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California’s Love of Cars Is Fueling Its Housing Crisis

California’s Love of Cars Is Fueling Its Housing Crisis

In Los Angeles, it’s perfectly legal to build a new apartment without a refrigerator, a balcony, or air conditioning.

But you can’t build one without plenty of parking. In most cases, in fact, you have to build at least two spaces per unit — and no fudging with tandem or compact spaces. That makes housing much more expensive. Removing parking requirements would be one of the simplest ways to ease California’s housing crisis.

Adding an above-ground parking spot costs $27,000, just for construction, while an underground space runs around $35,000, according to 2014 estimates by UCLA planning professor Donald Shoup, author of “The High Cost of Free Parking.” That means the typical two-spot requirement adds between $52,000 and $70,000 to the cost of a new unit before a single two-by-four goes up. And that doesn’t include the land.

The estimate is also optimistic. It assumes that the cost of adding parking spaces is linear — that the tenth space costs the same as the fifth one — when that’s often not the case. Shoup gives the real-life example of a standard-size L.A. parcel whose zoning allows eight apartments, with required parking of 2.25 spaces each, or 18 total. The lot is only big enough to accommodate 16 spaces on one level of underground parking. Going from seven to eight apartments thus means digging down another level, which is prohibitively expensive. So the builder settles for seven units. The parking requirement costs one more family a home.

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