December 13, 2010

Turning Around the Battleship

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Our guest blogger today is Shelley Poticha, Director for Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities

I’ve been in the sustainability business for a long time so when U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan asked that I direct HUD’s new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, I was of two minds. Thrilled, of course. Who wouldnt want to take this sustainability movement and bring it to the biggest stage possible? But part of me was a little afraid that old habits die hard and in the federal government, might never die.

For the federal government to join this national movement, there had to be a level of cooperation and cross pollination between agencies that frankly never happened before. Could the Department of Energy really speak to the Department of Transportation? Could the computer and grants management systems at HUD interface with other agencies? Could I be of any help to turn this battleship around?

The answer, it turns out, is yes. There is a universal commitment at the very highest levels of this Administration that the old ways of doing business werent working. Given the challenges facing the country, doing more to support the thousands of towns, cities, counties and states wanting to create a more sustainable future was seen as critical across agencies. When each federal agency did its own thing, there was no real progress toward building sustainable and livable communities defined as places that balance their economic and natural assets so that the diverse needs of local residents can be met now and into the future. It seemed that the old stovepipes created a situation where the federal government lagged far behind States, regional areas and cities that were moving full steam ahead in exciting new directions. These local communities understood that old growth patterns were increasingly unsupportable, forcing families to live further and further away from where they worked and costing both households and local governments too much money to sustain. These communities understand that transportation costs really are a housing expense too, and that increasingly businesses and developers are looking to invest in communities that offer more choices.

But that was then and this is now. Today, I can attest that HUD, DOT, Energy, EPA and USDA are integrating in ways some never thought possible. Just this year, HUD launched two new grant programs awarding $98 million to support 45 communities undertake integrated regional planning efforts in large metropolitan regions but also in small rural and tribal communities. For the first time ever, HUD and DOT combined grant funds to invest $58 million in 61 grants to support more holistic approaches to connecting affordable housing, job opportunities and transportation corridors. Demand for these programs far outstripped what we were able to support and demonstrate the tremendous innovation and support for these types of strategies.

These are exciting times indeed its a time when sustainability and livability are becoming more than just buzz words and catch phrases and are actually taking on real meaning. Sustainable communities provide economic momentum and help America compete more effectively for jobs. At the same time, they hold the promise for helping to address long-standing equity challenges, and green the planet. Yet, turning the battle ship around will require not only commitment by at the federal level but active engagement by philanthropy, the advocacy and research communities, and private sector leaders.

One Response to Turning Around the Battleship

  1. Since sustainability requires integration of all systems it only makes sense that different government departments would have to integrate to work on the issue. The next step of integration with the private sector is extemely important.
    Thank you for this article.

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