Building on the Successes of Sustainable Communities and

Building on the Successes of
Sustainable Communities and Livability
By Kalima Rose, PolicyLink
signature place-based initiative of the
Obama Administration, the Sustainable
Communities initiative (SCI), is winding up
after a five-year run of competitively-granted awards
to 143 regions and municipalities. The 3-year grants
enabled each place to do forward-looking planning
and implementation. The innovations, including
transportation, housing, and environmental
improvements were coordinated for greater quality
of life in places that had been left behind. Green
infrastructure investments were made for strong
economy futures. Social equity leaders identified
and integrated high unemployment and disinvested
communities into economic development strategies
of the region. And business leadership planned for
building on the assets and competitive strengths of
the region.
Staffed at HUD, and an offspring of the Partnership
for Sustainable Communities (with HUD, DOT,
EPA and USDA participation), the initiative has
been fertile ground for innovation, equity, and
forward orientation for economic prosperity and
environmental stewardship.
Denied funding from Congress in FY 2012 for the
core Sustainable Communities grant programs,
and followed by multiple years of Continuing
Resolutions (despite President’s budget requests
for the initiative in FY 2013, 2014, and 2015),
further funding has not been forthcoming. The
current grantees are winding up their grants by
June of 2015, but will continue to implement their
long range plans through extensive infrastructure,
community development, and new economy
investments for a decade or more to come—
applying local, state, and federal funds to the
implementation of their initiatives.
The Partnership’s innovative work is also taking
root in other forums including the $1 billion
Resilience competition currently underway at HUD,
the energy retrofit work of HUD properties, in
states’ and regions’ climate and land use planning,
in state and local affordable housing and transit
oriented development initiatives, and in water
infrastructure, food systems, and environmental
remediation strategies.
The 5-year run of the Partnership allowed
significant practice to evolve, and the lessons
learned from this initiative will inform HUD’s
formula grant programs, and future strategies
for community development across agencies and
The Partnership began in 2009, and originally
aligned HUD, Department of Transportation
(DOT), and Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), and was the result of advocacy and practice
by social equity and community development
organizations, smart growth proponents, and
environmental justice and conservation leaders.
Since 2009, the Partnership expanded to include
other federal agencies, bringing in U.S. Department
of Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce, Labor, and
Energy. In multiple grant rounds, the Partnership
has awarded more than $4 billion in grants and
technical assistance to over 1,000 communities
in all 50 states, DC and Puerto Rico. While HUD
put forward $250 million in competitive Regional
Planning and Challenge Grants to 143 regions
and communities, the remainder of the funds
came through DOT Transportation Investment
Generating Economic Recovery, and New Starts,
and EPA Brownfields and Clean Water investments.
Over the course of the five years, the initiative
has demonstrated progress and innovation in four
distinct arenas:
Fair Housing and Equity Assessment
Concurrent with the development of the SCI
program in 2009, HUD also began evaluating
progress on Fair Housing. Seeing a lack of
progress on either the deconcentration of poverty
or the reduction of segregation; and finding
limited nexus between entitlement jurisdictions’
‘Analyses of Impediments’ to Fair Housing and
the Consolidated Plans which directed their
spending of federal CDBG and HOME funds, the
agency began developing a stronger framework
to advance fair housing. The agency developed
a data-driven assessment tool that provided data
and GIS-mapping capability to its grantees; and
it outlined a new approach for moving from
assessment to goals to action plan. HUD decided
to pilot the approach in the SCI, and subsequently
required the Sustainable Communities regional
planning grantees to conduct a Fair Housing
Equity Assessment (FHEA). Each of 87 regions
analyzed regional demographic trends, identified
areas of racially concentrated poverty, assessed
the access to transit, jobs, quality education, and
healthy environments, and used deliberation
strategies to inform decision-making. These
assessments then informed strategies to address
equity and opportunity in grantees’ Regional Plan
for Sustainable Development. Based on the draft
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)
rule published by HUD in 2013 (currently under
review at OMB) and the draft AFFH Tool published
in 2014, a similar process will guide future
Assessments of Fair Housing and Consolidated
Plans for all entitlement jurisdictions. The Boston
Metropolitan region expanded fair share goals
for suburban jurisdictions and tied such goals
to transportation investments. And Lane County
reorganized its bus route schedules after a survey of
Section 8 tenants in the county noted their highest
priority as better transit connection to jobs.
Collective impact model. HUD guidance for
the program prioritized a shared-governance
consortia model, and significant community
engagement of disadvantaged communities in the
planning processes. These consortia—mirroring
the federal partnership—included local and
regional housing, transportation and environmental
health agencies, as well as community based
organizations, business alliances, and human
services providers. Collectively, they brought
valuable shared experience to design and
implementation tables. These consortia were
charged with delivering on social equity outcomes,
and found new partnerships in such efforts.
Many consortia awarded subgrants to community
organizations to recruit and sustain engagement by
disadvantaged communities—successfully bringing
their aspirations to the forefront of plans, policies
and programs that now serve their communities.
The Twin Cities invested in immigrant business
development and cultural corridors along new light
rail alignments. The Kansas City region invested
in a Green Impact Zone in disinvested central city
Progress on economic resilience. Starting
during the recession, SCI grantees sought to
build resilience to economic downturns through
workforce and economic development strategies
that were inclusive and sustainable. Expansion of
transit systems, development of new economic
strategies from food systems to leveraging anchor
institutions to disaster recovery and preparedness
to energy efficiency retrofits for homes and
businesses – all served to insulate communities
from the costs and setbacks of unforeseen
circumstances. Rhode Island restructured its public
sector hiring and contracting goals to be more
consistent with demographics. And New Orleans
launched an anchor institution workforce and
procurement initiative aimed at moving thousands
of unemployed African American men into good
jobs in expanding healthcare and infrastructure
Significant progress on Transit-Oriented
Development (TOD) and affordable housing
HUD and DOT have transformed the way
communities plan large-scale public investments
by incorporating analyses of housing affordability
and access to jobs and services into transit and
development planning. The Twin Cities Met
Council created criteria for future transportation
investments to be tied to affordable housing
implementation. And the Puget Sound
Metropolitan region tied key social equity
anchors—community colleges and a CHOICE
redevelopment—to affordable housing and transit
improvements for lower income communities of
As the President moves forward to implement
his Climate Resilience initiative through every
agencies’ administrative practices; and as the new
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule rolls
out this Spring and informs the Consolidated
plans of 1209 entitlement jurisdictions; and
as the Partnership works to incorporate the
lessons learned into the formula programs and
administrative guidance of each respectively federal
agency; and as the 143 Sustainable Communities
grantees work to implement their plans through
local, state, and regional action—the fruits of the
Partnership and the Sustainable Communities grant
programs will continue bearing fruit.
AFFH: Organize around your local fair housing
assessment and consolidated planning process,
likely to roll out in late spring or early summer of
Build collective impact and community
engagement: Develop a boards and commissions
strategy to ensure that all boards making major
infrastructure decisions have equity representation.
Equity Now Twin Cities, Nexus Community
Partners, and the Corridors of Opportunity
Community Engagement Team in the Twin Cities
are building this capacity, based on a model
developed by Urban Habitat in the Bay Area that
has placed equity leaders of color on boards and
commissions that have authority over five core
equity issues: economic development, employment,
health, housing, and transportation.
social equity governance at collective impact tables,
and climate resistance can deliver on triple bottom
line economic futures. n
Economic resilience: Identify any funding sources,
capital streams, budgets that can have set-asides
built in for disadvantaged communities. One
potential model: State legislation in California
required a 25% set aside to benefit disadvantaged
communities as part of California’s Sustainable
Communities Planning and Grant Initiative
Program. And under guidance from the interagency
Strategic Growth Council and in accordance with
AB 32, SB 375 and SB 535, 25% of GHG cap-andtrade auction revenues under Proposition 84 must
be used for environmental justice purposes in
disadvantaged communities.
TOD and affordable housing: Stay tuned for any
news or action on transportation reauthorization,
as this will present a major opportunity to
further embed equity and affordable housing into
transportation policy.
In a time of growing inequality, climate threats, and
the need for new economic futures, programs that
specifically prioritize disadvantaged communities,