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Smart Growth

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities

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Updated October 15, 2020. More questions and answers will be posted on this page as needed throughout the current application period (October 15-November 20, 2020).

Who can apply for Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities?

Eligible applicants are local, county, or tribal governments, or nonprofit organizations that have the support of the local government on whose behalf they are applying. Letters of interest must be accompanied by a short letter of support signed by a mayor, city manager, elected official, tribal leader, or other official government representative of the community.

Applicants must be located in, and project activities must be conducted within, the United States, Puerto Rico, or a territory or possession of the United States. Regional councils of governments are encouraged to learn about the program, especially in selected communities, but the assistance is directed toward one jurisdiction.

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Is Building Blocks technical assistance a grant to the receiving community?

No. EPA provides direct assistance through a federal contract; therefore, no funds are transferred to the community. Selected communities receive assistance in the form of a facilitated process that includes a two-day workshop in the community with a team of national experts in disciplines that match the community's needs.

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What is different in this round of Building Blocks?

The Request for Letters of Interest for this round of Building Blocks has several new elements intended to help communities navigate emerging challenges related to land use planning and development and to allow EPA to learn from communities based on open-ended requests for assistance. In this round, EPA will:

  • Tailor Building Blocks assistance along a gradient starting at capacity-building and further into implementation.
  • Provide assistance virtually and flexibly during a period of uncertainty.
  • Respond to community-defined needs and learn how our existing tools do or do not fully address current community needs.

EPA staff will run an internal review process to sort and filter all applications received. EPA will then select a "batch" of communities to receive tiered assistance. OCR plans to offer sequential tiers of assistance, starting with staff-led calls only and then selecting some communities for more in-depth, contractor-supported assistance. This will allow EPA to work with more communities and to do so in a way that is more responsive to local needs.

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Will workshops be held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Building Blocks workshops are currently being held virtually due to the pandemic, and we expect to continue doing so in this next round.

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How long are the Next Steps Memos, and what is in them?

Next Step Memos are typically 25 to 30 pages long. They contain a narrative section detailing information about the community, what challenges or opportunities led it to apply, and a detailed overview of what happened at the workshop; the detailed action plan that the community developed during the process; and appendices listing additional resources, attendees, and other relevant information.

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When are applications due?

Applications are accepted only for open solicitations and are due on the specific date noted by EPA.

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How do I submit an application?

Please follow the instructions on how to submit an application in the Request for Letters of Interest. Typically, the application is a two-page write-up detailing how the assistance will help the community. If you have questions, contact Chip Gurkin (

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What does EPA look for in letters of interest?

The Request for Letters of Interest will describe the evaluation criteria in detail. Briefly:

  • The applicant must be eligible as described above.
  • The community understands and supports the principles of smart growth.
  • The applicant must select one tool and explain why assistance with that tool will lead to measurable change based on the issue identified. Applicants should be able to articulate a specific challenge that the tool will help address.
  • The community must be able to demonstrate how it anticipates using the results from the EPA-led team to implement changes locally.
  • Elected officials, such as mayors, county commissioners, and city council members, must support this project and be committed to its success.

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Can I request assistance for more than one tool?

When multiple tools are offered, applicants may request assistance for multiple tools; however, each request must be submitted as a separate letter of interest (that is, one tool per letter). It is advisable to focus on one or two tools and make the best case for why this assistance will have an impact in the community.

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