NELA Update: How Cars Keep Housing Out of Reach

A 2012 survey showed that over ten percent of Highland Park households have no car at all; nearly 35% have only one car. That means that nearly half of families in HP keep fewer than two cars. Given that in the three years since then, more “Millennials” seem to have moved into the district, and said Millennials are known to be car-averse, it seems silly to spout so much worry about lanes and parking as NELA NIMBYs do.

After all, to quote from a 2014 article in FastCoExist: “From 2007 to 2011, the number of cars purchased by people aged 18 to 34, fell almost 30%, and according to a study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, only 44% of teens obtain a driver’s license within the first year of becoming eligible and just half, 54% are licensed before turning 18.”

Old folks, another growing demographic, often give up the driving habit as well, by choice or out of necessity as eyes age and reflexes slow: and in response to this, as well as to other existing trends in New York City, developers there are advocating for the elimination of parking minimums associated with permits for new or refurbished housing: an article posted this morning notes that residential parking lots in senior developments near transit stations usually sit two-thirds empty, exacerbating the city’s chronic shortage of affordable apartments.

Even when it’s not mostly unused, parking provision burdens neighborhoods. Surfacee parking lots parking structures, it should be obvious,preclude the use of that land for housing, businesses, or civic services, meaning that valuable property is sequestered for the mere storage of cars cars. And underground parking can cost up to $30,000 per space, a cost added to the rent or purchase price charged tenants, of course. A cost that tenants, or their customers, pay whether or not they park cars there. Cars which, it is noted, stay idle over 90% of the time, even in LA.

In a neighborhood such as Highland Park, which, it must be noted, boasts the Gold line, a high-capacity light rail service with trains running as often as every eight minutes; which is graced with widely distributed local shops within walking distance of most residences; into which Millennials are moving (three NELA communities—Highland Park, Eagle Rock, and Glassell Park—topped Redfin’s list of “hottest neighborhoods” in 2013, and several multi-unit buildings have come on the market in the area since)…well, does it make any sense to keep emphasizing cars and parking over homes and businesses? Especially since the two values are becoming more and more mutually exclusive.

In fact, the NRDC quotes a Los Angeles Business Journal article by the Flying Pigeon LA’s own Josef Bray-Ali on the matter, in which Josef notes that:

[a 7000 square foot development] is not a lot of room to work with. The zoning code allowed for multifamily residential and commercial uses on the same property.We thought we could do something really nice: ground-floor offices topped by four two-story apartments. Our plans fit in perfectly with the gentrifying neighborhood (area-specific plans called for light commercial that was walkable). Our plans also fit nicely with the mixed-use zoning code…until it came to parking.

Car parking requirements forced us to shrink everything—the ground-floor commercial was squeezed into a 400-square-foot space; the building had to have an extra story just so we could stuff a bunch of cars underneath. The cost on paper shot up, meaning that our four one-bedroom apartments turned into four studio condominiums—and once you subdivide a property into condos, you have to go through a whole bunch of planning hoops, bumping up costs even more.

This easy $200,000 construction project turned into a super-risky $1.2 million, four-story fiasco.

To make a profit, we’d have to sell 800-square-foot studio units for nearly $400,000 apiece! Even at the height of the boom, that was insane. So, after months of meetings, research and design sessions, the tiny project was scrapped.

(The original article is behind a paywall here.)

So the city’s, and the council district’s, retrograde infatuation with cars is actually keeping Highland Park from developing into a busier, healthier, wealthier, and yet more affordable community.

Not to mention one with less blood on the streets.

Want to learn more? Drop by the shop during our business hours (noted in the upper right corner of this page) and hear it from the source, Josef himself: a long-time resident, business owner, and, once, a local developer in Highland Park.

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