Make housing more affordable by eliminating the minimum number of car parking spaces required for housing developments
The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition believes affordable housing options can keep the city more livable, inclusive, and economically diverse. An impediment to affordable housing is our outdated minimum parking requirement policy. Off-street minimum parking requirements increase both the construction cost of housing and the land cost per unit by reducing the achievable development density. These two impacts can hinder the development of affordable housing. The impact of minimum parking requirements are even more harmful for renters. According to the national American Housing Survey, the cost of garage parking for renters is approximately $1,700 per year, while the bundling of garage space with residential unit increases rents by about $142 per month, or 17%. Moreover, the study also found that minimum parking requirements have disproportionately impacted renters without cars.
Image Credit: Atlanta’s Transportation Plan
Eliminating residential parking requirements in the City of Atlanta would increase market-driven-affordable housing by giving each housing development the flexibility to build parking based on market demand. In addition, eliminating minimum parking requirements would also disincentivize automobile use, which would encourage people to ride transit, bike, and walk, and promote more efficient land use.
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In the City of Atlanta, parking minimums are required in the city’s zoning code. While minimum parking requirements have been removed for some land uses in Downtown and Midtown, the city as a whole requires minimum parking rates for every land use, including in districts that are specifically designated to serve multi-family residential purpose. For example, in Multi-family Residential (MR) -- a zoning district that was created to encourage a range of housing types and prices that meet different needs -- parking minimums for residential vary from 0.42 to 2.2 car spaces per dwelling unit, depending on the permitted Floor Area Ratio (FAR). MR-1 districts with a maximum FAR of 0.162 (approx. 2-3 story buildings) have parking minimums that range from 1.8 to 2.2 spaces/ dwelling unit. This intense requirement might continue to hamper the provision of affordable housing in the City of Atlanta.
Among other efforts to increase the availability of affordable housing, the City of Atlanta mandated the Atlanta BeltLine to create 5,600 affordable workforce housing units, that ought to be attainable for people with income levels at or below 60% of Area Median Income (AMI), over the life of the BeltLine Tax Allocation District (TAD). However, a study co-authored by Professor Dan Immergluck, formerly of Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning, states that up until Spring 2017, fewer than 1,000 affordable housing units have been created. Moreover, using the data on home sales in the City of Atlanta from 2011 to 2015, this study suggests that homes that are located within a half-mile of the BeltLine are expected to have increased in value 17.9 - 26.6% percentage points more than similar homes outside a half-mile radius from the BeltLine. Adding to this complexity, the city code still requires a minimum of one car parking space per dwelling in the Beltline Overlay Zoning district. This regulation is counterproductive to the creation of affordable housing, more crucially, in area that is designed to be transit-rich, well-served by multi-trails, and where all people throughout all income brackets should have equal opportunity to live in.
The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition recommends that elected officials:
Eliminate off-street minimum parking requirements for housing developments in the City of Atlanta in all zoning districts, not only in SPI-I Downtown and SPI-16 Midtown District. This elimination could be accomplished gradually. Examples of cities that have progressively eliminated residential minimum parking requirements in many of their districts are San Francisco, Oregon, Portland, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and New York.
In stage one, the City of Atlanta should prioritize eliminating minimum parking requirements for residential developments in the BeltLine Overlay District.
In stage two, the City of Atlanta should eliminate minimum parking requirements for residential uses located in transit-rich areas or adjacent to protected bike lanes or multi-use trails. For the purpose of amending the city code, these transit-rich areas should be clearly defined. For example, if the residential use is located within a walking distance of ¼ mile of a street with frequent transit service, no parking minimum is required. The distance is calculated from the nearest transit stop to the lot line of the lot containing the residential use. (Seattle has adopted this policy.)
In addition to eliminating parking minimums, the City of Atlanta should formally introduce and set up the regulations for unbundling residential parking. Unbundling parking means separating the costs to residents of housing and parking. This could decrease car ownership rates, since it allows proper functioning of the market for parking. Unbundling parking would encourage multiple housing developments in close proximity to combine their parking units into a single structure parking garage on a separate parcel. This would make for more efficient land use, significantly lowering the construction costs, thus making housing more affordable.
The City of Atlanta should then take steps to reduce the residential parking maximums in Downtown, Midtown, and transit-rich neighborhoods in attempt to encourage more sustainable transport modes. Currently, the residential parking maximums range between 1.25 to 2.5 car parking spaces per dwelling unit in the SPI-1 Downtown district. Those numbers should be lowered, since there is oversupply of parking in Downtown and Midtown, according to a thesis by Georgia Tech’s student. (San Francisco, where residential parking maximums range from 0.5 to 0.75 in Downtown, is among the many cities that have adopted lower residential parking maximums than Atlanta.)
The City of Atlanta should then adjust its process to include a special use fee per parking space proposed within new developments. Money raised would be dedicated to the Department of Transportation.