Denver Reduces Parking Requirements for Affordable Housing

The zoning change will significantly reduce the cost of building affordable housing developments.

July 13, 2021, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Underground Parking

MichaelGaida / Pixabay

The Denver City Council has approved a change to the city's zoning code that reduces minimum parking requirements for affordable housing developments, reports Daliah Singer. "Among other things, the just-updated code lowers the 'affordable housing alternative minimum parking ratio' for affordable housing projects in any district to 0.1, or one spot for every 10 units. It also upped the applicable AMI from 40 percent to 60 percent to encompass more housing."The update comes as an acknowledgement of the pivotal role parking requirements play in housing affordability and the vast number of unused parking spaces in the city's housing developments. A December 2020 study found that income-restricted properties provide, on average, "50 percent more parking than residents use." Another audit of affordable and supportive housing in the city found that "Denver’s zoning code required 5.5 times more parking than was needed."

The excess isn't just wasted space, Singer says. "Experts say parking is one of the most significant barriers to affordable housing projects both locally and across the country, sidelining or completely halting in-the-works projects because developers couldn’t make the zoning-required parking work." One parking space costs, on average, "between $20,000 and $30,000 to construct and maintain. The Shopworks/Fox Tuttle study valued the cost of unused parking at $9,284,000—the equivalent cost to build an entire 40-unit affordable housing property." 

Advocates of the zoning change hope it will inspire other cities to take similar actions. In Denver, "[t]he change is having an immediate impact: Charity’s House Apartments, a supportive housing complex in Five Points that Shopworks is involved with and had been halted for at least six months due to parking issues, is now able to break ground."

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