“We don’t have enough direct bus transportation. Everything feels just a little bit out of the way,” complained a resident of Chicago’s Near West community. These sentiments were echoed by many others living in Chicago’s Near West, Near North, and Mid-South communities during a series of Reconnecting Neighborhoods public meetings in 2008. MPC hosted the forums as part of its role in the two-year planning effort, which has been supported by the City of Chicago, Regional Transportation Authority, and consulting firm HNTB, and is now in its implementation phase.
Reconnecting Neighborhoods was launched to rectify the historic absence of essential transportation, retail and pedestrian amenities in the above three neighborhoods -- where high-rise public housing once dominated the landscape. The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has made a significant reinvestment in these areas, through the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) Plan for Transformation, but HUD’s funding focus has been limited primarily to the housing; investments in these other community necessities have yet to be secured.
All too often, similar local efforts to integrate community improvements like housing, transportation, environmental sustainability, and economic development are thwarted because funding resources at the federal and state levels are disjointed and compartmentalized. However, this may be changing. With the recent Dec. 16 passage of the FY 2010 U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Budget, $150 million has been allocated to HUD's new Sustainable Communities Initiative. This groundbreaking program is part of collaboration between HUD, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) -- the HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities -- established to expand transportation choices, invest in existing communities and infrastructure, promote economic competitiveness, expand affordable housing, and coordinate federal investments. Establishing the HUD Sustainable Communities Initiative is just the first step in this broad effort to change the way the federal government invests in communities. And, since HUD’s budget passage, similar announcements have been coming fast and furious.
Just last week, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood announced a dramatic policy shift that expands transportation funding criteria for Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts and Small Starts programs to include livability principles such as economic development opportunities and environmental benefits. Also this week HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the first funding awards for the Green Retrofit Program for Multifamily Housing, which will support “green” retrofits in federally subsidized multifamily housing to reduce energy costs and water consumption and increase indoor air quality. We have seen these concepts being integrated into other American Recovery and Reinvestment Act programs as well.
Meanwhile, in Congress, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) has sponsored the Livable Communities Act of 2009 (S.1619), a complementary piece of legislation aimed at securing additional funding to advance the administration’s efforts, as well as establish the Office of Sustainable Housing & Communities at HUD and an Interagency Council on Sustainable Communities. S. 1619 is currently in the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs committee and U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) is planning to introduce similar legislation in the House.
MPC is closely watching for additional opportunities to forward projects in the greater Chicago region that are consistent with the interagency partnership for sustainable communities Livability Principles, including:
- Reconnecting Neighborhoods, which, after formal adoption by the City of Chicago Plan Commission in 2009, is now forwarding the implementation of streetscapes, bike and transit routes, and new train stations in the historically isolated Near West, Near North, and Mid-South communities;
- MPC’s Bus Rapid Transit project, in partnership with the Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago Dept. of Transportation, is establishing a phased list of BRT projects throughout the city that demonstrate the greatest benefits based on their ability to reduce congestion and vehicle miles traveled, improve mobility and the environment, provide greater access to destinations and existing rail services, impact development and population growth, and consider existing right-of-way parameters in order to forward efforts to bring BRT to Chicago and the region; and,
- The West Cook County and South Suburban Housing collaboratives, which are working across municipal boarders to target HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program dollars to rehabilitate foreclosed properties in targeted areas near rail and economic corridors, as well as leverage other state and federal resources to support broader housing and economic investment in their areas. Additional collaborative efforts underway in the north and northwest suburbs also are pursuing strategies that advance the Livability Principles.