Real Estate Trend: Parking-Free Apartment Buildings

A wave of new residential construction projects in places like Seattle, Boston, and Miami are showing that, yes, modern American cities can build housing without any car parking on site.

A rendering of the new Lovejoy Wharf 175-unit condo development, Boston's first car-free housing development. Image: ## Curbed##
A rendering of the new 175-unit condo development, Lovejoy Wharf, in Boston. Image: ##

Officials in Boston gave their approval last week to what Curbed called the city’s “first big-time parking-less condo,” a 175-unit project named Lovejoy Wharf. The “plan was met with disbelief in some quarters,” according to Curbed, but the city’s redevelopment authority approved it unanimously.

Portland developers have been building housing sans parking for a few years. Last summer, NPR reported that about 40 percent of Portland’s under-construction housing was parking-free. Portland’s zoning rules have allowed zero-parking developments since the aughts, but builders and lenders weren’t pursuing that type of project until recently, the Oregonian reports. Unfortunately, the city pulled the rug out from under parking-free housing this summer, responding to car owners who feared increased competition for curbside parking spots. Portland’s new rule requires some parking in apartment buildings with more than 30 units.

Meanwhile, other cities are marching ahead. In Seattle, parking-free housing developments are becoming more common. Mark Knoll, CEO of Blueprint Capital, led the development of a 30-unit building with no parking in one of the city’s “urban villages.” These designated areas, chosen for their walkability and proximity to transit, have special zoning rules that allow Seattle developers to forgo parking. These relaxed parking requirements were set in motion by Washington state’s Growth Management Act in the 1990s, which was intended to combat urban sprawl. Since the new zoning rules came online in Seattle in 2010, between 20 and 30 parking-free projects have been developed, Knoll estimates.

Car parking is expensive: Each space in a city garage costs tens of thousands of dollars to build and hundreds of dollars annually to maintain [PDF]. Eliminating on-site parking brings down the cost of apartment construction, Knoll estimates, between 20 and 30 percent. That makes it possible for developers to deliver more affordable housing. Knoll’s California Avenue development, for instance, is targeted at people making 60 percent of area median income, or about $15 per hour.

“There’s been quite a few developments [of this type] and they’re quite popular,” said Knoll. “There’s a waiting list for these types of housing.”

Parking-free housing is attracting buyers at the upper end of the spectrum too. Luxury apartments and condos are now appearing in cities like Miami and Portland without any car parking. Miami’s under-development, 352-unit Centro Lofts will have just five Car2Go spaces, covered bicycle parking, and a space for a future bike sharing station. No storage for private cars. That doesn’t seem to be hurting demand, according to the Miami Herald:

If you think this sort of thing won’t fly in auto-centric Miami, guess again. Half of Centro’s 352 units are sold even though the building hasn’t broken ground. Prices start at $220,000 and top out in the mid-$400,000s.

“These types of projects are really the wave of the future,’’ Oscar Rodriguez, the developer, told the Herald.

50 thoughts on Real Estate Trend: Parking-Free Apartment Buildings

  1. When I was looking for apartments in my neighborhood I noted that the one I wound up getting was much cheaper than ones in surrounding buildings, despite it being a nice building built in the early 20th century with newish appliances, etc. Having lived there for a while now it makes sense why the rent is lower… there are only 2 parking spots in the whole building of 40 1-bed units. There is no garage, they’re just to the side where the yard is.

    Many other buildings around me have surface parking lots in the back and the rent is higher. Probably because the amount of land being used for parking is as high as twice the building footprint! The building next to me has 6 units with 20 parking spaces in the rear.

    I live in a very walkable neighborhood. Many of the older buildings have no parking for residences. I hope that future developments that come around have 0 parking too, but it isn’t the case… just down the street they’re about to build a “tower in the park” with over 500 spaces.

  2. Moral of the story: When people are forced to pay for the full costs of parking, for the most part they opt out.

  3. The controversy around these types of developments – which I am in favor of, for the record – is that they will simply overrun the surrounding streets with cars. It would be interesting to see any studies that measure the impact that these development actually have on parking. My instincts tell me that few people who own cars would want to live in a dense neighborhood with no on-site parking. It would just be too much of a hassle and expense. But where’s the data to support or refute that notion?

  4. It would be nice if the city could make this explicit by having all street parking either be metered, or permit-only. If there is currently uncontrolled street parking, then it could be converted to permit parking, with existing residents getting grandfathered-in permits, and new residents required to buy a permit from existing residents, or from the city if there is still spare supply. That would allow neighbors not to worry about the quantity of their currently available parking, though there might still be some concerns about guest parking.

  5. Can you explain why it’s absurd? Lots of neighborhoods already have permit parking. I assume the city has a limited number of permits that they sell in those neighborhoods. Is there some reason that this would be tougher in neighborhoods that are undergoing upzoning?

    And I read the PBOT response to the Shoup editorial. But I don’t understand their viewpoint. They say that he wants to charge too much for the permits, but then they complain that the sorts of permits he wants to allow would be somewhat more expensive to manage than existing ones. They say that he’s being discriminatory against new residents by charging them for street parking while existing residents get it free – but their proposed solution is to charge the new residents to put parking garages in their buildings.

    I suppose I had been assuming that permits would be owned rather than rented on a monthly basis. The ownership model makes it easier to grant to current residents and then allow a non-discriminatory market to develop, while the renting model does need some sort of discrimination in order not to feel unfair to existing residents.

  6. In Chicago, there’s a proposed building (which has some parking) where the neighborhood association is demanding that residents be ineligible for on-street parking permits!

  7. To play devil’s advocate: if the rent is so much lower, why would anyone want to build a building without parking?

  8. Is that even legal?

    In any case, it shouldn’t be. It is the uttermost anti-democratic framework: separating your rights to different things on your neighborhood according to the date you moved in. I can imagine certain Community Boards (or their equivalents), where elected, proposing that only people living 5 or more years in the precinct being eligible to vote…

  9. It’s simple, because of profit. By dropping parking, you have space for more apartment units in the same lot. Apartment units, even at an affordable price point, bring more profit per floor area than parking does.

    If you want ludicrous profit, you build even smaller apartments. People pay a whole chunk of money for just having privacy and a warm bed, making low-squareage apartments more profitable per floor area than large ones. The extra floor area doesn’t bring as much value as the initial, minimum floor area that fits the bed and nightstand. But as there’s fewer squares to rent, the price point is even lower.

    By stuffing many little apartments close together with few space-hungry amenities bundled, your profit per square rivals that of luxury condos — achieved with affordable prices. But unlike luxury condos, your low-priced apartments have nigh unlimited market demand.

  10. I’ve only lived in one city that had residential parking permits, San Francisco.

    As far as I know, there was no cap on the number of permits. If you had a car registered to your address you could get a permit for it. Period. The permit did not guarantee a spot, just the right to an open spot.

  11. Permits mainly serve to keep non-residents out. The idea that current residents would get them at the expense of new ones is absurd.

    And let’s please NOT repeat the mistake allowing citizens to own permits. Permits should be RENTED. Or else municipalities lose out on the ongoing funding stream (see NYC taxi medallions as an example).

  12. Agree with you on principle, but the idea of giving current residents free permits is usually included in such suggestions with the idea that doing so will mollify them.

    Without giving some kind of a freebie to the NIMBYs, it’s hard to see any sensible parking reform being possible.

  13. I believe the alderman made an agreement that he would not issue residential parking permits to residents from this building. However, not many streets require a residential parking permit.

  14. Each city is different. I can tell you that studies in Portland showed that 75% of residents (including renters) have cars. Tensions have escalated. For instance, hundreds of cars have been vandalized in and around the areas with the new no-parking construction. Developers have purchased so much influence in Portland that we are leading the
    backlash. We were the first city to re-institute parking minimums.

    Basically, the new policies have divided the city. It’s too cold to ride at night to certain neighborhoods- parking is a mess- so we start to avoid areas we once frequented. This is not good for the community.

  15. iIn PDX, we call people who use the term NIMBY “density demons” or we use the initials “DB.” Just sayin.’ Parking reform will never happen the way it’s going.

  16. In Madison, WI, neighborhoods close to downtown and the University have a “resident parking permit program.” Neighbors can request – via a petition – that the streets around them be 2-hour parking except for permit holders. This allows visitors to park for short periods, but restricts long-term parking except for residents.

    The cost for a permit is minimal – $28/yr, I think – and basically pays to run the program. If you don’t need a permit, you don’t buy one. If you do, you buy one. No guarantees of a spot, just permission to park for > 2 hrs. if/when you find one.

    Developers constructing new buildings with minimal parking – i.e. not enough to meet the anticipated demand of the residents – agree that the residents will not be eligible for these residential permits. That is, “You as the developer agree that you will market to people without cars or with car-lite lifestyles and will not burden the neighborhoods with further parking demand because you chose to not build parking at your own expense.”

    City ordinance requires that all leases prominently state that residents are not eligible for the residential permits, so there are no surprises to people choosing to live there. If you don’t need a spot, you are not required to pay for one, and if you own a car, you know in advance you are going to have trouble parking it or you will have to buy a spot.

    None of this prevents 1. Existing neighbors from complaining about the potential of the new neighbors taking “their” spots (i.e. spots on the public street), and 2. The new tenants from complaining they don’t have a place to park because they signed the lease without reading the part about the “no residential permit.”

    I used to be an alder for such a neighborhood, and had to endure these complaints. Although I was polite, the complainers got little sympathy from me. The existing neighbors that whined usually had houses (not apartments) with insufficient parking for the multiple cars they owned. Not my problem. the tenants that complained were usually students that had learned several hard lessons in moving to a city from a small town. 1. Parking isn’t free. 2. Read your lease. 3. Owning a car can be a pain in the butt.

  17. If supply of available parking is too small, it is probably because it is underpriced. It is time to get over the idea of free parking.

  18. This is great. I hope I’ll be able to find a place without parking after college. I can’t even imagine what would happen if something like this was proposed in Palo Alto.

  19. Several of the newest developments in my neighborhood of DC are providing motorcycle/scooter spaces, lockable bicycle storage, and Zipcar and/or Car2Go spots as part of their project so the residents have easy access to cars or other transportation besides owning their own. Mind you, we also have good metro access, adequate bus access, and prospects for streetcars.

  20. This is an excellent plan. I have a car, so obviously parking informs my housing decisions. But I do plan to give up my car in the coming years. The one I have will likely be the last one I own. Considering our crisis in housing prices, and the fact that many people in the forthcoming generations prefer to live car free, it is about time for this to happen!

    Transform, in the Bay Area, is working with developers to build these sorts of developments via the GreenTrip program. To find sustainable workarounds for parking minimums and work with city governments for approval.

  21. I don’t agree with your stats completely. I want to live in a dense area, but I also wouldn’t choose to live in a dense area where parking is too much of a hassle for me to park my current car. I would either choose to live in a dense area with parking, or give up my car (provided transit/amenities were close by).

  22. I think you have a good point. Permits like this are a good way to ease in the notion of paying for street parking. But they shouldn’t be free. You can price them pretty low, maybe $25 a year for existing residents. That’s enough to get people used to paying for it. Then, raise the price of permits for new residents as time goes on. You also have to show people what they’re getting out of the fee so things like greening and better street cleaning need to be part of the package. In the end, these are good steps toward pricing parking appropriately.

  23. Or, in the case of angry current car-owning residents, they yell at the government until they get their parking subsidies back.

  24. Exactly. Two of my friends, both raised in suburbs, live in Boston without cars. The mere cost of parking in their building was too rich for their blood, so now they take the bus and T everywhere. It was awesome in my two visits up there to see how nice it was to be without a car.

  25. I’d like to see those studies you’re referencing. Got a link? And yes, I’m aware of the vandalism problem, but there’s no evidence to show that it’s a backlash against apartment dwellers parking on the street. I’m sorry, but your response sounds like your personal opinions and not factually based.

  26. Yes, you’re right. That’s probably a better way of stating what I think people’s thought process would be when deciding where to live.

    I am sorry, but the city itself found that 72% of residents in the studied buildings had cars. They also skewed their data by measuring parking problems in the summer (when everyone is out hiking) versus November (more car use). This under-estimated the problem, but that is usually the case with the local consultants, who lack integrity.

    Rather than speculating about my motives, maybe you could bring yourself up to speed. That report was much-discussed in PDX and led to the imposition of parking minimums.

  28. Parking permits for existing residents, no parking permits around no new parking buildings for people with addresses in those new buildings … and permit parking within eight blocks of new no parking buildings would solve the problem at virtually no expense …

  29. Thanks for the link. I read through the report. Among the other findings is that despite the lack of on-site parking in the studied developments, and the 72 percent auto ownership, there was plenty of available parking on the surrounding streets. Also, actual auto use of studied residents seems to be much lower than the average, and that if there were better transit and bicycle infrastructure, more of them would get rid of their cars. Your argument that the measurement being taken during the summer needs to be supported, as does your assertion that the consultants lack integrity.

  30. Pittsburgh’s system is similar. If you live in a permit zone (and there are only a dozen or two, most covering a couple dozen blocks near hospitals or popular commercial districts), you can get a permit for your car for about $20/year. The permit, however, conveys the right to park _somewhere_ in the zone, not at a particular place in the zone.

  31. Dan, no factual support for idea that better bike infrastructure would lead to less cars PDX bike commuting has flat-lined for five years in a row.. If you read the report, you will find the dates that the number of empty parking spots were calculated. The timing was clearly an attempt to influence the outcome.

    The lack of integrity of David Evans and Associates
    is a long story. See their work on the CRC.

    The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability promised a parking count in rainier weather, but they either lied about their intent or suppressed the results. Today as we speak traffic is a mess in inner SE Portland. Cars are overwhelming the charming side streets.

  32. Weak. SE Portland’s traffic situation is nowhere near as bleak as you paint it. The CRC debacle notwithstanding, you still have offered no proof that DEA’s work on THIS PROJECT is substandard. You’ve offered no evidence to indicate that parking patterns are different at certain times of the year. And there’s clear evidence that people want better bicycle infrastructure.

    You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts. People are driving their cars less and less in Portland, because we’ve begun to give them options to having to drive everywhere. That job isn’t complete yet. The demand for parking will continue to drop, just as VMT in the Portland MSA peaked in 1996 (undoubtedly lower in Portland proper).

  33. It’s too cold to ride to certain neighborhoods? Where are these cold zones? I did take the bus a couple of days because of concern for icy streets, but I saw quite a few cyclists on even the coldest days (17 degrees, for those outside Portland). Need to get me some of those bike chains!

    I didn’t find traffic a mess at all. On the coldest days, the bus ran on schedule, and there was less auto traffic. Who is avoiding what neighborhoods? I’ve seen no evidence of that .

    And, as was mentioned, there is no evidence tying auto vandalizing to no-parking apartments. Many cases were in neighborhoods with no such apartments.

  34. The cost of the building AND the cost of parking makes the total cost per unit of housing higher and thus the rents have to be higher.

  35. I think this is good idea, Mr. Mike how we can
    understand? What is the call Number of them?

  36. The problem was putting nothing but poor people in an apartment building. If you have about 50% poor people and 50% middle class people, public housing works great. Britain has many defenders of the excellent Atlee-era public housing, which did this… but Thatcher trashed it, and now Britain has a homelessness problem again…,

  37. If you have parking meters on the surrounding streets, there’s no problem. If you have “free parking” on the surrounding streets, THEN you have a problem — people who think they can get away with something by parking their car on the street.

  38. Parking minimums are bullshit.

    Do you have parking meters on the street? Have you raised the price of street parking until 10% of spaces are empty at most times?

    If so, you’ve solved most of the problem. At that point, it becomes financially viable and desirable for developers to build parking garages WITHOUT heavy-handed parking minimums.

    If you have free overnight parking on the street, god, get rid of that ASAP.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Apartment Blockers

Alan Durning is the executive director and founder of Sightline Institute, a think tank on sustainability issues in the Pacific Northwest. This article, originally posted on Sightline’s blog, is #9 in their series, “Parking? Lots!” Have you ever watched the excavation that precedes a tall building? It seems to take forever. Then, when the digging […]

Portland’s Parking-Free Apartment Boom

Portland is undergoing a bit of a building boom. According to local planners, about 40 apartment projects have come online in the last year and a half. Here’s the best part: More than half of those apartment projects have no parking — for cars anyway. Portland developers have been choosing to forgo building car storage […]

Parking Madness 2019 Round 1: Oakland vs. Atlanta

We’re on to our second round one match in this year’s Parking Madness competition — comparing different cities that have repaired their parking craters with useful infill development: more city! This competition highlights a really hopeful trend underway in cities; Parking craters all over the country are disappearing. In our first matchup, Minneapolis knocked off a […]