This is an op-ed written by Ithaca resident Gabriel Ewig. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit op-eds, send them to Matt Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the housing crisis in Ithaca continues to uproot and harm members of our community, the need is urgent for long-term solutions to develop housing throughout the city. Eliminating city-wide minimum parking requirements is a proven method to encourage the low-cost, sustainable housing growth that Ithaca desperately needs.
Minimum parking requirements, a component of city zoning, require the construction of off-street parking spaces alongside buildings throughout the city. The high price and amount of land required for this parking leads developers to construct fewer, more expensive units to meet the requirement, instead of evaluating the individual needs of a project. This has a direct effect on housing in Ithaca by making it harder to find and harder to afford.
Recent data from Tompkins County shows a vacancy rate of just 4%, which is lower than many other U.S. cities and indicates a housing shortage. The low vacancy rate keeps rentals difficult to find and prohibitively expensive. This is a serious issue for most renters in Ithaca over 70% of whom are “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend
more than 30% of their income on housing. Since 2020, the pandemic has only worsened the situation. The end of the state eviction moratorium in January of this year left tenants with little to no protection, only increasing the urgency of this issue.
Constructing more low-cost housing in Ithaca is key to solving this problem. Eliminating minimum parking requirements has been a proven strategy to increase housing availability and affordability both locally and in cities across the US. Typical parking requirements can increase construction costs by as much as 30 to 60%. This incentivizes developers to seek cheaper land far away from the city center, and to build fewer, more expensive, units on it. The cost of this excess construction is serious for tenants whether or not they own a car; overall it accounts for 17% of a housing units rent, or about $1,700 each year. Reducing these costs by eliminating parking requirements would address housing scarcity and affordability, while also creating greener, more accessible neighborhoods, and reducing our reliance on expensive personal vehicles.
Ithaca already has experience with an alternative model. In 2014, the city eased parking requirements in Downtown and Collegetown which allowed for the construction of several new high-density buildings, and had a direct impact on housing supply. In Collegetown, about 652 new bedrooms were constructed in the seven years following this zoning change, which would have been impossible alongside the 401 parking spaces that had been previously required. Instead, developers were able to prioritize housing units and built only 11 parking spaces, several of which are still unoccupied as students bring fewer cars to campus. Removing parking requirements elsewhere would continue to increase the supply of housing and reduce costs throughout our city.
Eliminating city-wide parking requirements has been a success in several other U.S. cities including Minneapolis and Buffalo. When Buffalo eliminated them in 2017, developers responded accordingly. New buildings, particularly dense and mixed-use developments, were built with significantly fewer parking spaces, which enabled the construction of over 1,000 new homes and more transit accessibility. Parking was still built when it was needed, but developers were free to make smart decisions instead of building excessive and costly parking just to comply with a requirement.
Housing issues in Ithaca are serious and urgent, but they are also solvable. Our city has the tools and resources to address the issue, and we must elect and hold accountable city leaders who will enact policies that benefit the majority of Ithacans who rent their homes. Eliminating minimum parking requirements has been proven to accelerate the construction of low-cost units within the city limits, which increases housing availability and affordability. It would also improve the sustainability of our city by incentivizing public transit and greener, more accessible neighborhoods. It is time to implement policies we have seen work in Ithaca and across the U.S. to finally address the housing crisis we face.