BLOG | Parking Requirements Stifle the Housing Supply

A lack of affordable housing is one of the major problems facing the Seattle region, and the suburb of Burien, WA is no exception.

I had previously run for Burien city council several times, specifically to fix the housing crisis. I ran as a Libertarian because our city government was responsible for the problem. 

In 2019, the city passed a series of amendments to its zoning code relating to accessory dwelling units. It included the removal of the antiquated owner-occupancy requirement and a three-year exemption for parking requirements for new Affordable Dwelling Units (or ADUs) within a quarter mile of a transit stop. Since the passage of the 2019 amendments, ADU development increased from an average of 3.5 to 17.3 per year, which was a very small step in the right direction.

While city council is officially a non-partisan office, the political affiliations of the candidates are generally well known. In one election, I earned 17% of the vote in a five-way race as the Libertarian candidate due to my track record of civic involvement. I served on the city’s teen council when I was in high school and had volunteered at a number of nonprofits in the area, several of which focus on serving our unhoused community. I also delivered frequent testimony at council meetings.

After losing my last council race, I was appointed to a four-year term on the planning commission in April of this year. I graciously accepted.

Soon after my appointment, I learned one of our first items to be considered was a review of the current zoning and housing exemptions. City staff had initially proposed making the current zoning exemption permanent but retaining the requirement of proximity to a transit stop. This meant that new developments needed to be along a main public transportation line. During our deliberations as a commission, I asked staff if there was any data available that suggested that residents of ADUs were any more likely to use public transit than residents of a primary dwelling. None could be provided. Interestingly, however, they reported that there were zero complaints relating to ADU parking. In fact, in most of our residential neighborhoods, there is ample street parking to support the needs of the community.

It was at this time that I proposed an amendment to permanently eliminate the parking requirement for all ADUs within the city, regardless of proximity to transit. Among the arguments previously mentioned, I also noted that not requiring parking would decrease costs for developers, allow for ADUs to be developed on smaller lots, and allow for garage and basement conversion on already developed lots.

My amendment passed the planning commission by 6-1. When it moved to the full council for a vote, it passed unanimously.

In July of this year, my fellow commissioners elected me vice chair of the commission for the upcoming year and I chaired my first meeting on August 10th. At that meeting, we recommended an extension of our Affordable Housing Demonstration Program to the council. The program as drafted would grant developers an exemption from various parts of our zoning code if they agree to build housing for individuals making under 80% of the area’s median income. We have had two applications already, one from Habitat for Humanity, and a third application is in progress. After seeing positive results of the AHDP, we will be recommending permanent changes to our zoning code to ease the development of all types of housing. 

During my short tenure with Burien, I’ve learned two things: 1) government is often responsible for erecting barriers in the communities they are meant to serve, and 2) a Libertarian approach to governance breaks down those barriers and empowers residents to find practical and long-term solutions to their problems.

Charles Schaefer