HUD Launches eCon Planning Suite

May 11, 2012

It used to be that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would require 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. No more. Today, HUD 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.

It is estimated HUD’s new approach will save communities at least 65,000 staff 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.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said, “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. This technology that we’re providing is going to be really revolutionary in helping all of our grantees work smarter.”

“For the first time, we have the technology and data available to help communities approach their planning in targeted, data-driven, place-based way,” said Mercedes Márquez, HUD’s Assistant Secretary of Community Planning and Development. “This is a giant leap forward by providing grantees and the public alike with the tools they need to visualize where federal taxpayer dollars are going and where investment can make a difference.”

HUD’s new planning tools will support place-based decision-making and promote public participation and transparency in the discussion over where federal investments ought to be made. The eCon Planning Suite is comprised of three components: an expanded planning database; a powerful new mapping tool, CPD Maps; and an electronic template for submitting the Consolidated Plan.

CPD Maps will 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 will guide them on where to focus their energies in the future down to the Census tract level. In addition, the public will be able to draw on this powerful new mapping tool to argue for public investments in particular neighborhoods.

For the first time ever, HUD is offering the following data through this user-friendly tool, not only to its grantee community but to the public at large:

Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy (CHAS) from the U.S. Census Bureau which describes housing problems and needs of extremely low-, low-, and moderate-income households;
American Community Survey (2005-09) offers Census data on population demographics, description of housing stock (cost, condition) and workforce characteristics, such as earnings by sector and travel time to work;
Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) from Census describes changes in jobs and labor force over time;
Public and Indian Housing Information Center (PIC) from HUD provides information about the characteristics of public housing residents;
Continuum of Care Point-in-Time homeless counts from 3,000 cities and counties offer data on the nature and extent of homelessness; and
Location data from HUD, U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency which displays the location/concentration of CDBG, HOME, HUD Multi-family housing developments, public housing, Section 8 vouchers, DOT data on fixed rail transit stops and FEMA floodplains.

The online Consolidated Plan template is designed to guide grantees through an intuitive planning process driven by the same data the public can access in CPD Maps . Completed plans will be posted on HUD’s website in a standard format to allow grantees and the public to compare plans and identify best practices. This collection will form a national library of Consolidated Plans, creating a single place online to read about other local strategies and best practices.

Márquez added, “By being able to search every plan in the country, we’re creating a library of ideas. This is democracy in data. I’ve been to my fair share of public hearings in the past but never before will 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 user-friendly 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 grantee’s paperwork burden, save time and money, and create a strategic roadmap to target federal funds where they can do the most good.

HUD piloted the eCon Planning Suite in Detroit, 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

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