Is the Multifamily Industry Facing a Parking Shortage?


While nobody knows for sure, some transportation gurus speculate that there are 800 million parking spaces in the United States. That’s enough parking spaces to cover an area three times the size of Rhode Island. Another estimate comes from M.I.T. professor Eran Ben-Joseph, the author of two books on the subject, who speculates that parking lots cover about one-third of the footprint for some metropolitan areas.

Sounds like plenty of available parking spaces, right? Try convincing the harried driver who loops city blocks in Downtown U.S.A. – or an apartment community – trying to find a spot. Parking is becoming a premium.

Apartment Parking Survey Results

The results of a parking survey in the U.S. Census’ recent release of its Rental Housing Finance Survey, sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), suggests that finding a spot at a multifamily housing community can be tough. About 23 percent of the 2.2 million properties surveyed offered no on-site parking.

The industry norm of 1.2-1.4 spaces per mid-rise and high-rise apartment units, respectively, (according to 4th edition of Parking Generation published in Fall 2010 by the Institute of Transportation Engineers) is tight. Consider that there are more multi-generational occupancies and that two or more residents make up 41 percent of apartment households, one space per unit means somebody gets left out.

Mind you, the situation isn’t dire, like it appears be in Hong Kong where one developer recently sold 500 spaces at a large suburban apartment community for $167,000 each.

Municipal Parking Problems Multiply

At home, from Coast to Coast, newly-created communities with no on-site parking are popping up in high-density urban areas. Developers, residents, and neighbors in Portland have been at odds over a growing number of properties that are being built without parking spaces. In March, the city attempted to curb those practices by passing a proposal that requires developers to include one parking spot for every four apartments on buildings larger than 40 units. However, properties with 40 or fewer units are exempt.

Ultimately, residents must continue to seek parking spaces on nearby streets, drawing the ire of neighbors.

Farther east, parking issues are on the minds of some property owners with much larger footprints, but have to balance changing demographics that include an aging population and higher occupancies per unit as a result of kids moving back home. At March’s Crittenden Multifamily Conference 2013 in Dallas, multifamily executives acknowledged in one session that parking is a must-have for residents – enough to warrant an extra $75-$100 per month in rent – even though newer generations are favoring walkability more.

Baby Boomers Compound Parking Problem

Compounding the problem is an aging population where more people are obtaining handicap placards. That trend is expected to continue for the next 16 years as Baby Boomers turn 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day. And when those bum knees and stiff hips earn a pass by a doctor for a handicap placard – or even license tags – the resident is entitled to park in a designated handicap space. When a resident requests accommodation close to home, it behooves the property to comply as much as possible, especially when it comes to Fair Housing law.

Sara Pratt, deputy assistant secretary for enforcements and programs for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said numerous complaints involving allegations that multifamily properties aren’t providing enough handicap parking or accessible spaces are filed each year.

“When I train architects and developers, I tell them always to put in more handicap accessible spaces than minimum code requirements because, in my experience, demand will be there,” she said. “If they don’t address it at the front end they’ll be addressing it frequently at the back end.”

Proposed Apartment Parking Solutions

Managing a limited number of parking places and special needs has the put one Dallas-area developer in a bit of a stationary position. A comprehensive parking permit plan is being kicked around, but with those somebody usually gets left out, giving a local towing company opportunity for extra business. Also, able-bodied residents may find their walks from the car to the apartment much longer in the future.

The ultimate solution would be to just build more parking. But property owners tend to utilize land to create assets that make money, not catch oil droppings. They may need to road block that strategy to keep the occupancy levels high.

When asked whether he would consider installing a dog park, a popular industry amenity, to help retain or boost occupancy, Texas Class A apartment developer John Werra said no.

“If I had one more inch of land I’d use it for parking.”

Are you experiencing parking problems at your apartment communities? Have you seen an increase in requests for handicap parking spaces? Would you consider charging for premium parking? If so, how much?

Image Source: Michael Cunningham



Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

One response to “Is the Multifamily Industry Facing a Parking Shortage?”

  1. ZOB says:

    Great article. We have issues with Parking in San Diego, and our handicap parking is already showing signs of what you speak of…

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