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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 7, 2011

Administration keeps promise with programs to curb sprawl

When he was running for president, Barack Obama promised that he would "work to provide states and local governments with the resources they need to address sprawl and create more livable communities." Since we last looked at this promise -- and a similar one, Promise 485 -- his administration has made tangible progress.

On Oct. 21, 2010, the administration announced that a partnership of three agencies -- the Transportation Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency -- had released a total of $409.5 million in awards through a variety of programs. The three-agency alliance, known as the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, is designed to promote such principles as minimizing traffic congestion and commuting times, providing transportation options beyond the automobile, keeping housing and transportation costs low and making the most efficient and environmentally sensitive use of land and other natural resources. All of these goals broadly fall under Obama's promise to fight sprawl and create "livable communities."

In a statement released at the Oct. 21, 2010, event, Obama said, "We"re working to change the way government works and that means investing tax dollars wisely and well. We want to make sure that, when we"re building infrastructure, we"re considering how housing, transportation, and the environment all impact each other. These grants are designed to get the biggest bang for our tax-dollar buck." 

One key program has been Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grants, which were authorized by the economic stimulus bill passed earlier this year. TIGER grants, provided for under Title XII of the stimulus bill, will make $1.5 billion available through Sept. 30, 2011, for highway, bridge, railway and port projects. They are to be awarded on a competitive basis for projects deemed to have "a significant impact on the nation, a metropolitan area or a region." Among those eligible for the grants are state and local governments, transit agencies, port authorities, metropolitan planning organizations and multijurisdictional applicants.

Several criteria will play a role in determining which projects are funded, including economic stimulus, the contribution to longer-term U.S. economic competitiveness, improvements to safety -- and "livability" and "sustainability." The Transportation Department defines livability as "improving the quality of living and working environments and the experience for people in communities across the United States." It defines sustainability as "improving energy efficiency, reducing dependence on oil, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and benefiting the environment."

The three-agency partnership has pursued sustainability through other programs as well. They include: 

HUD Community Challenge Grants. In partnership with the TIGER program, HUD will spend up to $40 million "to support local planning activities that integrate transportation, housing, and economic development."

HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants. In June 2010, HUD opened the application process for $100 million in grants to "support metropolitan and multijurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation and infrastructure investments."

• Urban Circulator and Bus Livability Projects. In July 2010, the Transportation Department awarded nearly $300 million under two new programs to "fund streetcar, bus, and other urban transportation projects that connect destinations and foster walkable, mixed-use redevelopment." The grants went to 47 projects in 31 states.

State Revolving Funds for Water Infrastructure. In a May 2010 guidance, EPA urged states receiving $3.3 billion in funding for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to discourage expanding infrastructure to accommodate growth if there are available facilities in existing communities.

Smart Growth Implementation Assistance. This program provides technical assistance to from three to five communities selected competitively each year. The entities that took part in the first year were the state of California; Louisville, Ky.; Montgomery County, Md.; and Las Cruces, N.M.

Greening America"s Capitals. An EPA-led project will assist as many as five state capital cities per year to "develop a vision of distinctive, environmentally friendly neighborhoods that incorporate innovative green building and green infrastructure."

HUD Grant Application Criteria. In May 2010, HUD announced that it will use Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) as a factor in scoring applications for $3.25 billion in discretionary funding.

Executive Order 13514. This order, signed Oct. 5, 2009, is intended to make federal government facilities more sustainable, requiring agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, make buildings more energy efficient and work with communities to site federal buildings near transit and affordable housing and with easy access on foot or bike.

This is a long list of programs with significant dollars behind them, some of which have already been spent in localities. As we did with Promise 485, we rate it a Promise Kept.

Our Sources

Partnership for Sustainable Communities, "A Year of Progress for American Communities," accessed Dec. 1, 2010

Department of Transportation, "Partnership for Sustainable Communities Awards Grants to Build Infrastructure Nationwide" (news release), Oct. 21, 2010

E-mail interviews with Olivia Alair, Transportation Department spokeswoman

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson September 4, 2009

Administration starts working on "Livable Communities"

Three federal agencies — the Transportation Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency — have begun working jointly toward creating what the administration has termed "more livable communities." These are communities which minimize traffic congestion and commuting times, which provide transportation options beyond the automobile, which keep housing and transportation costs low for residents, and which make the most efficient and cleanest use of land and other natural resources.
"Creating livable communities will result in improved quality of life for all Americans and create a more efficient and more accessible transportation network that serves the needs of individual communities," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee on June 16, 2009. "Fostering the concept of livability in transportation projects and programs will help America"s neighborhoods become safer, healthier and more vibrant."
DOT and HUD kicked off the initiative on March 18, 2009, by announcing a new partnership "to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options and lower transportation costs." The interagency task force's stated aim is to bolster "sustainable communities."
The specific goals include:

• Having every major metropolitan area in the country "conduct integrated housing, transportation, and land use planning and investment in the next four years." This includes making planning grants available and providing technical assistance to local officials.

• The development of federal housing affordability measures that include both housing and transportation costs, and which would be available in an online calculator. Transportation costs have been growing rapidly in recent years, the administration says, but this is not reflected in current federal definitions of housing affordability. The agencies would also develop and refine other statistics on housing and transportation options.
• Greater cooperation and information-sharing between DOT and HUD, focused on encouraging more efficient consumer choices in housing and transportation.
On June 16, 2009, the partnership added EPA to its ranks and offered additional goals, including:
• Helping communities plan for future growth in a way that reduces "the nation"s dependence on foreign oil, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, protects America"s air and water and improves quality of life."
• Targeting development to locations that already have infrastructure, and pursuing "environmental justice" in areas "where disinvestment and past industrial use caused pollution and a legacy of contaminated or abandoned sites. This partnership will help return such sites to productive use."
• Focusing federal funding on existing communities by encouraging transit oriented, mixed-use development, while safeguarding rural landscapes.
Meanwhile, on July 24, 2009, HUD announced the appointment of Shelley Poticha, a land-use and transportation expert, as senior adviser for sustainable housing and communities. Poticha would be in line to head the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at HUD if the department is successful in creating that office through legislation. The Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities would provide technical and policy support for energy, "green" building and integrated housing and transportation programs at HUD and around the nation.
The group has only just begun its work, and it will be a while before it produces tangible results. In addition, the news releases announcing the partnership don't use the word "sprawl" per se. But the issues raised are all related, and the phrase "livable communities" — also part of the promise — is sprinkled liberally throughout the documents. So the panel's creation does take a step towards fulfilling Obama's promise. We rate it as In the Works.

Our Sources

Transportation Department, "HUD and DOT Partnership: Sustainable Communities" news release , Mar. 18, 2009
Transportation Department, "DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Announce Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities" news release , June 16, 2009

Department of Housing and Urban Development, "Shelley Poticha Appointed as HUD Senior Advisor for Sustainable Housing and Communities" news release , July 24, 2009
E-mail interviews with Transportation Department spokeswoman Olivia Alair, September 2009

E-mail interview with Brookings Institution transportation expert Robert Puentes, Sept. 4, 2009

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