By. Neil Williamson
The Obama Administration may be planning to use the allocation of federal housing and transportation dollars to alter the way Americans live and how they travel. President Obama’s strong statement on “sprawl” during a Town Hall meeting in February (Ft. Myers FL) were followed by an interesting media release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Departmentof Transportation:
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan and U.S. Departmentof Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHoodtoday announced a new partnership to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportationoptions, and lower transportationcosts. The average working American family spends nearly 60 percent of its budget on housing and transportation costs, making these two areas the largest expenses for American families. Donovan and LaHood want to seek ways to cut these costs by focusing their efforts on creating affordable, sustainable communities.
The Secretaries discussed their plans for sustainable communities today at a U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing hearing titled, “Livable Communities, Transit Oriented Development, and incorporating Green Building Practices into Federal Housing and Transportation.”
The two agencies have set up “a high level interagency task force to better coordinate federal transportation and housing investments”. Included in its many goals are the following:
• More choices for affordable housing near employment opportunities;
• More transportation options, to lower transportation costs, shorten travel times, and improve the environment;
• More ability to combine several errands into one trip through better coordination of transportation and land uses; and
• Safe, livable, healthy communities.
Our good friend Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D. wrote an interesting Heritage Foundation Backgrounder on this issue. Entitled “President Obama’s New Plan to Decide Where Americans Live and Travel”. In the piece, Utt outlined the current federal requirements regarding transportation and housing status reporting:
At present, HUD requires states, counties, and cities to conduct five-year Consolidated Plans estimating housing status and needs, and DOT requires the federally funded Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to develop Long-Range TransportationPlans and four-year Transportation ImprovementPrograms. Despite billions of dollars of spending on these entities, all of this costly planning coincided with what many believe has been one of the worst housing and transportation environments in U.S. history. Over the past decade, housing became less affordable than ever, and this has contributed to the most severe housing recession since the Great Depression. While all of the MPOs were huffing and puffing away on their little transportationplans, traffic congestioncontinued to worsen, and the quality of the transportationinfrastructure continued to decline, despite record federal and state transportation spending on both.
Nonetheless, having failed separately to come anywhere close to performing the straightforward tasks assigned to them, the White House proposes that these two forms of planning initiatives be combined in a cooperative partnership, and that they be given even more responsibility and greater control over living and travel policies for the American people.
The Free Enterprise Forum has long advocated for market based, rather than government, solutions. We have also supported flexibility in applicationof “sustainable” solutions. We note with great trepidation the federal government, with so much already on its plate, weighing in on land use. Each locality has different sensibilities regarding the creation of mixed use districts [witness the meeting in Belmont last night 4/28]. In addition, the “smart growth” communities with interwoven streets work better in the flatlands of upper Ohio than in the rolling hills of Central Virginia.
The concept of locking up required federal funding for transportation and affordable housing until the locality’s comprehensive plan meets the approval of the White House is usurping power and should not be tolorated.
Despite our many differences with local planning regarding land use planning, we believe such decisions should be made with the input from the citizens at the local level, without the significant threat of lost federal transportation or housing funding.