New HUD chief on the connectedness of housing policy and sustainability

There’s an old problem in government — probably at all levels, but most notably at the federal level — of agencies working at cross purposes with each other.

For example, new transportation investments in unneeded highways in exurban areas works against the EPA’s effort to reduce emissions and satisfy the Clean Air Act. Sometimes this happens because the stated purpose of the federal agency runs counter to the purpose of another agency. Other times it happens because there is no larger goal that all agencies are working towards, or the agencies simply fail to communicate with each other.

Considering this to be the historic status quo in DC, it’s encouraging to read the comments from new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan.

At the NYU Furman Center Housing Policy Conference, Donovan talked at length about his hopes for integrating HUD’s housing work into the larger goals of the Obama administration for sustainability and energy use.

Near the end of the excerpt below, he connects the idea of sustainability to location — rather than only focusing on retrofitting housing to use less energy, he wants to get HUD thinking about building that housing in more sustainable locations; locations that can give residents good access to daily needs and multiple transportation options.

HUD Office
Photo of the HUD building in Washington, DC by Flickr user presta (Creative Commons)

Donovan called for using the current housing crisis to help HUD transform housing policy, summarized by Carol Coletta from CEO’s for Cities. A short excerpt:

Beginning to use housing policy for broader sustainability within economy.  This is an area more than any other where we can begin to advance simultaneous goals of housing and sustainability.  There is a growing recognition that the way we build housing and our cities are in no way sustainable.  That must change. HUD touches 1 in 10 homes in this country, so HUD can set examples for private sector in retrofitting buildings and adding renewable energy technologies for energy efficiency. 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. This budget will create an Office of Sustainability within HUD and partner with DOE and DOT to create a team within the administration to focus on how we make our nation more sustainable. Ron Sims will lead the new office of sustainability and to coordinate efforts across agencies.

Former King County (WA) Executive Ron Sims knows a thing or two about sustainability, having worked hard in Seattle and King County to get all government agencies to work together towards the broader goal of a sustainable King County — whatever their area of focus may be.

That is exactly the kind of leadership and cooperation at the federal level that we’ll need to make this ambitious vision a reality.