Under Pressure: Apartment Parking
Image
electric car charging

| Updated

9 minute read

From EV charging stations to legislation, a variety of market forces are affecting parking at apartment communities.

Decades ago, it was thought the future would bring flying cars or ones that could transform into other vehicles such as boats or submarines, but the world has been turning toward ways to remove vehicles from roadways and to point consumers in the direction of electric vehicles rather than an internal combustion engine.

This is evident in vehicle manufacturing processes and production as well as in construction and legislation around the country. In May, the Austin City Council voted to remove parking requirements on all new developments in the Texas capital. 

“Removing parking requirements will encourage housing construction, reduce development costs, and move us towards a more walkable city,” said Councilmember Vanessa Fuentes according to KVUE-TV Austin. 

“Eliminating parking minimums will create more housing, while prioritizing transit and the environment,” said Councilmember Ryan Alter.

The City Manager has until the end of the year to present recommendations on how to best implement the no-parking minimum resolution. The cost of parking spots ranges from $10,000 to $40,000, according to the resolution, and if parking is provided, it must continue to be compliant under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act Amendments.

Meanwhile, at the national level, Rep. Robert Garcia (D-42-Calf.) introduced the Homes for People Not Cars Act of 2023 in May. The bill will “allow property owners the discretion to make decisions regarding how many parking spots to provide in connection with certain new residential and commercial developments, and for other purposes.” The key word “certain” includes projects within half a mile of a covered public transit point. 

In February, the White House released an electric vehicle fact sheet, which highlights the need for electric vehicle (EV) chargers across the U.S. The goal is to build a network of 500,000 chargers along America’s highways by 2030—there are currently more than 3 million EVs on the road with 130,000 public chargers in the U.S. The President also has a goal of EVs reaching at least 50% of vehicle sales by 2030.

The Federal Highway Administration announced details of a new grant program as well: The Charging and Fueling Infrastructure (CFI) program. More than $2.5 billion over five years will be made available to bring public charging stations to market at apartment communities, schools and grocery stores, among other locations.

Electric vehicles

The rental housing industry has not shied away from EV chargers at communities—it’s quite the opposite—preparing for new residents with EVs or providing a space for current residents who buy a first EV.

“We have been putting EV stations in all our communities since 2011, and we will continue to add additional charging stations at communities that have really seen a surplus of requests,” says Lance Goss, Senior Vice President, HHHunt Apartment Living. “We hope to partner with our utility companies on incentives to continue to add more as the popularity increases.”

Some states like California, New York and New Jersey have mandatory requirements regarding EV chargers, but that hasn’t deterred the rental housing industry from installing chargers regardless.

“All new Roundhouse developments have EV chargers,” says Patrick Boel, Vice President, Development with Boise, Idaho-based Roundhouse. “In most of the markets we work—the Mountain West—EV chargers are not required, and we still provide them. We are seeing EV demand consistently growing across our portfolio.” 

Lisa Gunderson, MBA, CPM, Partner with Bristol Development Group, says they are also committing EV chargers to communities in the portfolio and are preparing for a surge in EV ownership. “As more residents purchase electric vehicles, we have seen the demand increase for chargers. We have seen estimates that 20 percent of cars could be electric in five to 10 years.”

Residents are searching for chargers at communities, new and old, requiring the industry to meet that demand.

“All our communities, in every market, will be delivering electric vehicle charging, and the residents demand this vital service,” says Deanna O’Brien, Senior Vice President, Legacy Partners. “In many older communities developed without electric chargers, we are retrofitting to add the service to our communities.”

According to Plug In America, “Installing charging infrastructure for [multi-unit] buildings does carry a higher capital cost, especially if done as a retrofit where trenchingthrough concrete or asphalt is required. The cost of EV charging is much less if addressed during building construction. Building codes [requiring] new construction to have a significant fraction of ‘EV-ready’ parking spots will enable greater adoption of EVs by residents of multi-unit dwellings.”

No parking?

As previously mentioned, there is movement from outside the industry to remove parking or configure parking availability in such a way that fewer spots are needed for residents, if at all.

Options include having zero, less and shared parking. This can save developers and investors time and money, and in turn, lower the cost of rent for residents. “We have seen this, but there is no replacement to having your own onsite parking that you fully control,” Boel says.

Gunderson calls the no-parking option “a challenge.” Shared parking has worked for her company. “We have projects with commercial buildings that are adjacent, and we share a parking deck or lot. Because the use times are different it works out well.”

Goss understands parking availability and mandates can often be set forth from outside sources like local governments. “This is really dictated by the municipality. Our average [parking spot-to- unit ratio] for our portfolio is 1.78. We haven’t really seen a decline in spaces required by municipalities. Our urban sites have smaller numbers than our suburban locations. I think that is to be expected.”

While the pandemic has changed much of the industry, parking seems to be relatively untouched. 

“We provide one parking space for one-bedroom apartments and two spaces for two- and three-bedroom units. Two spaces is the maximum allocation. This has been our long-term practice, and it was unchanged by the pandemic,” says Henry Torres, CEO of Florida-based The Astor Companies.

Boel also hasn’t seen parking ratios change due to the pandemic. “It all depends on the market, but we are typically parking 1:1 on mid-rise products and 1.7:1 on garden-style products. We did not see this change during the pandemic, as most of our markets boomed during the pandemic and continue to do so moving forward.”

Despite the push from local, state and the federal government, many have not seen the demand for parking decline at communities and are instead keeping the status quo. 

Tim O’Brien, Senior Managing Director, Legacy Partners, says, “We look for one parking space per bedroom plus guest parking at 25 percent. It hasn’t changed during the pandemic, and I don’t see that changing. This may change going forward in a very urban environment with efficient public transportation.”

The reverse is true in some metros, according to Gunderson, who has a parking ratio of less than one vehicle per unit. “We see this demand declining – convincing some municipalities of this has been a challenge in some locations where codes can be as strict as two spaces per bedroom. If we have to build to those codes, costs increase, and we have vast areas of unused parking.”

Conflict resolution and security

Communities are bound to run into parking conflicts and security concerns over time. Some in the industry have partnered with third-party companies and others to set up the protection companies and residents are searching for while at the community.

“We have partnered with different companies in different markets to monitor parking in our surface and garage lots,” Goss says. “[There’s either] a sticker or placard for residents, and those without [one] are towed at their expense. We, of course, offer visitor parking as well. It has its challenges at implementation, but over time, our residents come to like and understand the value it adds to the community.... Some of our communities have gated entrances or gated garage access and those too are monitored. It really depends on the community.”

The bottom line is that communication is necessary when relaying community parking requirements, whether that’s at the leasing office, move-in or elsewhere. Without that key piece of communication, residents might not know what’s asked of them while living at the community, or staff will not understand how to handle conflicts that arise such as parking in a retail-
assigned spot or staff- or fellow resident-reserved spot.

“Like everything, it is about communication. Make sure parking policies are communicated clearly during the move-in process,” says Deanna O’Brien. “When there are conflicts, we start with a personal approach. We are also starting to use parking management services and parking apps to help manage parking at our larger or more challenging communities.”

While parking spots can be assigned to help prevent conflict, not all spaces are in a vast, expansive parking lot—it depends on the community type, i.e., low-rise vs. high-rise vs. garden-style, etc.

Boel says they offer these assigned spots as well as access-controlled overhead doors or gates in their mid-rise communities. Gunderson and Deanna O’Brien also use preventative measures like gates, parking stickers and other controlled-access items to continue giving residents a safe space for their vehicles.

Other options

Without parking, some communities are given the opportunity to explore other options to take the place of that amenity that is not offered or just lower development costs altogether.

Parking itself can be considered a luxury amenity, especially in a location where a vehicle is necessary. Some communities are taking parking as an amenity a step further: Adding an amenity within an amenity. Seen in higher-end establishments and locations like shopping malls and office buildings is a vehicle amenity bay that can include a vacuum and air to fill tires. “It is surprising how few residents utilize them, as they still opt to drive to car washes and pay for the service,” says Torres.

Roundhouse is in discussions to partner with a third-party app to help residents get from point A to point B through a car-sharing program, says Boel. “The goal would be to have [the app] deploy a Tesla to one of our properties, and then residents would be able to book it from [the app provided by the company, which] would take care of maintenance and insurance.”

Parking is only part of the entire resident experience, which starts as soon as they begin their apartment search. This equation includes much more than strictly parking, but it is part of the customer service aspect from communities.

Torres concluded: “The demand for parking spaces is certainly declining, as younger renters are not as inclined to drive as older generations. This shift has been happening for a while. Renters are definitely looking harder at the number of amenities offered at a building and the quality of those amenities. They want space to work in common areas as an alternative to spending all day working in their apartments, and [they want to] feel connected to their neighbors.”

 

Michael Miller is NAA’s Managing Editor.