Parking makes housing more expensive and harder to find.
Professor Donald Shoup has been telling us about the high cost of free parking for years, but skeptics point to skyrocketing rents and say “rents in the buildings with no parking aren’t any cheaper.” It is also very hard to isolate the effects of parking minimums on the supply of housing, creating additional uncertainty.
An Unintentional Experiment
Former mayor Charlie Hales may have unwittingly set up a grand experiment in the impact of parking on new developments through a series of parking flip-flops that spanned 15 years. In 2002, as a member of city council, he approved the elimination of parking requirements in apartments near frequent transit. In 2013, as a new mayor, he cast a vote to impose a new regime of parking minimums, buildings with less than 30 units would need no on-site parking, but starting at 31 units a stepped series of required ratios would kick in. Finally, in one of his last actions as a one term mayor, he oversaw new regulations waiving those ratios in developments with affordable housing. This ill-advised back-and-forth may have a silver lining, providing examples of “before and after” projects that could expose the role required car parking has played in our housing crisis.
A multi-site project, still seeking approval, in the Sellwood neighborhood was the first indication we had that parking could be exchanged for more and cheaper housing. Under the old rules, the 187 permitted market-rate apartments would require 46 parking stalls. The developer, Urban Development Group (UDG), proposed to revise the project under new inclusionary housing rules and trade 46 parking stalls for 23 more apartments. Of the 210 proposed units, 31 would be affordable to households making 60% of the median family income (MFI) and 9 more to households making 80% of MFI.
Trading two parking stalls for one apartment (and some affordable units) is a good deal, but that’s not all UDG has planned. As described in this article on BikePortland:
- At 2548 SE Ankeny St., a planned 77-home building with about 26 parking spaces and no homes below market rate is set to become a building with 81 market-rate homes, 15 below-market-rate homes and no on-site parking.
- At 316 NE 28th Ave., a planned 74-home building with about 25 parking spaces and no homes below market rate is set to become a building with 101 market-rate homes, 18 below-market-rate homes and no on-site parking.
UDG is turning 51 previously required parking stalls into 66 more homes, 33 of which would be below market.
Parking Requirements Made the Housing Crisis Worse
But perhaps the most telling of UDG’s new permits is a pending development in the Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhood. UDG had a permit to build 30 market rate apartments and no parking. At the time of permitting, if UDG wanted to build one more apartment, they would have to provide 6 off-street parking stalls. In July 2016, we showed city council evidence that there were was a spike in 30 unit buildings after the 2013 regulations, but we could only speculate as to how much potential housing we were losing.
Urban Development Group has filed for a new permit for 2789 NE Halsey St which describes a building with 53 homes, 8 of which will be below market (there will still be no parking).
Portland’s parking requirements, which were lower than many other cities, were clearly the impediment to more housing and more affordable housing in this case. It is likely that hundreds of homes for people weren’t built in a construction boom cycle because of required shelter for cars.
Let’s Learn From Our Mistakes
It’s time for Portland’s leaders to stop waffling on parking reforms. In 2013, even though mandatory inclusionary housing was pre-empted by state law, Portland City Council could have created a voluntary affordable housing program which could have allowed developers to trade parking for affordable housing, but they failed to seize that opportunity. Let’s not make the same mistakes again.
Portland neighborhoods need effective on-street parking management options. Commissioner Dan Saltzman is proud of his work on inclusionary housing, but his reluctance to propose the ready-to-go residential parking permit program will lead to neighborhood backlash to much needed projects containing below-market-rate housing. Furthermore, council should eliminate the problematic high frequency transit requirement for a parking waiver. While some neighborhoods are mildly congested, Portland is in little danger of too many apartments being built without parking. Portlanders aren’t in a position to turn away projects that add affordable housing and the remaining parking requirements, we now know for sure, are making our housing crisis worse.
Want to do something to help? Email Commissioner Dan Saltzman and tell him to bring the residential permit program back to council for a vote.