In the shadow of the Great Recession, President Obama called on federal agencies to employ creative strategies that would restore stability to the economy, address growing income inequality, and create opportunities for families to enter the middle the class. In response to President Obama’s challenge, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Partnership for Sustainable Communities just over five years ago. The Partnership was tasked with the mission of helping communities provide more housing and transportation options for their residents, better connect housing and jobs, and leverage federal funds to increase economic competiveness.
Each agency has taken a leadership role in advancing the Partnership’s work. HUD provided $240 million in Sustainable Communities Initiative grants to communities and regions to help them plan for a more economically resilient future. Through the Sustainable Communities Initiative, HUD enabled more than 1,200 cities in 48 States and the District of Colombia to work with their partners to create master plans that were reflective of a bottom-up approach. These robust community planning processes have catalyzed new public-private and philanthropic partnerships that are attracting new businesses, supporting a strong workforce, and developing new housing with access to economic opportunities.
$240 million In HUD Sustainable Communities Initiative grants to help communities and regions plan for a more economically resilient future.
To achieve these goals, the Partnership has supported local efforts that are bringing together leaders from across sectors, building a common agenda, and committing to using data to track results and progress. In many ways, this approach, described in more detail below, mirrors the conditions of Collective Impact by drawing on the strength of multiple organizations to solve complex social problems with powerful results.
1) Building a common agenda
Through the interagency collaboration fostered by the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, HUD encouraged its grantees to address multiple local and regional challenges, by using these Six Livability Principles: 1) provide more transportation choices; 2) promote equitable, affordable housing; 3) enhance economic competitiveness; 4) support existing communities; 5) coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment and 6) value communities and neighborhoods.
Using these principles as a foundation, communities as diverse as Phoenix, East Central Florida, and Minnesota’s Twin Cities have developed plans for housing and business development, along new transit lines that improve access to job centers.
2) Creating feedback mechanisms for shared measurement systems
HUD has assisted communities to collect and measure data to track progress toward their common agenda. The agency created a national online Learning Network to centralize resources and share best-practices and information among grantees. Additionally, this fall, the Partnership will release a comprehensive Sustainable Communities Indicators Catalogue highlighting community indicators that are relevant to local policymakers, accessible to all local governments, and adequate to the task of demonstrating progress toward sustainable development practices.
3) Engaging and empowering stakeholders for mutual gain
Grantees worked hard to engage as many stakeholders and community members as possible, and to ensure their plans and activities represent the wide swath of community needs. At the same time, ensuring that individuals and organizations are empowered to make this change happen has been equally important. The Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation, for example, has brought business and philanthropic leaders into the planning process, ensuring resonance with the resulting plan and investment in its successful implementation.
4) Proactive communication, support and monitoring
Grant managers at HUD’s Office of Economic Resilience (OER) serves as a form of customer service support and help them to navigate the federal government bureaucracy. A grant manager is assigned to each grantee community, and acts as a partner, federal liaison and government administrator. In addition to traditional grant monitoring and compliance, this role helps build the direct relationship between grantees and the federal agencies that are most helpful in implementing their plan priorities. Grant managers typically speak to their grantees monthly and provide helpful resources as they monitor progress. This support assists grantees in serving as strong backbone organizations and coordinators of local projects
HUD has invested nearly $10 million in capacity building, peer-to-peer learning, and technical assistance for grantees to assist them in serving as on-the-ground team leads. HUD has also partnered with funder collaboratives such as Living Cities to maximize the collective impact of each effort. By sharing information and tactics with these organizations, we ensure their access to existing research and experience.
Tapping Financial Resources
$253 million In funds that Grantees have leverage from local, state and other partners.
As communities and regions move from planning to implementation, the collective impact potential of HUD’s Sustainable Communities Initiative grants is becoming increasingly evident. Grantees have leverage more than $253 million from local, state and other partners; and have created partnerships across multiple sectors, including the business community, leading to millions of dollars in new community investments and new jobs. This has enabled broader cooperation, greater buy-in and aligned investments in regions across the country. Given all that the Partnership and the Sustainable Communities Initiative grantees have accomplished in the past five years, we are poised to achieve bounty of new successes in the years to come. For more information on the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and HUD’s Office of Economic Resilience, please visit www.sustainablecommunities.gov and www.hud.gov/resilience.