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Guest Blogger Robin Snyderman: News, lessons from day one of ‘Partners in Innovation’ resonate in Illinois

By Robin Snyderman, Vice President of Community Development, Metropolitan Planning Council
Snyderman of NHC member organization Metropolitan Planning Council, served as moderator during the Partners in Innovation National Symposium on September 27, shares her thoughts on the day’s events.

Well, that whet my appetite! After the first day of the “Partners in Innovation” symposium, I don’t know which I found more encouraging: The way Shelley Poticha kicked off the conference with frank and inspiring reflections on her first year at the helm of HUD’s side of the Sustainable Communities Partnership? Her response to my closing question during the follow-up discussion? U.S. Dept. of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s videotaped remarks? Or the range of best practices shared at various break-outs?

Shelley’s opening comments reminded all of us involved in community development not to be discouraged by others saying “it can’t be done.” When it comes to aligning housing and transportation policy and investment, yes, people need to get out of their comfort zones and learn new vernaculars and driving interests; but if the labyrinths represented by HUD and DOT can finally issue a joint Request for Proposals (RFP), then certainly the Illinois Linkage Group, co-chaired by my organization, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), can be successful in its efforts to encourage the same within Illinois. Take a look at what we can learn from what NHC and other national housing advocates are recommending for the Federal Transportation Authority! Every single state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, submitted responses to HUD and DOT’s recent RFPs, underscoring that Sustainability and Inclusion are not partisan or geographically-limited priorities. Communities across the country are asking for help getting the right mix of housing, retail and jobs near vibrant, pedestrian-friendly transit centers.

Shelley acknowledged that much of the Partnership’s progress to date can be attributed to the trust and chemistry she developed with her counterparts at DOT and EPA long before they landed their current jobs. This resonated with me, as I am often humbled by how much of MPC’s success every day is tied to our personal relationships with the good folks at Chicago-area organizations and agencies such as the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Clearly, the demand for the Sustainable Communities Challenge and Planning Grants underscore the need to pass the Livable Communities Act. That said, building on past conversations with Shelley, I also asked about two other ways her office could help scale up the interagency progress achieved in D.C.:

1. How could they empower regional HUD, DOT and EPA offices to deepen their own relationships in the field, and to build the trust and capacity needed to advance this Administration’s aggressive goals?

2. And how could HUD provide further incentives to get employers at the table, demonstrating their impatience with bureaucracy that prevents their workers from accessing affordable homes near jobs and transportation options, investing in Employer-Assisted Housing, and supporting live-near-work and live-near-transit policies and developments?

In response to the first question, Shelley described the new Sustainability Liaisons that HUD recently selected from within its ranks, and outlined new goals and strategies for ramping up local efforts. And, in response to the EAH question, she simply responded that HUD would be rolling out some new incentives to leverage private sector leadership and investment … shortly! Stay tuned, all! MPC will definitely follow up on both these opportunities.

Over lunch, Secretary LaHood showed that he, too, is stepping out of his department’s traditional comfort zone to integrate others people’s priorities and languages. Secretary LaHood’s videotaped remarks demonstrate that he is actually one of our country’s most inspiring housing speakers. He frequently acknowledged that most Americans want to live in affordable housing near good schools, good jobs and good transit, and pointed out that if just 10 percent of new housing starts were in such “Livable Communities,” this county would save 5 billion gallons of gas.

All the above inspiration took place even before our break-outs, when I had a chance to moderate a dynamic panel — with Catherine Cox-Blair of Reconnecting America and Gretchen Nicholls of the Twin Cities LISC office and Seema Iyer of the City of Baltimore — on interagency coordination at the state and local level. From coast to coast, the common challenges seems to be around building the capacity of local leaders to “make the case” for this kind of effort. I took a lot of notes for our Illinois Linkage Group paper, due out by year’s end. I’m encouraged that we’re on track in Illinois with our current focus on a Statewide Sustainability Policy that all agencies have a role advancing; various silo-busting strategies around leadership, funding and data sharing/tracking; regional capacity building, coordination and technical assistance; and on-the-ground demonstration pilots.

Since 1934, the Metropolitan Planning Council has been dedicated to shaping a more sustainable and prosperous greater Chicago region. As an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, MPC serves communities and residents by developing, promoting and implementing solutions for sound regional growth. Learn more at

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