The Partnership for Sustainable Communities has had a rough couple of years. The program got zeroed out of the 2012 budget, and the 2013 budget is just a carbon copy of 2012. But they’re looking to make a comeback.
The three-agency partnership celebrates its fourth anniversary in June. In those four years, the collaborative effort among U.S. DOT, HUD, and EPA has entrenched and strengthened the Obama administration’s multi-disciplinary approach to smart growth, weaving together transportation, housing, and environmental policy. The partnership’s grants and technical assistance have helped transform communities and make them more economically and environmentally resilient.
In that vein, HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities — the mothership of the whole program — is becoming the Office of Economic Resilience, embedded within an existing HUD program called Community Planning and Development. That could help preserve the sustainability work, since it’ll now be part of a program that Congress hasn’t targeted for cuts.
Politics aside, Shelley Poticha, the director of the program, said the move is designed to comply with two requests from Congress: 1) a name that more accurately reflects what the grants are for, and 2) to embed their approach throughout the agency to leverage other formula funding.
And that may be the true significance of the move. The office is increasingly setting the tone for the way the entire agency does business, and how it spends its entire $47.6 billion budget. (That’s what it’s requested for 2014, anyway – it’s $10 billion more than the agency will spend this year.)
As we reported last year, the three agencies were already bringing sustainability into the heart of their work. The six principles of livability they’ve agreed on don’t just govern the grants given by the Office of Housing and Sustainable Communities; they’ve become the guiding philosophy behind much of the agencies’ work – and other agencies, like NOAA and USDA, are tagging along for the ride, too.
So there are lots of good reasons to better enmesh the sustainability office in the agency. Besides, Poticha said, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan had always planned for the sustainability office to “find the most appropriate home within the agency among the core program offices.” She also said the larger staff network will allow them greater flexibility and additional capacity than the small office they have now.
The Regional Planning and Community Challenge grant programs, administered by HUD with the collaboration of the other two agencies, are being rolled into one budget item, a $75 million grant program now called Integrated Planning and Investment Grants. HUD officials are still unclear whether they’ll continue to separate that into two programs or leave it as one.