Livable Communities Act Clears Senate Committee

The Senate Banking Committee voted 12-10 yesterday in favor of the Livable Communities Act, legislation that would bolster the Obama administration’s initiatives to link together transportation, housing, economic development, and environmental policy.

donovan_lahood_jackson.jpgShaun Donovan, Ray LaHood, Lisa Jackson: Together forever? The Livable Communities Act would codify the partnership between HUD, US DOT, and the EPA. Photo: EPA

The administration has been taking steps since last March to coordinate between the Department of Transportation, HUD, and the EPA. This bill, carried in the Senate by Connecticut’s Chris Dodd, would formalize those partnerships and authorize substantially more funding to work with. 

Most of the action would flow through HUD. This year the agency is funding $150 million in grants supporting regional efforts to improve access to transit and promote walkable development. The Livable Communities Act promises to scale up that program significantly, creating a new office within HUD, called the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, that will distribute about $4 billion through competitive grants.

The initial round of grants would fund comprehensive plans — local initiatives to shape growth by coordinating housing, transportation, and economic development policies. Most of the funding — $3.75 billion — would be distributed over three years to implement projects identified in such plans.

While some Senators from rural states had expressed skepticism about the benefits of the bill for their constituents, yesterday’s vote split strictly along party lines, with Democrats Jon Tester of Montana and Tim Johnson of South Dakota both voting in favor.

To make the case for the bill to his rural and Republican counterparts, Dodd singled out Envision Utah, a campaign that has built public support for smart growth policies in one of the country’s reddest states. Not a single GOP Senator voted for the bill, however, even Utah’s Bob Bennett, who told UPI, "I think the overall philosophy is wise, but I will be voting against it."

Some of the strongest backing for the bill has come from AARP, which sent a letter to committee members on Monday pointing out that the country’s aging population will be poorly served if development patterns don’t evolve to make driving less necessary. "Nine out of ten of our members tell us they want to stay in their own
homes as they age — most are living in suburban or rural areas and don’t have access to public transportation," said Debra Alvarez, senior legislative representative for AARP. "There’s a lot of things that can be done in small towns: co-locating
things like post offices, grocery stores, pharmacies, and putting housing there too."

Advocates for transportation reform are now looking at the path forward for the bill. "We applaud the Committee for taking this major step forward on behalf of communities both small and large, and for American families looking for affordable homes in healthy neighborhoods with reliable transportation options," said Transportation for America director James Corless in a statement. "We urge the full Senate to follow their lead and give final passage."

Dodd has vowed to shepherd the Livable Communities Act through to become law before he retires in January. With Congress about to adjourn until September 13, he’ll face a tight time frame. In addition to awaiting a vote in the full Senate, the bill has yet to clear a committee vote in the House, where Colorado representative Ed Perlmutter is the sponsor.

  • Uncle Dave

    I’m not buying into this idea that the Government is looking out for my best interests by suggesting where I live, work, shop, travel, etc. American citizens have always been free to live where they choose and can afford to… If I want to live in a city, suburb or rural area it’s frankly none of the Government’s business provided I obey the laws of this country. This is just one more example of Government intervention into our lives under the guise of “the Government knows what’s good for you”. Anyone supporting this is a lemming and you can all go off the cliff collectively.

  • Uncle Dave,

    The government has been doing a whole heckuva lot more than “suggesting” where you live, work, or shop for the better part of a century. Decades of subsidies for highways, parking, and the manufacture of automobiles have got us to the point where there’s a huge un-met demand for less car-centric places. This bill simply gives cities and towns that want to meet that demand more resources to do so. You’ll still be able to live wherever you please.

  • Normal American

    So, Ben, you’re and lemming and an idiot.

  • D

    Does this bill include any Employer Assisted Housing benefits?

  • Jesus

    The government does know what’s good for you. You should obey the government if you know whats right.

  • PJSolarz

    Another government agency to drain the taxpayers wallet and more “control”. This administration is doing as much as possible to move us out of a superpower and into a European style way of life. Brittan is used to being told how to live and what they can and cannot have, American’s will be a much harder nut to crack, but little by little, they keep forging ahead taking a little more freedom from us each day.
    This and the spending has to stop. November I believe will be a turning point and give us an indication of which way we are headed. If the sheeple allow this administration to continue, we could be past the point of no return.

  • Boris

    Uncle Dave,

    I see you prefer to drive off the cliff. Feel free to do so. The rest of us will walk away from the edge instead.

  • justin

    Wow, I knew Congress was the largest collection of immoral crooks in the world, but this administration and this congress have WAY crossed a line – again and again.

  • Gae Kane

    Just like the lemmings, not all of us believe that what our leaders propose is a good idea. We each need to make educated decisions, which in this case means, impart, letting our feet do the voting.

    There is a stong case in support of walkable communities, but, at the same time, many of these walkable proposals are supported by mass transit systems that wisk residents off. In Pennsylvania the state wants to sell a major highway to a foreign company, toll Interstate 80 at the expense of hundreds of small towns and use the proceeds to fund mass transit systems in Philadelphia. Some how selling off America at the expense of residents in the small towns across the state just doesn’t make transforming Philly into a walkable community seem like such a good idea. Maybe its time the lemmings united and voiced their opionion.

  • Octavian

    Dudes, this country is getting crazier by the second. This has nothing to do with the nanny state, but simply with the fact that somebody has to make investments in infrastructure, and the government is typically doing that much better than the private interests which do not care for the common good. Not that they cannot make mistakes, but at least are well intentioned. I do not understand how people can get all riled up against investments in livable communities of all things, which basically means to allocate a little more money from building highways (which indeed proved to be a bad decision in the long run) to decent walkable neighborhoods…

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