Federal policy influences development across the country, and Smart Growth America works with members of Congress and the presidential administration to make sure these policies support economically strong, socially equitable, and environmentally sustainable communities. Below is an overview of our policy priorities.
A more balanced transportation system
Transportation drives development, and the transportation system we build dictates the shape of real estate. For the past several decades federal transportation investments have focused primarily on building roads, as the market wanted. However, this has resulted in an over-supply of “drivable suburban” development.
Today’s real estate market is different, with consistently strong demand for homes and offices in walkable urban places — which are in short supply. Federal transportation investments should shift to reflect these changes in the market, and direct a greater portion of funding toward building transit, regional rail, and infrastructure for bicycling and walking. Smart Growth America supports changes to the federal surface transportation bill that reflect these goals.
New ways to finance development near transit
One of the best ways to meet demand for homes and offices in walkable neighborhoods—and to make the most of the infrastructure we already have—is to build new development near existing transit stations. Developers want to build these projects, but securing the financing for them can be complicated and sometimes unworkable.
The federal government could help communities overcome these barriers by creating new ways to finance development near transit. Federally backed loans or loan guarantees, which are paid back by developers, would address a shortcoming in the credit market and allow developers to better meet demand for homes and offices near transit.
In 2015, as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the federal government successfully created two new financing options for development near transit.Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans, through the U.S. Department of Transportation, and Railroad Rehabilitation Innovative Financing (RRIF) loans, through the Federal Railroad Administration, can now be used for real estate development near transit.
Cleaning up and redeveloping brownfields
When industrial tenants, like a gas station or factory, shut down, they often leave behind contaminated land that must be cleaned up before it can be redeveloped. Hampered by costly and complicated cleanup requirements, these “brownfield” sites can sit idle for decades, missing opportunities for redevelopment while dragging down property values and scaring off other development in the area.
Federal programs and tax incentives already facilitate re-investment in blighted or contaminated properties. Smart Growth America supports the continuation and expansion of these programs, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields program, Section 198 of the U.S. tax code (the Remediation Tax Expensing Program), and programs that would support innovative financing for brownfields cleanup. Read more ››
A tax code that supports balanced housing choices
Federal tax credits and deductions help millions of American homeowners. They are a crucial part of supporting America’s middle class, providing a financing safety for working families, and protecting the investments in the neighborhoods we all share.
As they are currently structured, however, federal programs penalize families who rent, favor single-family homes over other types, and provide financial incentives to purchase second homes when many families still struggle to buy their first. In addition, most funding goes to a small proportion of households. Ultimately, there are many policies blocking the market forces that incentivize growth, while housing programs fail to adequately support existing neighborhoods.
LOCUS, our coalition of responsible real estate developers and investors, supports several changes to federal housing programs and tax policy to address these problems, including preserving and increasing the Housing Tax Credit, improving the Rehabilitation Tax Credit, establishing individual Mortgage Savings Accounts, and modifying the Mortgage Interest Deduction. We outline these and other proposals in our 2013 report Federal Involvement in Real Estate: A Call for Action and the 2016 paper The Unintended Consequences of Housing Finance, in partnership with the Regional Plan Association.