Shelterforce Interview: HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan
By Harold Simon & Matthew Brian Hersh Posted on February 12, 2010
*The second round of the Neighborhood Stabilization Program encourages cross-municipality, regional work, but things like Community Development Block Grants focus on a local unit of government. So, you have funding streams that seem to work antagonistically with some of the larger program initiatives. How do you square it all?*
With CDBG, we have to walk before we can run. Take the issue of sustainable communities, for example, and the kind of coordinated housing/transportation/environmental planning that needs to happen to create the kind of collaboration that you’re talking about. A lot of cities in this country are doing really interesting work on that end, and it’s not just places like New York, Denver, Seattle, and Chicago.
We’ve been out traveling with the Office of Urban Affairs, with Secretary Ray LaHood from the Department of Transportation, with EPA Commissioner Lisa Jackson, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and a range of others, in really seeing examples of this in places including Dubuque, Iowa, and Kansas City, Mo.
I think the way that we framed it is that the Sustainable Communities Initiative, which is part of CDBG, is a way for us to begin to both support the innovation that’s already out there, but also to create, through federal funding, real incentives for a broader set of places to start to do that kind of planning. I think, in the longer run, as we both fund and conduct research on building a set of models out of sustainable communities as an initiative, we can come back to the consolidated plan and figure out how we change the fundamental requirements that apply to everyone for CDBG so that we get the same kind of outcomes that we’re looking for.
Look, if we jumped right to saying, “Let’s just change the consolidated plan,” what models would we use? What works not just for large cities, but for small cities in rural places? This is work that has to be carefully crafted, and we see sustainable communities as the first step towards broader reform that would cut across the entire program.
So, there is a kind of longer-term arc that we see here towards getting to what you’re talking about, but I don�t think we should pretend that the federal government has the experience or the models yet. That’s why we see sustainable communities as such an important sort of first step in building the knowledge base and building a set of different models out there that we can then begin to build on.
Harold Simon is executive director of the National Housing Institute
Matthew Brian Hersh is senior editor at _Shelterforce_