Reduced Parking Requirements
At a Glance
Type: Development incentive
Where tool is used: Residential neighborhoods (in case of second units) and downtowns/transit corridors
Who implements: Jurisdictions
Relative density impact: Medium (can increase number of units developed)
Whether in surface lots, below-ground lots, or in parking structures, parking is expensive to build and maintain, and consumes significant amounts of land. Required parking minimums on residential development, especially in downtowns and transit corridors, where land is more expensive, drive up construction costs, increase market-rate rents, and decrease the amount of housing produced.1 Furthermore, residential parking in mixed-use districts is often significantly oversupplied, with a third or more of spaces in parking lots sitting empty.2
Faced with required parking minimums for housing, developers may be forced to build less housing than they would otherwise, since parking increases construction costs. They are also likely to bundle parking and housing costs, driving up the rents of market-rate units and forcing residents without cars to still pay for parking.
Parking requirements can also reduce the variety of housing stock by making it difficult to build particular types of housing on particular sites. In particular, parking minimums can hinder affordable housing projects in urban centers or near transit—even though residents of affordable housing in these locations are less likely to own one or multiple cars—because subsidy programs do not account for the combined higher land and parking costs.3
Some cities are changing their policies to allow developers to “unbundle” parking from housing development. This can take a variety of forms:
- Forgoing off-street parking requirements completely in higher-density areas with transit, jobs, and services nearby
- Providing parking off-site in existing lots or on parcels not suitable for housing development
- Charging residents who use parking a monthly fee for their space
- Providing a “cash out” to residents for their unused spaces
- Facilitating other transportation options, for example, through subsidized transit passes, secure bicycle parking, or car sharing spaces and subsidies
The following cities in San Mateo County have passed some form of reduced parking requirements:
- Reducing off-street parking requirements for multifamily properties reduces development costs and enables developers to build more units.
- Relaxed parking requirements remove a major barrier to building transit-oriented developments, affordable housing, and other multifamily housing projects.
- Reducing parking requirements does not mean developers won’t supply any parking. Developers will respond to demand for dedicated off-street parking from potential renters and buyers.
- However, relaxed requirements allow developers to supply the amount of parking they think is appropriate, in a way they think is best, whether that’s one space per unit instead of two, or providing parking in an offsite lot.4
- Reduced residential parking minimums should be paired with traffic reduction measures, such as subsidized transit passes or car sharing spaces.
- GreenTRIP certification program: works with cities and developers to design projects that reduce parking while providing transportation options and incentives for residents
- GreenTRIP parking database: shows parking usage and the cost of unused spaces at multifamily housing properties throughout the Bay Area
- Stalled Out: How Empty Parking Spaces Diminish Neighborhood Affordability, The Center for Neighborhood Technology, March 2016
- Parkmerced Car-Free Program
- Second Unit Resources Center
- 21 Elements: Best Practices for Second Units Fact Sheet
- City of Santa Cruz ADU Program
- Featured Tool: Accessory Dwelling Units, Housing Innovations Program, Puget Sound Regional Council
- Yes in My Backyard: Mobilizing the Market for Secondary Units, Center for Community Innovation, UC Berkeley
- County of San Mateo Tiny/Modular Homes: Planning and Building Department
- Junior Second Units: Marin County, Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington
1 Jakabovics, Andrew, Lynn M. Ross, Molly Simpson, and Michael Spotts. Bending the Cost Curve: Solutions to Expand the Supply of Affordable Rentals. Washington, DC: Urban Land Institute and Enterprise, 2014.
2 Center for Neighborhood Technology studies of early morning parking usage in residential buildings in San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Seattle.
3 “Neighborhood Affordability: What Does Parking Have to Do With It?” Kyle Smith. Intersections: a Blog by Center for Neighborhood Technology, March 25, 2016.
4 Michael Manville. 2014. “Parking Requirements and Housing Development: Regulation and Reform in Los Angeles”, Access, Number 44, Spring 2014.