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Dodd’s Livability Bill Earns Praise from Local Governments

2:58 PM PDT on June 9, 2010

With financial reform nearly complete, the Senate Banking Committee
turned its attention today to one of Senator Chris Dodd's (D-CT) next
priorities, the Livable
Communities Act
. Local government came out strong for the
initiative to promote sustainable and integrated regional planning, with
representatives of the nation's cities, towns, counties, and regional
planning organizations testifying in favor. Among committee members,
concerns persisted about whether
the bill would disadvantage rural areas

dodd_working.jpgSenate Banking Committee Chairman Chris
Dodd (D-CT) (Photo: The
Washington Note
)

The Livable Communities Act would
provide
about $4 billion in competitive grants to coordinate housing,
transportation, and economic development policy with an eye toward
promoting sustainable development. About $400 million would be slated
for planning with the remainder funding implementation. The bill would
also create a new office within the Department of Housing and Urban
Development to guide and administer the programs. If passed, it would
strengthen the Obama administration's multi-agency Sustainable
Communities effort

At today's committee hearing representatives of the National League
of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the National
Association of Development Organizations, and the National Association
of Regional Councils each strongly endorsed the goals of the bill. 

Witnesses drew on professional experience -- from trying to
revitalize barren neighborhoods in Indianapolis to managing the growth
of a rural Maryland county -- to explain how federal policy could spur
better development where they live. The Hartford region, for example, is
investing in a new bus rapid transit line, said Lyle Wray, the
executive director for the region's Council of Governments, but they
haven't been able to tie the transit project to broader goals. "Linking
that opportunity to affordable housing, jobs, and sustainability is what
the Livable Communities Act would allow us to do," he said.

Describing the bill today, Dodd stressed that integrated
transportation and land use planning can help address a host of
challenges: high foreclosure rates, climate change and oil dependency,
deteriorating infrastructure, traffic congestion, and the loss of
farmland. Those problems, Dodd argued, aren't urban or rural. "One
community can use the grants to develop brownfields in a post-industrial
area," he said, and "another might create a livable town center or main
street." 

Even so, Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), expressed doubt about whether
his rural state would benefit under Dodd's legislation.

After acknowledging that sprawl is a problem, lamenting that in
Montana housing has replaced some of the best farmland, Tester pressed
the witness panel to explain how the Livable Communities Act would work
for a town like his, with only 700 people. The two representatives of
rural areas on the panel each suggested some sort of funding set-aside
for rural communities, an idea which seemed to intrigue Tester.

Two other senators spoke who are not already sponsors of the bill.
Sherrod Brown (D-OH) primarily discussed his own legislation
specifically tailored to shrinking industrial cities, of which there are
many in Ohio, but seemed supportive of Dodd's legislation. Mark Warner
(D-VA) told the committee that he supports the goals of the Livable
Communities Act, but would like to make sure that the bill is rigorously
defined. "Is it just squishy livability?" he asked. "Is there a way
that we can define this with metrics?" Witnesses assured him that
results like the volume of reduced greenhouse gases, acres of preserved
open space, and rises in property values can be measured.

No Republican Senators attended the meeting.

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