Why all the six-bed apartments?

A lot of recently constructed buildings in Ann Arbor feature six-bed apartments. Why? Are renters really clamoring for apartments they can share with their five best friends? There’s more than one reason, but one of the causes is a quirk of our zoning regulations.

To understand, let’s take an example: the City Place apartments at 415 and 425 S Fifth Ave, two buildings with a total of 24 six-bedroom apartments.

According to the City zoning map, those addresses are zoned R4C. Search for R4C in the Ann Arbor’s Unified Development Code, and you’ll come across this table:

chart from the Ann Arbor Unified Development Code, showing that multi-family dwellings require 1.5 parking spaces per dwelling unit

So, R4C requires a minimum of 1.5 spaces per dwelling unit.

Elsewhere in the code:

text from the Ann Arbor Uniform Development Code regarding family living arrangements in different kinds of dwelling units, with the following text highlighted: "A maximum of six Persons living as a single Housekeeping Unit in Multiple-Family and mixed use districts only."

R4C is a multiple-family district, so it allows a maximum of 6 people per dwelling unit.

These apartment buildings are a short walk from campus, downtown, and the main bus station. They are likely to appeal to tenants who don’t drive much, so the developer proposing these apartments knew that parking spaces wouldn’t be a big selling point. And parking is expensive–especially in a downtown area like this where land is expensive. So they were interested in building the minimum parking possible. And since they’re required to build 1.5 parking spaces per dwelling unit, the way to minimize parking is to build the largest units allowable–and that’s 6 beds.

The result:

Google street view photo of the parking lot in front of City Place Apartments. The parking lot is large, and it is not full.

A parking lot that nobody asked for, taking up land that could have housed even more places for people to live.

If we want to build a more equitable and vibrant community, we should prioritize housing for people over storage for cars. In order to achieve this, we need to provide a diversity of housing for all needs. That will certainly include some 6-bed apartments–some people do want to live with their five best friends!–but the zoning code should allow for and encourage a wider range of housing types.

Housing advocates and urban planners have long recognized parking minimums as a problem. See Vox/Mobility Lab’s “The high cost of free parking” or the Strong Towns post on Ending Parking Minimums.