Skip to content

Working to build sustainable communities: Part II

GreenIf you're reading this blog, you've probably heard the terms "going green," "green building," "sustainable development," and "sustainable communities."

If you're like me, you probably have a positive association with the terms and may even be able to take an educated guess at what each one means. But, chances are, you probably don't know exactly what they mean. Even if you do, you may not know how they're different, why they're important, or how they're related to the work of a housing authority.

In this blog series, we'll unpack those terms and take a look at some examples of successful sustainable communities' initiatives, as well as provide some resources for where you can get more information and how you can get started planning towards sustainability in your community.

Why is planning a sustainable community important, and how does it relate to the work of a housing authority?

In times of reduced resources, it's important for civic organizations and public housing agencies to plan for the future together in order to find solutions for our community problems and achieve the greatest results. Green building and sustainable development initiatives are commendable, but the health of our communities and country are dependent on developing sustainable communities — that is, communities that focus their resources on preserving the environment, providing clean and adequate transportation options, advancing economic development, and creating affordable housing. Let's look at some examples:

Valley Visions (San Joaquin Valley, California)

The eight counties of the San Joaquin Valley are coordinating on some aspects of these planning efforts to maximize resources; however, each metropolitan planning organization (MPO) is developing a separate plan. Their sustainable communities strategy (SCS) process is referred to as "Valley Visions." These SCS regional plans consider long-term housing, transportation, and land-use needs, taking a big-picture look at how the Central Valley can grow over time in a way that uses resources efficiently, protects existing communities, conserves farmland and open space, and supports the Central Valley economy.

Planning in advance for growth can result in better neighborhoods, more housing and transportation choices, and a higher quality of life for residents. Each SCS regional plan must address the following items:

  1. Identify areas to house the region's population growth for at least the next 25 years, including households at all income levels
  2. Develop a regional transportation plan (RTP) that meets the needs of the region
  3. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles and light trucks

Piedmont Together (Piedmont Triad Region, North Carolina)

The population within the Piedmont Triad region in North Carolina is expected to grow by 15 percent within the next 10 years, bringing a new set of transportation challenges. With funding through the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program, the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation will develop a plan for sustainable development in the region that helps it move from its agricultural and manufacturing history to a strong position in the new knowledge-based economy.

The integrated regional plan will encourage investment in and near urban areas and towns to reduce sprawl, investigate expanding access to non-automobile transportation, define a structure for taking advantage of existing assets in institutions of higher education, and assess the need for and optimal placement of affordable housing.

Oyate Omniciye Plan (Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota)

With funding through the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program, a consortium of community organizations, nonprofits, and Oglala Lakota tribes led by the Thunder Valley Community Development Organization will implement an unprecedented two-year sustainable development plan. To encourage grassroots development and community empowerment, the grant was awarded to a diverse alliance of stakeholders in addition to local government, thereby involving all facets of the local Lakota community.

The Oyate Omniciye Plan seeks to integrate housing, land use, economic development, transportation, and infrastructure across a wide southeastern swath of South Dakota in order to tackle the interlinked challenges of sustainability. In one part of the plan, Thunder Valley will work with renowned green architecture and design firm Berkebile Nelson Immenschuh McDowell (BNIM) to sustainably develop 85 acres of land in the reservation's Porcupine District near Sharp's Corner, SD. Not only will the development be environmentally sustainable, it will be based on the spiritual and cultural values of local residents. The development will also include a shelter and community center for at-risk youth.


Last month HUD’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities changed its name to the Office of Economic Resilience (OER). With the new name came a new home page and a new director, Harriet Tregoning. As described on its website, the OER “helps communities and regions build diverse, prosperous, resilient economies by enhancing quality of place; advancing effective job creation strategies; reducing housing, transportation, and energy consumption costs; promoting clean energy solutions; and creating economic opportunities for all.”

Other important resources include:

American Planning Association's Sustaining Places Initiative

Department of Transportation's Office of Transportation Policy

Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Sustainable Communities

Partnership for Sustainable Communities

With over a decade of experience working in the affordable housing industry, NMA consultant Nate Paufve has done everything from supervising a team of housing specialists to developing OIG responses, overseeing a document management team, serving as an internal auditor for PBCA operations in multiple states nationwide, and strategic planning related to Moderate Rehabilitation (Mod Rehab), project-based voucher, and housing choice voucher programs. He holds a B.A. in urban studies and an M.A. in public policy from the University of Chicago and has also worked extensively with nonprofit organizations and provided policy research on affordable housing programs.

NMA can assist your agency with PNA planning and energy audits. For more information, contact