Smart Growth

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

On this page

What is the difference between EPA-led Building Blocks assistance and grantee-led Building Blocks assistance?

The type of community engagement and method of delivery are similar for both types of assistance. The key differences are:

  • Who is in the lead: EPA-led Building Blocks assistance is offered and directed by EPA, while grantee-led assistance is offered independently by nonprofit organizations that received a grant from EPA to support technical assistance programs.
  • The tools offered: The kinds of assistance vary depending on the organization providing the assistance.
  • When and how to apply: The application process, selection criteria, and when applications are accepted vary depending on whether the assistance is offered by EPA or by one of the nonprofit organizations.
  • The experts: The team of experts varies depending on which organization provides the assistance.

Top of Page

When are applications due?

Applications are accepted only for open solicitations and are due on the specific date noted by EPA or the EPA grantee. Application processes and deadlines vary depending on which organization provides the assistance.

Top of Page

Who can apply for Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities?

For direct assistance from EPA, 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, or other official 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.

To learn about eligibility requirements for grantee-led assistance, please contact those organizations directly.

Top of Page

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 one- or two-day visit from a team of national experts in disciplines that match the community's needs.

Assistance from the grantees is provided under an EPA grant to each of those organizations; they in turn provide services directly to selected communities.

Top of Page

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.

Top of Page

Can I request assistance for more than one tool?

For EPA-led assistance, an applicant can 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.

For grantee-led assistance, each organization has its own requirements for tool requests; please contact those organizations directly for additional information.

Top of Page

How do I submit an application?

For direct assistance from EPA, please follow the instructions on how to submit an application in the Request for Letters of Interest. If you have questions, contact Chip Gurkin (

For grantee-led assistance, please contact those organizations directly.

Top of Page

Can I apply for EPA-led assistance and for grantee-led assistance?

Yes, communities can apply for both EPA-led assistance and grantee-led assistance. In some cases, EPA and a grantee offer similar tools or the same tool. In these cases, a community can apply for assistance for both of these tools for the same project idea.

Top of Page

What is the size consideration for "small town/rural"?

For EPA-led assistance, "small town/rural" is a community with a population of 20,000 or less.

Top of Page

How long are the next-steps memos?

Next-step memos prepared by EPA are usually 5 to 10 pages long.

The length of next-steps memos developed through grantee-led assistance varies depending on the organization and the type of assistance provided. Some of the organizations provide copies of their next-steps memos on their websites.

Top of Page

Where can I find more information?

For more information about EPA's program, see the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities webpage or contact Chip Gurkin (

Please see the Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities Assistance from Grantees webpage for more information about the grantees' programs and the communities they have helped.

Top of Page