Planners, developers, and community housing advocates agree that parking minimums have negative impact on housing affordability
(Photo source: CityLab)
On Friday, Metro and the American Planning Association Oregon Chapter (OAPA) hosted a full-day affordable housing workshop at the Metro Regional Center. In the afternoon session, a panel of planners, private and non-profit housing developers discussed their successes and challenges with housing development and working with affordable housing policies
Since regulations on parking is a relevant issue that affects affordability, I asked the panel what they think of parking minimums and how parking affects development projects. The panelists were: Emily Lieb, Metro; Cindy Walbridge, City of Hood River; Madeline Kovacs, Orange Splot; Sarah Zahn, Gerding Edlen; Adrian Boly, Guardian Real Estate Services; Ben Sturtz, REACH CDC; and Nick Sauvie, Rose CDC.
The panelists, who have worked with a wide range of types of housing development (from ADUs to mixed-use, high rise apartments), unanimously agreed that parking minimums (1) make housing units more difficult to build, (2) are detrimental to housing affordability, and (3) need to be reduced or even removed completely as Portland faces a housing shortage and affordability crisis.
I have summarized the responses from each panelist who spoke about the issue regarding parking minimums and housing affordability below:
The first person to take on this question was Madeline Kovacs from Orange Splot, a housing development company focusing on developing small and green homes, said that since her organization works on small-sized projects, the parking minimums in single-family zones in Portland really affect if a project is feasible or not. “Especially with ADUs, to fit a parking space on site often means there is no land left for building housing”, said Kovacs. While Portland does not require ADUs to provide additional on-site parking, “if parking is required for the existing dwelling unit, that parking must either be retained, or if eliminated in the creation of the ADU”.  She recommended a thoughtful report by the Sightline Institute called “Legalizing Inexpensive Housing” for more information on land use regulations like parking minimums that are preventing affordable housing units coming into the market today.
Ben Sturtz from REACH CDC, a community development corporation that has developed a wide variety of affordable housing units in the Portland region for over 30 years, said parking minimums is a barrier hard to overcome for non-profit development. Sturtz said “for a project we worked on in Hillsboro, the City approved an exemption to only require 1 parking space per unit instead of 1.5 spaces per unit. We later found out that only about 0.6 parking spaces per unit are actually utilized by residents of this project”.
Adrian Boly from Guardian Real Estate Services told the audience that he has seen “projects live and die because of parking minimums”. “1:1 (one parking space per unit) parking minimums make a big hit on development pro forma.” Boly explained that sometimes there are other forces at play that influence the decision on how many parking spaces to build beyond zoning code. For example, he shared that some investors, who may be living in another state, may feel less risky if the project includes more parking. “Sometimes the costs associated with constructing parking spaces may be recovered through higher rent”, Boly said. However, he also mentioned that existing neighbors often pressure developers to build more parking spaces for fearing that they can no longer park in front of their houses. “I think Portland is experiencing some pains as it grows… But we all need to learn how to live together if we really mean to create 20-minute neighborhoods,  we need to reduce or remove parking minimums”.
Sarah Zahn from Gerding Edlen, which recently redeveloped a parking lot in Old Town China Town into a six-story mixed-use apartment building with zero on-site parking, echoed Boly’s perspective. “I think we made a big mistake by setting parking minimums in our neighborhoods… We need to re-think what our priorities are as a city”, said Zahn. She said for the mixed-use develop in Old Town China Town, they worked with the Portland Development Commission to find shared-parking opportunities in the adjacent area.
Concluding the discussion on parking, Nick Sauvie from Rose CDC, a non-profit community development organization focusing on outer Southeast Portland, offered advice on moving the conversation about parking, new development, and affordable housing forward. Sauvie said “people think neighborhoods are some kind of monolithic forces that oppose this issue. The fact is lots of people in the neighborhoods want Portland to be affordable and livable. There is a lot of common ground to for us to work together”.
After the session, I spoke with Emily Lieb, the Equitable Housing Project Manager at Metro about the epidemic of cities requiring development to over-supply parking. I asked her if Metro will step into a regional leadership role to address parking, as both a transportation and land use issue, and its impact on housing affordability. Lieb said that Metro is looking at Minneapolis’s example of reducing parking requirements near rail transit stations and will convene a forum to have policy conversations on parking with stakeholders. When I asked if Metro will go beyond just convening for policy discussions and actually lead the region on policy reform, Lieb said “we have a very diverse group of stakeholders and committee members and Metro Council currently does not consider taking regulatory actions”.
The conclusion is that planners, developers, and affordable housing advocates all seem to agree that parking minimums really stifle progress in housing affordability and there is a need to reform parking policy in the Portland region. This agreement also may suggest that there is opportunity to build a coalition that supports progressive parking and housing policies across different sectors and interests. It is now up to our local and regional elected officials to take the lead for a future of more housing for people and less parking for cars.
 referring to the concept of living in a place that gives you access to work and other daily needs within a 20-minute trip. http://www.portlandonline.com/portlandplan/index.cfm?a=288098&c=52256