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Affordable Housing Developers Want to Ditch Mandatory Parking Spots

By  Amy Zimmer and Danielle Tcholakian | October 7, 2015 7:42am 

 Affordable housing developers support a zoning plan to eliminate parking mandates for their projects.
Parking Vs. Affordable Housing
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BROOKLYN — At King Garden Seniors, a 66-unit affordable housing complex for the 62-and-over set in Brownsville, the building's 15-spot parking lot is nearly empty.

Only two households have cars and pay the $10 monthly fee to keep them in the lot at the building, which is one block from the No. 3 train at Rockaway Avenue.

Yet under a city zoning regulation, Dunn Development, which opened the building last year, was forced to build the lot, according to the firm's principal Martin Dunn.

Dunn is hopeful he'll be able to change that as part of the de Blasio administration's "Zoning for Quality and Affordability" plan, which would eliminate the requirement for off-street parking in newly-developed affordable and new and existing senior housing in "transit rich" areas that are generally located half a mile from a subway station.

"The elimination of the parking requirement is absolutely critical," said Dunn, whose firm specializes in affordable housing.

"It will enable us to do more units and more open space," he said, noting that the cost savings could be big for both the developers as well as the government since "the same subsidy that's used to build the housing is used to build the parking."

In a survey by advocacy group the Senior Housing Coalition of LiveOn NY, some 2,000 affordable units could be built in the space currently being wasted on unused parking spots at senior housing complexes.

Only 5 percent of households in senior affordable housing developments near public transit even have cars, and just 18 percent of households in affordable housing buildings own them, according to Department of City Planning data.

That compares to 32 percent of households in all housing with cars.

"For us it's a no brainer that we should be investing in affordable housing and not subsidizing expensive parking," said Rachel Fee, of the New York City Housing Conference.

"We're facing an affordable housing crisis. Homelessness is through the roof. And more than one in three New Yorkers pay more than half their income on rent."

City Planning Commissioner Carl Weisbrod said at an August event that as lots sit fallow, waitlists for senior housing are only growing longer.

“As far as I know, we have no cars wait-listed for parking spaces," Weisbrod said.

Since 1961, the zoning code has required both market-rate and affordable housing developers to include certain amounts of space reserved for cars, depending on such factors as the number of units and location.

While Manhattan buildings now have caps on the number of parking spaces they can include, with spots in luxury buildings now selling for $1 million, buildings in the other boroughs have mandatory parking minimums. The practice has been found to drive up housing costs, many say.

Many affordable housing developers won't even look at certain sites because the parking mandates make their projects cost-prohibitive, Dunn said.

Whether lots are built above ground, eating up pricey land for parking, or they're put underground where each spot costs on average, $40,000 to build, it can be a burden.

Using that estimate, the New York City Housing Conference, an affordable housing policy organization, believes that eliminating the parking requirement for affordable housing could save $1 million for every new 100 units required to have 25 parking spots.

Removing existing parking without approvals from the city would help projects like Boriquen Court, a 145-unit senior affordable housing complex in Mott Haven. Its developer, the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing, was recently granted a waiver for its parking requirements in order to build 176 units of affordable senior housing.

But existing affordable housing other than senior housing would still also have apply to remove under-used parking, like at another Dunn project in East New York, near the Euclid Avenue A/C train, where residents use only eight of the 18 spots which cost under $40 a month.

And in newly-built mixed income buildings near transit, parking would be optional for the affordable units but required for the market rate since the number of spots required is tied to the number of units.

Those market rate spaces could be waived though an application process.

The potential 2,000 affordable senior units that could be built in existing parking lots would go a long way to meeting de Blasio's stated goal of adding 5,000 more units of senior affordable housing, Fee said.

"It's essentially a huge gift to the city," she said.