No Parking Developers swap parking spots for affordability.

At moda, a condo project under construction in downtown Seattle, 83 of the 251 units do not include parking spaces. But that didn't deter buyers: The project sold out in less than a week. Residents of moda do get something in lieu of a parking spot—a lower-priced unit, thanks to reduced construction costs. “We still have a huge waiting list,” says Iolanthe Chan-McCarthy, president of Urban Pacific Real Estate, the marketing firm for moda, which was developed by HMI-2312, an affiliate of HMI Real Estate. “People feel they don't need a car. They can walk everywhere.”

Taking a cue from projects like moda, developers are seeing that parking is not critical to a property's success, given the right project and location. The concept, popular for years in East Coast locales such as Boston and New York, is now gaining traction in West Coast cities where more developers are offering limited parking or unbundled parking (where a parking spot is not included in the price of a condo or apartment rent). And for good reason: Developers can save big bucks (a parking space can cost as much as $60,000 to build) and pass on those savings to residents.

“We have a problem of expensive housing and free parking; the priorities are all the wrong way around,” says Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at the University of California at Los Angeles and author of The High Cost of Free Parking. “I think [unbundled parking is] a very healthy trend, and it's sensible for apartment developers and owners because they are offering tenants new options.”

WALKERS WELCOME: At The Civic, a 261-unit condo project in Portland, Ore., Gerding Edlen Development sold 25 units without parking spaces. But switching to such a parking model is easier said than done. Many cities require a minimum number of parking spaces per unit, forcing developers to request time-consuming variances to alter that mix. Cities, however, are slowly changing these requirements, recognizing that less parking not only lowers housing prices, but also reduces traffic congestion as more people rely on public transportation.

Reduced parking often has the most impact for residents of affordable projects. “In an urban area, the quickest way to get people a 15 percent bump in disposable income is for them to take public transit instead of owning a vehicle,” says David Baker, a partner at the San Francisco-based architecture firm, David Baker + Partners. And minimal or even no parking can make room for more critical offerings. At Curran House, a David Baker-designed affordable complex in San Francisco's Tenderloin area, parking spots are replaced with additional units and the offices of the nonprofit developer.

Unbundled parking works best in cities with strong transportation systems, like Portland, Ore., which actually has no minimum parking requirements in most areas to encourage public transit. “The real challenge will be: Can we successfully bring this approach to places like Los Angeles, which is much more of a car culture?” asks Tom Cody, principal of Portland-based Gerding Edlen Development, which is building projects with unbundled parking throughout the West Coast.

The change must come from the residents, adds Baker. “People just assume they need food, water, air, and parking,” he says. “They don't even question the need. You've got to start by questioning the need.” —Rachel Z. Azoff