Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Livable Communities Act of 2014 (LCA), S. 2900. LCA lists access to transportation, housing affordability, energy efficiency, economic vitality, environmental quality, and public health as aspects of livable communities. The proposed legislation would enhance interagency cooperation on these issues and reduce the number of redundant federal programs.
LCA would authorize HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, OSHC, (HUD has changed the name to the Office of Economic Resiliency) to award Comprehensive Planning grants to consortia of local governmental units seeking to coordinate their housing and infrastructure planning. Grants could be used to assess regional needs, identify local zoning laws and codes that inhibit regional planning, and develop a comprehensive regional plan. Recipients of Comprehensive Planning grants would be required to publicize their regional plans and hold a public hearing to gain community feedback.
OSHC would be authorized to also make Community Challenge grants to help fund implementation of comprehensive regional plans. These grants would be available to any consortia of governmental units with a comprehensive regional plan, regardless of whether the plan was developed using a Comprehensive Planning grant. Community Challenge grants also mandate transparency, requiring recipients to publicize information about the actions they have taken to implement their plans, and hold a public hearing to assess community feedback.
OSHC would have the ability to make loans or guarantee up to 75% of loans to governments or other legal entities to carry out infrastructure development or other projects related to transit-oriented development. Transit-oriented developments are high-density, walkable, mixed-use developments with both affordable and market-rate housing units that are within walking distance of and accessible to at least one public transportation facility.
LCA would require HUD’s Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control (OHHLHC) to undertake a Healthy Homes Initiative in consultation with several other agencies to identify areas of overlap in federal housing, health, energy, and environmental programs, with the goal of developing proposals to improve those programs. OHHLHC would identify best practices and model programs for linking services for low income families to services for health hazards. HUD would also be required to assess the effects of sustainable building features on indoor environmental quality, occupant health, and health hazards.
S. 2900 is similar to S. 1261, which Senator Menendez introduced during the 112th Congress in September 2011 (see Memo, 9/30/11). S. 2900 was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on September 18. Text of the bill is not yet available.