Infographic on the cost of urban parking via Reinventing Parking. Click for a larger version.
Infographic on the cost of urban parking via Reinventing Parking. Click for a larger version.

Seth Goodman of Reinventing Parking shared some nuanced perspectives on the negative social, economic, and environmental impacts of off-street parking requirements in article yesterday. Backing up those perspectives up, Goodman provided two very useful diagrams to show how off-street parking requirements build cost into development and at what cost this is passed onto future residents.

Goodman highlighted the common message that urbanists keep reiterating: off-street parking requirements add a lot to the cost of development and that’s reflected in rents. But Goodman also explained how that’s unfair to low income households and that removing regulatory requirement isn’t an adequate place to end the discussion. Here’s Goodman in his own words:

Everyone pays the same amount for parking whether she or he walked, rode transit, carpooled, or drove alone, but rarely does anyone see that price itemized on a receipt. As a result, most people are unaware of the heavy financial burden they bear for the sake of parking. The above graphic takes a look at one area where parking adds significantly to a household’s expenses: Rent.

So how much does one parking spot add to an apartment’s rent? There is no single answer to that question. Construction costs are affected by local soil conditions, zoning requirements, site constraints, regional differences in construction costs, and the type of parking to be built. On the other hand, the rent needed to justify an initial capital investment varies according to local property taxes, financing costs, resident turnover and delinquency rates, et cetera. The graphic attempts to present the range covered by these variables while providing numbers that might be considered typical for structured parking in the United States.

Monthly cost for one parking stall via Reinventing Parking. Click for a larger version.
Monthly cost for one parking stall via Reinventing Parking. Click for a larger version.

Goodman zeroed in an even more poignant issue that even urban social and affordable housing advocates often gloss over: parking requirements aren’t an equalizer, they’re a segregator. Goodman illustrates this in a simple way:

The effect of each parking spot on affordability is significantly higher in urban communities than suburban ones both because the land occupied by parking is more expensive in urban areas and because building structured parking is many times more costly than paving surface lots. This reality affects the ability of lower income households to live in urban areas since parking costs roughly the same to build whether an apartment is luxury grade or modest. An $18,000 spot might not have a noticeable impact on the rent of a $300,000 unit, but it would definitely be noticed by someone renting a $75,000 unit.

Just as down-renting negatively affects low income households in procuring affordable units due to inflated prices, added costs resulting from off-street parking requirements can put housing options out of reach. They don’t give lower income households more accessibility, they deliver substantially less choice and drive low income households to places with less accessibility.

But reducing off-street parking requirements isn’t enough, Goodman says. Jurisdictions need to go further if they’re serious about eliminating unnecessary and unjust costs for prospective residents.

Even when minimum off-street parking requirements are eliminated (and on-street parking is properly managed), the practice of bundling parking with rent may persist. It is imperative that cities find a way to separate rent for cars from rent for people either by encouraging or mandating that parking be rented separately.

If you’ve got an eagle eye, you may have noticed that Seattle sits in the $250 range for monthly off-street parking costs. Imagine how much more affordable units could be with out them.

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Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.