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Chicagoland puts impressive foot forward on fed’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities grants

CMAP, RTA, and several local communities and collaboratives make notable bids for highly competitive housing and transportation funds

It's hard to believe it's been a year since MPC’s 2009 Annual Luncheon, at which U.S. Cabinet Secretaries Ray LaHood of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) and Lisa Jackson of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Shelley Poticha, Director, Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Sustainable Housing and Communities, and Adolfo Carrion, Director, White House Office of Urban Affairs, rolled out their new Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Their announcement of this new, innovative interagency collaboration to create more healthy and vibrant communities was music to MPC and our audiences’ ears. 

For several months after, we eagerly awaited funding announcements, and this summer our patience was rewarded. Each of the agencies directed funding from their existing budgets to support the partnership, and the first round of funding was announced, combining U.S. DOT and HUD resources in two joint Notices of Funding Availability (NOFA): one provides up to $100 million for regional integrated planning initiatives and the other provides up to $75 million for localized planning activities. Both NOFAs will support projects that promote the six defined Livability Principles, leading to better integration between transportation, housing and economic development. Applications were due Aug. 23 and announcements should be made later this fall. These funds are highly competitive, with individual challenge grant awards capped at $3 million and individual planning grant awards capped at $5 million, for a total national pot of $175 million. 

Our region quickly mobilized to show that creating livable communities was not a new way of thinking here. We are still tabulating all of the applications generated in this region; however, several applications are particularly exciting.

First, we are proud to say that the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is our region’s lead applicant for the regional integrated planning grant. While these funds are uniquely geared toward Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO), other types of regional agencies could have applied. However, in northeastern Illinois, instead of generating multiple competing applications, we got behind CMAP to support the implementation of the soon-to-be released GO TO 2040 regional plan for northeastern Illinois. While many regions need to start from square one to create regional plans that support the Livability Principles, GO TO 2040 is already on target.  If funded, CMAP's program would focus on housing and transit connections designed to instill GO TO 2040’s recommendations at the local level and build municipal capacity. CMAP will assist with comprehensive planning, housing plans, interjurisdictional coordination, and zoning updates − all of which are fundamental local activities that many communities, especially in this economy, do not have the resources to undertake. A planning grant award will help CMAP move toward the next phase of GO TO 2040 by allowing the agency to staff up its own technical assistance capacity and assist some of its key regional technical assistance partners. 

We also have seen and been part of several innovative challenge grant applications. Designed to advance the Livability Principles at the local level, these challenge grants support planning, land acquisition, and transportation design activities.

Complementing the above CMAP regional planning grant application, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) requested challenge grant funds through two applications. The first requested funds to study the creation of a regional land acquisition fund to support transit-oriented development efforts. The second will support RTA’s efforts to provide technical assistance to local communities working to implement their transit area plans.

The South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association (SSMMA) submitted a noteworthy application to support its Green TIME Zone strategy, an effort developed in partnership with Center for Neighborhood Technology to focus new development and support and enhance existing development around the area’s established and proposed transit lines.  Challenge grant funds will help SSMMA prioritize, acquire and prepare land around train stations with a focus on attracting mixed-income residential development, instituting a local land banking structure, and establishing model ordinances across communities that support transit-oriented development.

Similarly, the West Cook County Housing Collaborative, which encompasses Berwyn, Bellwood, Forest Park, Maywood, and Oak Park, submitted an application to support a comprehensive transit-oriented development strategy to implement tools, policies and programs that will create affordable housing around the communities' transit stations. This application also included the establishment of an acquisition and predevelopment fund for affordable housing.

The Village of Arlington Heights submitted an application to support affordable housing planning efforts in their award-winning downtown transit-oriented development area. Planning would be done for several sites in close proximity to the Metra commuter station. Challenge grant funding would help the city achieve greater location efficiency for moderate and low-income households by applying their existing and highly regarded citywide housing efforts − including homebuyer assistance, mixed-income housing, model deed restrictions, and senior housing − and exploring new strategies to incorporate affordable housing into the station area. Arlington Heights also will support shared learning across northwest suburban towns to help advance a broader interjurisdictional strategy.

With challenge grant support, the City of Highland Park and Community Partners for Affordable Housing are aiming to conduct a city-wide sustainable affordable housing initiative; 20-plus existing and new  homes will be developed. The initiative also will add innovative, environmentally sustainable elements and performance measures to an ongoing program; address green building practices, materials, and appliances; create location-efficient homes; and, provide conservation training for residents. The goals are to reduce households' housing, energy and transportation costs and expand the supply of affordable housing close to job clusters.

We also know that the Chicago Transit Authority submitted two applications. One will help advance the Reconnecting Neighborhoods Damen/Lake Green Line station recommendation, through further planning work; the other supports planning related to the Red Line extension.

These funding announcements have created significant momentum in metropolitan Chicago and across the country toward more coordinated housing and transit spending; however, the funding available is really just a drop in the bucket compared with the demand generated by efforts already underway, as well as fledgling projects. As such, MPC is actively supporting the Livable Communities Act (S. 1619/H.R. 4690), which would direct $3.75 billion over three years to this partnership. We encourage you to as well!

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For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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