HUD’s Environmental Review Process

Environmental Review is the practice of examining potential impacts before committing any funds to a project, and is required for all projects receiving any form of HUD assistance (i.e. public housing projects, special projects, HOPWA funding, Shelter Plus Care assistance or Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity opportunities). Environmental Review plays a vital role in community planning and decision-making processes and protects the environment while driving economic development forward.

Environmental Review processes can be lengthy and burdensome in cities with large populations that have multiple departments and agencies with different regulatory processes. Local governments can tackle the difficulties of environmental review processes by taking several steps to enhance transparency and reduce redundancies and duplication. Gathering data will enable city staff to better understand the number of steps involved in an environmental review process as well as its duration; by recognizing trends, city staff can design more efficient and equitable processes while engaging more in dialogue with builders and developers on this process itself.

Many cities, towns and counties are taking an additional step to improve environmental review processes by creating web-based trackers of environmental review processes. These websites allow residents and developers to easily see where any given application or study stands in the review process – helping identify bottlenecks quickly while increasing accountability. Furthermore, many of these trackers tie directly into published timelines for environmental review so officials can easily detect when projects have been stalled or overdue for approval.

Ensuring the Environmental Review process meets public needs is of the utmost importance, yet responsible entities must also adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA outlines three levels of environmental reviews: Categorical Exclusion, Environmental Assessment, and Environmental Impact Statement; each level requires different forms of review depending on its level. It falls to appropriate authorities to decide if any action or project falls under its provisions.

There are various publications available to communities to aid them in understanding the National Environmental Policy Act process, and A Citizen’s Guide to NEPA by the Environmental Protection Agency provides an excellent introduction. It details its requirements as well as ways citizens can participate in it. NEPA Guidance for Applicants Exploring Federal Assistance published by the Housing Assistance Council can also be an invaluable asset. This publication details the environmental review process for projects seeking financial assistance from HUD and provides guidelines to identify whether a proposed project falls under NEPA regulations. Furthermore, this publication discusses various elements of an environmental assessment and how to prepare a Categorical Exclusion Statement as well as handling objections from nonrecipient responsible entities.

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