Top federal urban programs face the ax


Philip Langdon

New Urban Network


Smart Growth America alerted its members today that funding for the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities is in imminent danger of being discontinued.

“Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to strip funding for the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities,” the advocacy  group said in a news release. “The Senate’s vote on funding for the Partnership is scheduled to take place tomorrow [Tuesday, Sept. 20], and NOW is the crucial time to ask your Senators to preserve funding for the Partnership,” Smart Growth America said in its e-mailed announcement.

Launched in 2009, the Partnership is regarded by smart growth and New Urbanism advocates as one of the best federal urban initiatives in years. It has resulted in unprecedented collaboration among three different parts of the government: the US Department of Housing & Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Through the Partership, the government has been able to forge a much more cooperative relationship among agencies that otherwise tend to pursue their own narrower agendas. New Urban Network reported Sept. 2 on the first five projects to receive Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grants. The $122 million in grants are aimed at making far-reaching improvements in five troubled neighborhoods in Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Seattle.

“When cities, towns and suburbs plan their future transportation, housing, water and sewer infrastructure and public services strategically, they save money and so does the federal government,” Smart Growth America said. The organization cited two examples of the Partnership’s importance at the regional level:

• Envision Utah received $1 million of its $8 million budget from two of the three Partnership agencies (the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Highway Administration). Once implemented, the plans developed by Envision Utah will save Utah and the Salt Lake City region $4.5 billion in infrastructure, much of it usually paid for by the federal government.

• The Region Five Development Commission in central Minnesota includes five rural counties and a series of small towns looking to save money and create jobs. The region is struggling with population shifts, family farms disappearing, pressure on natural resources and economic distress. Working across local agencies and jurisdictions, the communities are developing a strategic plan for housing and employment, business retention and attraction, and conservation of natural resources through eco-tourism. This effort will save money across the jurisdictions and leverage each step for future economic growth.

The purpose of the Partnership goes beyond simply saving money, however. Another important goal is to get various federal agencies to embrace a more unified approach to urban and regional issues—escaping the usual single-purpose orientation.

There has been little mainstream press coverage of the decisions now being made in Congress on how much money to give to such initiatives.

A Connecticut advocacy group whose name, the Partnership for Strong Communities, is slightly different from that of the federal initiative, reported Sept. 13:

The House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (T-HUD) Appropriations Subcommittee voted on September 8 to deeply cut the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Fiscal Year 2012 budget, including cuts to many affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs.

Significantly, the bill eliminates funding for the HOPE VI program, including the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, and proposes deep cuts for public housing programs, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). 

The Connecticut group identified the following cuts as having been among those approved by the House subcommittee:

  • The Public Housing Capital fund is set at $1.53 billion, 25 percent below the FY (fiscal year) 2011 level.
  • The Public Housing Operating Fund is set at $3.86 billion, 16 percent below the FY 2011.
  • Funding for the HOPE IV program, including the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (a set-aside within HOPE VI), is eliminated.
  • Tenant Protection Vouchers are funded at $75 million, $35 million below the FY 2011 funding level.
  • The HOME Investment Partnership program’s funding is set at $1.2 billion, 25 percent below the FY2011 level.
  • The Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity program, funded at $50 million, a 30 percent cut.

The subcommittee increased funding for some other programs. Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, for example, is funded at $9.4 billion, a 2 percent increase.

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Posted by Philip Langdon on 19 Sep 2011