July 2020 Special Report

Lessened Dependency on Car Ownership
And It’s Profound Impact on Housing

By Beverly Smirnis

Since the second half of the 20th century, zoning codes have required residential developers to create a certain amount of parking. In the urban atmosphere, were apartment builders are typically required to allocate parking for one car per unit, people who didn’t own cars first started the rethinking process. How much does parking space impact the per unit affordability? And why should they pay it if they don’t own a car?  Furthermore, barren unattractive paved parking lots tend to reduce property values, increase water pollution and stormwater flooding, reduce visual and acoustic privacy, and cause an urban heat island effect.

Rededicating land that once would have required builders to pave over with asphalt for parking to more productive uses – such as housing people – is a good indicator of what’s in store for the 2020s, says a recently released study by Deborah Myerson, Principal of Myerson Planning & Development Consulting and Executive Director at South Central Indiana Housing Opportunities (SCIHO) in Bloomington, Indiana.

car ownership impact on housing

Commercial real estate advisory firm Green Street Advisors estimates that U.S. parking needs could decline by 50 percent or more in the next 30 years.

The fact that more than a few cities across the country have significantly changed their parking mandates in the past couple of years and that they report lowered the cost of construction and lowered rents, as a result, are a sign of significant changes to norms and policies regarding multi-family housing in both urban and mixed-used developments.   In 2017, Buffalo, New York, became the first U.S. city to completely remove minimum parking requirements citywide.  Other cities that have eliminated or reformed parking minimums for residential developments include Hartford, Connecticut, Seattle, San Francisco, and Minneapolis.

But it’s not just multi-family housing that stands to change from reduced dependency on car ownership.  Considering that the lack of housing options and affordability is the number one issue for most cities, think about the significant impact that parking lots and garage spaces have on any type of residential unit. Today, two-car garages dominate single-family home designs. The land that a double garage takes up and the cost to build it is estimated to average $25,000 to $30,000 to the cost of a new home, the Forbes article estimates.

A garage-less future could have a significant impact on the maximum potential neighborhood development density (units per acre). Subtract garages from each property and a land developer might see a 3o percent increase in home sites plus more open space. Think about how different a neighborhood layout might be with homes clustered based on walking and connection patterns rather than road access to each property’s driveway.  A lessened need for roads equates to a significant reduction in infrastructure costs for land developers.  All of it adds up to improved housing affordability. 

The coronavirus pandemic may forever change just how much people drive to and from work.  More will work at least part-time from home.  More will conduct meetings virtually.  Forbes points out that automobiles already spend 95% of their existence parked.  Homeowners who do the math to find that they save an average of $10,000 a year (the average cost to own a car and drive it 15,000 miles, per Forbes).  Then there are the escalating fees for parking and valet fees to consider.  Replacing driving themselves with on-demand ridesharing options like Uber and Lyft is going to make more and more sense to many. 

The City of the Future explores the concept of a monthly mobility package bundling together transit, bike-share, car-share, and ride services.  Well sure, some of us will keep a car or truck around—but it will be mostly used for weekend sport.  Clustering a few common-use parking garages for the community around a neighborhood makes sense perhaps.  Perhaps a solution like Fort Worth’s new 30,000-square-foot commercial building planned to have a “fully automated, robotic, palleted vehicle handling system and offer a valet-style parking service will be the answer.   

Where we will put all the junk we now store in our garages when they go away?  Listen up investors:  App-based valet-style storage facilities look promising.  Communal drop boxes, lock boxes, block-level refrigeration kiosks, pick-up points, and concierge-style parcel handling services will be another expectation in the neighborhoods as predictable and unpredictable changes affect the way we live our daily lives and the homes we live them in.

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