Transit corridors, affordable housing keys to fed grants

New Urban Network

Connectivity, economic development, and zoning reform are also targeted, according to an in-depth analysis of TIGER and Sustainable Communities grants by Reconnecting America.

These grant themes are not a surprise, as they were explicitly stated by US departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development when the various grants were announced. Reconnecting America's analysis is useful in measuring the relative importance of these factors in the actual awards. The analysis is the most detailed to date of the DOT and HUD competitive grant programs that are focused on livable communities.

HUD and DOT issued approximately 107 grants for planning-related activities through both Sustainable Communities and TIGER II grants, Reconnecting America reports. Forty-five regions and 61 individual communities received planning grants. DOT also issued another 42 TIGER II grants for capital projects, in addition to its previous award of 51 TIGER I grants in February, 2010. Approximately 199 awards have been given to 132 regions through each of these programs. Public transportation and transit-oriented development are key concepts in an estimated 72 of the 199 awards (36.1 percent).

Approximately 59 of the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) received some type of award, the organization reports. Of the 50 largest MSAs, 40 received an award. The largest regions to receive no awards were Phoenix, Baltimore, and San Antonio. The regions receiving the most awards were the New York City tri-state region (7), Dallas/Fort Worth (5), Detroit (5), and the San Francisco Bay Area (5). In terms of money, the New York City tri-state ($121.5 million), Chicago ($109.4 million), and San Francisco Bay Area ($89.3 million) regions received the most funding from all Sustainable Communities and TIGER grant programs, Reconnecting America says.

Reconnecting America analyzed Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants prior to award announcements, "as well as winning Community Challenge and TIGER II planning grants to get a broad consensus of the types of activities that HUD and DOT were interested in funding. Overall, we identified nine themes: equity/affordable housing, corridor planning, station area planning, comprehensive planning, connectivity, economic development, zoning-land use reform, healthy eating, and data sharing and modeling." The following breakdown is provided by Reconnecting America:

Equity: Regions and communities that emphasized equity and affordable housing in their proposals were highly successful in winning grants. The Puget Sound region in Washington, for example, proposed creating a Regional Equity Network among various agencies, community organizations, and foundations to promote equitable housing development. Regions around Cleveland, Ohio; Boston, Massachusetts; Charlottesville, Virginia; Detroit, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin; and Salt Lake City, Utah, each proposed creating regional housing plans as part of SCRPG grant activities. At the county level, Augusta-Richmond County in Georgia won a joint Community Challenge/TIGER II grant to prepare a redevelopment plan for a 4.5-mile corridor through the heart of downtown Augusta, which will include an affordable housing component. The City of Cincinnati received a Community Challenge grant to study the feasibility of an inclusionary zoning ordinance. Several cities, including Somerville, Mass., and Dallas, Texas, proposed creating affordable housing land banks as part of their grants.

Corridor Planning: A predominant focus of both Regional and Community Challenge grants was corridor-level activities. The Regional award winners heavily focused on multiple corridors while the Challenge award winners were mostly related to a single corridor. Among grant recipients from regions with an existing plan (Category 2 grants), the emphasis was on transit corridors. In Seattle, the regional consortium will prepare a strategy for up to 25 transit corridors and 100 new transit stations planned for the year 2025. Boston will create corridor plans on its existing transit corridors and identify priority development, preservation, and infrastructure investment areas. The Twin Cities consortium in Minnesota will focus on transit corridor planning activities, and has developed a seven-phase continuum for planning and development strategies, with each corridor falling somewhere along this continuum. The Hartford, Connecticut, region will focus on a “Knowledge Corridor with its SCRPG grant” while Denver, Colorado, will prioritize activities along the West Corridor with its joint Community Challenge/TIGER II grant.

Station Area Planning: Several regions have proposed conducting site-specific TOD planning activities in their successful Regional Planning grants, including Salt Lake City and the Twin Cities, both of which would prepare demonstration projects that could be replicable throughout their respective regions. Many communities also received Community Challenge or TIGER II grants for new or existing station areas, including the cities of Dallas and Santa Monica, Calif. Others would focus on downtown or neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Comprehensive Planning: The nature of the Sustainable Communities grants means that most regions and communities are focused on creating comprehensive plans at the regional or local level. Many award recipients from regions without an existing regional comprehensive plan (Category 1 grants) are working together for the first time to create a regional plan, and just getting all the right people to the table and attempting to work together will be the main focus of these efforts. In other more advanced regions, implementation of existing regional plans is the primary goal, or they plan on filling in gaps such as affordable housing, transportation, or sustainability.

Connectivity: Concepts such as complete streets, last-mile connections, and off-street trails were an emphasis of several Challenge and TIGER II grants. Burlington, Vermont, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Dahlonega, Georgia, will all use Community Challenge grants to prepare complete streets guidelines, while Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Pueblo of Laguna, New Mexico, will use TIGER II grants to build new trail systems.

Economic Development: Workforce development was a key goal of the Des Moines, Iowa, region’s Regional Planning grant, while international economic development was a priority for the South Florida region. The Rockford, Illinois, and Helena, Arkansas, regions will both focus on economic revitalization in their Regional Planning grant activities.

Zoning/Land Use Reform: About a dozen communities received Community Challenge grants to reform their land-use regulations and zoning codes to foster more compact, mixed-use development. Somerville, Massachusetts; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Providence, Rhode Island, all seek to rewrite their entire zoning codes. Cincinnati, Ohio; Flint, Michigan; and New Haven, Connecticut, will create mixed-use or TOD overlay zones. Glens Falls, New York, will conduct a feasibility study for reforming its current zoning codes.

Healthy Eating: Three places received grants to improve food access and healthy eating. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission seeks to integrate the local food system in the Columbus area communities, while the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, region will emphasize local food production in its regional comprehensive plan.

Data Sharing & Modeling: Several regions aim to use Regional Planning grant funding to promote data sharing between communities and create regional data depositories. Platteville, Wisconsin, and Austin, Texas, both emphasized this concept in SCRPG applications. The Houston and Greensboro, North Carolina, regions would use funds to engage in scenario planning activities as part of community outreach.

"The first round of Sustainable Communities and TIGER awards went to a wide variety of communities and regions to fund a diverse array of planning activities," Reconnecting America concludes. "There was no “one-size-fits-all” approach to preparing a successful application, as communities and regions large and small received awards. While common themes such as equity and corridor planning predominated, there were many unique concepts as well that only one or two regions proposed."