The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has launched a new set of tools aimed at helping local communities better target their federal dollars.

It is a “fundamental overhaul of our consolidated planning process,” said Mercedes Marquez, HUD’s assistant secretary of community planning and development, during a telephone call with reporters.

The new eCon Planning Suite will save communities at least 65,000 staff hours each year, she said. The suite features three key components–an expanded planning database, a new mapping tool called CPD Maps, and an electronic template for submitting a Consolidated Plan. Grantees submitting Consolidated Plans on or after Nov. 15 will be required to use the new template.

These tools were not available before, according to Marquez.

It used to be that HUD required more than 1,200 cities, counties, and states to undergo a time-consuming and paper-based planning process as a condition of receiving billions of critical federal dollars, including Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs).

In the past, the local governments approached the Consolidated Plans as more of a compliance or budget exercise, but the new tools are expected to transform it into a strategic planning process. For example, the new mapping tool will give jurisdictions access to expanded planning data that will guide them on where to focus their efforts.

Completed plans will be posted online to allow grantees and the public to compare and identify best practices.  “We’re creating a library of ideas,” Marquez said.

For the first time ever, HUD is also offering the following data not only to its grantee community but to the public at large: 

  • Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy from the U.S. Census Bureau 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 from Census describes changes in jobs and labor force over time;
  • Public and Indian Housing Information Center 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 (DOT), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) display the location/concentration of CDBG, HOME, HUD multifamily housing developments, public housing, Sec. 8 vouchers, DOT data on fixed-rail transit stops, and FEMA floodplains.

HUD has spent about $2 million on the eCon Planning Suite, but the effort will save money over time, Marquez said.
The agency has piloted the program in Detroit; New Orleans; San Antonio, Texas; the city and county of Sacramento, Calif.; and the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

HUD has created a brief video introducing the eCon Planning Suite.