Obama Administration Uses Taxpayer Funding to Encourage ‘Sustainable Communities’

By Susan Jones | October 18, 2010 | 11:21 AM EDT

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan speaks in Denver on May 14, 2010. (AP File Photo/Ed Andrieski)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. government is stepping in with millions of taxpayer dollars to create affordable places for Americans to work and live.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last week announced nearly $100 million in new grants "to support more livable and sustainable communities across the country."

Forty-five regions will receive various amounts of the funding through the new initiative, which aims to connect housing with jobs, schools and transportation.

“Regions that embrace sustainable communities will have a built-in competitive edge in attracting jobs and private investment,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in an Oct. 14 news release announcing the 45 grant recipients.

“Planning our communities smarter means parents will spend less time driving and more time with their children; more families will live in safe, stable communities near good schools and jobs; and more businesses will have access to the capital and talent they need to grow and prosper.”

Rather than dictate how communities can spend the grant money, HUD encouraged “creative, locally focused thinking,” Donovan added.

The Sustainable Communities Planning Grant Program -- funded for the first time this year -- is part of the Obama administration’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities, an interagency collaboration that brings HUD, the Transportation Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency together to help communities across the country “create more housing choices, make transportation more efficient and reliable, reinforce existing investments, and support the kinds of neighborhoods that attract businesses.”

One category of grants will assist regional planning for sustainable development where such plans do not currently exist. A second category of funding will support the implementation of existing sustainability plans.

The 45 organizations that received grants (see list) were competitively selected from more than 1,000 applicants from across the country. The grants were judged by a team drawn from eight federal agencies and from partners in philanthropy.

Land-use choices

One of the largest grants, $5 million, is going to the Metropolitan Council of St. Paul, Minn., to support planning along the region's five “transit corridors.”"

The goal, said Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell, is to make transit more successful, promote housing and transportation affordability and availability, and make communities more vital.

“Increasingly we recognize that transit isn’t just about moving people from one place to another,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough. “Transit and transit corridors pose unlimited opportunities to mold and shape our communities, our environment and our economic circumstances. Ultimately, the land use choices we make as we develop our network of transit corridors will shape our destiny as a region.”

When people can live in housing they can afford, near transportation they can afford and have community amenities available in the same area, "it’s a platform for success,” said Minnesota Housing Commissioner Dan Bartholomay.

Another $4.9 million is going to Washington State's Puget Sound Regional Council "to support regional planning for more livable, prosperous and sustainable communities in the Puget Sound area," a press release said.

"This funding is about creating economic opportunities for communities throughout the Puget Sound and Thurston County," said Sen. Pat Murray, chairman of the Senate Transportation Appropriations Committee. Murray, a Democrat, is in a tight race for re-election.

"This funding will bring transit closer to commuters and commuters closer to their jobs and families. I funded this program because we need to think comprehensively about how we plan our communities. This funding will help Washington families have an affordable place to work and live."

“We’re very grateful to the Obama Administration for its leadership and its role in securing these grant funds,” said Ray Stephanson, President of the Puget Sound Regional Council and Mayor of Everett.

“Here in the Puget Sound region, we’re leading the way when it comes to growing our economy. This grant award will help shape the future of our region in ways that create a more livable and prosperous future for all of us. We’re taking a big picture approach to creating job opportunities closer to where people live, while promoting a healthy environment and a healthy economy.”

In the Fiscal 2010 budget, Congress provided a total of $150 million to HUD for a Sustainable Communities Initiative to improve regional planning efforts involving housing and transportation decisions, and increase the capacity to improve land use and zoning, HUD says on its Web site.