Policy Strategies for More Just, Healthy, and Prosperous Communities

Address the Nation's Housing Crisis with Policies That Advance Affordability, Availability, Quality, and Access to Economic and Social Opportunities

Strategies Include:

Help states, communities improve planning for housing affordability, support locally driven reforms, and maintain key regulatory structures that promote fair housing and access to opportunity

Many states and municipalities are confronting their housing challenges with renewed attention to reforming and improving planning statutes, regulations, and land development codes. While communities, regions, and states rightly have authority over these items, the federal government can play an important role in:

  • Helping communities understand key trends and conditions;
  • Creating incentives for efforts to improve and reform regulatory structures;
  • Supporting research into best practices;
  • Offering technical assistance.

Fund critical federal housing and community development programs

The federal government must be a good, reliable partner with communities in addressing today's housing challenges. Programs like HOME, CDBG, USDA rural development, and EPA brownfields program provide essential resources and critical financial support. These programs have a proven record of success and support both affordable housing and the development of thriving communities.

Improve existing tools for financing affordable housing and support better incentives for mixed use, mixed income housing, and community development

The federal government has a variety of tools for financing housing and community development. The debate on tax reform demonstrated the broad support for key bond and tax credit tools for housing. These tools can, and should, be improved to better support financing for affordable housing and mixed use and mixed income projects. It is time to improve and expand the vital Low Income Housing Tax Credit and explore other tax and financing incentives to address housing affordability, mixed income and mixed use projects, and economic development. Choice Neighborhoods should be expanded. Financing programs at HUD and GSEs should be evaluated for opportunities to improve their effectiveness in supporting housing and development that leverages the power of place and community to increase economic development and access to opportunity.

Provide critical data for local and regional planning

The federal government is an essential data resource for a variety of information essential to improving housing planning. Demographic, economic, labor, and transportation data products support good local decision making that advances housing affordability, fair housing, economic development, and capital infrastructure investment. Federal policy should fully fund and improve access to high-quality data and data products.

Advance Policies That Support and Encourage Inclusive Growth and Development Strategies

Strategies Include:

Federal policy can be a critical partner for local communities working on innovative solutions that promote affordability, opportunity, and shared prosperity. There is an important opportunity to support communities and regions working on new planning approaches as part of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule. Implementation of AFFH should not be delayed and must be fully supported with appropriate technical assistance and data.

Ensure the effective implementation of new Opportunity Zones in ways that promote inclusive growth and build on local plans

The tax reform legislation of 2017 established the first new federal tax incentive for economic development in distressed neighborhoods since the Clinton administration. This new program is a potentially powerful tool for boosting communities suffering from economic challenges and disinvestment. As new regulations to implement the program continue to emerge, it is important that federal policy makers work to ensure that the program meets its lofty objectives and does so in a way that supports local visions and plans and expands opportunity for residents. This may include linking Opportunity Zone benefits with existing tax and financing tools to promote socially beneficial projects and investments. Measuring performance and impact of Opportunity Zone investments along with effective reporting requirements will help ensure good coordination with local and regional plans.

Develop a new economic development and mobility initiative that assists communities dealing with long-term economic restructuring and persistent poverty

Some communities face significant and systemic challenges to restoring economic growth and prosperity. Places coping with structural economic shifts and neighborhoods struggling with the legacy of historic disinvestment need targeted support for place-based economic development that encourages planning, community engagement, expanded access to opportunity, and investment.

Promote equitable and inclusive growth in the pending regulatory update of the Community Reinvestment Act

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has initiated the early stages of the first regulatory overhaul of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) since the 1990s. CRA has been an effective and essential tool in addressing historic inequities and advancing the development of underserved communities. The regulatory underpinning for CRA is important. Reforms can, and should, make the program more effective. However, it is essential that CRA continue to meet its intended statutory obligations.

Support key incentives and tax credits that advance inclusive and equitable growth strategies

Proven economic development programs and tools — from New Markets Tax Credits to EDA planning grants — should be maintained while also looking for opportunities to hone programs in ways that support a broader, more equitable approach to growth and development. Policy makers should actively examine and pursue new incentives and supports for efforts that allow for broader participation in the benefits of economic growth and prosperity.

Address evolving workforce needs to expand social equity and economic development

The world of work is rapidly changing with the growth of trends such as the so-called 'gig economy,' automation and technological change, and the sharing industries. Unemployment continues to be low, creating new demands for skilled workers. At the same time, persistent unemployment in some communities and populations remains a major social and economic problem. Federal policy should support local workforce initiatives, enhance the Earned Income Tax Credit, foster research on key "future of work" planning concerns, and support efforts to expand work and wealth building opportunities.

Invest in Infrastructure That Leads to Stronger, More Vibrant Communities

Strategies Include:

Ensure adequate and sustainable funding for vital infrastructure programs that build strong communities, advance economic growth, and promote opportunity

The federal budget process should support programs essential to improving communities as a key component of encouraging economic growth and broad-based prosperity. Funding increases in FY 2018 were important steps forward in supporting a range of critical infrastructure investments. The budget and appropriations process in 2019 should build on this foundation. Proven investments in communities through key federal programs are critical tools for local development and should be fully funded. In addition to transportation programs, communities rely on federal support for meeting a range of critical infrastructure needs, including water systems, schools, and parks. Funding for needed new infrastructure should not come at the expense of proven and essential programs.

Improve the federal partnership with communities

Programs like transit capital grants, BUILD, water revolving funds, and loan guarantee programs provide essential funding and financing for major infrastructure projects. Congress has consistently supported funding for these programs. However, barriers in contracting, administration, and new local funding requirements are hampering projects. Effective regulations and timely distribution of approved funding is critical to controlling costs and completing essential projects on time and on budget. Congress should ensure that the administration appropriately meets its obligations and improves the partnership with local communities and regional organizations on infrastructure projects.

Help communities advance innovation and prepare for new technologies

New technologies — from autonomous vehicles to connected infrastructure to broadband — hold great promise but also require thoughtful planning for local implementation. Federal policy has an important role to play in supporting local communities, advancing innovative approaches, and setting appropriate standards. The implications of new technologies for community design, safety, access, development, and equity are significant. Federal policy should encourage new approaches, support research and evaluation, and promote effective partnerships. Leveraging the benefit of these new tools demands good public policy and planning.

Provide stable and sustainable funding and financing for future investment

Tax reform legislation did not address the structural challenges and uncertainties in federal infrastructure funding. A new infrastructure program and the next surface transportation reauthorization requires a reliable source of funding. Congress should address the short-term issues with the sustainability of the transportation trust fund and gas tax while identifying funding sources for the future and expanding useful federal financing programs from TIFIA to targeted bonds and tax credits. Congress should restore advance refunding of municipal bonds to make local investments more effective and efficient.

Enact a new infrastructure investment program based on good local, state, and regional planning principles

New federal investment should address a wide array of infrastructure needs and modes, such as transit, housing, parks, and schools. It should also provide effective and equitable citizen engagement, balance public and private investment, and advance key objectives including resilience, health, equity, and performance-based planning. These investments offer co-benefits advancing not only infrastructure needs but also a range of community goals.

Improve support for a safer transportation system with improved active mobility options for people

Federal programs should support and encourage local plans for a safer transportation network. These projects support improved mobility, access, and healthy lifestyles. Improving infrastructure for walking, biking, and recreation leads to a better transportation network and good health outcomes for people while also supporting economic development. Key policies would increase investment, expand program eligibilities, improve planning and design, and bolster connections to community health programs.

Ensure equity and engagement are components of infrastructure investments

As noted above, infrastructure investment is an essential part of creating opportunities for economic and social mobility. It is essential, however, that infrastructure policy include elements that address equity and environmental justice concerns, encourage robust community engagement, and advance projects aimed at improving access to opportunity.

Provide high-quality federal data to support effective planning and decision making

Good planning is based on sound, comprehensive data, and the federal government is a key provider of this essential information. Federal census data and data resources are an integral part of effective planning. In an era of frequent distrust of institutions and opinions posing as data, we need reliable and robust data sources to guide sound decision making at the local, state, and federal levels. It is especially important that Congress fully fund an accurate and comprehensive 2020 Census while maintaining critical data tools and resources used in planning for infrastructure and development projects. Resources like the American Community Survey, transportation and labor market data, and mapping data for sensitive geographies are essential to good investment decisions.

Promote Healthy and Safe Communities Through Good Planning and Strategic Investments

Strategies Include:

Improve community resiliency in the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program

Renewing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) gives Congress the opportunity to advance important community resiliency goals. Hazard and NFIP legislation should support vital mapping and local hazard plans, expand mitigation funding and relocation of repetitive loss properties, and reduce both short- and long-term risk.

Support full funding and effective implementation of hazard mitigation and disaster reform legislation

In 2018, Congress passed a sweeping and important set of hazard mitigation reforms. This legislation boosts pre-disaster mitigation grants, promotes greater resiliency in rebuilding following disasters, enhances the effectiveness of local and federal response to disasters, and encourages better building codes. These advances should be fully funded and implemented with appropriate safeguards to ensure that federal investments fully support local mitigation and resiliency efforts. Providing incentives for reducing hazard risk is good public policy that protects people and property. In the face of climate change, policy should reflect hazard risks and resiliency in federally funded infrastructure.

Advance programs that provide critical data and geographic information for local hazard mitigation, resiliency efforts

The federal government is a vital resource for hazard and resiliency data. Federal data products directly shape a range of development investments, capital infrastructure decisions, and hazard planning. Data programs, like NOAA's Digital Coast, are models of effective local-federal partnerships. These efforts should be supported, strengthened, and, where necessary, codified.

Support local parks and open space as essential community infrastructure

Local parks, open space, and recreational facilities where people live and work are essential assets that provide demonstrated economic, social, and health benefits. Proven federal programs should be fully funded, provide dedicated support for community parks, and ensure equity for and access to local parks. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) should be fully funded, permanently authorized, and structured to ensure funding for state and local parks. Congress should codify efforts like the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program (ORLP) to support local and community parks and address the maintenance challenges facing our National Park System.

Implement and support the key Farm Bill programs that promote healthy communities, sustainable agriculture, food systems planning, and stronger rural and urban communities

Congress has an important opportunity to continue shifting federal food and farm policy toward a more comprehensive approach that recognizes the vital role of food systems planning and the potential for building healthier communities. Congress should better recognize the increasingly important role of urban agriculture, local markets, sustainable agriculture practices, and community access to healthy food. These policies have led to a range of healthier and more productive outcomes. In addition, this legislation offers a chance to bolster needed investment in rural development while ensuring effective environmental stewardship. Furthermore, support for local and regional food systems planning should be a key part of USDA's work and mission.