THE BLOG
06/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Village Green: Putting the "UD" Back in HUD, Sustainably

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan just gave a great speech to the Urban Land Institute in Atlanta.  Here are some excerpts:

"I would like to share my vision for the role HUD can play in creating the most sustainable communities and quality places across the country.  HUD can and will be a vehicle to advance sustainable growth in our metropolitan areas. Together, with the partnership of all of you, I know that we can make our vision of sustainability a reality for our communities and this nation.

"Let's be honest--HUD has become the Department of Subsidized Housing, and that must change.  We've got to put the "UD" (urban development) back in HUD.  At the outset, the design, location, and quality of housing have a dramatic effect on the quality of place . . .

"As we look at the patterns of foreclosure across the country today, it is no coincidence that most of the neighborhoods with the highest foreclosure rates are some of the least sustainable places in this nation. (This includes) both the newer suburban areas that are disconnected from transit options, as well as the older urban centers, where residents are disconnected from educational and employment opportunities.  It is clear that there is a larger lesson to be learned from the current mortgage crisis about sustainable communities. Orchard Gardens, Boston (by: Boston Housing Authority)There is also a larger lesson to learn about how HUD must change, given the larger scale demographic and credit shifts that have occurred in our country since HUD's founding (in 1965) . . . 

"As the boundaries of urban, suburban, and rural are blurred, the problems once seen as urban problems are now suburban and rural problems as well . . .

Our budget also includes the establishment of a sustainable communities initiative.  This will catalyze a new generation of metropolitan and rural efforts to integrate transportation, housing, and land use planning. To ensure that this collaboration occurs at HUD and other agencies, we created new a new Office of Sustainable Housing in Communities. This office will coordinate the efforts we are undertaking with the Department of Transportation (DOT).

"The average American working family today spends close to sixty percent of its budget on housing and transportation costs. This is simply not sustainable, given the way that our metropolitan areas are expanding and developing.  Together with DOT, we will lower these costs and expand families' choices for affordable housing and transportation by better coordinating our investments at the federal level.  Specifically, HUD and DOT, Greenbridge, King County, WA (by: King Co. Housing Authority)in the federal fiscal 2010 budget, will encourage regions to develop integrated housing and transportation plans that help reduce traffic congestion and increase transportation mobility . . .  

"In our budget, we also recognize the need to continue the effort started under the successful Hope VI program to alleviate a concentration of poverty in inner city neighborhoods, fostered by poor planning.  This effort will help directly to achieve our goal of creating a geography of opportunity for all Americans . . ." 

Read the entire speech, which is not long, on ULI's site.  (Images with this post are of projects built under HOPE VI, whose budget was slashed under the previous administration.)

This is terrific stuff.  I remember a decade ago, when Don Chen and I (with, I think, Matt Raimi) were making the rounds to talk to people about our work on sprawl and what we were beginning to call smart growth.  As I've noted before, one of the most dispiriting meetings we had was at HUD, Quinniapac Terrace, New haven, CT (by: Trinity Financial)where we might as well have been reading a mathematical treatise, judging by the amount of interest in the room.  And no, we weren't that boring. 

At the end of the meeting one fellow pulled us aside and insisted that we (or maybe it was just me, as the NRDC guy) accompany him to his office, where he handed us a large cardboard box filled with papers he had written about sustainable development over the years, but that no one else had ever been interested in.  He was about to retire, and wanted someone to have them.  He had given up on finding such a person in his agency.  I don't remember his name, but somehow I hope he hears about Donovan's speech.  It is change he would believe in.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment on NRDC's Switchboard site.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.