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East Harlem Rezoning Plan Scraps Parking Minimums to Build More Housing

The Department of City Planning previewed its East Harlem rezoning proposal at Community Board 11 this week [PDF].

The Department of City Planning previewed its East Harlem rezoning proposal at Community Board 11 this week [PDF].

The Department of City Planning is preparing a major rezoning of East Harlem, and it calls for scrapping parking requirements along most of the avenues in the neighborhood.

Earlier this year, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito released the “East Harlem Neighborhood Plan” [PDF], a set of recommendations developed by her office, Community Board 11, Borough President Gale Brewer, and the grassroots social justice group Community Voices Heard. The plan called for “increased density in select places to create more affordable housing and spaces for jobs” and recommended that “any potential rezoning should eliminate minimum parking requirements.”

New York City’s minimum parking requirements drive up the cost of housing by requiring developers to build parking spots that otherwise wouldn’t get built. This adds to construction costs and constrains the supply of new housing.

On Tuesday, representatives from the Department of City Planning previewed the rezoning at Community Board 11’s monthly meeting. All areas that would get upzoned in the plan will also have parking requirements eliminated.

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Streetsblog USA
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The Feds’ Tentative Steps to Legalize Mixed-Use Housing Don’t Go Far Enough

Apartment-style housing with ground-floor retail used to be a staple from small towns to big cities. But strict federal lending rules have made them nearly impossible to build or renovate. Photo: Wikipedia

Small apartment buildings with ground-floor retail used to be a fixture of small towns and big cities. But federal lending rules have made this type of housing very difficult to build or renovate. Photo: Wikipedia

For a long time, apartment buildings with ground-floor retail were the building blocks of America’s cities and towns. Combining housing and commercial uses is also essential for walkability and affordability, enabling people to travel shorter distances for their daily routines and get around without driving. But in most of the country today, it’s practically impossible to build or reinvest in this type of housing.

The federal government is the biggest mortgage lender. And the vast majority of its loans support single-family, suburban-style housing. Graph: Regional Plan Association

The federal government’s support for suburban single-family housing dwarfs its support for urban, mixed-use housing. Chart: Regional Plan Association [PDF]

A major obstacle is federal lending standards. The Federal Housing Administration, HUD, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac all limit the share of commercial space in residential projects eligible for federal loans. These standards, in turn, dictate which projects are viable in the private real estate finance market.

The upshot is that it’s very difficult to build or rehab low- and mid-rise mixed-use housing projects. Federal standards not only limit the supply of new mixed-use housing, but also prevent lending in distressed neighborhoods suffering from disinvestment, many of which are in cities or inner suburbs filled with older building types that don’t conform to the single-use model the financial industry is accustomed to.

Last week, the Federal Housing Administration proposed new lending standards for mixed-use condominium development, but experts say they don’t go far enough. (You can comment on the proposed rule until November 28.)

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Streetsblog USA
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White House: Make Cities Affordable By Building for Walkability, Not Parking

The Obama administration is taking on the crisis of rising rents in American cities, releasing a series of recommendations today to spur the construction of more affordable housing. Among the many ideas the White House endorses: allowing more multi-family housing near transit and getting rid of parking minimums.

Rising rents are putting pressure on American families. Graph: White House

Rising rents and stagnant incomes are putting pressure on American families. Graph: White House

Since 1960, the share of renters paying more than 30 percent of their income for housing — the baseline for what is considered “affordable” — has risen from 24 percent to 49 percent, the White House reports in its new Housing Development Toolkit [PDF]. There are now 7.7 million severely rent-burdened households, defined as those paying more than 50 percent of their income for rent — an increase of about 2.5 million in just the past 10 years.

In the toolkit, the Obama administration acknowledges the links between housing and transportation, saying that “smart housing regulation optimizes transportation system use, reduces commute times, and increases use of public transit, biking and walking.”

The toolkit is full of policy recommendations to make it easier to build multi-family housing, incentivize the construction of subsidized housing, and shift away from the single-family/large lot development paradigm.

The document is merely advisory — federal officials don’t have the power to supersede most local zoning laws. But the White House does say that U.S. DOT will evaluate cities’ approaches to new housing development when it considers awarding major grants for new transit projects.

Here are a few of the highlights from the recommendations.

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When Cities Force Developers to Widen Roads, Everyone Loses

vermont_wilshire

At L.A.’s Vermont-Wilshire Towers, the city made the developer cede land and pay for 6,000 square feet of road widening. Photo: Google Maps

It’s a common practice for cities to make developers widen a street when they put up a new building. The thinking is that development creates car trips that must be accommodated with more asphalt.

But new research suggests these policies don’t help anyone. The main effect is to increase the cost of building, making housing less affordable.

“As traffic management exercises, many widenings appear unnecessary,” concludes UCLA researcher Michael Manville in a paper published in the Journal of Transport and Land Use [PDF].

Manville looked at how this policy is carried out in Los Angeles. In L.A., all multifamily housing projects (and some other types of construction) are assessed by city traffic engineers to determine whether the developer should widen nearby streets. This is like “blaming Disneyland for increased air travel, and forcing the theme park to expand runways whenever it adds attractions,” he argues.

Manville spoke to developers compelled by the city to pay for various road widenings. The costs varied. In one case, the street widening added an estimated $11,000 to the cost per unit of a multifamily housing development. In another case the figure was $50,000. In another, just $65 per unit. Where the costs of street widenings are substantial, the policy drives up costs for renters and buyers.

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Walkable Cities Are More Affordable Than You Think – We Need More of Them

People living in walkable cities may have high housing costs, but they also tend to have low transportation costs and better access to jobs, according to a new study from Smart Growth America [PDF].

The most walkable metro areas have better job access and lower transportation costs, helping cancel out the effects of high housing costs. Graph: Smart Growth America

The most walkable metro areas have better job access and lower transportation costs, lightening the burden of high housing costs. Table: Smart Growth America

SGA ranked the 30 largest American regions according to the share of rental housing, office space, and retail located in areas with high Walk Scores. Then, using data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, each region was also assigned a “social equity index” score based on housing and transportation costs for moderate-income households, as well as the number of jobs residents can access.

SGA found a significant link between walkability and its equity index, even though housing costs tend to be higher in walkable places.

In the areas with the highest walkable urbanism score, housing costs per square foot are indeed quite a bit higher than in car-oriented places — 93 percent higher, according to SGA. But moderate-income households in those six regions also have lower transportation costs — about 19 percent of their income, on average, compared to 28 percent in the least walkable places. Residents of compact places likely pay for less square footage than residents of spread-out places.

All told, SGA found that moderate-income households in the six most walkable regions spend about the same share of their income on housing and transportation combined as moderate-income households across all 30 metros — about 42 percent and 41 percent, respectively.

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High Transportation Costs Make a Lot of HUD Housing Unaffordable

"Affordable" housing units with excessively high transportation costs shown in red, and affordable transportation costs in yellow in the Atlanta area (left) and Detroit area (right). Map: University of Texas

Maps of Atlanta (left) and Detroit (right) show HUD rental units with high transportation costs in red and those with affordable transportation costs in yellow. Maps: University of Texas

Rental assistance from HUD isn’t enough to make the cost of living affordable when the subsidies go toward housing in car-dependent areas, according to a new study by researchers from the University of Texas and the University of Utah. The study evaluated transportation costs for more than 18,000 households that receive HUD rental subsidies, estimating that nearly half of recipients have to spend more than 15 percent of their household budgets on transportation.

HUD generally considers housing to be “affordable” if it consumes less than 30 percent of a family’s income. But that calculation doesn’t factor in the transportation costs that come along with different housing locations. A family that lives in a walkable neighborhood with good transit options will be less burdened with transportation costs — car payments, insurance, gas — than a family with the same income living in an area where they have to drive for every trip.

A broader picture of affordability comes from the “H+T index” popularized by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, which holds that if housing accounts for 30 percent of a household’s budget, transportation should not account for more than 15 percent to keep total costs affordable.

In the new study, researchers developed a model to determine how much households receiving HUD rental assistance have to spend on transportation in several cities. They found a great deal of variation across metro areas. In San Antonio, for example, only 13.5 percent of the housing units were in locations where transportation costs would consume less than 15 percent of household income, while in Los Angeles the figure was 97 percent.

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Mark-Viverito’s East Harlem Plan Recommends Tossing Parking Minimums

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito greets constituents in her East Harlem district, which is slated for upzoning as part of the mayor's plan to increase the city's affordable housing stock. Image: William Alatriste

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito greets constituents in her East Harlem district, which is slated for upzoning as part of the mayor’s plan to increase the city’s affordable housing stock. Photo: William Alatriste

Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito has released an “East Harlem Neighborhood Plan” to guide the city’s rezoning of the community, and one of the recommendations is the elimination of parking minimums.

The 138-page plan [PDF] was developed over the past 10 months as a joint project of Mark-Viverito, Community Board 11, Borough President Gale Brewer, and the grassroots social justice group Community Voices Heard. Among its recommendations, the plan calls for “increased density in select places to create more affordable housing and spaces for jobs” and that “any potential rezoning should eliminate minimum parking requirements.”

The parking minimum recommendation is unequivocal and would apply to all housing, not just subsidized housing like the de Blasio administration’s citywide “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” plan. ZQA only eliminates minimum parking requirements for affordable and senior housing development within the so-called “transit zone” — areas that are, generally speaking, a short walk from high-capacity transit.

Mark-Viverito hasn’t taken a position on the parking reforms in ZQA, and her office declined multiple inquiries from Streetsblog on the topic. The City Council is fractured on the issue, but the East Harlem plan indicates that the speaker supports the idea that mandatory car storage is less important than maximizing housing options.

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The Key for Park Slope to Keep Its Big Grocery Store: Less Parking

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The Park Slope Key Food site. Image: Avery Hall Investments via DNAinfo

The notion that New York City housing construction shouldn’t be weighed down by mandatory parking minimums got a combative response from some City Council members at a hearing today. Streetsblog will have a thorough round-up of who said what tomorrow morning. In the meantime, here’s a quick detour to Park Slope for a related story about how parking rules everything around us.

At issue is the redevelopment of a 36,000-square-foot Key Food and adjacent parking lot by Fifth Avenue in north Park Slope. The store sells groceries at affordable prices and is an emblem of the organizing that helped turn around the neighborhood in the 1970s and 80s. Replacing it is a big deal.

In addition to about 400 locals, Council Member Brad Lander, Borough President Eric Adams, and Public Advocate Tish James were on hand for the meeting last night where developer Avery Hall Investments presented its plan, DNAinfo reports. The project would consist of 165 apartments, ground floor retail, a car-free “piazza” between two new buildings — and 182 underground parking spots (the site currently has about 100 surface spaces).

The aspect that has people most up in arms is the smaller size of the replacement grocery store. It would only be 7,500 square feet, about one-fifth the size of the Key Food.

As Stephen Smith pointed out on Twitter, you can swap in a much bigger grocery store if you lose some parking:

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Which Cities Are Adding Walkable Housing the Fastest?

Since 1970, most American metros have seen their share or walkable urban housing decline, according to this analysis by data guru Kasey Klimes.

Since 1970, most American metros have seen walkable housing decline as a share of total housing. Chart: Kasey Klimes

As more Americans look for walkable places to live, cities are struggling to deliver, and a lot of neighborhoods are becoming less affordable. A new analysis by Kasey Klimes of Copenhagen’s Gehl Studio illustrates how major metro areas have let their supply of walkable housing shrink over the years, contributing to today’s housing crunch.

In this chart, Klimes shows how much walkable neighborhoods, which he defines as places with 10 or more housing units per acre, have grown or declined as a share of total housing in the nation’s 51 largest regions, from 1970 through 2010.

In most places, Klimes writes, the trend since 1970 has left cities in bad shape to handle the increasing demand for walkable neighborhoods:

The percentage of housing in walkable neighborhoods has dropped from 19.4% to 12% since 1970. Overall, though the number of housing units in America has outpaced population at a ratio of 3:2 since 1970, the number of housing units in walkable neighborhoods has trailed behind population growth at a ratio of 3:1. Now that market preference has returned to dense housing, this mismatch has left us far behind in adequate supply.

The silver lining is an uptick in decade to decade construction of dense housing. The net gain of housing in walkable neighborhoods as a fraction of total net housing gain by decade has increased from just 0.3% in the 1970’s to 10.7% in the 2000’s.

Despite some recent progress, the mismatch between low supply and high demand is contributing to rising housing prices and burdening people with rents they can’t afford in many cities and neighborhoods. Zoning that outlaws walkable development and the disproportionate political power of development-averse property owners are two factors that have hindered housing development where it is most in demand.

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New Evidence That Bus Rapid Transit Done Right Spurs Development

More American cities are considering bus rapid transit, or BRT, as a cost-effective method to expand and improve transit. One of the knocks against BRT, as opposed to rail, is that it supposedly doesn’t affect development patterns. But a new study [PDF] by Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Arizona and released by Transportation for America finds that BRT lines can indeed shape real estate and attract jobs — if the projects are done right.

Bus rapid transit can spur private investment in cities, but it needs to have features that help make it "fixed," like dedicated lanes and level boarding platforms. Image: University of Arizona

BRT can spur walkable development and job growth in cities, but it needs to be designed to a high standard with features like dedicated bus lanes and level boarding platforms. Photo: National Institute for Transportation and Communities

Nelson and co-author Joanna Ganning examined real estate investment, commercial rents, and multi-family housing development around BRT routes during the early 2000s and the first half of this decade. They found that in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and other cities with high-quality BRT lines, real estate near the routes tends to be valued at a premium and is capturing an increasing share of development.

For example, in downtown Cleveland, offices within a quarter-mile of the Healthline BRT rent at prices 18 percent higher than downtown office space outside walking distance of the line. In Eugene, Oregon, the premium is 12 percent.

Proximity to BRT lines appears to be growing more appealing over time. Between 2000 and 2007, Census tracts within a quarter mile of BRT routes captured about 11 percent of total office space development in the regions the authors studied. From 2007 to 2015, that share grew to 15 percent.

“This is not trivial,” said Nelson during a presentation at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board this morning. “My sense is that this distribution will keep gaining share.”

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