US Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan spoke recently at at the Urban Land Institute’s Spring Council Forum in Atlanta, where he recommitted the department to the job of fostering high-quality urban development and laid out several new HUD initiatives for advancing the growth of sustainable, equitable communities that create “a geography of opportunity for all Americans.”
Moving beyond policy, he talked about a host of new programs backed by a major budget restructuring, putting into action statements he made earlier this year about HUD’s newly defined mission to connect housing policy and sustainability. Here are some excerpts from his ULI speech:
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. The evidence proves that the concentration of low-rent housing in marginal areas - mostly inner city neighborhoods - has damaged the economic health and vitality of people and places across this country.
The “UD” in HUD reflects the understanding that many places in the United States are cut off from economic mainstream and need access to new initiatives and funding sources to jumpstart private market activity. This is especially relevant today.
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.
Cities are regaining their status, but in the context of 60 years of suburban and now exurban growth. More residents of small towns now find themselves part of the large labor markets that metropolitan areas represent. 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.
The fact is that the economic geography and spatial landscape of the United States has altered considerably, and HUD must alter too.
Donovan talked about HUD’s sustainability initiative and the creation of a new Office of Sustainable Housing in Communities, which is working together with the Department of Transportation to integrate transportation, housing, and land use planning in metropolitan and rural areas. He noted that the average American family spends nearly 60 percent of its income on housing and transportation costs, which, Donovan said, “is simply not sustainable, given the way that our metropolitan areas are expanding and developing.”
He stated that more affordable housing and transportation alternatives must be made available, and this can happen through a better coordination of investments at the federal level.