A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Why is Portland wasting affordable housing funds on empty parking lots?

Last night the city of Portland declared a parking ban in advance of a snowstorm, which means that everyone had to move their cars into off-street parking lots.

And here's what the 22-space parking lot at Avesta Housing's Bayside East building (a low-income housing complex for seniors) looked like:

There were two more cars parked in the handicap spaces outside of the shot, but still, this is what I'm talking about when I kvetch about the wastefulness of Portland's and MaineHousing's parking requirements.

This parking lot was paid for in part from Maine's Low Income Housing Tax Credits, which are a) extremely limited and b) intended to subsidize affordable housing, not to subsidize our most unaffordable form of transportation.

Building this parking lot forced Avesta to set aside more than half of its 1/3rd acre parcel (adding ~$150,000 in land costs to the project) for pavement instead of for housing. What is today a 20-unit apartment building could have housed *twice* as many low-income households if the city and MaineHousing had not forced them to waste this real estate.

And, on an ongoing basis, this parking lot also forces Avesta Housing, a nonprofit agency, to spend thousands of dollars every year plowing, sanding, patching potholes and paying stormwater fees for an ugly field of asphalt that, as it turns out, their tenants don't want even when it's being given away for free!

Over the years, Portland's affordable housing developers have pissed away millions of dollars' worth of our state's limited low-income housing funds to build parking lots and garages like this one. Imagine how great our bus system could be if that money had been spent on METRO improvements instead.

Maine has over 30,000 renter households that don't own any cars, and Portland is one of the few places in the entire state where those families can live well without an automobile.

It's plainly wrong to mandate that a parking lot is the best way to solve low-income renters' mobility needs. Given the extortionist terms of subprime auto loans and the high costs of car maintenance, expecting low-income tenants to bring their own cars instead of helping them pay for transit passes is borderline sadistic. These families need apartments and better transit service much more than they need free parking, and Portland, as a city, needs planning laws and low-income housing financing rules that recognize this fact.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hear you. I attended the dedication of Bayside Anchor a bit back, the new affordable housing Passive House structure across from Franklin "Towers." One of the speakers was the head of the PSA, and he admitted over 8,000 people were still on the list for affordable housing in Portland. Why doesn't anyone talk about the elephant in the room? It's because people in Portland with property, wealth, do not want poorer people in town. They think it will reduce their own property values and rental property income. It is de facto racism, as most of these new residents will be "people of color." I think Portland needs its own version of "AOC". Remember, Mainers don't like change.