Three sustainable communities case studies from HUD

Turning Blighted Properties into Pocket Parks: Los Angeles Case Study

The federally funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP), part of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program, was designed in 2008 to address foreclosures and the blight exacerbated by abandoned properties on neighborhoods. In Los Angeles, for example, where more than 62,000 housing units in the city have entered foreclosure, the city has received some $142.7 millionin NSP funds. “We tended to buy the worst properties with the NSP program,” says Douglas Swoger, director of homeownership and preservation for the Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD), because “we thought we could have the most impact by buying the worst” structures.

Cities have used NSP funds to buy and rehabilitate foreclosed homes and multifamily properties, which are then sold as affordable housing. But NSP also allows housing departments to redevelop these properties for use as public facilities. Beginning in November 2011, LAHD and the city’s Department of Recreation teamed up to repurpose a handful of foreclosed properties as small parks. Rather than refurbishing the foreclosed homes, the city will raze the buildings on nine parcels and develop the sites into pocket parks that range from 4,000 to 8,000-square feet each, for a total of 1.2 acres of green space.

Fireclay Village: A Model for Sustainable Growth

Utah’s Wasatch Front — a long and narrow region that houses 80 percent of the state’s population — faces significant geographical challenges to accommodate future growth. To the east of the valley, developable land is confined by the steep topography of the Wasatch Mountain Range. To the west, the valley’s boundary is defined by Utah Lake. Because of the narrow north-south orientation of the 80-mile long valley, transportation choices and the orientation of future development are at the forefront of regional plans.

Utah is one of the nation’s fastest growing states. Over the next 30 years, local authorities expect the population along the Wasatch Front to increase by 65 percent, or 1.4 million people. Transit expansion, including a new commuter rail line running along the Wasatch Front, is already underway to accommodate the growth. The commuter rail line, UTA FrontRunner, is expected to provide the region’s population with an environmentally sound transit option. To prevent sprawl and better respond to consumer demand for home and rental housing, some suggest that transit-oriented development (TOD) is not just essential, but urgent.

TODs are described by the Federal Transit Administration as compact, mixed-use developments located near transit facilities. Generally, TODs offer compact living and feature apartments located over retail and commercial spaces. TODs are often created around mass-transit centers to revitalize underdeveloped or abandoned sections of town. In numerous studies, TODs have been shown to promote sustainable growth by creating communities that leverage investments to expand regional transit options. At the same time, the increased market demand for living near transit is challenging the ability to ensure affordability for low-income families. One city in particular — Murray City, Utah — committed to developing a mixed-use project in 2010, in part to encourage affordable housing development near transit.

Grantee Spotlight: Plan East Tennessee

Nestled in a valley between the Cumberland and Great Smoky Mountains, the Knoxville area of East Tennessee is surrounded by picturesque views of the Appalachian mountain range. An ideal place to live for the avid outdoors person, the area has abundant open space and a moderate climate. The five counties that form the East Tennessee region — Anderson, Blout, Knox, Loudon, and Union — cover 1,900 square miles and include a combined population of approximately 680,000. While rich in natural resources, the Appalachian region has long struggled with poverty; substandard housing, traffic congestion, limited employment opportunities, and air and water pollution continue to affect the entire region. To help address these challenges, the Knoxville area received a $4.3 million HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant in October 2010. A consortium of partners, which include a number of public agencies and nonprofit organizations such as, Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission, the University of Tennessee, Legacy Parks Foundation, and the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization leveraged this federal investment with significant local funding and is working to create and implement the area’s first-ever sustainable, regional plan.

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