timing of this reversal was unfortunate. Portland was entering a massive building boom and the restrictions parking requirements placed on new developments has lead to an untold number of “lost” homes in our city. The residents of apartments that have been built during this boom will bear the cost of mandatory parking, whether they own a car or not, for decades.

The Tide Has Turned

Since 2013 the teachings of Professor Donald Shoup have leapt from the pages of his dense and wonky opus “The High Cost of Free Parking” into the mainstream. Widely read publications like Wired, Mother Jones, and the Washington Post have promoted his advice to cities to eliminate parking requirements, charge market rates for on-street parking, and create parking benefit districts.

And governments are taking his advice. Oakland, California removed minimum parking requirements in September 2016.  Fayetteville, Arkansas did the same in October 2015. Also in October 2015, the State of California passed a law requiring all California cities to reduce parking requirements for affordable housing.  In September 2016 the Planning Commission of Philadelphia refused to roll-back reductions in parking requirements enacted in 2012.

And here in Portland it would seem that the rollback of Shoupian parking policy in 2013 was more of a blip than a trend.  Portland is planning a host of progressive parking policy changes including supply-limited residential parking permits and performance based pricing. In July, City Council took a bold step in declining to impose parking requirements in Northwest Portland. Council members signaled that changes to the 2013 off-street parking mandate were needed.

On the heels of the White House report and what seems to be a favorable environment at City Hall for reform comes an opportunity for eliminating the most harmful of Portland’s remaining parking requirements.

A Window Of Opportunity

Portland is wrapping up a long process to develop and approve a new Comprehensive Plan, “a long-range 20-year plan that sets the framework for the physical development of the city.” The bulk of this plan is in its final stages.  Called the 2035 Comprehensive Plan Early Implementation Package, this package contains the changes to the zoning code and zoning maps that will govern new development for the next 20 years.  In the remaining months of 2016, City Council will hear testimony on this package, propose and vote on amendments to it, and finally approve the plan.

One part of this plan is the Mixed Use Zones Project.  This project “is an initiative to develop new mixed use zoning designations to implement Portland’s new 2035 Comprehensive Plan. The 2035 Comprehensive Plan calls for managing growth and creating healthy, vibrant neighborhoods in part by focusing new housing, shops, and services into a network of centers and corridors located throughout Portland.”

These new zones replace much of the area affected by the 2013 minimum parking requirements and we can ask City Council to eliminate minimum parking requirements within them.

City Council should eliminate minimum parking requirements in Mixed Use Zones because the policy approved by council supports such an action:

Policy 9.58 Off-street parking. Limit the development of new parking spaces to achieve land use, transportation, and environmental goals, especially in locations with frequent transit service. Regulate off-street parking to achieve mode share objectives, promote compact and walkable urban form, encourage lower rates of car ownership, and promote the vitality of commercial and employment areas. Use transportation demand management and pricing of parking in areas with high parking demand. Strive to provide adequate but not excessive off-street parking where needed, consistent with the preceding practices.

Perhaps more importantly, City Council should eliminate minimum parking requirements in Mixed Use Zones because parking requirements make housing more expensive and parking requirements make it much harder to build more affordable housing.  The Mixed Use Zones project creates bonuses to incentivize developers to build affordable units.  That’s great, but the city is concerned that even with the bonuses, the affordable units won’t be built if parking is required:

Modeling revealed that additional required parking may limit utilization of the affordable housing bonus due to the high cost of providing structured or underground parking.

The proposal exempts the affordable units from the ratios that determine the parking, but we will see even more affordable housing built if we require affordable housing for people, via inclusionary zoning, and promote building more homes for people by not requiring shelter for cars.

We Can Do This

Is this possible? We think so. The report from the White House is a big deal and our housing/houseless crisis is still the biggest issue the city faces. Testimony on the Mixed Use Zones Project can be given through October 13th and Portlanders for Parking Reform is asking Shoupistas in Portland to join us on October 6th at the first hearing. If we show up to City Hall and write letters to City Council, we can put Portland back on the vanguard for progressive parking policy and further our goals to create more affordable housing, make safer streets, and combat climate change.

How To Help

Join Us on October 6th and Give Testimony

The biggest impact will come from people showing and speaking to council.  Council needs to hear from people who face rent increases and displacement due to anti-affordable housing policy like parking requirements.  Testifying is easy.  Simply state, in your own words, why this issue concerns you and tell council that you want them to eliminate minimum parking requirements.

We have prepared a document with talking points for your convenience.

October 6th, 2PM @ Portland City Hall

If you plan to testify, please RSVP via this form so we have an idea of what support we can expect. We may be able to save you time by signing you up.

Send testimony to City Council

Before midnight on Thursday, October 13th you can send written testimony to with subject line “Comprehensive Plan Implementation.”

Write to the Commissioners

Send an email to the members of City Council.  We suggest you do this by October 13th.

Write to Commissioner Steve Novick, Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioner Nick Fish, Commissioner Dan Saltzman, and Commissioner Amanda Fritz.  Let them know that you value housing for people over shelter for cars.  Let’s plan for the future we want for Portland and not a smog-choked-and-gridlocked playground for the wealthy.

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