Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

New PolicyLink Guide Helps Communities Incorporate Equity Into Their Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Applications

In anticipation of HUD’s release of the Notice of Funding Availability for the latest round of Sustainable Communities Regional Planning grants, PolicyLink has released a guide to help applicants incorporate equity into their applications. The guide goes step-by-step through the grant application with specific instructions on how to fill out each section with an equity lens, as well as how to engage and include groups that focus on providing greater access to opportunity for low-income populations, communities of color, and other underserved populations. The guide cites Reconnecting America’s analysis of the previous round of grant recipients, which found equity to be one of nine common themes from winning 2010 applications.

The guide starts by describing why equity is important to sustainable communities. Equity ensures that all residents can access and take advantage of the region’s economic, social, and environmental assets. It also ensures that there is fair and just inclusion in all decisionmaking processes. Due to demographic changes, America is becoming more diverse, and population growth is overwhelmingly among nonwhite racial and ethnic groups. Yet we aren’t currently investing adequately in this new majority.

To apply for this grant, regions must form a consortium with participation from a diverse array of organizations, including those whose core mission is to promote equity. PolicyLink recommends including equity-based groups in the consortium, as well as giving them decisionmaking authority throughout the application process and life of the grant. The lead applicant, which in most regions will be the metropolitan planning organization (MPO), should reach out to the equity- and community-based organizations well ahead of time to ensure the consortium has their support. In addition, equity groups need to reach out to the MPO to be sure they are included.

Because the application requires extensive data analysis of the region’s population, regions should go above and beyond HUD’s requirements and stratify data by race/ethnicity, income and other equity-relevant demographic groupings that could further build the case for equity-based strategies. The Statement of Need should describe the region’s problems with equity and highlight the opportunities that more inclusionary planning can provide to the region.

In the narrative section, which makes up the largest portion of the application and is worth the most points, the application should address how the regional plan will “build inclusive communities free from discrimination, and advance access to economic opportunity for all segments of the population.” Equity-based groups that participate in the process should play a key role in identifying activities and focus areas for the grant in this section. They should review existing plans and decide which aspects are useful as a baseline, and then decide what new information is needed. In addition, the overlay of sectoral dynamics (transit corridors, job centers, housing density, housing affordability) with demographic dynamics (high poverty communities, communities of color, communities of affluence) forms the basis for how to envision key things that need to happen to create more sustainable, prosperous, and equitable regions. The community engagement process should be front-and-center, and the application should discuss how the planning process will engage a large constituency of residents, including those from low-income communities and communities of color in such a way that they have an effective role in shaping the regional vision.

The report goes on to detail budget and local match ideas to elevate equity, and concludes with strategies that would help evaluate program outcomes with an equity lens.

The full report is available for download here.

The Advance NOFA from HUD is available here.

Read Reconnecting America's guide to creating a strong application here.