In late June, the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) approved the staff recommendations for the first round of awards for the Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities (AHSC) Program. Out of 147 applications submitted, only 28 projects were awarded from the $120 million available. However, with these awarded projects, it is estimated that we’ll see 723,286 metric tons in avoided greenhouse gas emissions – that’s the equivalent of taking 140,000 cars off the road for a year! And around 75 percent – or $92 million dollars – was awarded to disadvantaged communities. This is a huge step forward for these communities, which have suffered from years of underinvestment and neglect. Finally, around a quarter – or $32 million dollars – of AHSC funds went towards transit, walking and bicycling. These are big wins for California!
While there were big wins with the AHSC program, there were also places where the program could be improved to better support and integrate walking and bicycling into communities. For example, only 10 percent of the awarded AHSC projects went to active transportation! In July, the SGC hosted two “Lessons Learned” workshops in both Northern and Southern California to hear from partners on what worked well and what could be improved. At these workshops, a number of groups – including the National Partnership – attended to suggest key changes to help the AHSC Program better implement its goals. Click here for more information on the Lessons Learned workshops!
For Round 2, the National Partnership recommends the following for the AHSC Program:
- Increased Transparency: Ensure the public understands how these projects successfully integrate affordable housing, active transportation, transit, urban forestry, green space and conservation by posting all applications and scoring evaluation criteria on-line.
- Creation of Technical Advisory Committee: Develop a technical advisory council of external stakeholders and key agency staff to guide the staff through the AHSC cycle. This will improve transparency and public participation.
- Remove key barriers to successfully fund transportation projects – specifically bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure – that will result in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG): Transportation and housing projects are planned and implemented at different scales and timelines, with different approval processes and funding constraints. Remove barriers such as the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) clearance threshold requirement from transportation projects so strong transportation projects that reduce GHG can apply for AHSC funds.
- Maximize Co-Benefits on Community Identified Priorities: There are many benefits for projects funded from the AHSC program, such as improved air quality and greater economic development. These co-benefits should be considered along with GHG reduction and extra points should be awarded for projects that provide multiple benefits.
- Strengthen ICP to Better Serve Rural and Small Urban Communities: The current transit requirements in the guidelines exacerbate disinvestment and limits GHG reduction strategies outside of an urban context. The program should better address opportunities for transportation investment in rural, unincorporated, and small urban communities.
- Improve Modeling Tools to Better Quantify GHG reductions from Active Transportation: The current modeling tool for the AHSC Program does not distinguish between projects more or less likely to create mode shift. In addition, modeling for active transportation primarily focused on access to transit when most walking and bicycling that replace short trips does not involve transit. The current model needs to be updated to address these concerns or if the model cannot address these issues, the guidelines need to be updated to create scoring incentives based on the co-benefits above.
- Leverage other state funding sources such as the Active Transportation Program (ATP): One of the AHSC’s enabling statues is to increase options for mobility, including the implementation of the Active Transportation Program (ATP). The guidelines should increase points for projects leverage funds from the ATP.
- Strengthen Community Engagement Provisions: The program should require applicants to explain what steps were taken to ensure public participation and explaining how the public participation process resulted in project proposal where community identified needs emerged and are meaningfully reflected in the projects.
The National Partnership worked with the Coalition for Active Transportation Leadership (CATL) to submit comments, click here to see the full recommendations for the AHSC Program. We are excited for this program and believe it can be a model for other state funding sources. We will continue to work with our partners and agencies to ensure that the AHSC is a robust program that supports all elements of healthy, equitable, and sustainable communities.