Partnership For Sustainable Communities Grantees Host Briefing On Capitol Hill

This week, Smart Growth America brought together representatives from groups who received Department of Housing and Urban Development regional planning grants as part of the interagency Partnership for Sustainable Community for a briefing on Capitol Hill. The grantees who spoke at the briefing represented a diverse cross-section of communities that are implementing regional planning grants, including representatives from the Metro-Boston region, Northern Maine, and Metropolitan Des Moines. Shelley Poticha, Director of HUD Office of Sustainable Housing and Community Development, shared the agency’s perspective of the transformative potential of regional planning grants and the unique cross-agency collaboration between HUD, DOT and EPA that defines the Partnership for Sustainable Communities.

SGA hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill

HUD distributed just shy of $100 million for regional planning grants to 45 different grant recipients as part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities in fiscal year 2011. So far those grant recipients have managed to leverage almost another $100 million out of local private, non-profit and local government partners to support their efforts. Shelley noted that kind of financial investment in support of a non-construction project was remarkable. Why is there so much excitement from the business community, local governments, universities and other partners on the ground when it comes to these regional planning grants?

The agencies involved in distributing the Partnership for Sustainable Communities grants set broad guidelines and goals, but the locality chooses the tools and best implementation strategy for their unique project.  Each grant recipient is focused on connecting transportation and housing needs of a region with the areas of economic growth and employment centers, as well as making the most efficient use of resources that are already in place- from water and sewer infrastructure to preservation of agricultural land. These grants are helping communities leverage their assets in a collaborative approach, and that is why so many partners are eager to be a part of these regional planning grants.

There is significant variation between the communities that have received these regional planning grants, and what tools they are using and what their goals for the grant are. Northern Maine Development Commission, which is focusing on a two county area that encompasses more than 9,200 sparsely populated square miles, is implementing a regional plan that works in a very rural community. Their focus is on economic and work force development that will help maintain the quality of life that Northern Maine residents want. They are using their grant to investigate ways to stop the “brain drain” of young people leaving the region, as well as opportunities to boost the tourism sector and the potential of wind-power off their coast.

Northern Maine Development Commission’s regional planning process will look vastly different from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council in the Metro-Boston region, which is working on cross-municipal plans in a region where there are more than 100 local municipalities, all with their own land-use regulations. But even in a metro area that has millions of residents, the Council is helping places like the Town of Littleton pass an ordinance to preserve farmland for agriculture.

The third organization that presented was the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. Their grant focuses on work force and economic development, and linking the regional nodes of job centers with housing via effective transportation. The Des Moines and central Iowa region is expected to grow by 650,000 residents by 2035, so part of this grant will be used to design and study various models of regional growth and develop plans that will compare cost savings of smart growth versus the “business as usual” model. If smart plans are adopted, governments can save millions by avoiding unnecessary duplicative services and infrastructure.

During the question and answer portion of the briefing, questions were asked of the grantees about their projects and of Shelley from HUD about the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. A wide variety of topics were covered, from combating urban sprawl, to leveraging private sector investments into the regional planning process, to the timeline for implementing a regional plan. It was a robust discussion that was informative for all the participants and guests who attended.

Smart Growth America thanks all the participants, including the grantees who came to Washington, D.C. to share their projects, and wants to remind the House and Senate to continue funding for Partnership for Sustainable Community grants!