Seventeen communities have been selected to receive the first planning grants through the new Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.

These communities will share a total of $4 million, announced the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Six other communities have also been selected as finalists to compete for about $61 million in Choice Neighborhood Implementation Grants.

The new initiative aims to promote a comprehensive approach to transforming areas of concentrated poverty into viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods.

Choice Neighborhoods is described as an expansion of the HOPE VI program, which has funded the redevelopment of some of the nation’s most distressed public housing projects.

HUD leaders say the new program extends the scope of HOPE VI by linking affordable housing with quality education, public transportation, and job opportunities. Congress approved Choice Neighborhoods in HUD’s fiscal 2010 budget, allowing the department to use $65 million to provide competitive grants to assist in the transformation, rehabilitation, and preservation of public housing and privately owned HUD-assisted housing.

The planning grant awardees are the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority in Buffalo, N.Y.; Community Action Project of Tulsa County, Inc., in Tulsa, Okla.; Housing Authority of Kansas City, Mo.; Housing Authority of the City of Albany, Ga.; Housing Authority of the City of Atlanta; Housing Authority of the City of Norwalk, Conn.; Housing Authority of the City of Salisbury, N.C.; Housing Authority of the City of Wilmington, N.C.; Jackson Housing Authority in Jackson, Tenn.; Jersey City Housing Authority in Jersey City, N.J.; Jubilee Baltimore, Inc., in Baltimore;  Memphis Housing Authority in Memphis, Tenn.; Mt. Vernon Manor, Inc., in Philadelphia; Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority in Norfolk, Va.; Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments in Shreveport, La.; Providence Housing Authority in Providence, R.I.; and the San Antonio Housing Authority.

The department received 119 submissions for the planning grants and 42 submissions for communities seeking implementation grants.

The 17 cities selected for the planning grants will use the funding to build the capacity they need to get them ready to undertake a successful neighborhood transformation, said HUD.

The six finalists for the implementation grants have already undertaken the comprehensive local planning process and are ready to move forward with the transformation plan to redevelop target neighborhoods.

The six implementation grant finalists are the city of Boston; Housing Authority of New Orleans; Housing Authority of the City of Seattle; Housing Authority of the City of Tampa, Fla.; McCormack Baron Salazar, Inc., for a project in San Francisco; and the Preservation of Affordable Housing, Inc., for a project in Chicago.

HUD said it will publish a second notice of funding availability shortly to give these finalists the opportunity to submit a more detailed application for the $61 million in available funding for implementation grants. The grants are scheduled to be awarded by the end of September.