2021 Policy Priorities - Metropolitan Planning Council

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2021 Policy Priorities

Our recommendations for federal, state, and local policy change

2021 Federal Policy Agenda

The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) works with governments, businesses, and advocacy groups to promote racially equitable and environmentally sustainable planning and policy solutions that build a better, bolder, more equitable future for everyone.  

As we enter 2021, we inherit urgent problems with longstanding structural roots. Spiking unemployment, faltering transit agencies, millions of Americans brought to the brink of eviction, hundreds of thousands of preventable COVID-related deaths – these immediate crises will linger with us for years to come. Each are manifestations of familiar failures of our contemporary world rooted in systemic racism: decades of disinvestment in Black and Latinx communities, under-funding of critical infrastructure that protects the health of our most vulnerable residents, and an ongoing failure to meet the housing needs of low-income residents. While we urge investing in the immediate needs, MPC advocates for thoughtful planning to address these problems at their roots.

We support policies, programs, narrative change, and budgets that lead to just, sustainable, equitable outcomes for all residents.

Protect vulnerable residents – especially those leaving the criminal legal system – so that they can access and remain in stable housing.

Center racial equity in reforms to the Community Reinvestment Act and its rules.

By most measures, the Community Reinvestment Act falls short of accomplishing its original goals of combatting redlining and ensuring equity in lending. In Chicago, 68.1 percent of dollars loaned for housing purchases went to majority-white neighborhoods, while just 8.1 percent went to majority-black neighborhoods and 8.7 percent to majority-Latinx neighborhoods[1]. To address this disparity, the Community Reinvestment Act must center and explicitly incorporate a goal of racial equity. In doing so, the Act can begin addressing the historic policies and practices, such as redlining, that prevented non-White people from accessing mortgage loans and owning homes.

Ensure sufficient, equitable housing support throughout the pandemic.

Since March 2020, 17.8 percent of renter households and 8.5 percent of homeowners in Illinois have fallen behind on their housing payments[2]. While several rounds of federal cash stimulus and housing payments have helped to forestall the coming tide of evictions and foreclosures, we do not yet know the true scope of need of renters, homeowners, and housing providers. More needs to be done to ensure everyone has access to stable housing throughout the still-unfolding pandemic. MPC supports ongoing monitoring and federal response, including federal funding and limitations on eviction and foreclosure proceedings.

Center the needs of returning residents.

People leaving the criminal legal system face numerous permanent punishments after arrest, conviction and incarceration. Finding stable housing is typically the most significant barrier. Returning residents face the stigma of “criminal history” as they search for stable places to live, and are often met with landlords unwilling to rent. This stigma persists despite the fact that in Illinois 42 percent of adults have an arrest or conviction record. Yet the needs of returning residents are often insufficiently integrated into national housing conversations. MPC supports centering the housing needs of those with a criminal record in both specific policies and in national conversations about housing.

Produce more affordable housing.

Increase funding for and the number of Project Base Vouchers to public housing authorities.

Project Based Vouchers help produce and preserve affordable housing for people making less than 80% of Area Median Income. Because of limited funding to this program, Currently, the Housing Assistance Payment contracts for PBVs can keep the units affordable for 15-20 years and these contracts can thereafter be renewed for an additional 20 years. PHAs can use these vouchers to projects if the owner agrees to rehabilitate or construct units, or if the owner agrees to set aside a portion of the units in an existing development. Housing Authorities can use up to 20% of their vouchers for PBVs - increasing the limit would put more vouchers to use for the purposes of producing affordable housing. 

Preserve and stabilize existing housing.

Provide Housing Choice Vouchers to every eligible family in the United States.

Chicago has a shortage of roughly 120,000 affordable homes - the overwhelming majority of which are homes that would be affordable for people making 50 percent or less of the Area Median Income (AMI). Housing Choice Vouchers subsidize rent for families earning less than 50 percent of the AMI so they pay no more than 30 percent of their income towards rent. These vouchers are a critical tool in closing the gap between incomes and rent; by fully funding the Housing Choice Voucher Program, we can make housing affordable for nearly 120,000 Chicagoans and millions of Americans.

Federal interventions to blunt potential effects of mass foreclosures.

As of August 2020, 8.5 percent of homeowners in Illinois were behind on their mortgages, which means that hundreds of thousands of Illinois households are at risk of falling into foreclosure. Many communities in our region are still dealing with the consequences of foreclosures that occurred at this scale during the recession of 2008: People lost not only their homes but also their primary means of wealth-building, often passed down through generations. Black communities were stripped of wealth and, in many cases, literally bulldozed. Many properties were bought by large investment and property management firms that charged exorbitant fees and rents to people desperate to retain their homes. While the federal government should facilitate fair mortgages to prevent these foreclosures in the first place, it should also provide a backstop for homeowners that need more assistance to retain their homes. Possible solutions include the following increasomg funding for local land banks to hold foreclosed properties for homeowners and establishing a federal foreclosed home buy-back program, which may operate like a federal land bank.

Plan for long-term, racially equitable coordination of housing with transportation, employment, and other essential services.

Reinstate the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule

The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under Secretary Ben Carson recently replaced an Obama-era fair housing rule known as Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing. That rule required municipalities accepting HUD funds to analyze barriers to racial integration in their communities and take proactive steps to address them. It had been an important tool in getting municipalities to think and act regionally to enable racial integration. MPC supports reinstating this rule.

Promote quality housing near transit.

Transit should be an amenity for everyone in our communities. But preferences for urban living are increasing the demand for housing and commercial development near transit stations. Without an explicit equity framework, lower-income people near public transit will be displaced. MPC champions growth near public transit to create thriving, balanced, and mixed- income communities, with tools to ensure that the benefits of transit-oriented development are experienced by people of all income levels. We support federal efforts to advance equitable transit-oriented development, such as the Promoting Equitable Transit-Oriented Development and Mobility Corridors Act (H.R. 7070) and The Equitable Transit-Oriented Development Act (H.R. 5783).

Protect the health of Illinois residents by ensuring reliable, safe water.

Fund replacement of lead service lines.

Of the estimated 9.3 million lead water service lines in the United States[3], Illinois has over 686,000[4], more than any other state. Replacing all lead service lines in their entirety is a health imperative: Lead is a well-known toxin that causes lifelong health and developmental effects, and lead service lines account for up to 75 percent of lead in drinking water. Replacing lead service lines is also a racial justice issue: Black Illinoisans are twice as likely as white residents to live in municipalities with 95 percent of known lead service lines. Replacing these pipes will address this racial inequity, create jobs and small businesses, and reduce healthcare costs associated with lead exposure. MPC urges federal funding to replace all of the nation’s lead service lines, which could be pursued as part of a broader water infrastructure funding package or comprehensive infrastructure investment act.

 Increase drinking water affordability, equitable rate setting and access.

Keep the tap on

Access to clean, safe water is a fundamental right, and COVID-19 has only emphasized the importance of water as a necessary public health good. For people without clean water, hand-washing – one important means of preventing the spread of coronavirus – becomes difficult or impossible. Yet an estimated 15 million Americans are without access to drinking water in any given year. We applaud Congress for including $638 million in water bill assistance in December’s COVID-19 relief bill, but this may not be enough to keep all Americans connected to water utilities. We urge President Biden to issue an executive order ending water utility shutoffs now through 12 months after the COVID-19 emergency ends. Additionally, MPC supports the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act, which would provide an additional $1.5 billion in water bill assistance.

Equitably fund transit capital and operations now and into the future.

Resolution for Transit Funding Parity

MPC supports guaranteeing 50-50 funding share for highways and transit, as called for in S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García’s (D-Ill.) 2020 “Resolution for Transit Funding Parity.” Under current law based on outdated funding assumptions, distributions from the Highway Trust Fund flow 80 percent to automobile infrastructure and 20 percent to public transportation. This mandatory split reinforces dependency on automobiles, creates competition among highway and transit projects, and unnecessarily hamstrings state governments. MPC supports ending this mandated split and adequately funding transit.

Support public transit operating expenses.

The current public health crisis, combined with ongoing and equally urgent needs for social equity, environmental justice, and climate change mitigation, demonstrate that now is the time for this important reset. The federal government started providing operating assistance to support day-to-day transit operations in 1974, but cutbacks started in the 1980s, and by the 1990s federal operating assistance ended in all but the smallest cities and in rural areas. Dependent on highly variable sales taxes and farebox revenue, transit agencies struggle to come up with the operations funding to provide stable transit service to serve the large share of the population that does not/cannot drive. Now is the time to restart federal operations support for fixed route transit and increased support for ADA paratransit.

Develop and implement a multimodal, data-informed, and equitable approach to transportation investment.

Shape the surface transportation reauthorization

In 2021, Congress will reauthorize the federal government’s five-year transportation planning and funding bill. It’s imperative that this reauthorization rise to the transportation challenges facing our nation and region, which include racial inequity in service provision, crumbling infrastructure, and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. To address these problems, this transportation reauthorization will need to center:

Performance-based programming: Strengthen the federal performance management system to achieve national performance goals including safety, accessibility, resiliency, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Modal options: People need and want choices other than driving to access their daily needs. Reauthorization should prioritize funding to provide a range of safe, affordable, healthy transportation options so Americans have access to many more destinations by walking, biking, and transit.

Safety: Reauthorization needs to prioritize the elimination of traffic deaths and serious injuries (Vision Zero) over highway speeds.

Equity: Future investments must be made through an equity lens to prioritize the transportation needs of low- to moderate- income Black and Brown residents, senior citizens, and those living with disabilities.

Environmental sustainability: Reauthorization should require tracking of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, and incentivize non-single occupancy vehicle travel as well as fleet electrification.

 Strengthen land use and planning to improve climate resilience, ecological and human health, and equity.

Undo rollbacks on clean air and clean water.

Over the past four years, the federal government has rolled back over 100 rules designed to protect our air, water, soil, and health. Thankfully President Biden has already begun to undo some of those rollbacks in his first days in office, such as re-joining the Paris Climate Agreement. MPC supports further executive and agency action to protect our environment and public health, such as re-affirming the “Waters of the United States” rule - a rule that clarified federal protections granted to streams and wetlands - and strengthening provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act.

 Secure additional resources to implement good planning.

Civilian Conservation Corps

In 2020, record numbers of Illinoisans, motivated by a desire for exercise and reconnection with nature, flocked to Illinois’ local, county, state, and national parks and recreation areas. These visitors were greeted by parks in wildly varying states of repair, some well-maintained and pleasant, others barely functioning, a result of decades of disinvestment. This rush to our state’s and region’s recreation areas spurred by COVID-19 demonstrates the need to adequately fund and maintain our natural treasures. We support tending to our parks while creating meaningful jobs, as proposed in a recent bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), called the RENEW Conservation Corps Act.


[1] “Where Banks Don’t Lend,” WBEZ and City Bureau, https://interactive.wbez.org/2020/banking/disparity/?_ga=2.75856534.2076939140.1605985054-376601554.1601312692.

[2] “The Ongoing Housing Crisis: California Renters Still Struggle to Pay Rent Even as Counties Re-Open,” Terner Center, https://ternercenter.berkeley.edu/research-and-policy/ongoing-housing-crisis/.

[3] “Lead pipes: A threat to kids across America,” Environmental Defense Fund, https://www.edf.org/health/lead-pipes-threat-kids-across-america.

[4] “Lead Service Line Information - Public Water Users,” Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/drinking-water/public-water-users/Pages/lead-service-line-information.aspx.

Metropolitan Planning Council 140 S. Dearborn St.
Suite 1400
Chicago, Ill. 60603
312 922 5616 info@metroplanning.org

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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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