Mexico City Prioritizes Affordable Housing Over Parking

Mexico City just did something revolutionary. The city’s government took a bold step intended to boost the availability of affordable housing in the city. How? It dropped its parking requirement, or the minimum number of spaces that developers must include when they construct new apartments and office buildings.

Instead, Mexico City now limits the amount of parking that can be built — and developers who overbuild will be charged penalties for doing so.

How exactly does that help people find housing?

Well, it’s a matter of mathematics. Less space taken up by parking means more space available for housing. Formerly, developers had to guarantee a certain amount of available parking for every project.

parking garage

Multi-car parking garage. Photo credit: Thinkstock

The requirement seemed to make sense at the time. Doesn’t everyone who lives or works in a building need a spot for his or her car?

Here’s the problem. All that space taken up by parking spots – especially in the middle of big cities — makes available space for housing shrink exponentially. The shortage of living space drives up the cost of housing in these areas, making it more and more unaffordable for anyone but upper-tier earners.

Office and apartment rent prices fund all that “free” parking, raising the cost of rent. What are people of more modest means supposed to do? Where do they live?

One U.S. study determined that requiring developers to include parking for new apartment spaces added 16 percent to the cost of living in those apartments. And in metro areas where many don’t need to own a car, that’s a ridiculous added expense.

Every renter ends up subsidizing the parking that’s used by only a handful of people. Nationally, according to the study, non-car owners pay an incredible $440 million to fund parking for others.

But what if they didn’t have to? Suddenly a lot of housing becomes affordable for a wider range of incomes.

Mexico City is the second most populous place in North America after New York City. A whopping 8.8 million people live there, so its traffic problems are legion. Heavy traffic causes congestion, air pollution and wear and tear on road surfaces.

Mexico City’s leaders decided that minimizing parking is the path forward to solving those nagging problems.

aerial Mexico City

Aerial shot of Mexico City. Photo credit: Thinkstock

We’re a society that loves cars. And many of us are deeply married to the idea that we can’t live without lots of free or inexpensive parking close to stores, schools, apartment complexes and office buildings. We’re so used to having parking, as a matter of fact, that we tend to feel it’s a right and a necessity.

But that mindset may need to change.

“If developers were allowed to face directly the high land costs of providing so much parking, the number of spaces would be a result of a careful economic calculation rather than a matter of satisfying a legal requirement,” wrote economics professor Tyler Cowen in The New York Times in 2010. “Parking would be scarcer, and more likely to have a price… and people would be more careful about when and where they drove.”

Many metropolitan areas will have to face this issue sooner rather than later. Do we need those minimum parking requirements? Not really, no. In a number of big American cities, congestion is so bad that nearly every day entails gridlock. Yes, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Manhattan, I’m looking at you.

Not everyone who lives in the heart of a city owns a car — or needs to. Open up that space for housing, and bring the cost of those units down. That’s really what people need. We must get to the point where it’s actually what everyone wants, too.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

53 comments

Melania P
Melania Padilla2 months ago

You know what they should do, as many other countries? Do something about the human overpopulation, instead of giving them more space!

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE3 months ago

Well if it works

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Nicole H
Nicole H3 months ago

Jenn C : NO NO NO NO NO : you do not need a car to have your freedom. You can use a bike or you can use public transport. If you should read my former comments, you will understand why cars and freedom don't go together. Moreover, the poor people can not afford themselves a car. So they do not need the parkings next to their apartment complex. Difficult to understand ??

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Nicole H
Nicole H3 months ago

... but we keep working on it. Since about 20 years we also build the big shopping centers, amusement centers and cinema complexes out of the city. They now all at about 5 to 8 miles outside the city. And t each of these centers there are a variety of busses and trams you can take, depending on where you live in the city center.
Another good idea : before the young people all wanted to live outside the city. Lots of agricultural land, forests and just meadows were used to build their houses, small villa's etc. But when living there, you need 2 cars and children loose a lot of time taking public transport too and from school. The Governments made living in the cities more favorable, and a lot of young people bought houses in the cities which had been empty for years and years... they renovated these buildings, and now live there with their family, using bicycles for short distances or public transport to go working in factories etc... In Europe many cities have adopted this revival of the old city centers, resulting in less drug and prostitution areas... Of course they have not vanished, but now they are generally located away from places where all houses are occupied by people, and there are practically no empty houses any longer. They tend to spread more to the old harbor areas, where there are only sheds, warehouses, etc..

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Nicole H
Nicole H3 months ago

That's the most WONDERFUL idea that I've seen in a long time with regard to avoid traffic jams in the cities and promoting public transport like metro and busses. Indeed, many people with a low income can not allow themselves a nice car, not even an old vehicle, and are new using the metro and busses. It's far less expensive, and also results in less need of parkings next to new apartment blocks. All the space that is used for these parkings, takes away the possibility to build apartments at a lower price, so better affordable for the lower and medium class people. Of course, it goes without saying that Mexico City must provide a good and reliable public transport. When people have to wait for 15 or 20 mins. for the next tram or bus, they will return to their cars. The future lays with a good, swift, affordable and reliable public transport, and parkings outside of the towns. People having a car can park their vehicles on these public parkings, for which they would have to pay, either per week or per month, and then take the tram or bus to their apartments. This will be the ONLY long term solution for ALL BIG and MEDIUM SIZED cities, all over the world. Even in Belgium we have started to build such parkings, some 5 miles away from the city borders. At these parkings, there is a possibility to take a varying number of trams and busses to go to different parts of the city center. We still have to adapt our public transportation%

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Philippa P
Philippa Powers3 months ago

Good for Mexico!

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Belinda Lang
Belinda Lang3 months ago

A good public transportation system is a must if one limits parking spaces.

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Tanya W
Tanya W3 months ago

Thank you

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Tanya W
Tanya W3 months ago

Noted

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heather g
heather g3 months ago

Firstly, you need a reliable transport system. We have a new building with no parking spaces - but it's for homeless people.. They all have bikes, so they have no problem of getting around. They are well-cared for in this community, so that segment of society keeps growing.

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