During the campaign, now-President Barack Obama argued that the federal government could contribute to the planning and development of neighborhoods around the country through a livable communities initiative, arguing that “Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars to walk, bicycle and access other transportation alternatives.” Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan testified [Wednesday] on the issue in front of the House Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing (part of the Appropriations Committee).
Both Secretaries argued that transportation and housing had to be planned together in order to handle the rising costs of both for most American households. Each pointed out that providing housing near public transportation allows for lower transportation costs and argued that transportation and housing in the United States should be organized in order to address climate change concerns.
HUD and DOT will establish a Sustainable Communities Initiative, which will encourage transit-oriented development. The initiative will encouraged integrated planning with HUD and DOT working together on neighborhood projects by encouraging metropolitan areas to consolidate their current government-mandated five-year housing plans and four-year transportation plans, both of which are used to determine federal formula appropriations to communities. The program will also consider transportation costs when determining the level of affordability in communities and develop “livability measures” to benchmark improvements that can be made to communities through federal funding. Finally, HUD and DOT programs and research will be “harmonized.”
During the session, Mr. Donovan said the following about the project:
“HUD and DOT will jointly administer a fund to encourage metropolitan regions, via competition, to develop integrated housing, land use, and transportation plans – and to use those integrated plans to drive the planning and decision-making of localities, which will help reduce traffic congestion and increase transportation mobility…
“We will work to jointly develop, with the Department of Transportation, a housing and transportation affordability index. This index will serve to make transparent the costs of living in a given location, and inform consumers and businesses about their choices in real-time, so they can make intelligent decisions about how to combine transportation and housing choices to lower their cost burdens.”
Mr. LaHood said “One of my highest priorities is to help promote more livable communities through sustainable surface transportation programs.” Specifically, the goals of the program will be to address the following concerns:
- More choices for affordable housing near employment opportunities;
- More transportation options, to lower transportation costs, shorten travel times, and improve the environment; and
- Safe, livable, healthy communities.
The announcement of this livable communities initiative is great news and suggests a new era of transit-oriented development. Though the program will not be funded separately, nor mandate density changes in cities, it will provide a centralized planning system that communities can follow to improve their livability and transit usage. Encouraging metropolitan areas to see transportation and housing as one, greater issue is a good first step.