Sen. Menendez Introduces Bill to Plan For Livable Communities

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez has taken up where former Senator Chris Dodd left off. Last week, Menendez offered a fresh version of Dodd’s Livable Communities Act. The bill would formally authorize the HUD Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities and its Regional Planning and Community Challenge grant programs, restoring funding for those programs to 2010 levels.

Sen. Bob Menendez is hoping to bring funding for livable communities back to 2010 levels. Photo courtesy of Sen. Menendez's office.

The office works to “coordinate federal housing and transportation investments with local land use decisions in order to reduce transportation costs for families, improve housing affordability, save energy, and increase access to housing and employment opportunities.”

The bill would also create a loan program for transit oriented development projects.

In comparison with the 2009 version, the total dollar amount of the five-year bill is smaller — $880 million compared to almost $2 billion. Last time around, the country was already in the throes of economic crisis, but Congress hadn’t changed hands yet and ushered in a new generation of deficit hawks. So Menendez kept this bill a little more modest, holding spending at 2010 levels (before the livability programs got hammered with cuts earlier this year.)

In hopes of winning over some of those deficit hawks, the bill starts off with the assertion that strategic community planning could save nearly $122 billion in infrastructure costs over the net 25 years.

The $880 million is mostly for Regional Planning Grants ($600 million) with $180 million for Challenge Grants and $100 million for TOD loans, which haven’t existed up until now. Fifteen percent of funds are destined for rural areas.

Some elements of the Dodd bill have already been implemented and aren’t mentioned in the Menendez version, like a Transportation & Housing Affordability Index, which HUD now has; and an Interagency Council on Sustainable Communities, which is essentially the existing tri-agency Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Some elements have simply been stripped since the Dodd bill, like grant programs for enforcing green building codes, or to help towns and cities adjust to population loss and vacancies, or to improve community zoning.

Sen. Dodd’s bill passed the Senate Banking Committee (which he chaired) but never went on to a vote on the Senate floor. Menendez hopes this one will fare better.

“What we build has real impact on how much time we spend in traffic, whether we can afford to live close to where we work, and whether businesses can attract and retain workers,” said Menendez, who chairs the Banking Subcommittee for Housing, Transportation, and Community Development.  “This bill is about making better coordinated investments so that we use our resources wisely and can enjoy attractive, economically viable, healthy communities that are resilient over the long-term.”

Though Menendez hopes his Republican colleagues will see the bill as an opportunity to reduce duplication in federal agencies and invest smarter in housing and transportation projects for economic development, so far, no Republicans have bitten. The bill has 17 co-sponsors – all Democrats and one Democrat-leaning Independent.

The full bill text isn’t posted anywhere official yet, but you can read it here [PDF].

  • Jerry33

    “The bill has 17 co-sponsors – all Democrats and one Democrat-leaning Independent.” I don’t consider myself partisan per se until I see how my representatives are voting.  I favor those that realize we need to invest in long term economic, social and environmental stability because this is a cost conscious and conscience based approach.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Senators Propose $4 Billion for Transit-Oriented Development Grants

|
Making good on a vow first reported in Streetsblog Capitol Hill, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) and three colleagues today offered a bill authorizing $4 billion in grants to help states and cities pursue transit-oriented development, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and other green transport projects. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) (Photo: […]

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. Shaun Donovan, Ray LaHood, Lisa Jackson: Together forever? The Livable Communities Act would codify the partnership between HUD, US DOT, and the EPA. […]

Dodd Vows to Pass Livability Bill Amid Skepticism From Rural Senators

|
Even as the Obama administration ramps up its work on a sustainability initiative that treats transportation, housing, and energy efficiency as interconnected aspects of development policy, the effort remains without an official congressional authorization — a situation that Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) vowed to fix yesterday. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd […]

Dodd’s Livability Bill Earns Praise from Local Governments

|
With financial reform nearly complete, the Senate Banking Committee turned its attention today to one of Senator Chris Dodd’s (D-CT) next priorities, the Livable Communities Act. Local government came out strong for the initiative to promote sustainable and integrated regional planning, with representatives of the nation’s cities, towns, counties, and regional planning organizations testifying in favor. Among committee members, […]

Lawmakers Aim to Bring ‘Sustainable Communities’ From Talk to Action

|
When three agencies in President Obama’s Cabinet — DOT, Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency — banded together to promote "sustainable communities," the initiative sounded promising but somewhat lacking in concrete ideas. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) attached his green-housing legislation to the recently passed House climate bill. (Photo: AP) Enter a bipartisan […]