Feb 22, 2022

Case Studies on Smart Zoning Reforms, Part Four: Removing Parking Requirements in Buffalo, New York

Buffalo illustrates how removing minimum parking requirements can increase housing availability, optimize land use, and make walkable development possible.
Emily Hamilton Senior Research Fellow , Sloane Argyle Staff Writer

This article is part of a series of case studies of positive local housing policy reforms in the United States. Each looks at a reform or set of reforms implemented at the municipal level. We have only included reforms that appear to have successfully improved housing affordability, to serve as examples for policymakers looking to do the same in their jurisdictions.

Part one: Houston, Texas

Part two: Portland, Oregon

Part three: Tysons Corner, Virginia

Part four: Buffalo, New York

The story: Since striking down the city’s parking requirements in 2017, Buffalo has seen the development of more than 1,000 new homes and several flourishing new transit-dependent businesses. Rather than mandating a specific number of parking spots for new buildings, the Buffalo code now requires large developments to include a transportation demand management plan.

Why it matters: Starting in the 1920s, municipalities across the United States began implementing parking requirements for new buildings. These ordinances require that new buildings have off-street parking lots and a minimum number of spaces per square foot of commercial space or per residential unit. In places where land is expensive, complying with parking requirements is likewise very expensive and can be a deterrent to housing development. Buffalo became the first to reform minimum parking requirements citywide, laying the groundwork for a revitalization of its urban center.

Details:

  • From April 2017 to April 2019, developers of 14 new mixed-use projects incorporated 53% fewer parking spaces than would have been required prior to the reform. Four new developments don’t have any parking.
  • One-third of these projects included parking that was priced separately from the sale price or rent of housing, allowing residents who don’t need parking spots to save money.
  • Developers built two mixed-use projects that include housing along the Main Street corridor, which is served by light rail. The city’s previous parking requirements would have likely made these projects infeasible.
  • In addition to raising housing costs, parking requirements can prevent existing buildings from being repurposed to better suit residents’ needs. Buffalo’s parking liberalization made adaptive reuse feasible.

The big picture: Across the United States, parking requirements and other regulations prevent new development, increasing the cost of housing and inhibiting economic growth. Buffalo’s experience is a reminder that local leaders should question whether land-use status quos truly serve residents.

To learn how policymakers can improve housing affordability in your area, check out our Guide for Local Policymakers.

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