Newly Passed Transportation-HUD Bill Passes on Sustainable Development
On June 29, the United States House of Representatives passed the Transportation-HUD Appropriations bill for FY2013. Differing from both the President’s budget and the tentative Senate budget, the House plan does not include any funding for the Sustainable Communities Initiative (SCI), which was established in 2010 as part of a federal pledge to coordinate transportation, economic, and environmental improvement projects to create a more sustainable nation. Through direct community and regional grants, this comprehensive program has already helped numerous municipalities nationwide to thrive, including several in the Chicago region.
The Initiative provides grant support through Community Challenge Grants and Regional Planning Grants, both of which help urban, suburban, and rural areas plan for sustainable development and encourage building code and land use reform. These efforts, in turn, provide communities with the opportunity to build transportation infrastructure that shortens the link between jobs and affordable housing.
The holistic focus of the grants enables the creation of mixed-income and mixed-use neighborhoods, bolsters economic development through job creation and increased connectivity, and improves both public and environmental health by decreasing traffic congestion and using infill to revitalize neighborhoods. These grants are integral to sustained national growth.
Funding for the Initiative is provided through a set aside by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Fund (CDBG) program; administration of the grants is supported by a partnership between HUD, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Thankfully, the President’s budget for FY2013 aims to restore the FY2011 level of funding ($100 million), and the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended $50 million for the Initiative, but the full Senate has not voted on the bill.
Unfortunately, the House budget once again leaves this important program without any funding, providing our nation with no way to make sustainable investments in our cities and towns. The myriad benefits that SCI grants help to realize—in the areas of economic growth and sustainable development—are too important to be left unfunded. Without money from SCI, metropolitan areas around the country are deprived of the opportunity to strategically integrate jobs, housing, and transit into their communities.
In the Chicago region, the benefits of SCI are palpable. During the first two years of funding, three separate area coalitions received grants to invest in economic development, housing, and transportation. The South Suburban Mayor and Management Association (SSMMA) and the West Cook County Housing Collaborative were awarded Community Challenge Grants of $2.3 million and $3 million, respectively, while the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) was granted a Regional Planning Grant of $4.25 million to fund local technical assistance (LTA) programs.
The improvement projects funded by the SCI grants have provided multiple new growth opportunities to underserved neighborhoods. Both the SSMMA and the Housing Collaborative are using their grants to establish transit-oriented development (TOD) in their communities, and the SSMMA has created a pre-development fund to facilitate the building process. CMAP has created a thriving LTA program that provides short-term targeted technical assistance to guide development decisions for communities throughout the region. These programs are all crucial to the continued success of CMAP’s regional vision plan GO TO 2040.
Chicago has proven its commitment to positive change–as evidenced by the dozens of successful improvement projects throughout the area–but commitment is not enough. Chicago needs the funds provided by SCI grants to continue progressing toward its goals. We cannot afford to let Congress eliminate these funds. Please contact your congressional representative today, and make your voice heard. SCI grants are improving the Chicago region by creating municipalities that are both affordable and economically competitive. SCI grants are integral to our future, do not let them disappear.