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Brownfields FAQs


Date Published: December 2012


Q: What is a brownfield?

A: A brownfield is an abandoned, idled, or underused property where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by the presence or potential presence of contamination. Brownfields sites include abandoned factories and other industrial facilities, gasoline stations, oil storage facilities, dry cleaning stores and other business that dealt with polluting substances. Economic activities once thrived on these properties, but today, the availability of greenfields, concerns with liability and the time and cost of cleanup, and reluctance to invest in older urban areas make these sites difficult to redevelop.

Q: What is a greenfield?

A: Greenfields are undeveloped lands such as farmlands, woodlands, or fields located on the outskirts of urbanized areas. Businesses often prefer to develop new facilities on greenfields to avoid the real or perceived difficulties associated with brownfields redevelopment.

Q: How many brownfields currently exist in the United States?

A: It is difficult to estimate the total number of brownfields in the U.S. The GAO estimates that there are as many as 425,000 brownfields throughout the U.S. Some estimates show that there are 5 million acres of abandoned industrial sites in our nation's cities - roughly the same amount of land occupied by 60 of our largest cities.

Q: Why invest in brownfields?

A: Brownfields redevelopment can benefit both private investors and the communities in which they are located. For the private sector, brownfields redevelopment can mean new business opportunities, the potential for profit on unused or under-utilized properties, improved community and environmental stewardship, and access to untapped urban markets. The retail purchasing power of all central city residents is conservatively estimated at $665 billion. Even households in the most economically distressed urban neighborhoods possess $85 billion in annual retail purchasing power. Brownfields redevelopment is critical to untapping these consumer markets.

The public sector can benefit from an increased number of employment opportunities, increased local and state tax revenues, improvements in the community's quality of life, and a reduction in urban sprawl.

Q: What are some major impediments to brownfields redevelopment?

A: Cities encounter many impediments to redeveloping brownfields.

  1. Lack of necessary funding for cleanup
  2. Concerns over liability
  3. The need for environmental assessments of the properties
  4. Uncertainty over cleanup standards
  5. Unfavorable neighborhood and market conditions
  6. Land assembly issues
  7. Reluctance to invest in distressed communities due to concerns with urban socio-economic conditions

Q: What is the Federal government doing to help communities with brownfields redevelopment?

A: In 1997, the Brownfields National Partnership Action Agenda was announced. The Partnership brings together over 20 Federal agencies (The Federal Brownfields Interagency Working Group) to address brownfields cleanup and redevelopment issues in a more coordinated approach and to link environmental protection with economic development and community revitalization. The Interagency Working Group has:

  1. Designated 16 Showcase Communities to serve as models for cooperative efforts to support local brownfields initiatives.
  2. Signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) to establish policies and procedures between agencies and support projects of mutual interest. HUD signed MOUs with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  3. Tapped redevelopment resources by integrating brownfields into their planning processes, ensuring that brownfields cleanup and redevelopment are eligible expense for their project funds.
  4. Offered technical assistance to communities in order to expedite the cleanup and redevelopment of property.

Q: What resources does HUD have available to help communities redevelop brownfields?

A: HUD is working with community organizations, the private sector, local and State government and other federal agencies to stimulate reinvestment in communities by restoring brownfields to productive use.

HUD's community development resources can help communities spur reinvestment in these properties by leveraging private sector investment and providing critical funding to help neighborhoods realize their vision for the future.

Brownfields redevelopment can be financed by the following:

  1. Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
  2. Section 108 Loan Guarantees
  3. Brownfields Economic Development Initiative (BEDI) grants
  4. Economic Development Initiative (EDI) grants
  5. Renewal Communities/Empowerment Zones/Enterprise Communities

Q: Are brownfields redevelopment activities eligible for CDBG funds?

A: The Community Development Block Grant program is one of the first tools that cities turn to when trying to revitalize distressed communities. HUD awards CDBG funds directly to metropolitan cities and urban counties (entitlement communities) or to States for distribution to nonentitlement communities.

In 1998, Congress passed legislation as part of the HUD Appropriations Act includes brownfields as an eligible CDBG activity:

For fiscal years 1998, 1999, and all fiscal years thereafter, States and entitlement communities may use funds allocated under the community development block grant program under title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 for environmental cleanup and economic development activities related to Brownfields projects in conjunction with the appropriate environmental regulatory agencies, as if such activities were eligible under section 105 (a) of such Act.

Any activities undertaken using CDBG funds must meet one of the program's national objectives:

  1. Benefit low and moderate income persons.
  2. Prevent or eliminate slums or blight.
  3. Address conditions that present a serious and immediate threat to the health and safety of the community.

Brownfields redevelopment activities must be incorporated into local government priorities through the community's Consolidated Plan and annual action plan.

Q: Who is eligible to apply for Brownfields Economic Development Initiative grants?

A: CDBG entitlement communities and non-entitlement communities eligible to receive Section 108 loan guarantees.

Private companies are not eligible applicants for HUD's EDI, BEDI and Section 108 loan guarantee funds; however, cities awarded BEDI grants and Section 108 loan guarantees may transfer these funds to a non-profit or for-profit entities.

Q: What publications are available at HUD to assist communities with brownfields redevelopment?

A: HUD has a number of publication on brownfields redevelopment. These publications include The Effects of Environmental Hazards and Regulation on Urban RedevelopmentRedeveloping Brownfields: How States and Localities Use CDBG Funds, and Environmental Insurance for Brownfields Redevelopment: A Feasibility Study. To get copies of these reports and other information on brownfields redevelopment, visit the HUD web site at www.hud.gov/bfields.html or call HUD USER at (800) 245-2691.

Q: How do I find out more information about brownfields redevelopment in my community or State?

A: To find information about your local community and State efforts to redevelop brownfields, contact your local and State community development and environmental protection agencies.

Tags: BEDI
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  • HUD
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  • HUD Approved