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Realizing The Potential for Sustainable, Equitable TOD

Reconnecting America White Paper makes recommendations to federal partnership on sustainable communities

In June 2009, the Obama Administration announced a new interagency partnership on sustainable communities between the Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency. An early action by the Partnership was to announce a set of Livability Principles to guide future federal investments, policy development, and programs. These include:

  • Provide more transportation choices. Develop safe, reliable, and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.
  • Promote equitable, affordable housing. Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.
  • Enhance economic competitiveness. Improve economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs by workers, as well as expanded business access to markets.
  • Support existing communities. Target federal funding toward existing communities—through strategies like transit-oriented, mixed-use development, and land recycling—to increase community revitalization and the efficiency of public works investments and safeguard rural landscapes.
  • Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment. Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding, and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy.
  • Value communities and neighborhoods. Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe, and walkable neighborhoods—rural, urban, or suburban.

To help inform the work of the Interagency Partnership, Reconnecting America today released a new white paper, “Realizing the Potential for Sustainable, Equitable TOD: Recommendations to the Interagency Partnership on Sustainable Communities”.

The white paper reflects input from a variety of stakeholders involved in transit-oriented development, affordable housing and community development. Table 2 of the White Paper contains an extensive list of recommendations for each of the three federal agencies participating in the Partnership. The white paper provides a short history of previous federal efforts to promote livable communities and highlights the growing number of local, regional, and state programs that successfully leveraged the combined power of housing, land use, transportation, and environmental programs to create sustainable communities. Appendix I provides a summary of state, regional and local TOD-supportive policies.

Four key policy recommendations that could be implemented through the rule-making process or administrative actions over the next year are provided. The authors believe this “low-hanging fruit” would have an enormous impact on the ability of communities to successfully plan for their futures.

A Revamped Coordinated Long Range Planning Process
Work to integrate the federally-required planning efforts for transportation, housing, and environmental investments on the regional level to make the planning process simpler, more effective and to help ensure that public investments work together to create equitable and sustainable development.
 
Develop New Project Funding Priorities Based on Livability Principles
Establish a set of livability measures that would be used to prioritize project funding for discretionary grants, something also laid out in Senator Chris Dodd’s (D-CT) Livable Communities Bill (S. 1619). These principles should be reflected in criteria for HUD’s upcoming sustainability grants and in new guidance for the federal New Starts/Small Starts program that funds new transit investments.
 
Implement the Housing + Transportation Affordability Index
Affordability is impacted both by housing and transportation, the two highest household expenditures. For households earning $50,000 or less, transportation now costs more than housing in most metropolitan areas, and this cost is highly dependent on the character of the location of housing . The Federal government should act to ensure that housing consumers (renters and homebuyers) and suppliers (investors, builders, regulators and developers) are made aware of the full direct costs of housing (including transportation costs), and work to ensure that these costs are fully disclosed by the marketplace.
 
Enhanced Comprehensive Technical Assistance Programs
The most compelling actions that the Interagency Partnership could undertake in the short term are to support capacity building at the state, regional and local levels. There is a demonstrated demand for pursuing sustainable community initiatives locally, however many communities struggle with trying to develop funding sources, integrated plans, establishing baselines and performance indicators, and project implementation.

In December, Reconnecting America will present these recommendations to the Interagency Partnership, along with other national organizations who provided input to the White Paper and are developing additional recommendations for short-term federal actions to support livable communities.