Sightline Institute has a new report out entitled “Who Pays for Parking?” Among the findings:
Seattle-area apartment developers build far more parking than their tenants need. Across all developments in our sample, 37 percent of parking spots remained empty during the night, the time of peak demand for residential parking. Every development had nighttime parking vacancies, and four developments had more than twice as many parking spots as parked cars.
Many tenants don’t own cars. On average, the developments in our sample had 20 percent more occupied apartments than occupied parking spaces—a rock- bottom estimate for the share of apartments whose tenants don’t park on-site. In all, 21 of the 23 developments had more occupied apartments than parked cars.
Multifamily developments lose money on parking. No development in our sample was able to recover enough parking fees to recover the full estimated costs of building, operating, and maintaining on-site parking facilities.
Car-free tenants still pay for parking. Landlords’ losses on parking—calculated as the difference between total parking costs and total parking fees collected from tenants—add up to roughly 15 percent of monthly rents in our sample, or $246 per month for each occupied apartment. Because landlords typically recoup these losses through apartment rents, all tenants—even those who don’t own cars—pay a substantial hidden fee for parking as part of their monthly rents.
As the report states, there are multiple reasons for the parking oversupply, from city regulations to developer cautiousness. And it’s far from clear that, if mandated parking were to go away, rents would drop 15% across the city. Nonetheless, this study does a great service in confirming what many suspect: city codes mandate too much parking in order to pacify anxious neighbors, but many spots end up going unused, making housing more expensive.
Many years ago, I was searching for some commercial real estate for an entertainment venue. My memory’s a bit hazy, but I recall DPD telling me that, to meet the parking requirements, I could make an agreement with a neighboring property where the parking was in use at different times. So, for example, a church that’s only used on Sunday mornings could make an agreement with a nightclub that’s only open in the evenings to “double count” parking spots towards both venues’ requirements.
Going forward, it’s clear we need to reduce parking requirements. Once that’s done, it would be interesting to see a similar double-count model applied to multi-family housing. For example, if a 100-unit building has 37 unused spaces, then a 37-unit building could be constructed next-door, with an agreement that the tenants of the second building could lease spots in the first building and not have to build expensive – and redundant – underground parking. The result would be cheaper housing for everyone and a more equitable distribution of parking costs.