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Posts from the "Development" Category

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Will de Blasio’s Affordable Housing Plan Take on NYC’s Parking Mandates?

With a plan due by May 1, the clock is ticking for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s housing team to come up with a plan to improve housing affordability. Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been, who authored reports on the city’s regressive parking mandates before joining the administration, is at the center of the team producing the plan. But it’s still not clear that the final product will consider the elimination of parking requirements as a strategy to create more affordable housing.

Will the city give developers a break on parking in exchange for more affordable housing? Photo: Graham Coreil-Allen/Flickr

Will the city reduce parking mandates in exchange for more affordable housing? Photo: Graham Coreil-Allen/Flickr

Parking mandates, which apply almost everywhere in NYC outside the Manhattan core, are a key piece of the larger affordability puzzle. The city and housing advocates have long recognized that parking requirements contribute to the high cost of new housing.

The Department of City Planning, acknowledging that low-income households have low car ownership rates, has eliminated parking requirements for affordable housing in zoning reforms for the Manhattan core and downtown Brooklyn. The department has also suggested eliminating affordable housing parking requirements as part of reforms for “inner ring” neighborhoods in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Affordable housing advocates cheered this approach. “We see parking as a major drag on affordable housing projects,” said Alexandra Hanson, policy director at the New York State Association for Affordable Housing, the trade association representing developers of affordable housing. “It’s a requirement that isn’t really serving the residents or the community.”

Other advocates want a guarantee that lower parking requirements will lead directly to more below-market housing. Moses Gates, of the Association for Neighborhood Housing and Development, a coalition of non-profit affordable housing advocates and developers, said the city should link any reduction in parking requirements to the creation of more affordable units.

“If we’re going to change the parking rules to make it easier to build,” he said, “that should be explicitly tied to the creation of affordable housing.”

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Warning Signs From Columbus About America’s Big Suburban Housing Glut

The Columbus, Ohio region could support the construction of more than 1 billion square feet of commercial development on existing parking lots alone, a recent study found. Image: Richard Webner via Streetsblog

The Columbus, Ohio, region could support the construction of more than a billion square feet of mixed-use development on existing parking lots alone — but only if planners get their act together, says researcher Arthur C. Nelson. Photo: Richard Webner

Columbus, Ohio, is a convenient microcosm of the United States as a whole.

Demographically, Columbus closely resembles America. That’s one reason the city ends up being a battleground for presidential candidates every four years, and why fast food chains like to test new menu items there.

Because Columbus is so, well, typical, the city also has a lot to teach us about where the average American city is headed. Esteemed urban affairs researcher Arthur C. Nelson recently took a look at Columbus as part of a report for te Natural Resources Defense Council, and he found that the city is on course for “sweeping demographic changes” that could transform the local housing market.

The demand for single-family housing on large lots is expected to plummet, leaving the region with an oversupply. Image: NRDC

The demand for single-family housing on large lots is expected to plummet in the Columbus region, while demand for more compact dwellings is expected to swell. Image: NRDC

Columbus is growing at nearly the same rate as America as a whole. By 2040, the region will have added roughly half a million people, bringing its population to about 2.2 million.

But those new households will look a lot different than today’s, and that will have huge implications for the local housing market. New households will be older and much more likely to be childless than current households.

Between 1990 and 2012, for example, about 78 percent of population growth in the Columbus area was among households headed by people between 35 and 64 years old. That stage of life is the period of “peak housing demand,” when homeowners favor detached houses on large lots. But by 2030, that age group will make up just 22 percent of population growth — while homeowners over 65 will make up 56 percent of new households. Many of these older homeowners will want multi-family housing or single-family homes on small lots, according to Nelson.

It turns out that Columbus’s current housing stock is woefully mismatched to future needs. By 2040, as much as 40 percent of the demand for housing could be for attached, multi-family units, and another 30 percent will be for single-family homes on small lots, Nelson estimates.

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Real Estate Trend: Parking-Free Apartment Buildings

A wave of new residential construction projects in places like Seattle, Boston, and Miami are showing that, yes, modern American cities can build housing without any car parking on site.

A rendering of the new Lovejoy Wharf 175-unit condo development, Boston's first car-free housing development. Image: ##http://boston.curbed.com/archives/2013/12/no-parking-boston-gives-green-light-to-carless-condo.php## Curbed##

A rendering of the new 175-unit condo development, Lovejoy Wharf, in Boston. Image: Curbed

Officials in Boston gave their approval last week to what Curbed called the city’s “first big-time parking-less condo,” a 175-unit project named Lovejoy Wharf. The “plan was met with disbelief in some quarters,” according to Curbed, but the city’s redevelopment authority approved it unanimously.

Portland developers have been building housing sans parking for a few years. Last summer, NPR reported that about 40 percent of Portland’s under-construction housing was parking-free. Portland’s zoning rules have allowed zero-parking developments since the aughts, but builders and lenders weren’t pursuing that type of project until recently, the Oregonian reports. Unfortunately, the city pulled the rug out from under parking-free housing this summer, responding to car owners who feared increased competition for curbside parking spots. Portland’s new rule requires some parking in apartment buildings with more than 30 units.

Meanwhile, other cities are marching ahead. In Seattle, parking-free housing developments are becoming more common. Mark Knoll, CEO of Blueprint Capital, led the development of a 30-unit building with no parking in one of the city’s “urban villages.” These designated areas, chosen for their walkability and proximity to transit, have special zoning rules that allow Seattle developers to forgo parking. These relaxed parking requirements were set in motion by Washington state’s Growth Management Act in the 1990s, which was intended to combat urban sprawl. Since the new zoning rules came online in Seattle in 2010, between 20 and 30 parking-free projects have been developed, Knoll estimates.

Car parking is expensive: Each space in a city garage costs tens of thousands of dollars to build and hundreds of dollars annually to maintain [PDF]. Eliminating on-site parking brings down the cost of apartment construction between 20 and 30 percent, Knoll estimates. That makes it possible for developers to deliver more affordable housing. Knoll’s California Avenue development, for instance, is targeted at people making 60 percent of the area median income, or about $15 per hour.

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HUD and U.S. DOT Embrace Housing + Transportation Metric for Affordability

philly_housing

Looking only at housing costs (top map), much more far-flung parts of the Philadelphia region look affordable (the yellow areas) than if you look at housing and transportation costs together (bottom map). Maps: CNT

A few years ago, the Center for Neighborhood Technology gave a wonderful gift to urbanists and planners: the Housing + Transportation Index. This simple calculation clarified and popularized a key concept: that transportation costs must be taken into account in any measurement of “affordability.”

Without that, potential homebuyers and renters make the mistake of “saving” money by buying a home far outside the city, only to see those savings vanish when they end up driving multiple cars hundreds of miles per week, racking up fuel and maintenance expenses. The H+T index is a simple tool for making better decisions — for families, for planners, and for the federal government.

Today, U.S. DOT and HUD announced that they’re launching a new version of H+T. They’re calling it the Location Affordability Index, and CNT helped develop it. LAI differs from H+T in some key ways (here’s an infographic detailing those differences) but at its root, it gets at the same important question: Where is the best place to live without breaking the bank?

CNT answers that question by showing the huge variations between two maps: one that shows places where the median household pays 30 percent or more of their income on housing, and one that shows places where those households pay 45 percent or more of their income on housing and transportation combined.

The maps show how intimately linked transportation and housing are when determining cost of living, as HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told reporters today. “For any housing community to succeed, its residents need to be able to get to work, its young people need to be able to get to school, and its families need to be able to access critical resources and services they need,” Donovan said.

philly_ht

Areas farther from the city center no longer appear affordable when transportation costs are factored in.

Donovan noted that for most families, transportation is their second-highest monthly expense, after housing, but said transportation costs aren’t always so easily tabulated. You don’t get one transportation bill in the mail, the way you get your mortgage or rent bill. Transportation costs are paid in dribs and drabs — a tank of gas here, a bus fare there, a parking ticket, a taxi ride, an oil change. The LAI index helps quantify how those costs add up, and see if the transportation requirements of a particular geographic area render it unaffordable.

“It can sometimes be tricky to weigh the pros and cons of all of these options,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Does it make more sense to live in a community where you have to drive to work every day? Or might it be a better bargain to live where you can walk, bike or ride public transportation? That’s where the Location Affordability Portal comes in.”

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ITDP Study: “A Coming Out for Bus-Based Transit-Oriented Development”

Cleveland's HealthLine is widely considered the best bus rapid transit line in the United States, and it's busted some myths about BRT's power to stimulate transit-oriented development. Photo: ITDP

In a new report making the rounds this week, “More Development For Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors,” the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy does two things.

First, authors Walter Hook, Stephanie Lotshaw, and Annie Weinstock evaluate which factors determine the impact of urban transit on development, coming up with some extremely useful and not necessarily intuitive results.

Second, they show that BRT projects — only a few of which exist in the U.S. — can in fact spur walkable development. Then the authors go a step further, asserting in no uncertain terms that good bus projects yield more development bang for the buck than equivalent rail projects.

What Makes TOD Successful?

ITDP examined 21 light rail, streetcar, and bus routes in 13 cities across the U.S. and Canada to determine how transit lines affect development. While the report does pick a side in the BRT-vs.-rail debate, ITDP found that three factors are much more powerful determinants than transit type in the outcome of transit-oriented development.

First, what ITDP calls “government intervention” is key. There is a direct correlation between robust TOD investment and robust public policy.

Everything from assembling the needed land to offering incentives for tenants falls under the umbrella of government intervention, but perhaps the most important aspect is to make sure the zoning near transit encourages mixed-use, walkable development.

One of the best things policy makers can do, said Weinstock, is to limit parking. She said that the city of Ottawa’s downtown parking restrictions were a huge boost to transit ridership on the Transitway, a bus rapid transit line which blew every other line ITDP studied out of the water with 244,000 weekday riders (four times more than the next runner-up, Denver’s Central Corridor light rail line).

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Apartment Blockers

Alan Durning is the executive director and founder of Sightline Institute, a think tank on sustainability issues in the Pacific Northwest. This article, originally posted on Sightline’s blog, is #9 in their series, “Parking? Lots!”

Have you ever watched the excavation that precedes a tall building? It seems to take forever. Then, when the digging is finally done, construction rockets upward in no time. For the past few months, I’ve been watching a crew excavate the site of a new condo tower on Seattle’s First Hill. It’s on a route I walk three times a week, so I’ve had a ring-side seat. And here’s the thing that finally dawned on me, after years of not really thinking about these holes in the urban ground: what’s all the excavation for? It’s for parking. Underground parking. In most cities and in most soil conditions, the giant holes are only there to satisfy off-street parking rules, and to do that, you need a deep, deep hole. A hole like this one.

At Eighth Avenue and Seneca Street in Seattle. Photo by Alan Durning

Digging these holes is astronomically expensive. They’re real-life money holes. The crew I’ve been watching has been laboring away for weeks, deploying enormous machinery and keeping a fleet of dump trucks in constant motion. They’ve undoubtedly spent millions of dollars removing rock and dirt. One Portland developer told me that each successive layer of excavation — each floor down in the garage — costs two to three times as much as the previous one.

Such costs are one reason housing is so expensive nowadays. A one-bedroom apartment in the city of Seattle rents for upwards of $1,300 on average. In Portland, rents are approaching $1,000 and, in Vancouver, BC, $1,400.

City requirements for off-street parking spaces jack up rents. They jack it up a lot at the bottom of the housing ladder. Proportionally speaking, the bigger the quota and the smaller the apartment, the larger the rent hike. For one-bedroom apartments with two parking places, as is required in places including Bothell and Federal Way, Washington, as much as one-third of the rent may actually pay for parking. A flotilla of studies supports that claim, and I’ll summarize them in this article, but first, a case study of residential real estate development may illuminate how critical parking is to the affordability of housing.

A Housing Dream (in which you are a developer)

Imagine you’re starting business as a developer of housing.

You take a loan from a bank and buy a city lot zoned multifamily. You sit down with your architect and start laying it out for apartments. The more apartments, the more housing you can provide, and the more money you can make. So the architect fills the lot with housing, right out to the city-required “set-back” boundaries near the edges of your property. She builds it as tall as the legal height limit for that zone too. You can erect 50 one-bedroom apartments, she announces, each of about 550 square feet. You do some figuring and realize you can earn a 7 percent return on investment while charging $800 a month in rent. That’s not a screamingly profitable venture, but it’ll do. And you’re sure that price will be popular with tenants, which will keep the building full. A schematic diagram of the development looks like this:
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Measuring the Shift Away From Car Ownership, City By City

A new analysis by Michael Andersen at Bike Portland helps illuminate how shifts in car ownership are playing out in different cities.

The majority of Portland's population growth consists of households with fewer cars than adults. Image: Bike Portland

Andersen reviewed Census data from 2005 and 2011. He found that households with less than one car per adult accounted for about 60 percent of Portland’s population growth. About one in four Portland households met this definition of “car-lite” in 2011, Andersen reports, compared to one in five households six years earlier.

Andersen looked at a few more cities to see whether car-lite households make up a growing share of the population.

In Austin, a more car-dependent city, not much has changed. About 13 percent of households are “car-lite,” and car-lite households account for 13 percent of the growth between 2005 and 2011. In Seattle, there’s been some movement, but not as much as in Portland: car-lite households make up 25 percent of the city overall while accounting for 37 percent of its recent growth. Meanwhile, walkable, transit-rich Boston is growing even less car-dependent: almost 70 percent of new households have fewer cars than adults, according to Andersen, compared to about half of the city’s overall population.

In Portland, Andersen notes, the real estate market is starting to react to the shift away from car-dependence — to build more walkable places and less parking. Is that going to be a trend in other American regions?

Well, car-lite households accounted for about 28 percent of America’s growth between 2005 and 2011 — double the overall national share of car-lite households.

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Supreme Court Weakens Local Governments’ Ability to Shape Development

It certainly won’t be the most talked about Supreme Court decision handed down this week, but “Koontz v. St Johns River Water Management District” [PDF] will have a long-term impact on the ability of local governments to shape new development.

A Supreme Court decision this week will make it harder for local governments to shape development. Image: Wikipedia

Tuesday, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a Florida water management district violated private property rights when it asked a local developer to help pay for the environmental mitigation of building on wetlands in return for a construction permit. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Elena Kagan said the ruling has the potential to “work a revolution in land-use law.”

The developer, Coy Koontz, wanted to fill more than three acres of Florida wetlands to build a shopping center. The water management district indicated it would grant Mr. Koontz a permit if he reduced the size of his development and agreed to spend some money on wetlands-restoration programs. Mr. Koontz refused, and successfully argued at the trial and appellate levels that the water district’s actions violated his private property rights. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed, but now the highest court in the land has ruled in favor of Koontz.

Vermont Law School Professor John Echeverria wrote this week in the New York Times that the ruling could have a chilling effect on land use planning:

Cities and towns across America routinely attach fees and other payment obligations to permits, for example, to support wetlands mitigation banks, to finance roads, to pay for new schools or to build affordable housing. The ruling creates a perverse incentive for municipal governments to reject applications from developers rather than attempt to negotiate project designs that might advance both public and private goals.

Koontz received legal support from groups like the Cato Institute and the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit legal group that seeks to roll back government’s ability to influence land use. Both groups are funded by the Koch Family Foundation, the giving arm of infamous fossil fuel billionaires and far-right wing benefactors Charles and David Koch.

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New Astoria Mega-Developments: In the Floodplain, Far From the Train

A waterfront residential development proposed for Astoria (in red) is 1.5 miles from the nearest subway and would overburden existing bus routes, but unless Council Member Vallone acts, it's full steam ahead. Image: Halletts Point Rezoning DEIS

Development plans for a stretch of the Queens waterfront would add new retail and more than 4,300 new residences a mile and a half from the nearest subway station. So far, the only transportation plan for these new residents consists of more than 2,300 parking spaces and suggestions for expanded bus and ferry service.

Unless the city can come up with a better transportation plan, Council Member Peter F. Vallone, Jr. says he won’t guarantee his support for the first of the developments as it moves along the city’s land use approval track toward the City Council.

There are two projects under consideration in the area. Halletts Point, which has been under discussion for years and is already on its way to receiving land use approvals, would bring 2,644 residential units, a new supermarket, and approximately 1,400 parking spaces to what is now industrial land and the adjacent grounds of NYCHA’s Astoria Houses. A second project, the recently announced Astoria Cove, is slated for industrial land immediately to the northeast and consists of 1,701 residences, retail space, and 940 parking spaces.

According to the draft environmental impact statement for the project, Halletts Point is expected to generate about 1,000 new car trips, 1,200 subway trips, and 200 bus trips each rush hour. Because most subway riders are expected to use the bus to access the nearest train stations, the project would lead to overcrowding on the Q18, Q102, and Q103 buses, which are the only lines serving the area.

While existing bus service would be overwhelmed, the projected split between cars and transit still tilts far more heavily toward cars than the rest of the 11102 zip code, where only 19 percent of commuters drive or carpool, and almost 70 percent take transit, according to 2011 five-year estimates from the Census.

Solutions to make the developments less auto-dependent are threadbare. Astoria Cove developer Alma Realty, which helped defeat a pedestrian plaza on Newtown Avenue last year, has said it would provide private van service to the subway for its residents. Another proposal, favored by the Economic Development Corporation, is expanding East River Ferry service, which has a $4 fare and receives high per-passenger city subsidies that come to about $3 million annually. The EDC is searching for ways to fund ferry service to Halletts Point, but so far, no money has materialized.

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How Better Traffic Models Can Lead to More Mixed-Use Development

Here’s another obscure but significant obstacle to building walkable places in America: the Institute of Transportation Engineers’ shoddy traffic generation models for mixed-use development.

The model used by traffic engineers around the country to measure “trip generation” at new developments consistently overestimates the amount of motor vehicle traffic produced by mixed-use projects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This often increases the cost of building mixed-use projects, because the developers are asked to take steps to compensate for the added traffic. To address this problem, the EPA worked with transportation researchers around the United States to develop a better traffic prediction model.

Current traffic modeling overestimates the traffic caused by mixed-use development by about 35 percent, on average. Image: Kyle Gradinger on Twitter

Reid Ewing, a transportation engineering professor at the University of Utah, helped develop the new model to forecast the traffic generation of walkable development. I caught up with him at the Congress for New Urbanism conference last week in Salt Lake City.

Angie Schmitt: Can you explain the new method?

Reid Ewing: There’s a current methodology, which is the Institute of Transportation Engineers’, and it overestimates the number of external vehicle trips generated by a development if the development has mixed uses. If it’s got residential, retail, and office, those uses interact and a lot of trips stay within the development. And if it’s a development downtown, a lot of those trips that leave the development are walk and transit trips. ITE doesn’t account for that, it doesn’t account for the full number of trips that will stay within a development or the use of alternative modes for those that leave the development. So we developed a methodology.

AS: How many trips are reduced by mixed-use development?

RE: It varies from almost zero to over 50 percent. In a master planned community, it’s huge — a lot of the trips are going to stay within the community. If you have a stand-alone, freeway-oriented community that happens to have mixed-used, a much smaller percentage will stay within the community. But on average, about 35 percent. So the ITE method seems to overestimate by, on average, about 35 percent.

AS: So, how does the ITE method cause problems?

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