Chin Asks de Blasio to Choose Affordable Housing Over Cheap Parking

Council Member Margaret Chin has set up a simple choice for Mayor Bill de Blasio: Which is the higher priority, affordable housing or cheap parking?

DOT owns 39 parking lots and garages in all five boroughs. Many of them could be affordable housing sites, if Mayor de Blasio follows through on his plan. Image: DOT

DOT owns 39 parking lots and garages in all five boroughs. Many of them could be affordable housing, if Mayor de Blasio decides to prioritize housing over car storage. Image: DOT

In a letter to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg first reported by the Wall Street Journal [PDF], Chin urged the de Blasio administration to redevelop the city-owned parking garage on Ludlow Street in the Lower East Side, calling it a “great opportunity for the development of affordable housing” in an area with “an urgent need for more.”

According to an analysis by the City Council’s land use division, it could accommodate 89 housing units under current zoning.

Chin’s request comes two months after de Blasio released his affordable housing plan, which singled out municipal parking lots as a type of city-owned property ripe for affordable housing development.

The Department of Housing Preservation and Development is charged with coming up with a list of suitable city-owned properties. Last month, an HPD spokesperson said the effort was in the early stages and it was still reaching out to other agencies. The department offered a similar line today.

After an event in May, I asked Trottenberg whether DOT would get out of the parking lot business to help the mayor achieve the his affordable housing goals. “It’s too soon to say,” she said. “I can’t pre-judge that now.” Trottenberg would only say that DOT is “ready to do whatever we can to help,” including creating an inventory of its developable properties.

DOT has not replied to questions today about Chin’s proposal to redevelop the Ludlow Street garage, but did tell the Journal that it “serves a significant community need for parking” and is undergoing a $5.8 million renovation.

The garage is is one of 39 DOT-managed garages and lots, accounting for more than 8,100 spaces citywide. Many of those municipal lots offer cheap parking well below the going rate. The Ludlow Street garage, for example, charges $4.50 for the first hour and $2 for each additional hour. Nearby garages start at $10 for the first hour.

Which will the city subsidize: car storage or housing? The decision on the Lower East Side should be an easy one, but it’s been overlooked before, by the Bloomberg administration, and de Blasio could repeat that mistake.

The garage site was originally included in EDC’s Seward Park development plan, which is set to bring 1,000 new housing units, half designated as permanently affordable, to long-fallow lots in the area. But in 2012, the Bloomberg administration redrew the project’s boundaries to exclude the site and its 356 parking spaces. The Seward Park project already included 500 parking spaces, more than what would have been allowed if the neighborhood’s zoning rules had applied to the site.

During the Bloomberg administration, EDC and the Department of City Planning tended to pile on the parking, often in an effort to mollify potential critics of new development. So far, de Blasio and his deputies have not shown much interest in shifting that approach. Chin’s request offers one opportunity to change course.

“We must consider taking advantage of any site that could be appropriate for [affordable housing],” Chin wrote. “With a new administration in office, I would like to know if DOT’s position remains the same regarding this site.”

This post has been updated with a response from HPD.