HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan provided key details on the administration’s proposed Choice Neighborhoods program in a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee on March 17.
In brief, Choice Neighborhoods is an Obama administration proposal to expand the HOPE VI public housing revitalization program to incorporate community-based elements, similar to Promise Neighborhoods. As we have written previously, Choice and Promise Neighborhoods are linked in several ways and both have been developed collaboratively across federal agency lines through the White House Office of Urban Affairs Interagency Working Group.
In prepared remarks, Donovan described the process that will be used going forward for Choice Neighborhoods. Some of these priorities seem likely to reappear within Promise Neighborhoods.
HUD seeks authorizing legislation for Choice Neighborhoods. The authorizing legislation that you are reviewing will also serve as the guide for the Fiscal Year 2010 competition. Program funds will be targeted at those neighborhoods that meet three important criteria: severely distressed public or assisted housing; concentration of poverty; and potential for long-term viability.
- “Severely distressed housing” is public or assisted housing that requires major rehabilitation or demolition, and is vacant or a contributing factor to the decline of the neighborhood.
- “Concentration of poverty” does not rely on a bright-line formula based solely on percentages of families in poverty. Criteria will take into account high crime, neighborhood blight and abandonment, and the lack of high quality educational opportunities – all factors that combine to limit opportunity for children and families.
- “Long-term viability” exists in a neighborhood that will build on or bring key neighborhood assets to support the economic and environmental health of the community, including educational institutions, medical centers, central business districts, major employers, effective transportation, or adjacency to low-poverty neighborhoods.
For Fiscal Year 2010, HUD is currently preparing two Notices of Funding Availability (NOFAs), one for HOPE VI and one for Choice Neighborhoods. The HOPE VI NOFA will be published this spring, and we expect to make awards of funds in the fall. The process will be essentially identical to the way HOPE VI funding allocations have been made in recent years. Because there is more work to do in this first year, the NOFA process for Choice Neighborhoods will take longer. We expect to select applicants over the course of two rounds. We intend to announce an initial competition in the summer. From this pool of applicants, we will select a group of finalists. The finalists will then be given an opportunity to put together a more complete application and a small number of applicants, perhaps two or three, will be selected for funding in early 2011.
This dual-round process will accomplish two key goals. First, it will minimize the number of applicants who have to make significant financial investments to develop a plan which relies on federal funding they do not then receive. Second, it will help HUD determine how best to allocate planning grant applications, giving us a fuller understanding of the challenges applicant communities are facing.
Donovan also described the relatively open process they used to develop their Choice Neighborhoods legislative proposal, something that has been distinctly lacking in Promise Neighborhoods so far:
Since beginning to work on this new initiative more than a year ago, HUD staff has met extensively with congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle and in both houses, across the administration, and with other key stakeholders to ensure that the program design is effective, sensitive to residents’ needs, and properly aligned with other investments.
On an interagency basis, we are working through the White House Neighborhood Revitalization Working Group to align Choice Neighborhoods’ focus on neighborhoods of concentrated poverty with other related efforts across the Administration. This includes aligning the focus of Choice Neighborhoods on high quality educational opportunities with investments in evidence-based strategies supported by the Department of Education, including Promise Neighborhoods, to ensure there are effective schools and other quality learning opportunities at the center of each neighborhood. Example after example in communities across the nation has shown us that the correlation between successful housing and good schools is not just theory – it’s practice. And it’s time to bring that practice to scale in neighborhoods across the country.
In addition, HUD is in the planning stages of alignment with the Department of Justice’s Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation program, which supports communities in reducing crime through collaborative, community-based and evidence-based approaches that also strengthen neighborhood revitalization efforts. The Department of Health and Human Services is also in the process of identifying the key community-based programs to align with these neighborhood revitalization efforts.
After HUD publicly released our initial draft of the Choice Neighborhoods legislation, we held a series of community workshops to hear from Members of Congress and from stakeholders across the country. The proposed authorizing legislation we discuss today incorporates the feedback from those sessions.
Reactions from the committee members to HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods proposal were mixed. According to a write up on the hearing by the National Council of State Housing Agencies, the committee chairman, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), said “he intends for the committee to have a lot of input on the legislation and that he plans to hold a markup of CNI legislation later this session.”