James Maiewski: How city parking subsidizes suburbs

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Published: 01-23-2024 5:07 PM

Modified: 01-24-2024 1:56 PM

Insufficient affordable housing is a topic that has rightly been the subject of many news items and readers’ letters, but none have broached the crucial role played by a policy of car dependance and specifically one of maintaining a superabundance of parking.

Let us consider the proportion of downtown Northampton and its immediate surrounding area — the priciest and most desirable real estate in town — which is currently devoted to the temporary storage of cars. Rather, the potential storage, as this is vacant most of the time.

I encourage the reader to peruse a satellite view. Is it 10%? 20%? We should consider this state of affairs as a subsidy artificially elevating the property values of those who live far enough away from the center that life without a car (or adequate public transportation) is untenable.

Imagine that all real estate inside the downtown reserved for the primary or exclusive use of automobiles (e.g. driveways and parking spaces) be assessed a property tax equal to the value of a three- to five-story mixed-use building. This would incentivize the construction of actual housing. It would also tend to lower the cost of real estate that was not, in fact, subsidized at the expense of such potential housing; or at least align the interests of those property holders with the goals of better access to goods and services — whether this be better public transportation, more distributed sources of goods and services, or both. At the very least, it would properly price said parking.

This will be seen as a laughable, particularly by those who live in car-dependent housing, housing that is not only receiving the subsidy described above, but also an explicit subsidy in the mortgage interest tax deduction.

Additionally, the farther from the center one gets, the better deal is their current tax bill, as those paying property taxes nearer the denser population centers already pay more than the services they receive in order to lower the property taxes of those more dispersed and distant below this threshold.

Why is this public policy not acknowledged as such?

James Maiewski