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Harry Moroz

The Insufficiency Of Incrementalism

At Building Neighborhoods, Patrick Lester reports on a worrisome development in the appropriations process for Choice Neighborhoods, the Obama administration’s proposed successor to HOPE VI that ties community-building efforts to housing revitalization.

President Obama requested $250 million in funding for Choice Neighborhoods for the upcoming federal fiscal year, which starts October 1. The House subcommittee provided no funding for Choice and instead provided $200 million for the HOPE VI public housing revitalization program — the program the Obama administration had hoped to replace with Choice Neighborhoods.

This by no means implies that Choice Neighborhoods is dead. But it does raise an interesting question about how we go about reforming the federal government’s relationship to urban areas.

In our analysis of President Obama’s 2011 budget, we criticized the outline for its failure to address the city budget collapse. Still, we noted, the budget contained promising programs such as Choice Neighborhoods, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Sustainable Communities Initiative. But how, we wondered, could such programs succeed in the face of huge city budget deficits that threaten not only city services but both public and private sector jobs (and so urban economies), as well?

This leads to a fundamental question about legislative strategy: is it better to proceed incrementally, pushing for small-scale programs like Choice Neighborhoods whose transformative effects could be tremendous, but which can be discarded easily by deficit-shy legislators? Or is it better to pursue the legislative “big bangs” that would slay some of the legislative biases against cities in several strokes?

These strategies are not mutually exclusive, of course: small-scale victories can provide a foothold for more ambitious programs. But the big victories will never be possible – and so the small ones will always be left vulnerable – if cities remain at the periphery of discussion about economic recovery and a return to prosperity. The repeated extensions of the homebuyers tax credit are just one sign that the health of urban economies is not on Congress’s mind.

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Posted at 3:15 PM, Jul 02, 2010 in Cities
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