Washington - This week, US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) led the introduction of the Livable Communities Act of 2011, marking an important step forward in transforming the federal government into a better partner for communities as they work to achieve their goals. The bill promotes good planning and good governance by saving taxpayer dollars through coordinated public investments in infrastructure. Seventeen Senators co-sponsored the measure.

"We need to empower communities to coordinate their transportation, housing, and business development needs in a way that saves money, creates jobs, and helps the environment," said Menendez, who chairs the Banking Subcommittee for Housing, Transportation, and Community Development. "What we build has real impact on how much time we spend in traffic, whether we can afford to live close to where we work, and whether businesses can attract and retain workers. This bill is about making better coordinated investments so that we use our resources wisely and can enjoy attractive, economically viable, healthy communities that are resilient over the long-term."

The bill would formally authorize the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its Regional Planning and Community Challenge grant programs. These programs support community efforts to establish and implement a locally-defined vision for future growth and redevelopment through comprehensive planning and capital improvement programs. The bill would also create a loan program for infrastructure improvements (streetscape, utilities) in preparation for transit oriented development.

The Livable Communities Act of 2011 would also improve the way federal agencies with jurisdictional overlap work together so that the policies, programs, and regulations they enforce are well aligned. The bill directs the HUD Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities to take a leading role in coordinating interconnected housing, transportation, and environmental efforts in cooperation with DOT and EPA. It also directs HUD to engage the wide range of federal agencies that address healthy housing issues. Along with coordination, the bill directs these agencies to streamline requirements, reduce redundancy, and eliminate red tape to become more efficient in both their internal operations and their engagement with communities in the field.

"Comprehensive, locally directed planning is the blueprint for long-term prosperity and this initiative fits squarely into broader efforts underway to create jobs, support families when they need it most, and keep the U.S. competitive in the global economy," Menendez added.

The effort builds on work that Senator Chris Dodd began in 2009 when he introduced the Livable Communities Act last Congress. This iteration of the bill honors the core programs of the original while lowering its cost.