Following two lawsuits challenging affordable housing developments in Jamaica Plain for having too little parking, the Boston City Council on Wednesday approved a measure that would keep many affordable housing developments from needing to have any parking.
The Council voted unanimously to change the city zoning code to end minimum parking requirements for projects where at least 60 percent of units are set at affordable rents. It’s a bid, the measure’s advocates say, to promote construction of much-needed affordable housing in Boston by lowering costs and protecting projects from legal challenges.
“We know that every unit lost due to delay or the cost of unnecessary, mandated parking is a lost housing opportunity for someone who badly needs it,” said Councilor Kenzie Bok, who cosponsored the bill with Councilor Matt O’Malley. “It’s time to make sure we are putting homes for people first and doing away with parking minimums that don’t reflect our current needs.”
Bok and O’Malley filed the measure, in part, as a response to lawsuits filed by neighbors against two proposed buildings — one by the Pine Street Inn that would be mostly composed of supportive housing for formerly homeless people, the other aimed at low-income seniors — on Washington Street in Jamaica Plain. The plaintiffs said the projects were permitted with too few parking spaces. By eliminating parking requirements entirely, the bill would mean that such buildings would no longer need zoning variances to allow for fewer spaces, effectively shrinking the grounds on which they could be challenged in court.
Housing advocates also note that requiring parking drives up the cost of development, with each garage space adding, on average, about $50,000 to a project’s budget. A 2019 study by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council found that roughly 30 percent of spaces at new apartment buildings in the region go unused.
In much of Boston, minimum parking levels are set by neighborhood and other factors, such as proximity to an MBTA station, with lower levels sometimes approved by the Zoning Board of Appeal. The measure voted on Wednesday would eliminate those minimums for affordable housing developments, while still enabling the city to require parking on a project-by-project basis.
It now will head to the Boston Planning & Development Agency and then the Zoning Commission for their approval. Councilors said they hope those boards will follow their lead.
“The need to build affordable housing in Boston has never been more vital, with half of Boston’s renters being rent-burdened,” O’Malley said in a statement. “Eliminating parking minimums is an impactful and commonsense policy solution that can provide transformative relief for affordable housing builders.”