Monday, October 26, 2009

Affordable Housing or Affordable Parking?

Today's Columbia Spectator has a story about efforts to raze three city owned parking structures and replace them with underground parking facilities and affordable housing. The area needs affordable housing more than cheap parking, but the quotes in the story explain the problem:
“That’s a good idea,” nearby resident Marquez Aroldo said when he was told of the proposed project. “Most of the neighbors park in the street anyway. I don’t know who parks ... [in those structures].”

The lure of free parking gets them every time (most street parking in this neighborhood is free. Meters are only allowed on commercially fronted blocks, and the neighborhood is question is almost completely residential on east-west streets). The co-chair of CB7's transportation committee summed up the stalemate nicely:
“The bottom line is: some folks would like to see the garages maintained, as low-cost parking is rapidly disappearing from the community,” Andrew Albert, co-chair of CB7’s transportation committee, said in an e-mail. “Then, there are some folks who would like to see housing in their place, as there is a shortage of affordable housing in the community.”

The thing about this situation is that in Manhattan Valley, just south of the Columbia campus, there are transportation choices for people. Those who seek cheap parking are not likely the same folks who are looking for affordable shelter. It is the people who can afford to live in the neighborhood--a typical two bedroom rents for about $4000--who can afford to own a car, but only if parking is cheap or free. There is no defensible public policy that prescribes that parking has to be subsidized to make it affordable in this community. The area is served by three subway lines, multiple bus lines and has lots of stuff to walk to in the vicinity. The accessibility of this area make it an ideal place for more housing and a terrible place to maintain or replace parking. But to maintain or replace subsidized parking is the worst outcome. If the policy choice is between affordable housing or affordable parking, housing should win every time.
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