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Local Governments Lining Up Behind Dodd’s Livability Legislation

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 Initiative

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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