Why Parking Makes Housing More Expensive

It’s a big driver — pun intended — of why housing is so hard to build

Clive Thompson

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Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash

In his terrific new book Paved Paradise, Henry Grabar opens by telling the story of an affordable-housing project that was derailed …

… by parking.

Back in 1999, Solana Beach — a small beachside town near San Diego — set aside a parking lot to be turned into an apartment building with affordable units. This was the result of a series of long lawsuits. Basically, about eight years earlier, the Solana Beach city administration had demolished a previously-existing affordable-housing unit; they were sued over it; and they settled the lawsuit by agreeing, okay, sure, we’ll turn one of our city parking lots into the site for a new affordable-housing building.

In 2008, a developer named Ginger Hitzke decided to take on the project. Initially, she planned to build 18 affordable units. The thing is, the city also demanded she provide an absolute mountain of parking. She had provide 22 parking spots for these new residents — and also provide 31 more parking spots, to replace the ones lost when she built on top of the city’s parking lot.

That’s a lot of parking, so Hitzke would have to build a large underground parking structure, an expensive undertaking. But she figured she’d recoup some of the costs by charging for those 31 parking spots.

Nope. Local residents protested the new affordable unit. Why didn’t they like it? Well, the opposition often took nakedly racist forms (plenty of darkly muttered insults about the supposedly uniquely loud and noisy culture of Mexican immigrants).

But the big sticking point, the one that metastasized as opposition grew, was parking. City residents didn’t want their free city parking taken away.

The city harkened to these complaints, and wound up demanding that Hitzke reduce the number of affordable-housing units from 18 to 10, and to make the underground parking free.

And that meant that Hitzke’s costs began to skyrocket. She’d originally expected it to cost about $440,000 to build each unit, but without the income she’d hoped to get from charging for the parking, it would now cost $664,000. No matter; she ploughed…

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Clive Thompson

I write 2X a week on tech, science, culture — and how those collide. Writer at NYT mag/Wired; author, “Coders”. @clive@saturation.social clive@clivethompson.net