Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Livability Law Moves Along in the Senate

Senator Chris Dodd’s Livable Communities Act passed out of committee yesterday, hopefully sending the bill to the Senate floor before Dodd retires at the end of the year. We’re getting our first glimpses of the bill's newest language, and its looking like it would be a significant success for NHC, our partners, and sustainable development advocates of all stripes.

Generally, the bill would coordinate Federal strategy to help communities address transportation, affordable housing, land use, and economic development issues together – in other words, make neighborhoods more livable.

One of NHC’s main concerns in our discussions with Congress has been keeping affordability a central pillar of any “livability” strategy.

A few key provisions to keep an eye on:
  • Transit Oriented Development (TOD): The bill would create both competitive grants for planning and challenge grants for implementing investments in public transportation, affordable housing, TOD, and more. A Federal “Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities” would oversee these grants.
  • Affordability: NHC is particularly excited about the committee including affordability in the bill. The reason why affordability is a must is simple: when cities start to build high quality, convenient transportation options, particularly in urban areas, it will increase housing prices to a level that could put working families in a bind. So any responsible “livability” agenda must include affordability strategies. In its current language, this bill encourages affordability throughout.
  • Long Term Affordability: Quality transportation doesn’t just increase prices in the short term. Keep in mind, these subway stations, rails, etc, will be in place for a long time. So localities should build long term affordability into their planning. While the specific time frame isn’t defined in the bill, long term affordability is a consideration for receiving some of the assistance the legislation would provide.
  • Regeneration Planning Grant: Would authorize a demonstration program to help support sustainable, market-sensitive, and community-driven planning in areas with large-scale employment and population loss and chronic property vacancy and abandonment. NHC pushed for this amendment to be included, along with the Center for Community Progress, the Northeast-Midwest Institute, LISC, and Smart Growth America.
The bill’s passage is no sure thing before the year ends. But all in all, it’s among the most promising and impacting pieces of legislation Congress has on its plate.

Image: Sen. Chris Dodd (D - CT) via cnbc.com

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