Spokane removed parking minimums for housing near transit. Is the state next?

Some state lawmakers see rolling back parking requirements as crucial for growing the housing supply. But the issue can be controversial.

By: - July 26, 2023 2:56 pm

New multi-family housing construction in downtown Olympia. (Laurel Demkovich/Washington State Standard)

To help increase housing production at a time when it is desperately needed, some state lawmakers want to cut off-street parking requirements for new homes.

They may end up following Spokane’s lead. 

The City Council there last week passed a temporary measure to remove minimum parking requirements for all housing built within a half mile of a transit stop. The policy is a pilot project that will expire in July 2024 unless the Council decides to make it permanent.

“This is about reducing barriers to affordable housing and cutting housing costs,” Councilman Zack Zappone, one of the sponsors of the ordinance, told the Council last week. He emphasized that the plan does not prohibit parking, but that it is no longer mandated.

Most local jurisdictions require new homes to be built with a certain number of parking spaces. Critics of these parking minimums say that they make it more expensive and complicated to build housing, while also taking up limited space in dense cities.

Meanwhile, the requirements have left many U.S. cities with an abundance of parking compared to buildings and people. 

Seattle, for example, has 5.2 parking spaces per household, a 2018 study from the Research Institute for Housing America found. The city has just under 30 parking spots per acre, compared to about six households per acre, according to the report. 

Oregon and California both rolled back many minimum parking mandates last year, leaving Washington the lone West Coast state to still have widespread requirements.

Even so, the road to prohibiting parking requirements at the state level may be a long one.

Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, who chairs the House Housing Committee, said policies to do so remain “super controversial.” 

“Local city officials get a lot of pressure about parking,” he said. “It’s just a political reality.” 

But he added that the issue is an important piece of solving the state’s housing shortage. “It’s not about parking. It’s about housing,” Peterson said. “We’re in a housing crisis. We’re not in a parking crisis.” 

Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, who is the top Republican on the housing committee, also believes the Legislature has work to do on the issue.

“You now have added a myriad of layers of requirements on builders,” he said.“That makes it more difficult to build and ultimately more expensive.” 

Tough finding a spot on the agenda

State lawmakers did pass a few pieces of parking policy in this year’s session, limiting off-street parking requirements when building so-called middle housing, such as duplexes or triplexes, and accessory dwelling units near transit. 

Attempts to push through more sweeping changes failed.

One bill would have required local jurisdictions to allow multi-family housing near transit. It would have also removed off-street parking requirements for developments near transit stations. 

The bill passed the state Senate with bipartisan support but never came up for a vote in the House.

Another bill that died in committee would have removed parking requirements for cities and counties that plan under the Growth Management Act. It also would have prohibited minimum parking requirements within a quarter-mile of transit for all new residential and commercial developments. Off-street parking would have been allowed for people with disabilities. 

Opposition against removing parking minimums was strong throughout the session. 

The Association of Washington Cities and the Washington State Association of Counties both testified against the bill prohibiting parking minimums, saying there needed to be more consideration for seniors or families with kids and in neighborhoods already short on parking. 

Paul Jewell, at the Washington State Association of Counties, testified in January that the bill was “prescriptive” and horned in on land use decisions normally left to locals. 

Despite the pushback, Barkis said there was some willingness from cities to have broader conversations about when it might make sense to limit parking, like with middle housing. 

He acknowledged that it is challenging to balance sweeping reform at the state level with local implementation. 

“We’re going to have to navigate how that works,” Barkis said. “It is not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Peterson said he thinks parking minimum prohibitions may come up again in pieces of other housing bills, as opposed to legislation specifically targeting the requirements statewide. 

The Sightline Institute, a research nonprofit, found that more than a dozen states proposed bills in 2023 to reduce or eliminate parking minimums, though most did not pass. 

Researcher Catie Gould said in a statement that she was aware of a handful of parking policy changes last year but didn’t realize how many proposals came up across the country.

“This idea suddenly has quite a bit of traction,” Gould said.

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Laurel Demkovich
Laurel Demkovich

Laurel joined States Newsroom in 2023 after almost three years as a statehouse reporter for the Spokesman-Review. She covers state government, the Legislature and all other Olympia news.