by Dom Nozzi, AICP
Many cities and counties have been aggressively trying to provide more affordable housing and assistance for the homeless over the past several years. It is in the long-range plan. Letters to the newspaper express concerns. It is the subject of several local government meetings by commissioners, committees, task forces, staff, etc.
It is, in other words, given quite a bit of attention. But is it more than just lip service?
I don’t believe so.
For most all of these communities, these meetings and policies and plans are completely silent, as far as I know, about the following:
1. Elimination or reduction in required off-street parking.
Donald Shoup, in The High Cost of Free Parking, points out that when communities require housing developments to provide off-street parking, it is nearly impossible to make the housing units affordable because the parking is so expensive to provide. One of his most important solutions: “Unbundle” the parking so that the cost of the parking is not included in the cost of the housing. Particularly for low-income households which own less cars, per household, than others, purchasers of housing units should be given a choice as to whether they want to pay for parking. Unbundling the cost of parking from the cost of the housing is a way to do that.
2. Making ADUs legal.
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), also known as garage apartments or granny flats, are an extremely beneficial tool for creating a more a healthy community. Because of their typically small size and the fact that the primary house on the property is paying the property tax, ADUs can be quite affordable. Because small retail establishments, as well as transit, walking and bicycling, are vastly improved or more prevalent when residential densities are higher, ADUs provide a relatively quick and easy way to increase residential densities in a town center neighborhood where it may otherwise be nearly impossible, politically, to increase densities. Those living in an ADU also provide added security for those occupying the primary house, as the ADU residents can provide surveillance of the primary house when the owners are not home.
When a neighborhood contains small offices, retail and civic uses, many daily trip destinations are within walking or bicycling distance of neighborhood homes. This proximity enables a household to shed the ownership of a second or third car. Shedding a car is an extremely effective means of creating affordable housing, as the $8,500 it now costs to own and maintain a car each year can instead be directed toward housing for the household (or other household expenses). Even better, when housing is incorporated in a non-residential building, the housing becomes more affordable simply because the land cost and property taxes can be paid for by the non-residential use.
4. Increasing residential density.
Increased residential densities tend to reduce the size of the residence and the lot the residence sits on. These more moderate sizes tend to reduce housing cost.
Silence on Solutions
So why is there absolute silence on these effective strategies?
I strongly suspect that the reason there is no mention of these policies, despite their obvious effectiveness, is that in most every community, free or affordable (and abundant) housing for cars is vastly more important to the community than is affordable housing for people. In each of the four strategies above, many communities tend to shy away from their use because doing so promotes happy cars. Or because they fear the overwhelming influx of cars should the strategy be used.
Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607
My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:
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