February 18, 2010
The same federal agency that brought us monumental failures like public housing wants to play a bigger role in fostering so-called regional “smart growth.” HUD secretary Shaun Donovan recently traveled to Portland, Oregon to announce the Obama administration’s new Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities.
This new bureaucracy will distribute $140 million in grants for regional “smart growth” planning:
With OSHC’s grant programs, HUD will provide funding to a wide variety of multi-jurisdictional and multi-sector partnerships and consortia, from Metropolitan Planning Organizations and State governments, to non-profit and philanthropic organizations. These grants will be designed to encourage regions to build their capacity to integrate economic development, land use, transportation, and water infrastructure investments, and to integrate workforce development with transit-oriented development. Accordingly, OSHC’s grants will be coordinated closely with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Donovan told a Portland State University crowd that "We at HUD are big admirers of what you're doing here." However, Randal O’Toole’s dismantling of the Portland planning utopia myth in a Cato Policy Analysis shows that the city is nothing to be emulated. That is unless other cities want less affordable housing, more congestion, higher taxes, and businesses relocating elsewhere.
Donovan then met up with his EPA and DOT colleagues in Seattle at smart growth conference. HUD isn’t the only one opening up the taxpayer’s wallet:
And the Department of Transportation is proposing $527 million to promote "livable communities" through grants to states and cities. Transportation secretary Ray LaHood says those grants, too, must meet the goals of his partner agencies.
LaHood: "It supports any new initiatives we develop on our own like expanding transit in low–income neighborhoods, or what our friends at HUD and EPA are working on in collaboration."
Local coalitions are already forming to seek those federal dollars.
Let the rent-seeking begin.
The merits of Portland’s urban planning can be debated all day. But it stands federalism on its head when the federal government takes a particular city’s policies and then tries to shove it down the throats of the rest of the country. Based on what I know of Portland’s planning, I certainly wouldn’t want it where I live. Other cities, like Houston, have reached the same conclusion. But, I guess if Shaun Donovan likes it, then damnit, we’re all going to like it.