Housing Shortage/Parking Surplus


Transportation and Land Use Coalition (now known as TransForm)

Year Published: 


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Housing Shortage/Parking Surplus examines sol utions to Silicon Valley’'s housing crisis and transportation problems from a new perspective parking. The report shows that if we rethink our approach to, and assumptions about, parking, we can free up land to yield more than 15,900 much-needed housing units.

Santa Clara County alone will need approximately 177,000 new housing units by 2025 just to keep up with projected job growth, but current land-use and housing policies are expected to leave the county more than 48,000 units short. This deficit will exacerbate the existing shortage, push sky-high housing costs even higher, and force more workers to commute from distant counties in the Central Valley and Monterey Bay region.

Housing Shortage/Parking Surplus shows how two strategies reducing parking requirements where justified and promoting infill housing on underutilized parking lot– can greatly reduce this anticipated shortage. In addition, these strategies can capitalize on our investments in light rail and other transit services, turning the underutilized portions of some parking lots into vibrant, attractive developments that are an asset to the community.

Housing Shortage/Parking Surplus takes an in-depth look at each of these strategies and provides case studies and detailed recommendations, serving as both a resource and a challenge for Silicon Valley cities. While concerted action is needed from businesses, developers, lenders, community groups and the wider public, the Transportation and Land-use Coalition’s (TALC) recommendations focus on cities, which have the opportunity to lead and so bring about these changes.

Silicon Valley cities, like most United States jurisdictions, routinely prescribe a minimum number of parking spaces for each new housing development. Unfortunately, these parking requirements often take a “one-size-fits-all” approach, even though vehicle ownership varies dramatically for different types of households. Renters, low-income households, seniors, and those living in dense neighborhoods near transit tend to own fewer cars. In fact, over one of every three households in Silicon Valley own a single vehicle or none at all. Some cities now take into account certain variations in vehicle ownership but usually not in a comprehensive fashion.

Excess parking comes at a very high cost: First, the cost of the land combined with paving or construction of the parking typically exceeds $20,000 per space, increasing rents and residential prices. Second, by increasing the land needed for each housing unit, excess parking often reduces the number of potential housing units per acre. In other words, parking squeezes out housing. Third, the parking costs and lower number of units reduce the financial feasibility of new housing construction and increase the subsidy required for affordable housing. Finally, the land used to comply with high parking requirements often reduces the potential for amenities, such as parks or ground-floor retail, that can improve the neighborhood.

This report does not question the need for an adequate amount of parking, but it recommends that cities conduct comprehensive demographic and vehicle-ownership reviews to identify the optimal amount of parking to require. By freeing up additional land within future developments, this strategy has the potential to create at least 8,450 new units in Santa Clara County.


The key constraint on housing construction in Silicon Valley is land availability. Yet low density, suburban-style office development much of it built before the Valley'’s huge investment in public transit –has left enormous areas devoted to sur face parking lots. Even where lots are nearly full, replacement parking can be placed under the new housing. Clearly, not all office parking lots are suitable locations for housing, but many provide a site that meets the three basic needs of employment-centered housing: convenient access to public transportation, nearby amenities such as grocery stores and restaurants, and neighboring residential communities.

Promoting housing at or near employment sites can bring a broad range of benefits to workers, employers, landowners, and cities. When employers provide the land, the “break-even” rents can be reduced from over $2,100 for a typical two-bedroom unit to about $1,400. This offers choices to people who may otherwise be priced out of the market, increases employee retention, and reduces commute times by allowing people to live adjacent to or closer to their work. Construction of employment-centered housing can also benefit landowners as underused property reaches its full development potential; this can benefit cities as additional revenue is generated through property and sales taxes. These developments can also benefit the larger community by transforming underutilized pavement into lively, interesting places.

Three case studies- two of them in Silicon Valley- demonstrate the extraordinary benefits of employment-centered housing. However, a strong lead from cities, through amending zoning ordinances and conducting
housing opportunities studies, is needed for this strategy to fulfill its potential. Employment-centered housing could create at least 7,450 new units in Santa Clara County.