Introducing the parking bonus

In many American cities where housing supply has not kept up with demand, beleaguered have sought to address the resulting affordability crisis with inclusionary zoning or inclusionary development policies. Basically, a developer who wants to build a certain number of units will only be granted permission if they agree to set aside a certain percentage of them to be rented to people unable to afford the market rents.

While there is much discussion over the extent to which such policies actually help with affordability or exacerbate it by increasing the costs of building new and much-needed housing and discouraging some developers from building, there is a consensus that the 10 to 20 percent of units set-aside as affordable is reasonable. In some cities, however, including Cambridge and Somerville, buildings with affordable units get or can get “density bonuses”, where the developer is allowed to add more market-rate units to offset the ones set-aside.

Perhaps the biggest single factor in housing costs is parking. According to Donald Shoup, parking can cost up to $95 a square foot to build in Boston. It wastes land, it encourages driving and it drives up rents. There is no reason to compell that storage for private vehicles be provided as a matter of course. If people want to pay for parking, that’s their affair, but city governments have made that decision for us.

Cities and towns are also increasingly finding that most parking goes unused. In Seattle, not only did parking requirements raise rents an average of 15 percent, but 37 percent of spots weren’t used and a recent study in Chicago found a massive oversupply. Even in car-centric West Roxbury, some developers have reported excess garage spaces.

Because parking is so expensive, has such a huge impact on housing affordability and there is such a glut, cities should offer developers a “parking bonus”, where they would be allowed to reduce the required parking if they agreed to limit rents to be more middle income.

Of course, parking minimums ought to be eliminated entirely, but while they exist cities might as well get some use out of them.



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