Converting Unused Parking Garages to Affordable Housing

As garage operators find their businesses increasingly unsustainable, some are looking to affordable housing as the logical next incarnation of their buildings.

July 14, 2021, 6:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Empty Parking Garage

Comrade Foot / flickr

"A rapidly declining demand for parking space in the heart of America’s cities" could be an opportunity to repurpose parking garages into affordable housing, writes Wes Guckert.

Reduced numbers of workers commuting into Central Business Districts combined with "the increased emphasis the Biden administration – and many cities around the country – have placed on climate action and the need to limit automobile use" have led to a "nearly impossible" situation for garage operators, who now find their traditional business model unsustainable.

"Some operators have been fortunate enough to own lots or garages that sit on prime parcels of center-city land. For them, selling their property might represent a viable option, although with demand for office and adjacent retail space declining, this is not as profitable a solution as it was prior to COVID-19." But some operators found creative ways to generate revenue: during the pandemic, "[s]ome garages were transformed into outside dining areas or makeshift drive-in movie theaters, while others were used to house pop-up warehouses, storage units and parking for Amazon delivery fleets."

Another useful conversion: affordable housing. "[E]nterprising operators are now lobbying planning and zoning boards in cities around the country to relax restrictions so that they can retrofit their under-used garages to provide affordable living space for families." Some projects have already become reality. "[T]he success of units such as a derelict 500-car garage in Wichita, Kansas, that was recently converted into 44 one-bedroom apartments demonstrates that such conversions are not only possible, but can play an important role in addressing this country’s longstanding problems with affordable housing and homelessness. "

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