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Federal Urban Policy (General)

Obama Urban Agenda

 A fact sheet from the Obama White House outlining its urban agenda overall.

President Obama's Fiscal 2010 Budget
New Hope, New Jobs, New Opportunities For Our Cities

The President’s 2010 Budget seeks to usher in a new era of responsibility – an era in which we not only do what we must to save and create new jobs and lift our economy out of recession, but in which we also lay a new foundation for long-term growth and prosperity. To do this, the Nation must address some of the deep, systemic problems that have been ignored for too long by making critical investments in: education so that every child can compete in the global economy, health care reform so that we can control costs while boosting coverage and quality, and renewable sources of energy so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and become the world leader in the new clean energy economy.

At the same time, we also must restore fiscal discipline, making sure that we invest in what works and do not waste taxpayer dollars on programs that do not work or are duplicative. Taken together – education, health care, clean energy, and fiscal discipline – are the pillars upon which we can build a new foundation for our economy, a foundation that bring opportunity and growth to all Americans for decades to come. The budget will:

Fully fund the Community Development Block Grant (CBDG) program. The President’s plan provides $4.5 billion for communities to continue to invest in and expand economic opportunities for low-income families. The Administration will revamp HUD’s CDBG program to better target funds to distressed communities and promote sustainable and economically viable communities.

Create a new Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. The budget includes $250 million for HUD to support a range of transformative interventions in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. The goal of Choice Neighborhoods is to transform neighborhoods of extreme poverty into functioning, sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods with well-functioning services, schools, public assets, transportation, and access to jobs. Choice Neighborhoods grants will primarily fund the preservation, rehabilitation and transformation of public and HUD-assisted housing, but will also engage local governments, nonprofits and for-profit developers in partnerships to improve neighborhoods.

Provide initial funding for 50,000 more cops on the beat.  The budget includes $298 million, on top of Recovery Act funding, to advance us towards the goal of hiring 50,000 additional police officers to help states and communities prevent the growth of crime during the economic downturn.

Fight urban violence. The budget includes an increase of $25 million within the Department of Justice to fund Community-based Violence Prevention Initiatives.  Building on the experience of the last several years with successful initiatives such as Chicago's Operation Ceasefire and the Boston Gun Project, the initiatives funded will adopt public health approaches to curbing urban violence. Working with former gang members, faith-based and community organizations, and law enforcement, the initiatives funded will employ strategies focusing on street-level outreach, conflict mediation, and changing community norms to reduce serious violence, especially shootings.

Support for sustainable communities. The budget provides $150 million for HUD’s Sustainable Communities Initiative. The goal of the Sustainable Communities Initiative is the integration of transportation and housing investments that result in more regional and local sustainable development patterns, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and more transit-accessible housing choices for residents. There are three components to this Initiative: (1) $100 million for Regional Planning Grants to encourage integrated regional planning across jurisdictions; (2) $40 million for Metropolitan Challenge Grants to encourage sustainable growth and reverse counterproductive growth patterns that have evolved in many areas; and (3) $10 million for a joint HUD-DOT research effort designed to advance transportation and housing linkages.

Create a new Energy Innovation Fund.  The budget includes funds to drive the creation of an energy-efficient housing market – including the "retrofitting" of older, inefficient housing – and catalyze private lending for this purpose in the residential sector.  Partnering with the Department of Energy on this initiative, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will contribute to the Administration’s broader effort to combat global warming, jumpstart the creation of a clean-technology economy, and reduce utility bills.

Provide funding for an affordable housing trust fund for the first time and increase funding for rental assistance. While given the green light by Congress in 2008, the Housing Trust Fund has fallen short because it hasn’t been provided resources to help families.  This budget restores funding for the Trust Fund, requesting $1 billion to finance the development, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable housing for very low income residents. The budget preserves approximately 1.3 million affordable rental units through increased funding for contracts with owners of multifamily properties. In addition, a robust Housing Choice Voucher program will help more than two million extremely low- to low-income families with rental assistance to live in decent housing in neighborhoods of their choice.

Broaden assistance for the homeless. The budget provides a 7 percent increase in Homeless Assistance Grants over 2009, which will fund $140 million in new competitive projects that will serve individuals and families who have become homeless. The budget will also renew existing, eligible grants that currently receive federal funds to assist the homeless. The President’s budget also provides an $8 million increase for community-based services for individuals suffering from severe mental illness who are facing homelessness. This higher funding level will reach an additional 11,000 individuals facing homelessness.

Sustain a new federal commitment to high-speed rail. To provide Americans a 21st Century transportation system, the Administration proposes a $1 billion a year high-speed rail state grant program, in addition to the $8 billion provided in the Recovery Act. This proposal marks a new federal commitment to give the traveling public a practical and environmentally sustainable alternative to flying or driving. Directed by the states, this investment will lead to the creation of several high-speed rail corridors across the country linking regional population centers.

Help small businesses and entrepreneurs.  The budget helps to strengthen small businesses with strong support for financial, technical, and contracting assistance.  The President's budget supports $28 billion in guaranteed loans, an important source of capital for the Nation's entrepreneurs, women-owned and minority-owned small businesses. The President’s proposal  provides $20 million to incorporate new strategies to enhance coordination among existing Small Business Administration grant partners, such as Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, SCORE, and others, as well as targeting assistance to industries and populations in need.  The Budget also provides a $1 million increase over 2009 enacted levels for the 7(j) management and technical assistance grant program, which provides technical assistance to small disadvantaged businesses.  Finally, the budget invests $2 million to improve certification processes for the HUBzone program, which provides contract preferences for firms located in economically distressed communities.

Expand access to capital in disadvantaged communities. The budget expands lending in underserved neighborhoods with a 128 percent funding increase for the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI). Through merit-based grant programs, the CDFI Fund helps locally-based financial institutions to offer small business, consumer, and home loans in communities and populations that lack access to affordable credit. The $80 million in the President’s budget for a new Capital Magnet Fund will assist Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and other non-profits expand financing for the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing and economic development projects in distressed communities.

Create capacity for community organizations helping the disadvantaged. The President’s budget requests $50 million to build the capacity of non-profits serving low income and disadvantaged population through the Strengthening Communities Fund. The fund and its sponsored efforts will serve as a center piece of President’s Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships agenda.  Grants will be used to expand service delivery including employment assistance and improved access to public benefits.

Support innovative and effective strategies to improve student achievement. The budget invests in school systems and non-profit organizations with demonstrated track records of success in raising student achievement to expand their work or implement new innovative approaches through the Innovation Fund.  The President’s plan supports "Promise Neighborhoods," a new effort to test innovative strategies to improve academic achievement and life outcomes in high-poverty areas modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone. The budget provides $10 million for competitive grants to nonprofit, community-based organizations for the development of comprehensive neighborhood programs designed to combat the effects of poverty and improve educational and life outcomes for children.

Increase support for effective charter schools. The President's budget will promote successful models of school reform by taking the first major step to fulfilling its commitment to double support for charter schools. The Department will help create new, high-quality charter schools, ensure that states properly monitor and support these schools, and, in the case of chronic underperformance, close existing charter schools.

The Urban President: This President Does Not Chop Brush

 Having an urbanite-in-chief in the White House has already raised the hopes of mayors, policy experts and activists. Advocates are excited about a $10 million proposal to fund grants for community organizations to develop comprehensive plans for child-friendly "Promise Neighborhoods."

What has been a disappointment already, though, is the Urban Affairs office. Its director, former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, hasn't made a public appearance since Obama named him to the job, weighed down by reports of a corruption scandal involving New York developers. The White House wouldn't make him available to discuss the administration's urban outlook. "They've been really hunkered down" trying to figure out the office's mission, an administration official told Salon. Eventually, the aide said, the goal is for the White House office to help keep lines of communication open between various Cabinet agencies that deal with cities, like HUD, Energy and Transportation.

For now, senior advisor and longtime Obama friend Valerie Jarrett is coordinating a lot of the administration's urban policy -- which may be better than anything Carrión could produce, anyway. "She's closer to the president than anybody in this administration," Cochran says. "She's like the third Obama." And some agencies, whether pushed by the White House or not, are already showing signs of working together. HUD and the Energy Department, for example, signed an agreement to make it easier for urban buildings to qualify for grants to improve their energy efficiency.

Full story:


WH Staffer Outlines Obama Urban Policies

Derek Douglas gave the keynote address at a Penn Institute for Urban Research event on May 21, 2009.  The topic was "The Competitiveness and Sustainability of American Cities and Regions."

Among the notable quotes:

The President took on the notion that "urban policy" is just a synonym for "poverty policy," arguing that while that addressing poverty is certainly part of a metro strategy, it doesn’t define the strategy.

As long as poverty is not left too far behind. Douglas then spent time outlining the basic parameters of the Obama urban policy.

  1. Breaking Down Silos Between Government Programs:  "To be effective, federal urban policy must break down the silos intrinsic to federal government (i.e., make the various federal agencies that have programs with similar missions talk to each other to align their efforts).  It also means pursuing policies that compel policy integration—like Transit Oriented Development, which integrates transportation policy with housing, land use, energy and workforce development policies."
  2. Regional Collaboration: "More money to support metro and regional collaboration and development strategies, as opposed to disconnected investments to siloed political jurisdictions."
  3. Competitiveness: This is mostly about economic development, which in their view is about "Talent, Innovation, and Connectivity."
  4. Sustainability: This is the green component of the program.
  5. Equity:  "By equity I mean making sure all populations have an equal opportunity to benefit from our federal urban investments (e.g., access to transpo, access to affordable housing throughout region, access to jobs and training, etc)). It is the third pillar of our federal urban policy agenda." Third pillar, as compared to competitiveness and sustainability.

 This is all well and good, but we are not completely sure how important equity will be, especially considering the statement about urban policy not being defined by poverty. Moreover, the emphasis on regional collaboration is not completely reassuring, given that regions are not known for their concern and efforts on behalf of poor urban neighborhoods, which are the focus of UNCA and this blog.

Stay tuned ...

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by Dr. Radut