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A bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce


Q&A: Valerie Piper, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Development, United States Department of Housing and Urban Development

Valerie Piper serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Development at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, where she oversees the Offices of Community Renewal, Rural Housing and Economic Development, Grants Management for Economic Development and Brownfields Economic Development Initiatives, and the Congressional Grants Division. Ms. Piper is also responsible for cross-cutting strategies between HUD and other federal agencies to support jobs and small business in HUD economic development goals.

Photo of Valerie Piper

Photo of Valerie Piper

Question: The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Economic Development is guided by the basic principle that government can help to create an environment that encourages innovation, rewards risk-taking, and promotes equal opportunity. This orientation supports President Obama’s priority that federal agencies work together to better support bottom-up plans to spur economic and job growth. What multi-agency initiatives has HUD been involved in and what are some of the successes you have had?

HUD is working with other federal agencies, including the Economic Development Administration, on several initiatives that assist communities in creating jobs and helping hard-working people reach the middle class. These initiatives build upon proven tools to make existing federal programs work more effectively together, and partner with community leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors that have come together with a focus on results.

As part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, HUD’s Sustainable Communities Initiative has awarded 152 grants totaling $240 million that have in turn secured almost $253 million in private investment and commitments from local partners. The communities that have received these grants vary from rural communities in West Virginia and South Dakota to cities like Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Austin, and Memphis; who through these grants have partnered with their local business community to create sustainable economic development plans. The 2012 grantees have brought significant local, state, and private resources to the table. HUD’s investment of $95.8 million in 2012 is garnering $115 million in matching and in-kind contributions – which is over 120% of the Federal investment – from the 56 selected grantees. This brings to total public and private investment for this round of grants to over $211 million. These communities want to see vibrant districts in their cities that incorporate mix-use principals and provide their residents with transportation options that are close to job centers and housing.

Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) creates an innovative model of federal-local collaboration dedicated to assisting communities in getting back on their feet and creating jobs by better leveraging federal resources and forming key partnerships to implement economic visions. SC2 developed out of conversations with mayors, Members of Congress, foundations, nonprofits, and other partners working in economically distressed communities who consistently highlighted challenges of local governments, the inadequacy of disjointed programs, and the need for a strong, clear, and more coordinated relationship with the federal government.

Seven locations have received intensive technical assistance from federal inter-agency Community Solutions Teams, and three other locations have been named as recipients of the Economic Development Administration’s SC2 Economic Visioning Challenge. Community Solutions Teams have provided technical assistance that have enabled communities to more effectively utilize over $160 million in existing funds and successfully compete for nearly $100 million in new resources – over a quarter of a billion dollars in investment. The teams have also facilitated 160 new cross-sector partnerships – involving philanthropic and non-profit partners, businesses and other local anchor institutions working with municipal and federal staff. More than 700 small businesses and other organizations have received technical assistance.

The Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) is a new Administration-wide initiative intended to accelerate the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing and help cultivate an environment for businesses to create well-paying manufacturing jobs in regions across the country. The winners of the first phase of IMCP are highlighted in this newsletter.

The Promise Zones (PZ) initiative will revitalize high-poverty communities across the country by attracting private investment, improving affordable housing and educational opportunities, providing tax incentives, and reducing violent crime. The approach includes assisting local leaders in navigating federal programs, cutting through red tape, and utilizing resources of signature revitalization initiatives from the Departments of Education (ED), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Agriculture (USDA), and Justice (DOJ), to ensure federal programs and resources support efforts to reinvigorate high-poverty urban, rural, and tribal communities across the country. Should Congress enact the Promise Zones tax credit (crafted on the proven model of Empowerment Zones tax credits), private businesses would receive tax incentives for hiring and investing in Promise Zones, to create jobs and attract additional private investments. Up to five Promise Zones will be designated this year, and a total of 20 designations will be made by the end of 2016. Information on the Promise Zone initiative can be found at www.hud.gov/promisezones.

Q: What are the policy priorities for the next few years for your division?

In addition to supporting the described initiatives, HUD’s Office of Community Renewal, Office of Rural Housing and Economic Development and Congressional Grants Division are collaborating with other agencies including the Department of Treasury, the Department of Agriculture and the Small Business Administration to increase the flow of public and private capital to underserved rural areas, and support small and disadvantaged contractors in qualifying to bid on federally-funded construction. Applications are currently under review for the Border Community Capital Initiative, under which HUD will make small grants to nonprofit lenders serving low income residents of colonias near the U.S.-Mexico border. The Department of Treasury CDFI Fund will include the grantees in capacity building activities, and the Department of Agriculture -- Rural Development will make efforts to award points in relevant program areas for Border Initiative grantees, where appropriate and permitted under program regulations. To improve participation by small and emerging contractors in federally funded opportunities, HUD and SBA are working with private sector and local partners in participating communities, to provide business training and counseling geared specifically for construction and improve access to working capital sufficient to allow contractors to cover expenses through their initial progress payments on new construction jobs. Both of these initiatives work with existing funding and proven tools to reach underserved markets and improve opportunities for low income people and small businesses.