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Oak Park Receives Nearly $3 Million from HUD Sustainable Community Award

by Chicago Agent

The recipients of the 2011 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s Sustainable Communities Grants were recently announced by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Oak Park and the West Cook County Housing Collaborative received the Sustainable Communities Challenge grant, which amounted to just under $3 million.

The 2011 grants totaled about $97 million in all. The grants were divided into Community Challenge Grants, which were awarded to 27 communities and organizations this year, and Regional Planning Grants, which were given to 29 regional areas. The ultimate goal of these grants is to encourage communities to connect housing with good jobs, quality schools and transportation.

“Our nation’s ability to compete in a global economy and create jobs is dependent upon how quickly and efficiently we can connect our workers and families to education and employment opportunities,” said Donovan. “When 52 percent of the average working family’s income is devoted to housing and transportation costs alone, we know that we have a responsibility to fix that and to provide housing and transportation options that can improve their quality of life and economic stability.”

HUD’s Community Challenge Grants are designed to reduce barriers and allow for reform to create sustainable and economically vital communities. Funds are awarded to communities of all sizes who are looking to overcome challenges related to integrating transportation and housing.

“Oak Park and the West Cook County Collaborative are using new tools to solve old problems and the result is a dynamic initiative to promote sustainability at the local neighborhood level and increase involvement of residents and the business community in the planning process,” said HUD’s Midwest Regional Administrator, Antonio R. Riley. “The Collaborative has the right partners, the right approach and the right vision for success.”

Oak Park has been awarded $2,916,272 for the West Cook County Transit Oriented Development Strategy. The West Cook County Housing Collaborative is in its third year of operation and consists of five West Cook suburban communities just outside of the City of Chicago. The Collaborative’s efforts will create or update existing comprehensive plans for the five communities, allowing them to revisit outdated zoning and infrastructure plans that are impediments to transit-oriented, affordable housing development.

“Focusing our foreclosure mitigation efforts on creating affordable home ownership near public transportation is the economically smart thing to do,” said Joe Neri, CEO of IFF, the nonprofit lender and real estate consultant assisting the West Cook County Collaborative. “It reduces the housing/transportation cost expense for working families and it connects people to jobs. We are proud to be selected as part of HUD’s Sustainable Communities Program, and we are grateful to HUD and the State of Illinois for their strong support of the work of the West Cook County Housing Collaborative.”

“When the mayors came together three years ago to talk about intergovernmental collaboration around housing issues, it was clear we shared a belief in a unique opportunity to position not just our individual communities, but our entire region for thoughtful, economic gain,” said Oak Park Village President David Pope. “We are extremely grateful for the support of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity that is reflected in these grants. We look forward to a continuing partnership to address critical housing issues facing our communities, our state and our nation.”

Oak Park was fortunate enough to receive the necessary funding for the collaboration; however, as was the case last year as well, the demand for the grants was not met by the available funding. For the 2011 grants, HUD received over $500 million in funding requests for the $96 million that was available.

“The demand for sustainability grants is very high; we would have needed $500 million to fund all proposals we received this year,” said HUD Office of Sustainable Housing Communities (OSHC) Director, Shelley Poticha. “We are confident that the mix of rural and urban proposals that we selected this year will have a great impact in their communities and will create nearly 2,000 jobs.”

The grants given out this year will affect 45.8 million Americans by improving the quality of life and efficiency in their communities. This year’s grants were awarded in the states of Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming.

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