Friday, October 29, 2010

Sustainable Communities: Infrastructure and the Road to Equity

The Administration has increasingly given considerable attention to the need for a strong infrastructure to support sustainable communities in cities across the country. Recently, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have made important announcements of grant awards supporting the integration of housing, transportation, and environmental sustainability in line with their goals as partners with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. Additionally, on Labor Day, the President announced a major plan to invest in expanding infrastructure in the U.S. The plan includes a $50 billion up-front investment that is connected to a six-year reauthorization of the national surface transportation program and the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank to leverage private capital for projects of regional and national significance. The plan would rebuild 150,000 miles of roads, construct and maintain 4,000 miles of passenger rail, and rehabilitate or reconstruct 150 miles of runways while upgrading the country’s outdated air traffic control system. This announcement was followed with an analysis on October 11, 2010 from the Department of Treasury on the benefits of investing in transportation infrastructure, which include job creation and long-term economic benefits, responding to the demand for needed investment from the public, and addressing the need for improving and renewing existing infrastructure.

Many communities know well the critical need for investments in transportation infrastructure. In fact the demand for both rounds of DOT’s TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants has far exceeded the resources awarded. Infrastructure investment is critical in meeting multiple economic, environmental, and community objectives. New commitments and dollars from the Administration present an opportunity for communities to continue to push their local equity agenda in ensuring that all individuals and families have access viable transportation options that connect them to quality, affordable housing and other services needed for their health and well-being.

According to Transportation for America

 The poorest fifth of Americans spend 42% of their annual household budget on automobile ownership which is twice the national average

 The cost burden of commuting for the working poor is 6.1 percent compared to with 3.8 percent of other works. The working poor who drive t work spend the most: 8.4%

 Communities of color are far more reliant on public transportation to get to work and school with nearly 25% of African Americans not having access to a vehicle compared with 7% of Whites. 28 percent of public transportation users have incomes of 15k or less and 55 percent have incomes between 15k and 50k

To address these issues, infrastructure investments should:

 create affordable transportation options for all people;

 ensure fair and equitable access to the benefits of transportation, including access to quality jobs, affordable housing, and needed services;

 promote healthy, safe, and inclusive communities; and

 support environmentally safe and sustainable transportation systems

Transit is an essential neighborhood component that links people to opportunities, reduces economic isolation and plays a key role in making household budgets more manageable for low-income people and working families by reducing overall transportation costs. As Angela Glover Blackwell of PolicyLink has stated, transportation infrastructure is a lifeline of opportunity.

While the Administration has moved to ensure greater interagency collaboration, align goals between departments, and increase resources, more is still needed. A sustained attention to investing in infrastructure must be maintained. Resources should support expanding and improving mobility and access for underserved communities and ensure that any mechanisms used to finance our nation’s transportation system do not displace or disproportionately burden low-income people. Mechanisms should be in place to improve accountability and public engagement in decision making and communities should have some flexibility in addressing local needs as well. For example, older adults, individuals with disabilities, and people in rural areas will have specific needs.

To capitalize on future federal resources to support infrastructure, communities may find it helpful to examine successful applications for the DOT TIGER II Planning Grants/HUD Community Challenge Grants. These grants were specifically to be aligned with the Partnership for Sustainable Communities’ six Livability Principles:

1. Provide More Transportation Choices.

2. Promote equitable, affordable housing.

3. Enhance Economic Competitiveness.

4. Support Existing Communities.

5. Coordinate Policies and Leverage Investment.

6. Value Communities and Neighborhoods.

As the Partnership and its recent grant awards are consistent with the Obama Administration’s priority to remove barriers between Federal programs and model integration, successful applications were to have strong partnerships at the state and local level. As we have seen with many of the recent federal grants, leveraging public and private resources was also an important criterion. The Partnership was also looking for applications with the capacity to implement, focusing on the ability to share lessons learned and also use those lessons to coordinate policies and advance the policy agenda on these issues. In addition, the grant stressed the importance of providing data to support proposed plans and developing data-supported outcomes or results. Communities were to develop performance measures that were aligned with those results to ensure accountability.

For more information on supporting a sustainable and equitable infrastructure agenda, please see the following resources:

All Aboard! Making Equity and Inclusion Central to Federal Transportation Policy, PolicyLink

Mixed Income Housing Near Transit: Increasing Affordability with Location Efficiency, The Center for Transit Oriented Development

Preserving Affordable Housing Near Transit, Enterprise Community Partners, Inc.

The Transportation Prescription, PolicyLink

No comments:

Post a Comment