I believe that when you set out to look for a home, you aren’t just looking for a house, but you are also looking for a community. You are thinking about access to quality schools and safe streets for your children. You are thinking about transportation to work and school. It’s important for you to have access to good jobs, grocery stores and transportation. When you choose a home, you choose a community and all that is has to offer. As a father, I understand how important it is to spend less time commuting and more time with family.
Through HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities we are working with the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency to create those sustainable communities. Guided by six “Livability Principles,” our Interagency Partnership is working to break down silos that traditionally exist in the federal government and help local communities across the country improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs, while protecting our environment. It will help communities build more livable, walkable, environmentally sustainable regions by connecting housing to jobs, fostering and encouraging local innovation, and by building a clean energy economy.
Today, I had the opportunity to travel to the great state of Colorado, which has been leading the effort on all things “green” and sustainable. The City of Denver has started building more than 100 miles of new light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit lanes, linking the 32 communities surrounding the city. And it doesn’t stop there.
Along with representatives from the Denver Housing Authority, Mayor John Hickenlooper, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, and I toured Benedict Park Place (BPP). Located near Denver’s central business district in Downtown Denver, BPP is a 15-acre sustainable mixed-income, mixed-used redevelopment project. Within walking distance to a Transit Oriented Development (TOD)-light rail line, bus stop, bike share station, grocery store, parks, charter school and downtown job center, BPP is a model for the type of sustainable communities that we are developing across the country. It has 580 mixed-income units with over 100 homeownership units planned with a total cost of approximately $130 million. The last phase, which broke ground this spring, will deliver 89 mixed-income rental units (30 public housing, 32 Low Income Housing Tax Credits and 27 market rate units) currently scoring as LEED Platinum under the LEED for Homes Pilot Program. It will contain various renewable energy components, including a 42 bore wells geothermal system and a 100kw Solar Photovoltaic System that will reduce the building’s operating costs by over 50% on an annual basis and save as much as $43,000 in HUD utility subsidies a year. And thanks to $5.6 million in HUD Recovery Act funding, the Denver Housing Authority was able to create quality construction jobs for 50 workers as a result of this project, some of whom I was able to meet during my tour today.
Not only is it important for our big cities and urban communities to have access to sustainable development resources, but for our small towns and rural communities as well. They face unique challenges when it comes to accessing health care, grocery stores, and adult education opportunities, among other things. As I mentioned in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development last week, as part of our new Sustainable Communities Planning Grant Program, we are creating a separate, special funding category specifically for small towns and rural places. The program will include a funding set-aside for communities and towns with a population of less than 200,000 people, as well as for those with a population between 200,000 and 500,000. This will ensure that small towns and rural places are not overlooked in this competition.
While in Colorado, I also traveled about an hour north of Denver to the City of Greely (population 95,000). In Greely, I participated in a panel discussion with Congresswoman Betsy Markey, Governor Bill Ritter, and Greely Mayor Tom Norton where we focused on developing more sustainable, walkable, energy efficient housing and communities in America’s small and rural towns.
Whether it’s our rural communities and small towns or our big cities and urban communities, President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that we tie the quality and location of housing to broader opportunities. This includes access to good jobs, quality schools and safe streets. This also means helping communities that face common problems start sharing solutions and becoming partners to create sustainable development.
Shaun Donovan is the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.