This guest comment is from Rev. Laura Rossbert, an affordable housing attorney and COO / Supportive Housing Specialist at Shopworks Architecture. Laura is committed to ensuring that housing meets the needs of those who live in it and is passionate about helping nonprofits build dignified, joyful, and just homes and organizations! She is also the mother of two great girls who keep her busy every day, reminding her to laugh in the chaos. She is on Twitter @lrossbert and on LinkedIn.

When I first stepped into the world of affordable housing, one thing I wasn’t counting on was how many projects in Denver didn’t even get through the envisioning phase. There are a variety of reasons for this, mostly financial, but the one I couldn’t count on was… parking. Yes, you read that right. I had no idea how many projects never materialize because our current zone code has inappropriately high parking requirements that add so much cost to a project. Whether it’s the cost of construction or the land needed to make room for these cars, many projects die before they ever had a chance to live. So now I’ve kind of become a park activist. Who knew that was a thing?

As a company focused on designing affordable housing, Shopworks Architecture consistently experiences the parking options required by a code that exceeds the requirements of these buildings. We visited our buildings after they were built and we often walk through mostly empty parking lots. To understand the parking needs of affordable housing projects across Denver, our company, in partnership with Fox Tuttle Transportation, researched the parking requirements for a variety of affordable housing types to determine if the current code requirements were warranted or if our anecdotal evidence was accurate and these parking requirements are too high. Within the Denver Zoning Code, parking requirements in affordable homes vary widely. For example, developments along the Colfax Corridor require 0.25 parking spaces per unit, some zone districts within the Downtown Core require 0 parking spaces per unit, and in other locations in Denver the requirements can be up to 1.25 parking spaces per unit.

Infographic to display the parking requirement according to area median income, apartment typology and transit and accessibility assessment

To study parking demand, we examined 19 properties with an average median income (AMI) of 30-50%. Our results surprised even the members of our team. Some of our main takeaways:

  • The current parking requirements for affordable housing exceed the demand for this parking space. We found that the average vehicle ownership was 8.8%, which is 1 vehicle per 12 units.
  • In Denver’s One-Bedroom Supportive Housing Unit (0-30% AMI), 5.3% of residents have a car, which is less than 1 vehicle for every 18 units.
  • These parking requirements place undue burden on affordable housing and limit its creation in Denver because of the land required to park these cars and the cost of building parking spaces.

We also found that a property’s proximity to quality walking, cycling and transit services has a strong impact on vehicle ownership. This is particularly important as affordable housing is often specifically located in accessible, mobile and in the vicinity of the transit communities and districts. Additionally, the nonprofits that typically operate these properties often provide transit passes to their residents or drive them to appointments if necessary.

In the 19 properties surveyed and built in the last six years, 883 parking spaces were built, but only 461 were used. In other words, 422 unnecessary parking spaces were built. At an estimated cost of $ 22,000 per parking space, $ 9.28 million was spent on unnecessary parking. Instead of building these parking spaces, a whole separate house with 40 residential units could have been built!

A $ 9.28 million infographic was spent on unnecessary parking

We are building parking spaces when we could build more homes. Affordable housing is paid for with federal, state and city funds. We’re using taxpayers’ money to build parking lots when we can build homes that our fellow Denver residents desperately need. Let’s do something about it!

We look forward to conversations about what this means for our city. The full report, including the data we used in our study, can be found at www.shopworksarc.com/parking/.

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