Mayors Aren’t Just Talking About Housing and Homelessness – They’re Doing Something About It
For the third straight year, mayors have identified housing as a fundamental challenge facing their communities, according to our 2016 State of the Cities report.
Recognizing the unique role that housing plays in the fabric of cities, 40 percent of mayors in our sample dedicated significant portions of their State of the City speeches to the issue.
Nearly a decade since the housing and financial crisis, one of the cruel ironies continuing to grip many cities is the lack of affordable housing – even as they continue to struggle with large numbers of foreclosed or abandoned properties.
To address both of these issues in their State of the City speeches, the mayors of Baltimore and Nashville highlighted recent efforts. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake emphasized the city’s Vacants to Value initiative that has quadrupled demolition funding to $100 million over 10 years. “It makes me proud that Vacants to Value was recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative, and honored by the Financial Times as an original idea that has made life better for people living and working in cities,” said the mayor.
In Nashville, Mayor Megan Barry touted the launch of a Metro Property Donation Process for housing development. “Nearly 60 infill lots will be available for housing development throughout Davidson County. More than half of them are in the urban core. For the first time, we’re making Metro’s own property available for affordable housing,” said Mayor Barry.
The need for affordable housing has been underscored by an increased prevalence of “tent cities” in many communities. While some cities have attempted to address homeless encampments through ordinances banning sleeping or lying in public spaces, others such as Indianapolis have taken the route of proactively outlining how they will handle them.
In Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg has recognized that a part of the city’s solution involves improving access to existing housing stock owned or managed by private landlords. The mayor partnered with NLC to recruit landlords to house homeless veterans, and in his State of the City address he said his goal was to bring the area’s encampments to “a humane but clear and final end in the near future.”
Recognizing the need to take action on homelessness in a strategic manner, 883 local leaders across 45 states and the District of Columbia have joined the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. As a result of the increased focus, veteran homelessness has fallen 47 percent nationwide since 2010. Most notably, for the first time in history, federal partners have defined what it means to effectively end veteran homelessness and certified that 29 communities and two states have achieved those benchmarks. Last Friday, Austin was announced as the most recent city.
Like Mayor Tecklenburg, Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler has also been actively involved in the recruitment of private landlords. Acknowledging the need to stop gentrification or forced displacement, he used his annual State of the City address to stress the need to develop housing “in a way that will actually achieve opportunities for permanent affordability.”
Our 2016 State of the Cities report found mayors acknowledging the unique needs facing veterans as a whole. When analyzing specific demographics mentioned in speeches, 20 percent discussed veterans. Notably, seniors emerged as another frequently mentioned special needs population. This should not be surprising, since we are now five years in to the “silver tsunami” in which 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 years old every day.
Given the central role that affordable housing plays in the health and vitality of a city, it is easy to see why the topic is a consistent feature in mayoral addresses. However, given the depth of the affordable housing crisis in all communities, mayors are taking innovative and strategic approaches to address the issue by focusing on key demographics. As recovery from the Great Recession continues, the cautious optimism expressed by mayors in all regions of the country is well grounded.
This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about public safety.
About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.