By Dan Bartholomay, CEO of Rail~Volution
Update March 31, 2017: The Trump administration has upped the ante, trying to eliminate current year funding for transit construction (i.e., projects with Full Funding Grant Agreements) and the TIGER program (read more at Transportation for America). The leaked documents from the Office of Management and Budget also call for cutting the FY17 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program in half and eliminating all funding for other key affordable housing programs (read more at Enterprise).
In March, the Rail~Volution staff met in Denver with our partners on the National Steering Committee to work through speaker proposals and start formulating the content of the conference this coming September. The Trump administration’s “skinny budget” was released just as we began our meeting. The severity of proposed cuts to both transit and housing threaten the core values and mission of Rail~Volution. As a conference and organization that focuses on the intersection of transit, housing, and community, we discussed what’s at stake and how to respond.
What’s at stake? The overall budget calls for increasing funding to defense and border security by cutting programs and funding in other areas of the budget, including housing and transportation as follows:
- Eliminating Federal Transit Administration funding for new transit lines (LRT & BRT) except those that have received full funding grant agreements. Elimination of TIGER grants. Elimination of federal funding for Amtrak.
- Elimination of major federal housing subsidies and programs for workers, veterans, seniors and the homeless. Programs to be shuttered include the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, Choice Neighborhoods, HOME Investment Partnership program, and Self-help Housing programs (SHOP).
Cities that have gone to ballot referenda expecting a federal partner now face funding gaps of up to 50 percent. Communities of every size no longer would have TIGER grants to jump start projects ranging from increased bus service to downtown redesigns for freight traffic and improved safety for all modes. Companies across the nation—from engineering firms to manufacturers to construction—would be affected by a halt in momentum. The whole trajectory of regional economic growth would be threatened.
The ability for communities to put together creative financing and innovative partnerships—the heart and soul of Rail~Volution’s focus—is on the chopping block. Here’s one example of the kind of project that would not go forward: in the Colfax area of Denver, TIGER funds were used to clean up the dirt at a redevelopment site. Affordable housing and child care followed. The land around it is now incredibly valuable.
As one Rail~Volution partner put it, “These tools are going away, irrespective of whether you are rust belt or otherwise.”
How to respond? Housing and transportation projects often go together in the federal funding process. At Rail~Volution, our goal will be to focus on the ways that a cross-silo approach has been essential for communities to get to the next level. The power is the consensus of our alignment of transportation, housing, and other community assets, ranging from schools to the arts to access to healthy food.
Here are three ways we will respond:
1.Address the evolving federal situation at the Denver conference, especially given that late September is a pivotal time, with the end of the federal budget year.
2.Speak about the ways that federal tools—funding sources and programs—have been transformative in building vibrant communities, including making clear that projects affect jobs and outcomes for regions across the nation, red and blue.
3.Provide Rail~Volution stakeholders with information about how to weigh in, via action alerts from organizations and campaigns in sync with our values and mission.
Taking the last item first, we encourage you to get involved and take action now. Several organizations provide detailed updates and ways to speak out—see links below. Often the best step is to simply call your US Senator and Representative—find out who represents you here.
Urge Congress to Protect Vital Housing Programs from Drastic Budget Cuts (National Low Income Housing Coalition).
Send a short letter to your representatives about cuts to transit funding (Transportation for America)
Reject Trump’s disinvestment in communities (Smart Growth America)
Save our Trains (Midwest High Speed Rail Association)
Join the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. (National Resources Defense Council)
We’re also working on short pieces about transformational projects such as the one in Colfax. Send us your own stories of the ways housing and transportation have come together in your region—e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.