AB 744’s paradigm shift - affordable homes instead of empty parking spaces

 Nicholas Eckhart It is rare that you can find one solution to two huge issues, especially if those two issues are our global climate crisis and the growing threat of displacement and lack of affordable homes across the state.

But that’s exactly what makes AB 744 so important, and why we were thrilled that the Governor signed it into law. AB 744 (Chau) requires cities to dramatically lower parking requirements for affordable, senior and special needs housing near public transit. AB 744 will also create a powerful incentive for market rate developers to maximize the number of affordable homes they include.

The problem: too much parking

TransForm has long known that parking (or rather, reducing it) can be a key solution to creating affordable, sustainable places. In 2009, we worked with developers on a proposed affordable housing development in San Leandro. The City of San Leandro agreed to halve the parking requirement for the development, from two spaces per unit to one per unit. The results were dramatic. Eliminating a whole floor of parking reduced the cost of development by $3.9 million, provided space for 30 more affordable units, and created a pedestrian-friendly ground floor with space for a childcare center.

Through our GreenTRIP program we’ve seen market rate successes too, like Garden Village, which is providing free transit passes, on-site carsharing, and some affordable homes – all by eliminating unnecessary parking.

Yet cities across the State are still working with archaic and nonsensical parking requirements - often requiring 2 spaces per unit - even if residents are seniors and people who don’t own cars, and the building is right next to good public transportation. Parking takes up a lot of space, and if we continue to put in more parking than we need, we would be wasting space that could be someone’s home!  

Making a case for change at the state level

Working to improve parking policy city-by-city is too slow, especially given the state’s increasing affordability crisis, so a state law offered the best option for addressing our parking problem.  But because parking has been considered a “local” issue, attempts to change these outdated policies via state legislation had failed for years. Clearly, better data was needed for changing city codes, as well as for state legislation.

Last year, our GreenTRIP program analyzed 68 affordable housing developments and organized the results in a publicly-available parking database. It showed how in those 68 units alone, $136 million worth of parking spaces are sitting unused. Worse, parking wasted nearly 1,000,000 square feet of valuable space. This data was crucial evidence in legislative hearings; the Senate’s analysis even pointed to our data as proof that excess parking requirements were a widespread burden.

While TransForm was a proud co-sponsor of AB 744, working closely with groups like Housing California and NRDC, nobody was more instrumental in seeing AB 744 through to victory than Meea Kang. Kang is the President of Domus Development, which develops some wonderful affordable homes, including Anchor Village in Stockton.

So what exactly does AB 744 do?  Here are the (somewhat wonky) details:

  • AB 744 will encourage market rate developments to provide affordable housing, and make it more financially feasible to do so without any subsidy. Cities can’t require greater than 0.5 parking spaces per bedroom for a development that includes at least 20% low-income or 11% very low-income housing units, and is within one-half mile of a major transit stop. This will reduce the amount of unnecessary parking built, making it less costly to build the affordable housing.
     
  • AB 744 will make it easier to build affordable housing. Cities can’t require greater than 0.5 spaces per unit (i.e. no matter how many bedrooms) for a development that is entirely composed of low- or very low-income rental housing units and is within ½ mile of a major transit stop. This will make these units much more financially feasible and will usually translate into many more units within the same physical envelope of a given parcel.
     
  • AB 744 will reduce unnecessary parking for senior housing.  For senior housing that is not near major transit, but has paratransit or is located within one-half mile of a bus line that runs at least eight times per day, cities can’t require greater than 0.5 spaces per unit.
     
  • AB 744 will support more affordable housing for people with special needs.  For special needs, low-income housing developments, parking requirements are capped at 0.3 spaces per unit.

The bill also allows local governments to impose a slightly higher parking ratio if it makes findings that a higher parking ratio is needed, based on findings in any parking study conducted for the area in the past seven years that demonstrates the need.  We believe very few will go through this expense.

We’ve seen the amazing successes that happen when planners and developers can focus on people instead of parking. With AB 744, we have not just transformed our parking policies; we have eliminated a significant obstacle to reaching our climate goals, and opened up possibilities for our state to be a more affordable place for everyone to call home. 

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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.