Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told county officials yesterday that HUD will begin to push programs that link housing initiatives, such as the use of community development block grant funds, with transportation and education plans to create sustainable, interconnected communities.

Donovan, who made the remarks at the National Association of Counties' annual legislative conference, also joined other Obama administration officials in pledging that the federal government will be a better partner to state and local governments than under the previous administration.

"We have a lot of work to do at HUD to be the kind of partner that you need in Washington," he said. "I know from my own personal experience as a local housing official that HUD must be a better partner in the work you do in your communities. You have my commitment to lead a new HUD as a new partner."

Donovan said that Ron Sims, the administration's nominee for deputy secretary of HUD, will head a new Office of Sustainability within the department to focus on using various programs to create "sustainable" communities. Sims has been the county executive of King County, Wash., and has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

Donovan said HUD cannot "think about housing alone," but that it should consider how investments made through CDBG funds or other investments can "link up with transportation investments, link up with school investments, so that we can create not just housing that serves people, but neighborhoods and communities that serve the families that need those services."

In another departure from the Bush administration, Donovan said HUD will champion rental housing as an alternative to home ownership. Many housing advocates have said that HUD under the Bush years pushed rental housing aside and focused too much on owning a home.

"We must not only focus on home ownership ... we must also make rental housing a real, viable option for all the families that are struggling to pay their bills. We will do that with HUD's programs," Donovan said.

He pointed to the $4.5 billion that President Obama has proposed for the CDBG program in his fiscal 2010 federal budget request as a signal that the department will fund programs for which state and local governments have been advocating. Donovan said the funding the administration has proposed for CDBGs is enough to fully fund the program and then some.

The administration has yet to explain, however, how it will work with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to provide liquidity for state housing finance agencies, the details of which officials have said will come soon.

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