Big news today from D.C.: $150M for sustainable initiatives - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Big news today from D.C.: $150M for sustainable initiatives

Today, Congress approved the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) budget for FY2010, which includes $150 million in funding for the new Sustainable Communities Initiative, a program aimed at coordinating planning and investments in housing, transportation, and the environment by bringing HUD, DOT and EPA to the same table. This is long anticipated news for MPC and other advocates of smart and sustainable growth around the country.

For the past two years, MPC has partnered with the City of Chicago to lead a planning effort called Reconnecting Neighborhoods, to supplement the Chicago Housing Authority’s HUD-funded Plan for Transformation with new investments in transportation, pedestrian access, and retail improvements near the new mixed-income housing developments. This and similar projects, which are integrating housing, transportation, and economic investment in a coordinated fashion, have long been stymied by the reality that the various federal agencies impacting these land use patterns do not work together, with programs that often do not allow for leveraging, are duplicative, or sometimes even contradictory. With this new Sustainable Communities Initiative program, MPC looks forward to a new federal partnership that supports the creation of communities where these vital aspects of livability are better connected.

Already, organizations and communities in the Chicago region are well positioned for this new funding. $100 million is designated for regional planning agencies to support investment consistent with regional plans. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning would be highly competitive for these resources and can use them to support efforts across the region that help implement strategies outlined in the GO TO 2040 plan, to be released in late 2010.

$40 million is designated for Community Challenge Grants, which will help support initiatives such as the South Suburban Collaborative, an effort by a number of communities to work across municipal borders, through the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association, to spur new economic and housing investment near existing transit-oriented and cargo-oriented stations. The communities are prioritizing investments that promote transit use, location efficiency, affordability, and long-term sustainability. Already this initiative has received federal stimulus funds from the HUD Neighborhood Stabilization program through Cook County. Just this week, this same collaborative applied for funding from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant to support energy retrofits of residential, industrial, and commercial buildings near fixed-rail transit. An additional $10 million will be allocated for research and evaluation.

We should look forward to this new federal investment -- and mindset -- to spark many more creative approaches to developing more livable communities.  

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