2006 NACo Legislative Conference Washington, D.C., March 4-8, 2006
I attended a briefing on the newly enacted federal transportation act (SAFETEA-LU). This legislation became law in August 2005. The legislation provides many opportunities for funding both previous programs and new programs. One of the new programs is “Safe Routes to Schools”. This totally new program focuses on enabling and encouraging children to safely walk or bicycle to school. An average of $122 million annually will be distributed to the states with no state getting less than $1 million dollars and all roads are eligible. Projects include sidewalk improvements, traffic calming, pedestrian and bicycle crossing improvements and traffic diversion near schools. I have appended a brochure which briefly describes all of the old and new programs available under “SAFETEA-LU”.
One of the sessions which we attended addressed the issue of making the connection between “transit-oriented development” (TOD), jobs and compact transit-oriented designed communities. TOD is growing in popularity, but most of the focus of such projects has been primarily on the environmental aspect. The TOD model also helps to lower infrastructure costs for sewer and roadway systems. However, a new focus of TOD is the fact that it serves the needs of working families, particularly those with low and moderate incomes, by providing affordable housing and/or better access to jobs. 25 TOD projects around the country were analyzed to varying degrees of effectiveness in fostering affordable housing and employment needs for those of limited means. I attach a copy of the executive summary for your reference. For more information go to www.goodjobsfirst.org/pdf/makingtheconnection.pdf.
The Federal Highway Administration advised us of a power point presentation that is available at their web site: www.FTA.DOT.gov. The power point explains the availability of “PRIVATE ACTIVITY BONDS”. These are tax exempt bonds that provide privately purchased innovative financing to address congestion relief. The Federal Highway Administration indicates that traffic will double in the next 20 years and that we can no longer afford to build housing on large lots since we can no longer build the roads to service these large lot houses. There is a Federal Highway Administration office in every state and it is suggested that we work with our Delaware office to learn more about theses private activity bonds.
One of the sessions that I attended addressed the issue of removing barriers to affordable housing. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Policy, Development and Research has provided details of this report at www.HUDUSER.org The hotline telephone number is 1-800-245-2691. The mission of HUD is to increase homeownership, promote community development and expand access to decent and affordable housing. Regulatory barriers need to be removed. The most common regularity barrier is “sprawl codes” such as the New Castle County Unified Development Code.
Quoting from the report: “13 years ago, the advisory commission on regulatory barriers to affordable housing submitted its report ‘Not In My Back Yard: Removing barriers to Affordable Housing’. The basic finding remains true today: Exclusionary, discriminatory or unnecessary regulations constitute formidable barriers to affordable housing.”
In New Castle County where our maximum dwelling units per acre is only 1.3 dwelling units per acre, we have excluded New Castle County citizens of modest means from realizing the American dream of owning a home. The only homes being built with this low density start at close to $400 thousand dollars and go up from there.
Without density in the range of 16 to 20 du’s per acre, we cannot afford to accommodate a bus or other transit systems. The recommendation is 16 to 40 du’s per acre in any TOD, which is defined as a 5-10 minute walk from a train station or bus stop. I have a copy of a Federal Housing & Urban Development (HUD) report in my office if you would like to learn more.
We learned that the quality of water is best protected through “smart growth”. Whether one lives in a small rural community or a highly developed urban area, how we manage land use affects the quality of our community and the quality of our water resource. Compact development better protects water quality than sprawl development patterns.
NACo provides technical assistance to County members on affordable housing issue, with the goal of expanding the supply of safe, decent and affordable housing opportunities for the low and moderate-income households. NACo works with a consortium sponsored by the National Affordable Housing Training Institute (NAHTI) offering technical assistance to County officials on flexible uses of HOME Investment Partnership programs. For additional information contact Darrin Dorset, NACo senior associate at firstname.lastname@example.org or Cassandra Matthews, Associate Legislative Director at email@example.com. I also have a program brochure in my office for your reference.
I brought home a package of another 30 brochures and programs but this memo is limited to summarizing just a few, brief highlights. See list of brochures and programs attached to this memo. There is a library of smart growth resources for anyone interested in learning more about creating livable communities, available at www.smartgrowthamerica.org whose offices are located in Washington, D.C.
I was selected to be a judge for the County Leadership in Conservation Awards Final selection process. Two winners were selected in the large county, medium county and the small county categories. Carroll County, Maryland was one of the two medium sized counties to win. Calvert County Maryland was one of the small size counties to win. Both of these counties had very impressive agriculture preservation initiatives. They were innovative, sustainable and extremely successful. The Carroll County Maryland project involved providing funding to young families to stay in farming thus providing both a ready labor force and protecting open space. The Calvert County program involved a successful transfer of development rights that has received high marks from the non-profit American Chestnut Land Trust. I have appended a description of both of these programs for County Council, County Executive Chris Coons and the Administration, General Manager Charles Baker and the Land Use Department to consider.
At the NACo Sustainability Leadership Team meeting which I chair, we had a presentation from both Smart Growth America and the EPA Smart Growth Office on the economic benefits, affordability of housing benefits and environmental benefits of cluster development, tradition neighborhood design and TOD development.
Out of the 60 applicants throughout the country that applied for the National Association of Counties Sustainable Communities Award for Innovation, there were 10 winners. The Claymont Renaissance was selected as one of those ten winners. The 10 winners will be honored at a prestigious awards ceremony in April 2006 in Washington, D.C...
Of the 10 winners, 4 of them will be selected as the top 4 in the Country and each of the top 4 winners will receive cash prizes of between $10,000 and $5,000 dollars. The Claymont Renaissance Project has an excellent chance to place in the top 4 in the country. Further details to follow.
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