Federal incentives fueling Illinois progress - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Federal incentives fueling Illinois progress

While social and economic progress never moves as quickly as policy reformers and advocates wish, the State of Illinois’ 2010 Comprehensive Housing Plan underscores how federal incentives can fuel local innovation.

Congratulations are in order for the state and its innovative plan, which guides $1.2 billion dedicated to housing activities statewide, including $35 million for affordable rental housing investments via the Qualified Allocation Plan (here is MPC's letter in response to the draft QAP). By coordinating housing investments and planning with transportation and economic development, the plan makes real strides toward supporting more sustainable communities, a fundamental goal of the Obama administration.

A decade of progress

Illinois has been moving toward such a plan for more than a decade. In the late ‘90s, advocates and policymakers were alarmed, then empowered, by research demonstrating that job and population trends in Illinois were not being served by the state’s supply of housing. Yet the state had no structure in place to guide metropolitan Chicago and other regional labor markets to address these gaps in a coordinated fashion.

Mayors had already formed the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus in 1998 under the leadership of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.  Shortly thereafter, emboldened both by Regional Rental Market Analysis and the leadership of area employers engaged in Employer-Assisted Housing, the Caucus created its own Housing Task Force to begin tackling these issues. It didn’t take long before they identified the need for state leadership and incentives to reward their on-the-ground efforts..

Illinois’ first housing policy was introduced in 2003 through executive order. It focused broadly on the need for interagency coordination to align housing planning and investment with jobs, transportation, land-use, and human services.  Also central to that policy was the prioritization of state resources to address the needs of low-income households who (a) cannot afford to live near work, (b) have special needs, (c) are struggling with homelessness, (d) are seniors, and/or (e) are living in housing currently affordable but “at risk” of losing that affordability.

In 2004, an interagency, public-private sector Governor’s Housing Task Force was created to transform and update that policy each year into an Annual Comprehensive Plan, under the leadership of the Illinois Housing Development Authority. In 2006, these efforts were codified into law, via the Comprehensive Housing and Planning Act.

In the midst of all this, in 2005, the legislature formally adopted legislation to create the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), which unified the region’s land-use and transportation planning entities, and encouraged them to factor housing in as well.

Federal incentives a ‘shot in the arm’

Even as the region and state took incremental steps toward achieving housing goals, a lack of federal incentives and leadership on these issues stymied further progress.  All of that changed in March 2009, when the Obama administration announced  the Sustainable Communities Initiative. The initiative dedicates funding in the 2010 budget and coordinates multiple agencies resources to encourage states and regions to invest in sustainable communities. Illinois got another shot in the arm when several leaders from the administration visited Chicago in September 2009 for MPC’s Annual Luncheon.

Illinois’ 2010 Comprehensive Housing Plan indicates the state is ready to “go the distance.” The plan identifies “Robust and Sustainable Communities” as a key focus area and further pledges to “address national and local initiatives linking Housing, Transportation, and Employment via a statewide working group,” and to utilize comprehensive investments to “position Illinois to take advantage of resources through the federal CDBG, Sustainable Communities Initiative, the proposed Livable Communities Act, and/or the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.”

Learning from the leadership of the South and West Suburban Housing Collaboratives, and lessons learned by municipal leaders in the north and northwest suburbs through the Charter One Workforce Housing Initiative, the 2010 Plan also encourages “regional capacity-building and coordination efforts.”

To further encourage local innovation, MPC continues to support and track the progress of the Livable Communities Act, which would greatly expand the federal resources available in 2011 and beyond.

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