The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is launching the eCon Planning Suite, a set of 21st Century data and technology tools to help communities ensure that scarce federal dollars are targeted to where they are needed most and can achieve the biggest impact. In the past, HUD required more than 1,200 cities, counties and states to undergo a paper-based, time-intensive and costly planning process as a condition of receiving billions of dollars in federal funding.
However, it’s estimated that HUD’s new approach will save communities at least 65,000 work hours each year and support communities in need-driven, place-based decision-making that will engage informed public participation, and improve community and economic development outcomes.
“We know that in a time of huge budget cuts at the state and local level, it’s harder and harder to have the resources to bring that information together,” said Shaun Donovan, HUD secretary. “This technology that we’re providing is going to be really revolutionary in helping all of our grantees work smarter.”
According to HUD’s assistant secretary of community planning and development, Mercedes Márquez, the technology and data available to help communities approach their planning targeted, data-driven, placed-based way for the first time. This is a major improvement by providing grantees and the public alike with the tools they need to visualize where federal taxpayer dollars are going and where investments can make a difference.
The eCon Planning Suite is comprised of three components such as an expanded planning database, a powerful new mapping tool, CPD Maps, and an electronic template for submitting the Consolidated Plan.
CPD Maps will also allow cities, counties and states to access expanded planning data that will not only help them visualize where they have made federal investments in the past, but it will guide them to focus their energies in the future down to the census tract level. In addition, the public will be able to draw on the new mapping tool in an effort to argue for public investments in particular neighborhoods.
“This tool will allow us to do more need-driven, place-based work where we can actually target what we have to do in the community, what is needed in the community, rather than trying to match funding streams” said Houston Major Annise D. Parker. “The data that it will provide [is] real information that can be used for effective planning in neighborhoods.”
This user-friendly tool will be HUD’s first time offering data to not only to its grantee community but also to the public at large. The data that‘s included is Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy, CHAS, from the U.S. Census Bureau which describes housing problems and needs of extremely low and moderate income households; and American Community Survey from 2005 to 2009 which offers Census data on population demographics, descriptions of housing stock’s cost and condition, and workforce characteristics such as earnings by sector and travel time to work.
Some other data included in the CPD Maps is Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics, LEHD, from the Census’ description of changes in jobs and labor force over time; Public and Indian Housing Information Center, PIC, where HUD provides information about the characteristics of public housing residents; Continuum of Care Points-in-Time that counts the nature and extent of homelessness from 3,000 cities and counties; and Location data that HUD, U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency displays the location and/or concentration of CDBG, HOME, HUD multi-family housing development, public housing, Section 8 vouchers, DOT data on fixed rail transit stops, and FEMA floodplains.
However, the online Consolidated Plan template is designed to guide grantees through an intuitive planning process that’s driven by the same data the public can access in CPD Maps. The completed plans will be posted on HUD’s website in a standard format to allow grantee and the public to compare plans and identify the best practices. This collection will form a national library of Consolidated Plans, creating a single place to read about other local strategies and best practices online.
“By being able to search every plan in the country, we’re creating a library of ideas,” Márquez said. “This is democracy in data. I’ve been to my fair share of public hearings in the past but never before [have] people be as empowered with the evidence they need to inform public policy.”
In the past, state and local governments approached the Consolidated Plans more as a compliance and budget exercise than a strategic planning process based on an analysis of market conditions. Many grantees use limited administrative resources to hire expensive consultants to prepare their plans without sufficiently detailed and timely data. As a result, grantees use these plans to focus on annual funding decisions rather than on strategic goals based on needs.
By contrast, HUD’s new planning template will allow communities to instantly import information about needs and market data from CPD Maps into plans that they will electronically submit to HUD for review. Together, these two web-based tools will significantly reduce grantees paperwork burden, save time and money, and create a strategic roadmap to target federal funds where they can do the most good.
“I think that providing the information to community residents, making it available, easily understood, and tied to a planning process about how to spend resources and how to improve community really democratizes the data,” said CEO Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink. “[It] allows for the kind of participation that changes communities.”
HUD piloted the eCon Planning Suite in Detriot, MI; New Orleans, LA; San Antonio, TX; City and County of Sacramento, CA; and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Grantees submitting Consolidated Plans on or after November 15, 2012, will be required to use the new template.