Miami Beach Wants Affordable Housing, But Won’t Remove Parking to Get It

Putting housing on top of parking garages, rather than replacing car storage with housing, would be a missed opportunity for walkable Miami Beach.

Miami Beach hired Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid to design a parking garage. The design was scrapped last year because of its high cost, but the city -- facing an affordable housing crisis -- hasn't reconsidered its policy of promoting car storage. Image: Zaha Hadid Architects
Miami Beach hired Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid to design a parking garage. The design was scrapped last year because of its high cost, but the city -- facing an affordable housing crisis -- hasn't reconsidered its policy of promoting car storage. Image: Zaha Hadid Architects

Facing an affordable housing crunch, Miami Beach is looking at ways to utilize city-owned parking garage sites to build low-cost apartments. Trouble is, the city’s approach doesn’t actually remove parking in favor of building places for people.

Brittany Shammas reports for the Miami New Times:

Earlier this year, [city commissioners] passed a resolution that calls for housing to be considered for all new garages, including one planned at the site of a surface lot at 13th Street and Collins Avenue.

“We really, really need workforce housing in the city,” Commissioner Joy Malakoff said during a February meeting, “and this gives us one opportunity.”

Now city officials are looking at retrofitting existing garages. A study of ten of them shows three top options for the concept: the garages at 12th Street and Drexel Avenue, 13th Street and Collins Avenue, and the 17th Street Garage. Each was chosen because it can accommodate common areas and dedicated elevators, among other needs, according to the study, which was provided to commissioners last week.

Sounds great, except Miami Beach isn’t considering converting parking into affordable housing; it’s only thinking about the more expensive prospect of building affordable housing atop parking garages. In its study, the city says it won’t consider taking away space for car storage because of “the high utilization rates of these garages,” which range between 52 and 100 percent at peak hours.

Streetsblog has asked the city why its report ruled out eliminating car storage right off the bat, instead of considering the costs and benefits of replacing parking with affordable housing — and shifting trips to transit, walking or bicycling in the process. “This analysis was conducted to identify garages with favorable conditions to develop workforce housing,” said city spokesperson Melissa Berthier. “Cost benefit was not part of the analysis at this juncture.”

Instead of building housing on top of parking decks, officials in other cities are thinking bigger. In Atlanta, demonstration modular micro-apartments were installed in a parking garage. Parking decks in Seattle and Los Angeles are being designed for easy conversion to productive uses like offices or apartments. In New York, a city councilwoman asked for a public garage in her district to be replaced with affordable housing, saying that people should be taking transit to the area instead.

Instead, commissioners in Miami Beach — which already has some of the best walking, bicycling, and transit infrastructure in South Florida — are holding out for self-driving cars to save them. “As automatic cars come into Miami Beach and as Uber and Lyft become even more popular, the expectation is we will not need as many parking spaces as we do today,” Malakoff says in the New Times.

Self-driving cars may or may not happen anytime soon, but Miami Beach’s affordable housing crunch is already here. Why wait? It’s time for the city to swap out parking for people.

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