Sustainable Communities

Overview

Healthy, economically strong regions—in which all individuals and families can have access to affordable housing, quality schools, employment centers, and other basic services—are the foundation of a prosperous America. The Center for Infrastructure Equity, advances this vision of shared prosperity through equitable development. Equitable development requires thinking intentionally about how equity can be achieved in planning and policy processes, and then implementing strategies to make certain that disadvantaged communities and communities of color participate in and benefit from decisions that determine the course of development in their neighborhoods, communities, and regions. The federal Sustainable Communities Initiative program has given communities a chance to do just that. The Center for Infrastructure Equity continues to build on its Sustainable Communities Equity Guide to provide technical assistance to regions that will work to deliver communities of opportunity through equity-focused planning.

Communities of Opportunity
 
The federal Sustainable Community Initiative (SCI) was implemented by the Obama Administration with the 2009 establishment of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities to support the planning and implementation of resources to foster communities and regions of opportunity. This interagency partnership has brought together the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Now, with 143 grantees in 87 regions and 56 localities (across 47 states), SCI represents one key foundation of the Administration’s place-based agenda.
 
For the 143 communities and regions engaged in planning for or implementation of a prosperous future, the Sustainable Communities Initiative has been a game-changing opportunity. These communities have catalyzed new cross-sector networks, new problem-solving methods, and new, inclusive decision-making tables. By bringing together diverse public, private, philanthropic, and nonprofit leaders, Sustainable Communities is seeding the opportunity for regions and communities to craft an authentic vision for an equitable and prosperous future. 
 
Moving forward, Congressional authorization is needed to embed this more equitable approach into the federal policy investment framework. Legislation like the Livable Communities Act, which was introduced in the 111th Congress (and is awaiting a vehicle for reintroduction) and the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) (reauthorized in 2012) would help towns and regions across the country plan and implement development projects that integrate their community’s needs for transportation, housing, land use, and economic development. 
 

Capacity Building

Equity, environment, and economy are the foundational components of the Sustainable Communities Initiative. Equity is advanced through the initiative through guidance that grantees must:

  • develop an accurate and nuanced picture of equity and opportunity in each region;
  • dedicate grant resources to the engagement of those who live in and the organizations that serve people in disconnected or disinvested neighborhoods (low-income communities and communities of color);
  • place equity leadership on governing consortia; and
  • meet equity outcomes that address racially concentrated poverty and grow economic opportunity.

Through a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) contract that provides capacity-building support, we -- in partnership with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, and the Program on Environmental and Regional Equity -- ensure that the Sustainable Communities grantees achieve equity goals, plan for communities of opportunity, and actively address regional disparities. To date, these partners have developed the following equity-focused resources to help regions and municipalities achieve equity outcomes in their planning and implementation.

Achieving Equitable Outcomes

By bringing together diverse public, private, philanthropic, and nonprofit leaders, Sustainable Communities is seeding the opportunity for regions and communities to craft an authentic vision for an equitable and prosperous future.

Equity-focused resources have been developed to help regions and municipalities achieve equity outcomes in their planning and implementation: 

This guide addresses effective practices for engaging communities generally underrepresented in planning processes—communities of color, low-income communities, immigrant communities, people with disabilities and nonprofit, civil rights, and advocacy organizations. The guide also addresses how to build their leadership through inclusive processes, governance, and policy change. 

  • Regional Economic Futures—Resilient Economies 

PolicyLink and the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE), have developed regional equity profiles for SCI regions that help governing consortia focus on key economic factors—strong sectors of the economy; skills needed for those sectors; trends in wages, income, and educational attainment of specific demographic groups; and access to job centers. The profiles make recommendations for strengthening regional economic outcomes, and PolicyLink facilitates consortia deliberations to move forward economic resilience strategies into regional plan implementation. See An Equity Profile of Rhode Island here.

  • Immigrant Integration

The United States is often regarded as a nation of immigrants. Regional governments, such as metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), can help foster mobility, participation, and openness by acting as conveners of conversations around immigrant integration and mapping the landscapes of labor, housing, and transportation in ways that are inclusive of immigrant concerns and aspirations. Read more here.

  • Fair Housing and Equity Assessment 

HUD is piloting a new approach to housing opportunity through Sustainable Communities by requiring regional planning grantees to conduct a Fair Housing Equity Assessment which utilizes data to understand demographic trends of the region, identifies areas of racially concentrated poverty, and incorporates deliberation and decision making to address the disparities of those communities in the Regional Sustainability Development Plan. PolicyLink and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity developed the following guides to support equity-focused assessments:

  • a Fair Housing and Equity Assessment Developing a Scope of Work….Guide will help regions activate a process that can inform future housing and infrastructure investment decisions. Read more here.
  • a Deliberation Guide informs stakeholder engagement, developing questions for productive dialog, developing shared definitions, and productive facilitation. Read more here.
  • a FHEA Roles and Responsibilities Guide identifies actions and agencies that can advance fair housing. Read more here.
  • a FHEA Frequently Asked Questions document.
  • an Implementing the FHEA: Advancing Opportunity through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credits here.
  • a FHEA Emerging Practice Guide demonstrates best practices in early stage FHEAs. Read more here.

 

  • Addressing Environmental Justice

Sustainable Communities planning at both local and regional levels can successfully address the significant environmental health exposures faced by communities around air and water quality, exposure to toxics, and siting of harmful land uses. PolicyLink in partnership with PERE, developed the Environmental Justice Brief to help SCI grantees address Environmental Justice issues in the context of their land use planning. 

  • Requests for Assistance

For questions regarding office hours, speaking engagements, and/or workshops, please e-mail the Sustainable Communities Initiative at sci@policylink.org

 

Advocacy

The Center for Infrastructure Equity applauds the leadership of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities agencies for creating the framework and resources to address the great challenges facing our communities by planning for future communities of opportunity.

Hundreds of equity-advocate partners weighed in with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on the guidances of this program. Their best-practice expertise informed and helped establish strong equity-focused criteria for the program. To learn more about what these partners have done to advocate for equity in the Sustainable Communities program, see below.

Federal Advocacy

Historic Partnership

In 2009, President Obama established a formal interagency the Partnership for Sustainable Communities (PSC) between the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to foster collaboration between transportation agencies, local governments, community leadership, philanthropy, and the private sector to spur reinvestment in economically distressed communities and strengthen regional economies through planning and coordinated infrastructure investments. Managed by the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities from 2010-2013 the Partnership manage the grantees awarded in the initiative. The grantees the office manages include:

  • In 2010, the Sustainable Communities Initiative awarded $150 million in three-year (2010-2013) planning and implementation grants.
  • In 2011, $100 million was awarded to grantees who will be working 2011-2014. In 2012, the House of Representatives zeroed out the grants program, and in 2013, due to a Continuing Resolution for budget authority, the program continued at the zero level.
 
For the FY 2014 budget, the President proposed changing the program to the Integrated Planning and Investment Grants (IPI) in a renamed Office of Economic Resilience due to the successful work of the initiative in leveraging coordinated investments that connect affordable housing to transportation, deliver workforce development, create jobs, spur economic development, and reduce regulatory barriers. Applicant requests for these grants exceeded by ten-fold the amount awarded to date. In June 2013, the Senate passed out of the Transportation Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations committee a $75 million appropriation for IPI. The House committee did not include IPI grants, which are critical to fostering economic resilience and access to opportunities for all communities, and which will keep America competitive in a global 21st century economy. In early August 2013 the THUD appropriation bill did not receive sufficient votes to pass, and the house pulled its appropriation bill from the floor-making a THUD budget bill unlikely for 2013. For the key components of IPI, click here.
 

State and Local Policy Efforts

The right infrastructure investments can set the stage for private-sector reinvestment and catalyze economic revitalization in distressed and underinvested communities. The Sustainable Communities Initiative has led efforts at the regional and statewide levels to direct more infrastructure funding and legislation to disadvantaged places. Details below provide information about current issues that the state of California is taking on through legislation, administrative advocacy, and education. 
 
California Local and Regional Policy Efforts: For more information, see California Policy Advocacy
 
Creating Sustainable Communities of Opportunity:  From the San Francisco Bay Area to unincorporated communities in the San Joaquin Valley to the state policy arena in Sacramento, we are engaged in a wide variety of policy campaigns, partnerships, and research projects to advance equitable development. By Lifting Up What Works®, the PolicyLink Center for Infrastructure Equity is committed to connecting local communities to the policymaking process, and promoting economic and social equity statewide. 
 
Assembly Bill 32 and Senate Bill 375: As implementation of California’s groundbreaking climate change legislation of Assembly Bill 32 (Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions) and Senate Bill 375 (CA Sustainable Communities Strategies) proceeds, every California region will be developing its own plan for sustainable, equitable regional development. The Center is convening a statewide CA Equity Network to advance equity in the Sustainable Communities planning and implementation. 
 
Strategic Growth Council (SGC): An interagency body that includes representatives from California’s Environmental Protection Agency, Health and Human Services Agency, Business Transportation and Housing Agency, Natural Resources Agency, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, and a public member, the SGC developed guidelines for distributing state Sustainable Community Planning Grants provided by Proposition 84 to support planning and implementation of AB32 and SB375. The Center for Infrastructure Equity, in collaboration with multiple partners, launched an administrative advocacy campaign that ensured that resources would be dedicated to planning in some of California’s most underserved, economically disadvantaged communities by creating a competitive scoring system that prioritized applicants planning for low income communities and that provided a set aside of 25 percent of the funds for disadvantaged communities. Learn more about SGC here
 
Cap and Trade: To implement SB375 and AB32 greenhouse gas reduction goals, the California Air Quality Resources Board was assigned authority to develop a system of ‘Cap and Trade’ to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The Center has been working with a coalition convened by Climate Change to ensure that revenues generated by the system will be invested in affordable housing near transit and jobs, and to ensure that transit-dependent populations can continue to have a low carbon footprint by living near transit and having access to jobs and amenities of the region. 
 
Prop 39:  The Center's analysis, based on historical data from local school bond measures before and after the passage of Proposition 39 in 2000, concluded that a lower vote threshold for local infrastructure funding measures would prompt local voters to respond to the community infrastructure gap with more local money. Prop 39 lowered the vote threshold for school construction bonds to 55 percent. 
 

Equity Networks

In addition to advocacy and technical assistance at the national level, The Center for Infrastructure Equity is working in multiple regions with a broad range of players who are committed to working across sectors and issue areas to advance equity. Below are a list of equity networks:
 
  • Atlanta — Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE) pushes for policies and actions that promote equity and shared prosperity in metropolitan Atlanta. Through forums, research, and organizing efforts, PSE brings together the regional community to lift up and encourage just, sustainable, and civic practices for balanced growth and opportunity. Learn more here.
     
  • Bay Area — The Social Equity Caucus (convened by Urban Habitat) and the Six Wins Coalition (of the Great Communities Collaborative) holds decision makers accountable to the region’s low-income communities and communities of color by uniting organizations across the nonprofit, public, and private sectors and building power around a shared regional agenda for environmental, economic, and social justice. Urban Habitat founded the Bay Area SEC in 1998 and continues to serve as the lead organization. Learn more here.
     
  • Boston — Action for Regional Equity, convened by Greater Four Corners Action Coalition (GFCAC), is a coalition of community-based organizations in greater Boston that came together in 2000 to advocate for transportation justice. Action for Regional Equity and GFCAC are a part of the steering committee with a goal to have an environmentally sustainable and socially just transportation system that is integral to the preservation and creation of livable communities. Learn more here.
     
  • California — The California Equity Leaders Network is a statewide collaborative effort of more than 60 local, regional, state, and national groups dedicated to improving the lives of all Californians and promoting a future of shared prosperity. To this end, the network is committed to sharing knowledge, supporting one another, and collaborating on policies that advance equity in California.
     
  • Kansas City Metropolitan is a newly forming network that emerged out of the SCI collaborative Mid-America Regional Council, Kansas City. Organizing for success has been a central theme throughout the Kansas City Sustainable Communities regional planning effort. Learn more here.
     
  • Portland — Coalition for a Livable Future: Living Cully Eco district unites a diverse array of organizations and individuals to promote healthy, equitable, and sustainable communities in the Portland-Vancouver region. By connecting issues, people, and organizations, the Coalition empowers communities to take action together to shape the big decisions affecting the region’s future. Learn more here.
     
  • SacramentoCoalition for Regional Equity, (CORE) focuses on the linkage between health and the built environment, and how factors such as land use, food and habitat shape our communities. CORE builds power by uniting sectors around a shared agenda for environmental, economic, and social justice.
     
  • San Joaquin Valley Smart Valley Places, San Joaquin Valley (CA)  is a consortium that consists of 14 cities and several institutional and nonprofit organizations across an eight-county area in California's San Joaquin Valley.
     
  • Twin Cities Equity Now Twin Cities is a diverse group of passionate people that are working together to achieve equity for the Twin Cities region and beyond. EquityNowTC was formed by the Minnesota Delegation to the PolicyLink Equity Summit 2011 and was originally organized by the Corridors of Opportunity Community Engagement Team: Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing, and Nexus Community Partners. Learn more here.
     
  • National
    The Center for Infrastructure Equity also coordinates federal advocacy on Sustainable Communities/Integrated Planning and Investment grants. If you would like to join this network or receive updates, email sci@policylink.org
     

Newly Forming Networks Emerging Out of SCI Collaborative include:

  • Houston-Galveston
  • Puget Sound
  • Rhode Island
 

Webinars

PolicyLink has collaborated with many national organizations and local partners to produce webinars on best practices in equity for prospective and current Sustainable Communities grantees. 

Webinar Archive

Building Sustainable Communities through Environmental Justice Strategies: Hosted by the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at the University of Southern California, this webinar defines EJ (environmental justice) and its importance in building sustainable communities, introduces tools for measuring EJ impacts, outlines best practices for engaging marginalized communities in planning processes and policy development, and discusses recent climate justice efforts.

  • Click here to view an archive of the webinar. (September 6, 2012)

Immigrant Integration: Integrating New Americans into Sustainable Communities: Co-hosted with the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at the University of Southern California, this webinar defines immigrant integration, explains its importance for building sustainable communities, and outlines best practices for integrating immigrants more fully into a region.

  • Click here to view an archive of the recording. (August 2, 2012)

Maximizing Opportunity in HUD's New Fair Housing and Equity Assessment: Co-hosted with the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, and HUD's Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, this webinar defines the new approach to fair housing and housing opportunity, and features best practices from Oregon, Connecticut, and other regions for creating inclusive and impactful assessment and implementation plans.

  • Click here to view an archive of the recording. (July 25, 2012)

The Power of Regional Equity Networks: Tools for Regional Advancement: Regional equity networks and coalitions are taking the lead in shaping the implementation of equity-focused public policies that build and sustain communities of opportunity across America. This webinar explores the formation and sustainment of effective regional equity networks and coalitions.

  • Click here to view an archive of the recording. (June 27, 2012)

Opportunity Mapping for Regional Planning: Co-hosted by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and PolicyLink, this webinar examines opportunity mapping and its applications for delivering on equity outcomes.

  • Click here to view an archive of the recording. (April 11, 2012)

Engagement with Traditionally Marginalized Communities: In this webinar, several FY 2010 Sustainable Communities grantees share their experience engaging traditionally marginalized communities in both regional and local planning processes. Participants learn about specific methods to bring vulnerable populations to the table, build stronger relationships with these communities, messaging for inclusion, and, meaningfully integrating engagement into decision-making processes.

  • Click here to view an archive of the recording. (March 2, 2012)

Publications

In an effort to share our research with our constituents, the PolicyLink Center for Infrastructure Equity continues to report—often in conjunction with partners—around equitable strategies that can help all Americans prosper. By Lifting Up What Works and spreading the stories of effective change on the ground, proven efforts to improve communities and support the work needed to replicate those efforts are highlighted. 

Publications 

Guides

Key Strategies to Advance Equitable Growth in Regions
Regional Planning for Health Equity
Shaping The New HUD Sustainable Communities Program: What Advocates Need To Know
Fair Housing and Equity Assessment: Developing a Scope of Work to Maximize Equitable Outcomes
Fair Housing and Equity Assessment Deliberation Guide
Fair Housing and Equity Assessment Roles and Responsibilities Guide
Fair Housing and Equity Assessment Frequently Asked Questions
Implementing the Fair Housing Equity Assessment: Advancing Opportunity through the Low-Income Housing Tax Credits
Fair Housing Equity Assessment Emerging Practice
Community Engagement Guide for Sustainable Communities
The 2011 Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Equity Guide
The 2010 Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Equity Guide
Equitable Growth Profile of the Omaha-Council Bluffs Region
Equitable Growth Profile of the Piedmont Triad Region
Strengthening the Pine Ridge Economy

Issue Briefs

Strategies for Strengthening Anchor Institutions’ Community Impact
Strategies for Health-Care Workforce Development
Strategies for Wraparound Services for African American Men Seeking Employment
Strategies for Addressing Equity in Infrastructure and Public Works
Community Engagement Guide for Sustainable Communities
Immigrant Integration: Integrating New Americans and Building Sustainable Communities
Fair Housing and Equity Assessment: Developing a Scope of Work to Maximize Equitable Outcomes
Advancing Environmental Justice through Sustainability Planning (Full Report)
Advancing Environmental Justice through Sustainability Planning (Summary)
Leveraging Anchor Institutions for Economic Inclusion

Advocacy Resources
Comments to HUD on the Sustainable Communities Advance Notice of Funding Availability
Building Economic Resilience: Integrated Planning and Investment Grants
What is the Proposed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule?
PolicyLink Comments on AFFH Rule, September 2013
Senate Letter in support of AFFH Rule, August 2014
House Letter in support of AFFH Rule, June 2014

Equitable Development Toolkit
PolicyLink Equitable Development Toolkit

Requests for Assistance
For questions regarding office hours, speaking engagements, and/or workshops, please email Sustainable Communities Initiative at sci@policylink.org.