EPA joins inter-agency effort to support livable communities and smarter growth

Administrator of the EPA Lisa Jackson Visits Barrett Originally uploaded by Barrett Web Coordinator
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at Barrett Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia back in April.

There’s some exciting news out of Washington, DC to report this morning. US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced that the US EPA is joining with the departments of transportation and housing and urban development in a special partnership to work together to support smart growth and more livable, sustainable communities across America.

Download the full SGA press release.

It’s a bold new initiative, doing something a bit unorthodox in federal circles — working together across agency boundaries towards a greater purpose.

In the words of Administrator Jackson today before the Senate Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee, “where you live affects how you get around, and how you get around often affects where you live.  Both decisions affect our environment.  Working together rather than independently, our three agencies can improve the environment, the transportation system, and homes and communities throughout the United States.”

“Government agencies tend to focus exclusively on their own issue areas,” said SGA President Geoff Anderson. “But the issues of housing, transportation and the environment are so deeply linked that any truly effective solutions will touch all three of these agencies.”

Where you live affects how you get around, and how you get around often affects where you live. Both decisions affect our environment. Working together rather than independently, our three agencies can improve the environment, the transportation system, and homes and communities throughout the United States.
— US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

The partnership is designed to bring the three agencies together to “help American families in all communities — rural, suburban and urban — gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs.”

It’s not the first we’ve heard this year about government thinking outside the box to make sure that growth and development happens in the most sustainable way, providing Americans with good access to affordable housing and convenient transportation options for getting around.

Back in Feburary, we noticed a speech by brand-new HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, where he noted that it won’t be enough for HUD to just lead the way with energy efficiency in construction. Where those homes go is just as important.

HUD can catalyze the way housing is built and renovated across the residential market overall that will have a dramatic effect on emissions. But focusing on housing is not enough. We must focus on location efficiency, and HUD must be the leader within the administration on this issue.

According to the release, “DOT, HUD and EPA have created a high-level interagency partnership to better coordinate federal transportation, environmental protection, and housing investments and to identify strategies that:”

  • Provide more transportation choices. Develop safe, reliable and economical transportation choices in order 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.
  • Increase economic competitiveness. Enhance 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 to increase community revitalization, the efficiency of public works investments and safeguard rural landscapes.
  • Leverage federal investment. Cooperatively align federal policies and funding to remove barriers, leverage funding and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth.
  • Value communities and neighborhoods. Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods – rural, urban or suburban.

These agencies working together is a promising sign. “These goals will help all three agencies in their partnership to do the same thing SGA is trying to do: make our growth, development and transportation fair, equitable, environmentally sustainable and affordable for all Americans,” said Geoff Anderson.

These goals sound laudable enough, but how will these three huge agencies actually make this happen? One initiative they’re proposing that would dramatically alter the landscape of federal policy would be considering how location — and access to transportation options — affects housing affordability.

Redefine housing affordability and make it transparent.  The partnership will develop federal housing affordability measures that include housing and transportation costs and other expenses that are affected by location choices.  Although transportation costs now approach or exceed housing costs for many working families, federal definitions of housing affordability do not recognize the strain of soaring transportation costs on homeowners and renters who live in areas isolated from work opportunities and transportation choices.  The partnership will redefine affordability to reflect those costs, improve the consideration of the cost of utilities and provide consumers with enhanced information to help them make housing decisions.

Smart Growth America applauds this step by the federal government to work together to solve some of our country’s most pressing issues. Only by working across agency borders will we have any chance of addressing issues like climate change, housing affordability, access to transportation options and ensuring equality and opportunity for all, regardless of where we live or what color our skin is.

  • Download the SGA press release
  • Download the six principles
  • Download the joint release
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