Close to Home: I will trade parking for affordable housing

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

California’s housing shortage and affordability crisis require urgent action. At the same time, we must address the pollution that causes climate change — especially in places, such as Santa Rosa, that are increasingly vulnerable to climate risk. Assembly Bill 1401 would help us get there by eliminating mandates for expensive parking for homes built near transit and in walkable, downtown districts.

As a single, working mother who struggles with the high cost of housing, I know firsthand what it’s like to face daunting housing costs while working full-time and trying to be a good mom to my daughter.

Unfortunately, my situation is not unique. Millions of Californians face the same challenges of juggling a hectic work schedule, parenthood and crushing rents. While the natural policy response should be to make it easier and cheaper to build affordable homes, local and state governments have struggled to get there.

Victoria Fleming
Victoria Fleming

Too few of our elected officials share the experience of being moderate-income workers in a state with a decadeslong history of inadequate housing supply. But for many parents like me, the cost of housing is a daily, immediate concern.

Like many California residents, my income is too high to qualify for housing subsidies, but too low for me to qualify to own a home. The median price of a single-family home in Santa Rosa is now more than $750,000. Our housing is expensive for many reasons. For one, we’re still recovering from the fires that pushed so many of our neighbors from their homes.

But these fires are taking place in a broader environment of a long-term escalation in housing costs that is affecting all Californians. The parking reforms included in AB 1401 are a targeted effort to chip away at this problem. The bill, which has been approved by the Assembly, would prohibit local governments from enforcing minimum parking requirements for developments close to public transit.

For decades, California cities have required parking with new homes and apartments. While this seems like a natural match — who among us doesn’t have a car? — parking mandates add huge costs that are passed on to homeowners and renters alike. According to the Terner Center for Housing Innovation, more than two-thirds of California cities require at least two parking spaces per home in multifamily housing. The average cost of garage parking is $23,000 per space. Residents pay every penny of that cost, whether they drive a car or not.

Parking mandates also drive up climate pollution, because they lead to more driving. One study in San Francisco found that requiring one parking space per home in affordable housing more than doubles the likelihood of its residents owning a car. The result: more pollution.

Santa Rosa has already staked out a leadership position on this issue. Our downtown plan removed minimum parking requirements for development in the downtown Station Area, and the plan allows for “unbundled” parking — which gives residents the option of paying for parking if they want it and can afford it. At the same time, it will help people like me who can’t afford parking to find housing at more affordable rents.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: I’d rather have a home that I can afford than a place to park my car.

As we emerge from the pandemic and prepare for another fire season, it’s my view that we have an obligation to be especially deliberate in how we prepare for a more resilient future. We must make our cities more equitable, sustainable and affordable — and do so while reducing the pollution that is putting our communities at risk.

By making it easier and cheaper to build multifamily housing in walkable, transit-adjacent neighborhoods, cities throughout California can join Santa Rosa in taking a small but meaningful bite out of both the climate challenge and our housing crisis. I hope that Sonoma County’s state senators, Mike McGuire and Bill Dodd, see the vision and the wisdom of AB 1401 and vote to pass it when it comes up for consideration in the state Senate.

Victoria Fleming represents the 4th District on the Santa Rosa City Council.

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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