California blocks parking requirements where housing needs aren’t met

By Chris McCahill

In an effort to streamline affordable housing development, a new California law (SB-35) will preclude cities from requiring parking on certain projects, beginning January 1. As the New York Times recently reported, zoning ordinances such as parking requirements are central to the state’s current housing crisis and can be used locally to resist new housing.

The law requires local governments to develop land use plans that describe how they will meet their designated share of regional housing needs and produce detailed annual reports describing progress toward meeting those needs.

If they haven’t met those needs, then multifamily housing projects in urbanized areas are subject to a streamlined approval process. The streamlined process stipulates that local governments cannot require parking for projects within a half-mile of transit or within one block of a shared vehicle. For other projects, localities cannot require more than one parking space per unit. Relaxing parking requirements eliminates some expenses and barriers for developers and lets them build less expensive units.

Parking can drive up housing costs considerably and often isn’t needed. A study of San Francisco home sales in 1996 estimates that garage parking increased condo prices by 13 percent—putting them just out of reach for about 26,800 households—while units without parking sold 41 days sooner, on average. A more recent national study estimates that garage parking increases rents by about $142 per month (17 percent), on average. The average carless household spends $52 extra per month (13 percent) on unused parking—totaling $420 million per year across 700,000 households.

Many local government officials, advocacy groups, and professional organizations welcomed the law, yet some developers and real estate experts believe it doesn’t go far enough in reforming outdated zoning restrictions.

Chris McCahill is an Associate Researcher at SSTI.