New and expanded urban development programs included in President Obama's 2017 budget proposal

promise-zone-camdenPresident Obama in Camden, NJ in May. Camden is one of 13 Promise Zones, a program through the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would be expanded under the 2017 proposed budget. Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy, via HUD.

President Obama released his proposal for the fiscal year (FY) 2017 federal budget yesterday, and it outlines the President’s lofty political ambitions for the coming year. The proposal focuses on five main goals: continuing the country’s economic and fiscal progress, supporting innovation, creating opportunity for all Americans, national security and global leadership, and improving how government works. Smart growth strategies play an important role in achieving several of those goals — here are some specifics of what the budget would mean for programs related to housing, urban development, and transportation.

Most notably for smart growth advocates, this proposal would make available nearly $1.5 billion per year for the next 10 years for a new Clean Communities competitive grants program. According to the White House, the program would “support transit-oriented development, reconnect downtowns, clean up brownfields, implement Complete Streets policies, and pursue other policies that make American cities and towns greener and better places to live.” Those are all incredibly worthwhile goals we would be excited to see the federal government support.

The budget would also continue the Administration’s holistic approach to expanding economic opportunity through the Promise Zone initiative, which establishes partnerships between the federal government, local communities, and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing, and improve public safety. To date, the President has designated 13 Promise Zones, and seven more will be announced in 2016. The Budget supports all 20 Promise Zones through intensive, tailored Federal assistance at the local level. The Budget continues to propose Promise Zone tax incentives to stimulate growth and investments in targeted communities, such as tax credits for hiring workers and incentives for capital investment within the Zones. The Budget further supports efforts to transform distressed communities by expanding the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Choice Neighborhoods program. The Budget provides $128 million for Promise Neighborhoods and $200 million for Choice Neighborhoods, an overall increase of $130 million over 2016 enacted levels for the two programs. This additional funding would support implementation grants for approximately 15 new Promise Neighborhoods and six new Choice Neighborhoods, and numerous other planning grants for communities to engage with stakeholders to create plans for future revitalization. 

To support private-sector partnerships and investments that play a key role in strengthening communities, the President also proposed to expand and make permanent the New Markets Tax Credit, which promotes investments in low-income communities. Under legislation signed into law by President Obama in December, $3.5 billion in New Markets Tax Credits will be available annually through 2019. The Budget would make the program permanent with an annual allocation of $5 billion.

The budget also includes a significant emphasis on Building a 21st Century Transportation System. It would invest $320 billion over 10 years in “a multi-agency initiative to build a clean transportation system for the 21st century that speeds goods to market while reducing America’s reliance on oil, cutting carbon pollution, and strengthening our resilience to the effects of the changing climate.” The proposal would provide more than $10 billion on average per year for the Federal Transit Administration New Starts, Small Starts, and Transit Formula Grants programs to invest in the safety, performance, and efficiency of existing, new, and expanded transit systems. It also creates a new Rapid Growth Area Transit program for fast growing communities to implement multi-modal solutions to challenges caused by rapid growth. It would nearly double the amount of grant funding available through the TIGER program to support innovative, multi-modal investments in the Nation’s infrastructure to make communities more livable and sustainable. And it would provide approximately $10 billion per year on average to transform regional transportation systems by shifting how local and State governments plan, design, and implement new projects. The bill also proposes over $6 billion per year on average for a 21st Century Regions grant program to empower metropolitan and regional planners to implement regional-scale transportation and land-use strategies that achieve significant reductions in per capita greenhouse gas missions and vehicle miles traveled, while improving climate resilience. The proposal would also provide nearly $1.7 billion per year on average for Climate-Smart Performance Formula Funds that are designed to reorient transportation formula funding by rewarding States that make investments to mitigate transportation impacts like air pollution.

The budget also calls out programs to improve climate and disaster resilience, including programs to support flood, drought, wildland fire, and multi-hazard resilience. The budget does not specifically mention land use strategies as part of this effort, but our State Resilience program shows the important role strategic land use can play in hazard mitigation. The budget does specify $750 million on average per year for 10 years for Resilient Transportation competitive grants to spur investments that bolster resilience to climate impacts. Cutting edge projects would incorporate resilience strategies, such as adaptive materials, risk-sensitive design, and next generation transportation and logistics technology.

Finally, the budget advocates for ways to continue multi-agency partnerships supporting communities and highlights programs like Partnership for Sustainable Communities which do just that. The White House touted the successes of this and other programs, explaining that “over 1,800 communities nationwide—including cities, towns, counties, and regions—are implementing place-based initiatives that support their integrated goals by busting through Federal silos to promote outcomes that draw on resources across agencies and rely on close coordination with local businesses, philanthropy, and Government.”

The 2017 budget would continue this place-based approach by investing in staff with the skills and mandate to directly partner with communities, as well as programs that provide direct funding and support to communities including Choice Neighborhoods at HUD and Promise Neighborhoods at the Department of Education, as well as increased funding for distressed communities to plan and implement comprehensive and community-driven approaches.

Given that this is the President’s final year in office, it’s unclear how much political will there will be in Congress to enact these proposals. But Obama’s vision for a stronger country clearly includes better urban development strategies, and that’s something we’ll work toward no matter who is in office.