Cars vs. People: A Prime Real Estate Conundrum
The median home price in Seattle is $494,400, up 9.1% over the same time last year and expected to rise a further 7.6% within the next 12 months (stats courtesy of Zillow.com). That’s a whole lot of expensive real estate – and what percentage of it is parking? With the median rent for apartments in Seattle at $1,500 a month, many of those hovering around the 600 square foot range – perhaps our cars should start paying us rent?
Have a look in your garage. Pace it out, measure it up and look at what’s in there. In my Seattle home, my single car garage stuffed with the collection of bats, balls, bikes, and garden tools that my kids ferry in and out. On drizzly springtime days, my garage functions as a covered back porch for training wheel practice and sidewalk chalk drawings. Throughout the year my car remains banished to the street. After all, why waste such dynamic space on car storage?
But in Seattle (and indeed most everywhere in the U.S.) we are obsessed with providing our vehicles with top notch real estate in the heart of our cities and neighborhoods.
Efforts to increase density, provide affordable housing and create more inclusive neighborhoods have faced much opposition and many barriers but one of the most nonsensical obstacles to overcome is the parking requirement.
Accessory dwelling units (ADU), back yard cottages, “in-law units,” add density to established single-family neighborhoods in an incremental way. These units help homeowners respond to changing needs and lifestyles by providing extra income or independent living for a family member. As rental units, accessory dwelling units provide an affordable housing option in a single-family neighborhood.
Yet one of the requirements for adding an ADU to a property is to provide a separate, dedicated parking space. This is in addition to the parking already required for the main house. In Seattle, this means a house with an ADU must have two parking spaces. In many neighboring cities, the homes with an ADU require three parking spaces (one for the ADU and two for the main house). A typical parking space is 9’ x 18’ or 162 square feet; that means devoting 486 square feet to parking three cars!
Here are three examples of backyard cottages designed by Allied8.
This one bedroom cottage converted a non-conforming detached garage into 800 sq ft of living space.
This 450 sq ft two-car garage was converted into an apartment with a sleeping loft.
This one bedroom cottage converted a non-conforming detached two car garage on a steep slope, into a 700 sq ft of living space.
More often than not, parking is provided in a garage. In the suburbs this means the majority of homes have two car garages – the equivalent of a small apartment (and $1,500 a month in rent!)
Why do our cars need their own houses? What if instead we used a little of that extra garage space to create small dwelling units? Could life go on if there were a net loss of space devoted to off-street parking in exchange for increased housing availability and more pedestrian-friendly, kid-friendly, family-friendly streets?
Yes, it will require some changes. Our neighborhoods will need to develop an infrastructure where residents can live comfortably with fewer cars. But it’s sort of the chicken and the egg question. Which comes first? We have an expanding bicycle infrastructure, there are hills – but there are now e-bikes! We have Car2Go, Zipcar and Uber. Density means more people but it also means more cafes, more supermarkets, more libraries, more bakeries, more investment in our parks and all the other good stuff that makes a neighborhood worth living in.
We’re living in times of great change and there are certain facts we cannot fight: Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. If we want our own loved ones to choose to stay we have to make sure that our city is affordable for our children and our aging parents – not just for people with the money to afford it. Do we want to live close to our families and friends – or close to our cars?