How to turn dreams into dollars

Written by Amitabh Barthakur, Kate Collignon, and Stan Wall


The $973 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law last year, represents the largest investment in national infrastructure in decades. Before cities, counties, and states can access these funds and leverage any additional public or private funding, they must differentiate their visions, competing with exemplary projects from every corner of the country.  


HR&A has been helping cities across the country with competitive funding applications. We’ve convened stakeholders and partners to confirm visions, develop application narratives, refine strategies, and provide project management support through application deadlines and beyond. 


To illustrate what it takes to propose new projects that secure competitive funding, we spoke with three clients, all of whom have successfully competed for state or federal funding within the last year. Angie Rodgers is the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Economic Development in the Office of the Executive of Prince George’s County. Ron Golem is the Director of Real Estate & Transit-Oriented Development for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). Julie Schneider is the Director of Housing and Revitalization for the City of Detroit. Although their circumstances differ, certain themes are common among their successful efforts. 


A compelling narrative promises large-scale transformation. Prince George’s County, located outside of Washington, DC, recently secured over $400 million from the State of Maryland for Blue Line Corridor projects. The Blue Line Corridor is a vision for mixed-use transit-oriented development along the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Blue Line. The County is the largest and the wealthiest majority-Black county in the United States and has long sought to increase its competitive position in the Washington region. The County envisioned the Blue Line Corridor as a template for an equitable economic and community development strategy that could then be rolled out in other transit corridors in the County.  


The proposal to the State went far beyond just describing how to expand transit and attract business — it included fostering housing production, including affordable housing; celebrating the existing community through arts and cultural investments; and creating active mixed-use communities to attract new businesses. It set forth a goal of creating a sense of place across a diverse, 500-square-mile County comprising rural, urban, and suburban areas.


HR&A helped develop this vision and served as an extension of the County’s Economic Development team, specifically helping to translate the vision into a portfolio of infrastructure investments. Describing and visualizing the components of the vision attracted a wide range of stakeholders who successfully advocated to state lawmakers and continue to help leverage additional investment as the project unfolds.


Establishing the connection between competitive public funding and private investment makes for a compelling narrative as we learned from the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and its successful application to expand its transportation network through the new Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Expedited Project Delivery (EPD) pilot program. VTA understood that EPDs are required to utilize public-private partnerships and have a federal share not exceeding 25% of the project cost. Therefore, a partnership with Google was critical for securing federal support for the long-dreamed-of extension of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). HR&A worked with VTA’s Director of Real Estate & Transit-Oriented Development to estimate the impact of the BART extension on VTA’s real estate assets as well as well as the potential growth of transit-oriented communities proximate to the new stations, referencing the City of San Jose and Google’s commitment as evidence of the validity of the estimate. 


After solidifying Google as the project’s key private partner, all efforts pivoted to engaging regional agencies to establish the plan’s value, including economic opportunity, in order to secure the state and local funding commitments to establish the match for federal funding. One key hurdle was the lack of precedent — a new funding stream meant there was no playbook to reference. VTA and FTA collaborated to prove the plan’s readiness, feasibility, and impact for communities from San Jose to Santa Clara. VTA leadership stayed in close touch with their federal colleagues, especially to define the public-private partnership, proactively address equity, meet conditions required to enter into a federal funding agreement, and refine future frameworks. VTA relied on a core set of subject matter experts to assist in compiling the business case for the funding application. 


In the end, VTA was selected as the first recipient of this new FTA program. With a second federal allocation announced in late March 2022, HR&A is excited to work with VTA on implementation. 


Demonstrating community support is essential. HR&A worked with the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department to secure $30 million in HUD Choice Neighborhoods (CNI) funding for the city’s historic Corktown neighborhood. In spite of the challenges of virtually assembling an application during the height of the pandemic, the City engaged residents from the Clement Kern Gardens Apartments, service providers, the Ford Motor Company, and City agencies to develop a collective vision for equitable redevelopment anchored by housing and workforce opportunities along with other infrastructure improvements. The City worked hard and early in the planning process to build trust with the community undertaking an extensive effort to listen, discuss, and identify opportunities for planned improvements and new resources to benefit different groups. The City successfully adapted its approach to community engagement during the course of the project, shifting from offsite and Zoom meetings to outdoor conversations onsite during more convenient times for residents. HR&A helped the City gauge the competitiveness of its application throughout the process, enabling it to remain accountable to the community and to the grant process. 


These efforts boosted the grant application’s chances of success in two ways. First, the City was able to demonstrate that the community’s priorities overlapped with the grant’s parameters. Second, the early focus on community engagement generated broad support around a set of common interests and priorities that elected officials and other stakeholders could use to advocate for the effort. 


HUD’s award of $30 million to the city will preserve the existing public housing in the neighborhood and create more than 700 new affordable and mixed-income homes. In addition, the grant is leveraging over $800M in additional public and private investment in public space, community facilities and commercial development. The extensive outreach effort established a strong base of support to move the project forward and not lose sight of the relationships developed during the application process. 


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There are billions of federal and state resources available for communities to address critical infrastructure investments, and the need to plan early and intentionally to win those funds has never been more evident. This is a historic opportunity to improve lives and entire regions.