Disappointed, but still hopeful, in the wake of NSP2 - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Disappointed, but still hopeful, in the wake of NSP2

Brad Roberts

The U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced awardees for the second round of Neighborhood Stabilization Program foreclosure recovery funding.  While MPC and our partners appreciated the significant allocations to the City of Chicago and Evanston, we also felt a sharp pang of disappointment. The innovative, regional application put forth by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, on behalf of five Chicago-area municipalities (Aurora, Berwyn, Cicero, Elgin and Joliet) and five counties (Cook, DuPage, Kendall, Lake and Will), did not make the list.

Rather than wallow, the many community, nonprofit, philanthropic, and regional partners that worked together to develop the unprecedented joint application are rallying: They know the collaborative approach is spot-on, that they are building a meaningful and replicable track record with NSP 1 funds, and that the federal government is expecting communities, regions and states to continue to work across borders and agencies on proposals that integrate housing, transportation, environmental sustainability, and economic development.

These regional partners also know they were in good company: Some 482 applications were submitted, and only 56 grants were awarded in 28 states. CMAP’s regional application earned accolades for its collaboration from a range of thought leaders, including HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan himself, who has commended metropolitan Chicago for taking an interjurisdictional approach to foreclosure recovery.

Even as we rally, this is also a time for reflection. As philosopher Henry David Thoreau wisely said, “If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” We have had our quiet time. To be ready, metropolitan Chicago and Illinois must continue to make progress toward sustainable, cooperative planning. This was the first time the region came together to submit a joint federal funding application. Also meaningful was the State of Illinois’ willingness to carve out a leadership role for itself, within this regional effort.  Simply working through the process provided an invaluable opportunity to learn where capacity is strongest and to identify where we can use more support.

These insights, if absorbed, will position the region to make the cut when the next opportunity arises.  The Obama administration is keenly aware that, to compete in the global marketplace, the focus must be on competitive regions.  The 2010 budget reflects this, so there will be more opportunities, as a recent MPC web article by my colleague Joanna Trotter noted.

Already, two collaborative applications were submitted to the Dept. of Energy for Energy Efficiency (DOE) and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program from our region. CMAP submitted a regional application, this time including the City of Chicago, to build a comprehensive energy retrofit program. Complementing this broader effort, the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association submitted a more targeted proposal, under a separate section of that EECB program, to provide energy audits and retrofit funds along transit lines in the southern suburbs. DOE announcements are expected in March of 2010.

To further gear up, regional partners will continue to push their limits – and request the same of local, state and federal leaders. This requires an expanded definition of "region," including unprecedented coordination between public and private partners throughout Region V (the federally designated jurisdiction covering Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin), and a focus on the tri-state connections from Gary, Ind., to Chicago to Milwaukee, Wis. We also must reward and build on local lessons learned from such innovation as the South and West Cook suburban housing collaboratives, Reconnecting Neighborhoods, REACH Illinois, and the Regional Housing Initiative  Increasingly, local partners are committed to engage the leadership of Region V in an intentional effort to learn from the Great Communities Collaborative in the Bay Area, where public and private sector partners focused on transit-oriented development have maximized capital planning and investments with capacity building and technical assistance dollars.

What’s most encouraging is that, in the wake of their disappointment regarding HUD’s NSP 2 announcement, every one of the partners engaged in the regional effort has expressed its dedication to further coordination.

Flash-in-the-pan this was not; rather, it was a watershed moment, and a sign that we shall indeed, together, find our compensation. 

This article also is available on the South Suburban News web site.

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