Having drawn a funding goose egg in fiscal year 2012, the Obama administration's Sustainable Communities Initiative is going back to the well for 2013, asking for $100 million to restore two popular sustainability grant programs.
The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities (OSHC) is to create strong, sustainable communities by connecting housing to jobs, fostering local innovation, and helping to build a clean energy economy.
The two main components that work together to comprise the OSHC are the Sustainable Communities Initiative and the Energy Innovation Fund.
The objective of the Sustainable Communities Initiative is to stimulate more integrated and sophisticated regional planning to guide state, metropolitan, and local investments in land use, transportation and housing, as well as to challenge localities to undertake zoning and land use reforms.
OSHC received grant program funding for the Sustainable Communities Initiative in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, but not in fiscal year 2012. A $100 million budget for the 2013 fiscal year has been proposed for the initiative’s grant programs.
A request for $46 million would fund the Regional Integrated Planning and Implementation Grant program, which represents the next phase in sustainable communities regional planning. This federal investment helps communities develop their own strategic framework to address locally defined needs and to use a single planning investment to address multiple challenges, be they the need for improved mobility, expanded regional housing choices, a coordinated economic development strategy, watershed planning or other environmental and infrastructure needs.
Another request for $46 million will fund the Community Challenge Planning Grant program, which enables communities to update policies, codes, tools and critical capital investments that better integrate transportation, housing and economic development to support local real estate markets and support private investment.
The request also includes $8 million for research, evaluation, modeling tools, technical support and best practices to advance the field of practice for building sustainable communities; and data development and technical assistance to support HUD’s efforts to improve the energy efficiency of its housing portfolio, which has a direct impact on reducing energy costs for households and the federal government.
OSHC partners with the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to offer Sustainable Communities Planning Grants.
“These funds for planning are really not just for a plan that sits on a shelf. They are game plans or strategic plans to determine what additional funding communities might go after in order to implement their plan,” Shelley Poticha, director of the Office of Sustainability said in a recent conference call with approximately 500 stakeholders from across the United States.
“We’re starting to see that communities that have started with a Regional Planning Grant are determining that they can come in again for a Choice Neighborhoods application or even a Community Challenge Grant application.”
HUD is requesting $150 million for the Choice Neighborhoods program for fiscal year 2013. Choice Neighborhoods focuses on three core elements: housing, people and neighborhoods. The program transforms distressed public and assisted housing into energy efficient, mixed-income housing that is physically and financially viable over the long-term. The program also supports positive outcomes for families who live in the target development(s) and the surrounding neighborhoods, particularly outcomes related to residents’ health, safety, employment, mobility and education. The Choice Neighborhoods program also transforms neighborhoods of poverty into viable, mixed-income neighborhoods with access to well-functioning services, high quality public schools and education programs, high quality early learning programs and services, public assets, public transportation, and improved access to jobs.
HUD’s Community Challenge planning grant program fosters reform and reduces barriers to achieving affordable, economically vital, and sustainable communities. These efforts might include amending or replacing local master plans, zoning codes, and building codes, either on a jurisdiction-wide basis or in a specific neighborhood, district, corridor, or sector to promote mixed-use development, affordable housing, the reuse of older buildings and structures for new purposes, and similar activities with the goal of promoting sustainability at the local or neighborhood level.
“One of the things that we do to encourage that alignment and leveraging of funding is something called Preferred Sustainability Status that rewards places that align and leverage their planning funds and their implementation funds,” Poticha said. She pointed out that turning around distressed areas will take time.
“A highly distressed area can’t turn around immediately and one project by itself is not going to deliver lasting change in a community. So, we need to keep working on it and have a longer view at the kinds of change that we are seeking. Think of these regional plans or strategies as an opportunity agenda, where, if you have your game plan in place, when there is an opportunity for some sort of business to come in, or new funding to come in from some other source, you’ve already done the upfront work to prepare for that, so that you can move in on that opportunity as quickly as possible,” Poticha said.
She said rural communities, tribal areas and small towns do not have the resources for these projects without funds from the sustainability program. “They do not have the resources to help them plan for economic recovery,” Poticha said.
In 2009, HUD, the USDOT and the EPA joined together to help communities nationwide improve access to affordable housing, increase transportation options and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment.
The Partnership for Sustainable Communities works to coordinate federal housing, transportation, water and other infrastructure investments to make neighborhoods more prosperous, allow people to live closer to jobs, save households time and money, and reduce pollution.
In October 2010, the Partnership for Sustainable Communities announced a series of grants or other assistance totaling $409.5 million in funding to support livability investments in more than 200 communities across the United States.
The overall objective of HUD’s Energy Innovation Fund is to help catalyze a home energy retrofit market in the United States by accelerating private investment in cost-saving energy efficiency retrofits in the residential sector. Innovative and replicable strategies to improve the usefulness of existing HUD programs, as well as developing new financial tools, are expected to lead to significant reductions in energy consumption, operating costs, and the carbon footprints of both affordable and market-rate housing.