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Phoenix’s working families are struggling to afford decent, safe housing, and the problem has been amplified over the past decade. Every Phoenician knows someone struggling to find a home or worried about being priced out — if not directly experiencing this distress themselves.
Phoenix’s shortage of affordable housing is a full-scale crisis and needs immediate and unprecedented action by our civic leaders.
Next month, the Phoenix City Council has an opportunity to enable additional “density” for proposed future affordable housing developments by right-sizing parking requirements at lower levels. The number of parking spaces needed and used by the intended populations that affordable housing serves is much lower than what is currently required by the City of Phoenix.
Though few people realize it, Phoenix’s unreasonably high parking requirements make it incredibly challenging and difficult to build affordable housing, ultimately driving up the cost of each new housing community.
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At Native American Connections, we build affordable housing for Phoenix families because we have witnessed firsthand the challenges to securing safe and affordable housing faced by low- and moderate-income families, disabled and unhoused families and individuals, including seniors. But we’ve given up on some projects because of the exorbitant costs that come with meeting the current parking requirements.
Current development standards for new housing communities often require each home or apartment to have multiple parking spaces that results in lower “density” and increased “blacktop” parking spaces that not only drive up the per unit development costs for each home/apartment, but also adds to the ever-present heat island effects impacting the City of Phoenix.
Phoenix is in a period of escalating land prices; construction/design costs increasing due to inflation, supply chain issues and labor shortages; and financing costs due to rising interest rates, additional and unneeded parking spaces contribute to scarce financing resources being used for parking lots versus housing units.
For-profit developers can sometimes handle those added costs by passing them along to tenants (a big part of why new market-rate apartments are expensive). As a nonprofit affordable housing provider, our only hope is to find more soft funds from local, state, and federal sources, as well as foundations and other charitable sources to offset these rising development costs and in effect, less units being developed.
Unfortunately, as we are all too aware, those soft sources are scarce these days and often require a lot of compliance that further restricts eligibility for those households that need housing most. Sometimes, that means we must provide less affordable housing in each project. Oftentimes, it means we must abandon the project entirely, and no affordable housing gets built at all.
It all translates to working families and those most in need going without the affordable housing they need.
Opponents of right-sizing parking mandates may argue that low-income families also need cars, and thus need parking. That’s true for some, but not for all.
NAC’s housing communities still provide parking in the absence of city mandates, but would instead base parking needs on the tenants that will be served. It is estimated that 43% of Phoenix households have less than one vehicle, including some households that have no vehicles at all and rely on quality public transit options.
Most of those households are lower-income and do not have discretionary income to maintain the prohibitive costs of vehicles (registration, insurance, maintenance, fuel, etc.). They need affordable housing infinitely more than they need multiple parking spots.
At NAC, we serve various special populations, including the chronically homeless, seniors, aged-out foster care youth, folks on disability income and many others that do not own cars — or ever will. We have developed numerous properties where the increased, and eventually unused, parking spaces only limited the number of affordable housing units that we could have developed, ultimately resulting in higher development costs per unit.
Phoenix has more than enough parking: There are currently nearly seven parking spaces for every household. What we need is new housing, especially new affordable housing, and as much of it as possible.
The simple fact of the matter is that when the City of Phoenix mandates an arbitrary number of parking spaces for new housing — especially new affordable housing — it often makes it impossible to build that housing. In the middle of a crisis-level affordable housing shortage, this cannot go on.
We are not against parking. We know many families need on-site parking where they live.
What we are against is arbitrary parking requirements, with no regard to the impact on the housing we desperately need. If the city council eliminated parking mandates entirely, every apartment would still have the parking it needs — but there would be much more affordable housing on the market, and far fewer families worried about being priced out.
When the city council considers parking reform next month, they should provide substantial reductions in parking mandates for affordable housing. It is a step in the right direction to achieve a more equitable and affordable Phoenix for all.
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