HUD wants to create stronger communities by taking the federal HOPE VI revitalization program to the next level, according to a July 14 speech by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

At the Brookings Institution event, Donovan announced the availability of an additional $113 million in HOPE VI funding through the end of the year. But these funds come with stipulations that in some ways expand the program’s scope beyond low-income housing: HUD will now award extra points to public housing authorities that incorporate early childhood education into their applications, as well as smart growth and energy efficient development strategies.

It establishes the groundwork for a broader program that HUD officials have proposed as a replacement for HOPE VI.  The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, for which HUD has requested $250 million in its proposed fiscal year 2010 budget--an amount nearly double the $130 million appropriated for HOPE VI this year--espouses a more holistic view. If approved, it will expand the range of activities eligible for urban renewal funding beyond public housing to include education and transportation. Public-private collaboration among local governments, non-profits, private firms, and public housing agencies will be encouraged.

“Our federal policies have not kept up with reality. We have become a metropolitan nation, and our current policies do not reflect this,” Donovan said in his opening remarks, noting that 90 cents of every dollar in the U.S. economy is now generated by cities and their surrounding metro areas, which house more than two-thirds of the population.

The multidisciplinary framework behind Choice Neighborhoods is consistent with similar efforts by HUD in recent months to align its agenda with those of other federal agencies (HUD recently announced a Sustainable Communities initiative in partnership with DOT and EPA, for example).  On the topic of community revitalization, the agency has pledged to work with the Department of Education and other federal entities to create what Donovan referred to in his keynote remarks as “the geography of opportunity." This is a concept that acknowledges the importance of the built environment while acknowledging that physical structures are not the magic solution to eradicating poverty.

Speaking during the same event, former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros noted that the best examples of transformed neighborhoods include mixed-income housing where “you can’t tell who is a public housing resident and who is not. What’s needed is not just a physical strategy, but one of income integration.” 

From a policy standpoint, Donovan said the government also must concentrate on removing existing barriers to sustainable development. Among them: limits on allowable commercial space that inhibit mixed-use development, and federal affordability metrics that currently fail to acknowledge transportation costs as a factor in affordable housing. 

Addressing areas hit hard by foreclosures will also be an important focus moving forward, he said, noting that some renewal efforts have been stymied by problems arising in adjacent neighborhoods. "A HOPE VI development that is surrounded by disinvestment, by failing schools, or by other distressed housing has virtually no chance of truly succeeding," Donovan said.

Since the inception of HOPE VI in 1993, some 248 revitalization grants have been awarded to 130 housing authorities for a total of $6 million. That sum, Donovan was quick to note, "has leveraged almost three times that amount in additional development capital--$17.5 billion, providing a very good return for the taxpayer, indeed."

“Now we need to find a way to unlock the market response to concerns about things like energy efficiency and patterns of sprawl," Donovan added. "We need to allow the market to price in those kinds of changes in a way that government cannot.”

Jenny Sullivan is senior editor covering design and community planning for BUILDER.


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