The Consolidated Plan was developed by regulation in 1995 to create efficiencies for grantees by providing common planning requirements for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) programs. In the past five years alone, Consolidated Plan grantees have received $27.6 billion and leveraged two to three times that amount.
The regulations describe a process where a multi-year strategy and subsequent funding decisions in Annual Action Plans are driven by public participation, needs assessment, and market analysis. But fully meeting the intent of these requirements has been inhibited by inadequate technology and data limitations. The eCon Planning Suite takes advantage of recent advances in technology and data to make possible the planning process described in the regulations.
Until now, HUD has not been able to provide the necessary data, in an easy-to-use format, to reasonably expect communities to make data-based decisions. Data has been provided in very large files that required users to write code in order to interpret it, making it difficult for the public to access and understand. In addition, data was not provided at the census tract level. Finally, it focused mainly on affordable housing needs, leaving out other community development issues, such as economic development. These limitations constrained the grantee’s ability to produce the kind of plans envisioned in the Consolidated Plan regulation and inhibited meaningful public participation.
HUD now provides enhanced planning data that addresses all uses of grant funds, including economic development. The data comes from the census and other sources and describes housing and economic market conditions, primarily at the census tract level. Because HUD provides more data in more detail, it built a mapping tool to make that data easy to understand and manage and support needs assessments and strategic decision-making without a specialized skill set. This mapping tool is available online with no special access requirements, which will also enable the public to participate in the planning process using use the same data and mapping technology as grantees.
More, HUD has created an electronic submission template. While the 1995 regulations allow HUD to prescribe a form for the Consolidated Plan, Annual Action Plan, and Consolidated Annual Performance and Evaluation Report (CAPER), the agency has yet to do so. As a result, these documents are submitted with no standard format, making the Con Plan process inefficient, and not as transparent or useful as the regulations envision. Moreover, plans were submitted on paper, while implementation and reporting is done electronically. This has made it difficult to track progress against goals and required grantees to submit the same information both on paper and electronically. Finally, because there was no central database of Consolidated Plans, the plans were difficult for the public to access and there was no way for HUD to aggregate grantees’ goals and understand plans on a national scale.
Now, grantees will prepare their plans according to a standard electronic submission template. There are no new requirements in this template. By prescribing the standard submission template, HUD gives clear guidance on when a plan meets all requirements. In addition, the template will be pre-populated with available data, saving grantees time on data collection and shifting the focus to understanding community and market conditions described by the data. Because the template is integrated into HUD’s grant management and reporting system, Consolidated Plan goals can be connected to accomplishments already recorded in this system throughout the year, saving grantees time on year-end performance reporting. Moreover, the template is structured to result in one set of priorities and strategic goals, which will facilitate collaboration across agencies that administer Consolidated Plan funds.
As Consolidated Plans are entered into the system, HUD will be able to aggregate goals across grantees and better understand grantee success as well as where help is needed. Grantees and the public alike will be able to search this database of plans, promoting transparency and sharing of model practices.