Why will Changing Parking Regulations for Affordable Housing Creation help save the planet? With Mallory Baker.Read DocumentGet Document
Why will Changing Parking Regulations for Affordable Housing Creation help save the planet? With Mallory Baker.
Why will Changing Parking Regulations for Affordable Housing Creation help save the planet? With Mallory Baker.
On this week's episode of Between the Lines, we chat with Mallory Baker. Mallory leads Walker Consultants' planning, operations, and technology practice in the Pacific Northwest. She has a track record of success working with a wide range of communities—from rural Washington to downtown Atlanta—to achieve transportation visions that meet fiscal, economic, and community goals.
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This is Between the Lines with Andy Keeton.
Hi, everyone, and welcome aboard to this week's episode of Between the Lines. Today, we're talking about something pretty interesting kind of melding TDM and housing. It's going to be really interesting, and we're talking to someone who really knows her stuff. Today we're talking with Mallory Baker. Mallory leads Walker Consultants' Planning Operations and technology practice in the Pacific Northwest.
She has a track record of successful working with a wide range of communities from rural Washington to downtown Atlanta to achieve transportation visions that meet physical, economic and community goals. And she's been working a lot lately on this idea of changing parking regulations to facilitate affordable housing creation. So we're going to get into that in a little bit.
But first, thanks for being on, Mallory.
Thanks so much for having me. I'm super excited to be here.
And like I said, I think this is a really interesting conversation because it really does kind of transcend just transportation and takes us into this this next phase of housing, both very important. And they really do kind of work together. So, yeah, like, I mentioned today, we're talking about why changing parking regulations to facilitate affordable housing creation will help save the planet.
And I want to first start by just kind of setting the scene. So, Mallory, can you tell us a little bit about what are the problems right now when it comes to affordable housing in cities? You know, I think a lot of us know there's probably not enough, but what is that problem?
Yeah. So it's really hard to talk about affordable housing without getting into all of the problems of our society, like wage growth and employment issues and political challenges. But when thinking from a planning perspective, you know, traditionally we think about the problem with affordable housing being primarily in the major cities, you know, the places where everybody wants to live, where commerce is happening, the New Yorks, the San Francisco's.
But this problem has really started to permeate in our suburbs, in our rural communities, where people just simply aren't able to afford the available housing that's in their communities. And that's coming from the rental perspective. So as an example, the city that I live in, Denver, Colorado, rent for a one bedroom apartment, has grown by 50% in the last five years.
So that's, that's insane for someone to absorb year over year and that growth is seen in rural and suburban communities as well. So we're really seeing this intense crunch and a lot of like state legislatures and regulators are trying to solve this problem. For example, up and down the West Coast, we're seeing bills from state legislatures trying to reduce barriers to affordable housing creation.
But one area that, you know, as a transportation planner I think is really ignored is the parking and transportation policy side so how have we created these problems in parking and transportation that exacerbate our challenge with affordable housing development? So that's why I'm kind of laser focused on the changes that we can make there.
And, you know, let's get into some of this parking stuff. So can you tell me a little bit more about what kind of the traditional parking requirements look like, this kind of use based parking requirement? You tell me a little bit more about what that means and then maybe get into a little bit about how that hurts the development of affordable housing.
Yeah, totally. So your listeners might be familiar with the concept of zoning. So traditional zoning, the origins of zoning were kind of to separate, like dangerous uses from residential development. So like really intense industrial warehouses of factories from apartment buildings or something like that. But starting in the early 20th century, communities really started to think about, OK, well, how are people accessing their buildings from a transportation perspective?
And that's when the first parking requirements were adopted. So back in Ohio in the early 20th century, they actually assigned for when new development comes online, you have to build X number of parking spaces when you built, you know, Y number of units. So a lot of communities saw that and they were like, this is great. You know, we can legislate access into our zoning requirements.
And so by the mid 20th century, the vast majority of communities have had adopted these regulations for, you know, when you build X, you have to build Y parking spaces. And basically every community in the United States has these requirements. So like say I'm building a 20 unit apartment building, that means I have to build 40 parking spaces along with that.
That's a pretty common ratio. So that's how that works. And you know, communities are starting to rethink that. But that's the norm that we have right now. And that's what developers are used to and that's even what lenders are used to at that at this point as well. So it's a huge barrier in development sure.
Right. Because, you know, to boil it down for me to build a, you know, 20 unit apartment complex, I need also the space or you know, and the resources to build 40 parking spaces or whatever it might be totally that it seems to make sense.
Yeah. And just just like this, this is really a really shocking anecdote to me. So the L.A. Philharmonic that was a $274 million development gorgeous building you know brand new.
40% of that development budget went to the underground parking structure so that's how crazy and for most developments it's like ten to 20% of the development budget. So this is sort of this hidden cost and it's really expensive. It doesn't generate any any joy, any community, any real benefit except for just parking cars. And so fundamentally, you know, as we've thought about our access to our communities, we've just assumed that access happens using a single occupancy vehicle.
So we've sort of like kneecapped ourselves when it comes to creating pedestrian friendly communities, supporting transit and thinking about access from a broader perspective other than just people driving and parking yeah.
I mean, it's really interesting in LA's I mean, there's maybe infamously known for its parking. I know like the the Los Angeles Rams football team just built this amazing, beautiful stadium as well. There's parking just endless around it. It's like in a little sea of parking so yeah, I mean, I think even just people outside of the transportation TDM parking space can kind of see that parking is a big deal and it's some sort of requirement for people for anything to be fit to be developed let's get in a little bit more to kind of how that really impacts then the affordable housing space.
And I think really the answer here is the L.A. Philharmonic had what it was $238 million or whatever the number. Was that excited? Yeah.
Yeah. Thank you. And it's and they could put 40% of that to an underground parking structure affordable housing, maybe not as much because there's less money coming back, less ability to make that back, that revenue back in the future. Is that kind of really where it just boils down to cost? And if I'm required to build parking I have to up the cost of development.
Is that really this year.
Yeah. That's, that's one of the the main issues and I would say that's kind of the crux of the challenge is just the sheer amount of money that needs to be spent on parking based on these requirements. And frankly, the developer isn't going to just absorb that cost, right? Like that cost is going to funnel down to tenants to the end users of the building.
So let's continue on the L.A. Philharmonic example. You know, when you buy your tickets, you you're paying for that parking structure. And same with with your your apartment buildings, any any housing option that you live in, whether you buy or you rent, you're paying for the cost of of that parking. So and parking is not cheap. As I said, it takes up a huge chunk of development budgets.
But when we're talking about building parking in major cities and even in suburban and rural communities, we're talking about, you know, ten to $15,000 for a surface parking space per space tend ten to $15,000 and then for a structure 25 to even up to 40,000, even up to $50,000 a space depending on a lot of factors the water table, the soil that you're building into the size of the structure, the efficiency.
So this is not chump change. This is a massive amount of money that we're spending that's that we are paying for ultimately. And it also deteriorates our access goals, right? So like just continuing on that, the examples that I'm most familiar with, like the city of Denver where I've lived for ten years, the city of Denver has a great climate action plan right?
So they really want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They want to facilitate pedestrian friendly communities, they want to support transit access, but they have these parking requirements. So they're really, again, kneecapping themselves when it comes to fundamentally changing how people are accessing their communities and getting around. They're basically saying it's a foregone conclusion that people are going to drive in park and that's going to be our future for the next, you know, 500 years, which is just really depressing.
So, yeah, I really, I'm excited to talk more about like how we can change that. And I think it's it's a hard conversation, but something that we can really empower our local communities to, to take action on.
So let's dive in and let's let's solve this problem on this podcast.
Yeah, we can totally solve it now. So no need to worry after this is perfect.
I would just if anyone ever has the question to send them to this podcast, we solved it for you. Yeah, exactly. But so before you know, before we were recording, you were telling me a little bit more about I liked how you phrased this 'ivory tower' solution. What is that?
Yeah. So progressive planners and regulators and people in this progressive planning space have decided that they're fed up with parking requirements they understand that it's a problem. So they're just their solution is just we'll get rid of them, period. Eliminate them entirely, and that will solve the problem. Now, it's a little bit more complicated than that. And there are very few cities, even the densest cities and the most progressive cities like Portland, Oregon, for example, very dense or dense and a lot of city areas and very progressive.
Right. They've only eliminated parking requirements for most development in their core city area. And they're one of maybe a handful of cities that have taken that route of fully eliminating parking requirements. But there are so many sort of preconditions that have to be present for that to be possible, because unfortunately, we don't have the ability to just wave a magic wand and say, OK, where America is not reliant on the car anymore, we don't need cars anymore.
We can just get places using other modes of transportation. Unfortunately, our communities have simply not had the federal funding, the state funding or the local funding to truly invest in transit and other modes of transportation. I mean, working at Commutifi you, no one knows that better than you. So most cities don't have the ability to take that step because you need existing public parking resources.
So you need places for people to park cars. People are not going to completely stop using cars. Right? And you also need a robust, multimodal network. You need great bike lanes, you need great sidewalks, you need great transit with with amazing, you know, ten minute headways to get people where they need to go. So the vast majority of suburbs of rural communities and even cities in this country don't have the ability to do that.
They need some reliance on the single occupancy vehicle. And even like even more so, as I said, commercial vendors are really interested in parking requirements and they see that as sort of a predicate for the success of a project. So even if you are building in a city or an area where there are no parking requirements, well I'll think about 38 and Blake the zone in the city of Denver where the city said, All right, we're going to eliminate parking or apartments no developments are going up in that area without parking because developers know that they need it to serve their, their tenants.
So to just eliminate parking requirements altogether, it sort of ignores that, you know, people still need cars to get around in most places. So that's why, you know, this I and I call it the 'ivory tower' solution because it's a lot of like university professors and people that haven't worked in communities for decades or even ever in their careers.
Are saying parking requirements are so silly, just get rid of them and we'll be fine. And it's like, OK, but that's not actually solving the problem of people building a massive amount of parking and really pushing that cost down to their users and limiting the ability of communities to build much needed affordable housing.
And I think that's a good point. And at that point also transcends parking and goes into the whole transportation space where it's important that we have researchers and people coming up with these great ideas. Yeah, great. Let's remove parking requirements. It sounds awesome. In theory, it makes a lot of sense but then you also really need the people who understand and have been part of these communities and have worked with the communities and understand kind of the nuances of where that might work, where it might not work.
You know, how the private industry will handle that, how the public sector will there's a lot going on in transportation, and parking is the middle of everything, and it's the start and end of every conversation. So it's, you know, that insight is is important to to have. So OK, we, we there's ivory tower solution sounds great. We could remove all parking requirements.
You gave us an example in Denver where doing that didn't even help, but maybe it helped some places. Let's assume that's not the solution that people are going to look at. What can a community do then instead, how can we work with our parking requirements to support this affordable housing.
Yeah, absolutely. So I think again, it totally I love what you said where we need we need these big thinkers. We also need the local people to really apply the context right. And I think it's kind of similar to every solution that you read in The New Yorker or from an academic. It's like, wow, this is really sexy.
And great, but like, let's get serious about how to implement it. So the way that we think about this is they're kind of like the low end, the low hanging fruit. There's like the middle of the road. And then there's like the really progressive action steps, like eliminating parking requirements full scale. So we think about the low hanging fruit.
You know, the vast majority of communities in the US, like I said, have these use-based requirements and that's what they have, period. And if you deviate from that those requirements, you have to go to some political body, like a planning commission, like a city council, like a board of adjustment and get a variance so that's a very ambiguous, political draining process.
And most developers aren't going to do that because there's a lack of assurance or a guarantee of an outcome so what you can do on the low side is build into your regulations reductions that can be approved at the staff level. So this can be kind of prescriptive solutions that are specifically tied to actions or initiatives that reduce parking demand and facilitate a broader range of accessibility to your development.
So on the residential side, you might think of like a car share solution. So we work with a lot of developers who create car share programs for their multifamily tenants. And the city says, OK, developer, if you have this running operational car share program that reduces parking demand and that's a research based strategy, we can give you a parking reduction of like a certain number of spaces for every car share that you offer.
And you can also do things like subsidized transit passes or bike parking that's covered or lockers, showers on site, you know, things that really facilitate a more broader range of access and accessibility and transportation demand management on your site. So that's kind of one way that you can start to chip away at the impact that parking has on the ultimate cost passed on to tenants.
I like that idea. So the idea is you can kind of earn credits to not have to build parking by doing something that brings people out of their car and it's proven to get people out of their car that's I just want to summarize that. That's the gist of this solution.
Totally. Yeah. And a lot of communities have already started doing this. So this is something that's sort of tried and true. And we really suggest having those reductions again, like you're saying, tied to research backed initiatives that reduce parking demand and reliance on single occupancy vehicles. So not only are you chipping away at the cost to build parking because you're actually reducing the need for parking, you're also like really making developers have skin in the game when it comes to broadening our understanding of access and accessibility to our community.
So we really love this, this initiative, and it's easy to implement, right, because it kind of ties into existing you can still have your user base requirements. You don't have to do these massive structural changes to your code. You can just kind of add these in, let staff approve them, you know, empower staff to approve them. And it really makes a big difference right away with not a ton of upfront investment.
Yeah. I mean, it makes a lot of sense. I really like this solution. OK, let's get into the next one, which I think is maybe a little bit bigger than this. This is just kind of a little add on to the code. Maybe something else.
Yeah. So the next type of solution is really making a bigger dent in cost to build housing in certain parts of your community. So we would suggest that you start with parts of your community that already have density, already have a multimodal network, and maybe already have some public parking resources. So we're talking about like your downtown core where you have, you know, your city public parking structure, you have your on street parking, and then you maybe have a bus network like a BRT system.
You have some good bike lanes, connectivity on the pedestrian and active transportation side. So you already have those factors. And then you might consider reducing parking requirements in this area by a percentage or just having some lower ratios so that's where you're saying, hey, we understand that parking is really less of a factor in this area where we already have density.
We have these kind of supporting networks to bolster up the fact that this is not just saying this is not a requirement, but this is actually facilitating a true reduction in construction of parking. Because what we want to avoid is like we eliminate parking requirements, but developers still build the same amount of parking or more because we don't have the the sort of chops to support reduction in personal vehicle usage.
So that's the next solution. And that can really make a substantial dent in the cost that that's ultimately passed on to your your tenants.
Yeah, no, that makes sense. And that's interesting as well actually. You know, you don't, it could it be that if you just flat out remove the parking requirement that people might actually build the same or even more parking because there's not like a restraint or a standard to follow? That's kind of an interesting idea. But making sure that, you know, we're doing this in the places where there really are solutions out there.
For instance, like I live in kind of downtown pretty much downtown Montreal, and I don't own a car. There's not enough spaces in the apartment complex parking lot. If everyone owned like, you know, 2.2 cars in America that everyone owns, I they wouldn't fit in this parking structure, but it doesn't need to because there's the car share, there's the transit system, everything's there.
I'm not actually sure what the parking regulations are here, but presumably they're not as high because they're not being built. So they must be lower. How does this work outside of than the urban center what could suburban rural communities do or even, you know, urban communities, but just a little outside the downtown core?
Yeah, I would say like really looking at, again, those kind of administrative staff level reductions that we talked about, because when you're thinking about a suburban area or an area that just doesn't have the multimodal network density that we're talking about, you really need to create like a community effort to increase access to to build that multimodal network.
So again, getting developers to participate in that initiative and giving them an incentive to do so through a parking reduction is super meaningful. And the other thing that I'd say is like as an example, we're working with Los Angeles County, the unincorporated areas in L.A. County, L.A. County, the most populous county in the continental U.S. They look are they're looking at a specific parking ordinance that would facilitate affordable housing creation so they're actually saying, like, we want to actually create requirements that can facilitate this.
But one of the challenges like we're talking about is you can't just eliminate parking requirements and all these communities because parking management always comes up as the hot the hot button issue in all of our community meetings so far for that project all we've heard, you know, we haven't even heard about housing affordability. We've just heard about. But my neighbors park on the street and it really bothers me.
And, you know, it's like parking is such an emotional issue for people. So in addition to, you know, thinking about kind of these administrative reductions or thinking about the ways that you can bolster the multimodal network, you really need to, like talk to the community and get them on board with with these changes because otherwise you won't be able to implement changing ordinances is a public process that requires public buy in.
And so that's a huge lesson learned out in L.A. County, where we expected you know, housing affordability is such a critical, visceral issue in L.A. County, but somehow parking is a bigger, even more visceral, even more emotional issue for people. So like getting people on board with this and really like getting some buy in in terms of like creating a master planning effort or a climate action effort where parking and transportation policy are front and center is a huge first step for these more suburban rural communities where it's not as like apparent that parking is a huge, huge problem.
I think that's funny. Affordable housing, big issue parking. That's the most important thing in the world.
It's so depressing, but it's so true because, you know, a lot of the people that we talked to, they haven't struggled as much with affordable housing. You know, you talk to some people who they haven't been able to find housing. They're having to live with their parents. So for them, of course, affordable housing is a huge emotional issue in their day to day lives.
But when we talk to the typical person, they're like, well, I already have a house. I already own my house. I'm paying my static mortgage. That every every month. And I don't have to worry about this. And therefore, parking is the biggest issue. I think it's a great microcosm for like all of the political issues and like climate change in and of itself.
Like if you can't see it, it's not there. So like really getting people to understand the connection between parking and housing affordability is like so essential to making any of these changes stick.
And is every political issue you just come back to parking and cars?
I think so.
Maybe so we've not only have we solved the affordable housing problem, but maybe we've just solved every problem.
Solve the whole, yeah.
Ok perfect! So all we need to do is figure out this parking regulation thing and the world's a better place. And that leads us and I mean we could talk about this probably forever, but this leads us to kind of my final question, which is why will changing park your parking regulations, which hopefully will help facilitate affordable housing creation, why will that help save the planet?
So we think about saving the planet. We're thinking about like the climate change perspective. And I think one thing I like about this solution is it's structural, right? I think so many of our climate change solutions so far are all about personal like individual responsibility and ignore the structural challenges we've created on the regulation side. So I really like that framing of why this will save the planet.
But actually, I have like kind of three reasons. Number one, I love that this empowers local governments to sort of be innovators when it comes to this challenge. I think we so often think about market forces, tech companies, corporations being the innovators on climate change. And this really empowers our local communities to start making the structural changes to facilitate housing affordability and ultimately saving the planet, too.
You know, we talked about kind of these interim steps to reaching hopefully an environment where we can eliminate parking requirements in a sustainable way. But because there are those interim steps, you could take any city, town, rural community county can do this. Like any county, city, town, public agency today can take little steps, even if they're small, to get rid of this structural monster that we've created that really increases our reliance on single occupancy vehicles.
And number three, you know, we know that transportation is a massive contributor to emissions. It's really deteriorating our plan. And one of the ways in which we've created this mess is we've relied on personal vehicles as the only way that we get from point A to point B. So this results in really a fundamental shift in how we think about how we access our communities, how we get to work, how we get to school, how we visit friends and live our lives.
So that's why I think this will save the planet and now everyone should go forth and and take action.
And go talk to your local officials and make this happen. I mean, yeah, I like it. It's it's relatively doable across kind of any type of community. Empowering, structural. I love the idea of structure being a structural change, not an individual change. So I mean, a great discussion. Like I said, we could keep talking about this for a lot longer.
I know you recently did a webinar about this as well, so we'll make sure that we link out to that in our email list. And that's a great segway for me into reminding everyone to subscribe to our email list. You can do that at betweenthelines.io. Each week that we have an episode, you'll just get a little reminder and a little bit more information about what we have discussed and make sure you give us a like a follow wherever you listen to podcasts.
And our video podcasts are now up on Spotify, which is really exciting. You can watch them on YouTube, you can watch them on Spotify. So check it out. The future of podcasts. You can see us talk. If you don't like looking at us, that's fine too. You can just listen wherever you listen. But I like I like watching people talk and it's fun to see see that conversation.
It feels like you're a little bit more there. Anyway, Mallory, thanks for being on. Really interesting topic. I'm really excited to to see hopefully more cities and communities adopt new parking regulations I know you'll you'll be at the forefront pushing that forward. So thanks for all your work and thanks for coming on.
Yeah. Thanks so much for having me, Andy.
All right, everyone. We'll see you next time on Between the Lines. Thanks for listening.
Thanks for joining us on this week's episode of Between the Lines with Andy Keeton. Be sure to subscribe to hear next week's episode and check out our exclusive commuter playlist on Spotify.
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