Obama's Housing Agency Spending Millions to Transform Inner Cities Into ‘Sustainable Communities’

Susan Jones | October 12, 2012 | 11:10am EDT
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Farmers' markets are among the elements of the "sustainable communities" advocated by the Obama administration. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration’s effort to create government-sanctioned “sustainable communities” moved ahead this week, with the announcement of almost $5 million in planning grants.

Seventeen poor communities across the U.S. will share the $4.95 million to draft plans for the “next generation" of public housing and other "sustainable" neighborhood improvements, such as better schools, anti-crime efforts, and greater access to health care and grocery stores.

Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan said the "Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants" are intended to revitalize entire neighborhoods – “to improve the lives of the residents who live there.”

In other words, the planned infrastructure improvements lean heavily on social engineering.

The Obama administration defines sustainable communities as places that have a variety of housing and transportation choices, with destinations (such as schools and shopping) that are close to home. “As a result, they tend to have lower transportation costs, reduce air pollution and stormwater runoff, decrease infrastructure costs, preserve historic properties and sensitive lands, save people time in traffic, be more economically resilient and meet market demand for different types of housing at different prices points.”

"It means safer, greener, more livable communities," President Obama said two years ago.

According to HUD, the planning grants announced on Thursday focus on housing, people, and neighborhoods, as follows:

-- Housing: Transform distressed public and assisted housing into energy efficient, mixed-income housing that is physically and financially viable over the long-term;

-- People: Support “positive outcomes” for families in terms of health, safety, employment, mobility, and education;

-- Neighborhood: Transform impoverished neighborhoods into mixed-income neighborhoods with access to well-functioning services, high quality public schools and education programs, high quality early learning programs and services, public assets, public transportation, and improved access to jobs.

The grant recipients (see below) will work with community members, businesses, institutions and local government officials to produce a "successful neighborhood transformation" plan.

Choice Neighborhoods is part of a White House effort to bring public and private partners together to “help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. “

Congress approved funding for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative with passage of HUD’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

With Thursday’s announcement, HUD so far has awarded a total of $12.55 million in planning grants to 46 cities or counties. The program also includes “implementation grants,” which go to those cities and agencies that have developed a plan – and are now ready to begin the actual redevelopment.

Last year, HUD awarded the first implementation grants – a total of $122.27 million – to five cities: Chicago, Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco and Seattle. In August, HUD announced that nine finalists are competing for approximately $110 million in 2012 implementation grants to transform public and other HUD-assisted housing.

The 17 grant recipients announced Thursday were selected from 72 applicants. Most of the recipients are getting $300,000 each for planning purposes, as follows:

-- The Austin, Texas Housing Authority will develop a "shared vision" for the future of the Rosewood neighborhood, including the need for quality education, resident safety, access to quality affordable housing, commercial development and employment.

-- The Boston (Mass.) Housing Authority will use its $300K to address longstanding issues of poverty and lack of opportunity to ensure that people living in the Whittier neighborhood (Roxbury) "are not left behind as the neighborhood in which they live is transformed" by urban development.

-- The Camden, N.J. Housing Authority will plan for housing improvements and mixed-use development as well as "a neighborhood health and wellness plan that creates a comprehensive approach to wellness and coordinates supportive services for healthier lifestyles."

-- The Columbia, S.C. Housing Authority will use its $250K to ensure that remaining pockets of blight are eliminated and the East Central neighborhood "is set on a sustainable path." The envisioned improvements include a walkable street grid and investments in recreation fields and wellness centers.

-- Pasco County, Fla. will plan improvements to the Lacoochee-Trilby neighborhood, one of the poorest in the Tampa Bay area. The planned improvements include better access to health care; increased job options; increased job training, certification and placement options; increased public safety; and greater transportation alternatives and access. Goals of the planning process also include providing medical and dental care facilities and a brand-name grocery store for the community.

-- The Housing Authority of Durham, N.C., hopes to "build on existing momentum in the neighborhood."  It will "foster increased community involvement in the local schools, improving performance and graduation rates, and adding early learning programs for young children. Shortfalls in community amenities such as parks, sidewalks and transportation will be identified and addressed" in its planning.

-- The money going to Honolulu, Hawaii "will result in a plan to provide residents with more transportation choices; enhance economic competitiveness for residents and businesses; and value the community by investing in healthy, safe and walkable neighborhoods."

-- The Kingsport, Tenn. Housing and Redevelopment Authority will provide a roadmap for the revitalization of midtown with the following objectives: increased access to educational opportunities and training to prepare neighborhood residents for well-paying jobs; access to improved education; shopping and employment; transportation, parks and recreation; housing and neighborhood improvements; and public safety to attract new residents who want to live closer to their employment.

-- The Newark, N.J. Housing Authority will plan for replacement housing on land owned by the city and housing authority “to lessen the concentration of assisted housing units.” The public housing plan will “incorporate state-of-the-art ‘green’ technology and sustainable design methods.” The goal is to improve the current socio-economic conditions in the neighborhood, including opportunities for commercial economic development and job creation.

-- The New York City Housing Authority will develop a transformation plan that "builds quality educational opportunities, strengthens public safety through community-police partnerships, promotes effective transportation options and improves access to neighborhood services and assets."

-- The Roanoke, Va. Redevelopment and Housing Authority is getting $200K to consider ways of reducing “poverty concentration,” diversifying housing, and ensuring “one-for-one replacement of public housing units.” The plan will also “ensure successful strategies for retail, commercial, industrial and brownfields development,” and address education, employment, mobility, health and housing needs.

-- Two separate $300K grants are going to various entities in San Francisco.  One grantee will use the money to plan a “fully revitalized and sustainable community of approximately 1,600 mixed-income units.” The plan will examine strategies to “create an integrated and socially cohesive, mixed-income, service rich, safe and technologically connected community.”

-- The second grant going to San Francisco will benefit residents of Sunnydale -- 785-units of severely-distressed public House. The vision includes new, high-quality, sustainable housing; new community-serving amenities for the neighborhood; and focused services and educational opportunities for residents, including a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) for college preparation, workforce development, and economic mobility.

-- The Housing Authority of Spartanburg, S.C. plans replacement assisted housing units that are integrated. It also wants to reconnect Northside to the downtown, physically and psychologically; and create momentum for the private sector rebuild retail businesses for foot shopping, pharmacy, banking and other key retail services; and establishing a strong education coalition that provides a high-quality education to children, “with services from pre-natal care through college and career.”

-- The District of Columbia Housing Authority will use its money to plan the revitalization of the Barry Farms public housing developments. “The vision is to create a cohesive, sustainable, and well-functioning community using housing as a platform for improved quality of life by redeveloping severely distressed public housing, tying together community assets, and providing the resources so children and families can succeed and achieve their life goals.”

-- Woonsocket, R.I. will use its grant to come up with a plan that addresses the need for quality education, resident safety, access to fresh foods and groceries, commercial development and employment.

-- The Municipal Housing Authority in Yonkers, N.Y., will plan for the revitalization of assisted housing. The goal is to” reintroduce neighborhood based-schools, stimulate sustainable employment opportunities, and coordinate community-based healthcare and social service partners.”

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