State of the Reengagement Network in 2014 and Beyond

Opening the 2014 Reengagement Plus convening in Portland, Oregon last week, I observed that the Reengagement Network deserves a moment of quiet celebration. Quiet because of recent tragic events in several communities directly affecting youth; celebratory because collectively, we have had a tremendous impact this year.

Diploma - blogCredit: Getty Images

In my opening remarks, I outlined how NLC’s Reengagement Network has grown in size and scope since its inception, identified key opportunities for the Network in 2015 and proposed priorities to deepen and broaden our impact. Here are a few highlights:

NLC’s Andrew O. Moore delivers the opening remarks at the 2014 Reengagement Plus conveningin Portland, Oregon.

NLC’s Andrew O. Moore delivers the opening remarks at the 2014 Reengagement Plus convening in Portland, Oregon.

  • Over 250 people from 38 cities in 22 states attended the 2014 Reengagement Plus convening. It doubled in size from last year!
  • This year’s reengagement census showed nearly 24,000 young people making initial contact with reengagement programs in the network, 11,500 students placed and 70 percent of those placed in programs completing or persisting for the full school year.
  • The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act now includes a requirement to spend 75 percent of youth training funds on out-of-school youth, and for the first time names reengagement as an allowable activity.
  • Next steps include adopting and pursuing a goal of spreading reengagement programs to every city and town in the nation – particularly pushing reengagement ahead in the Southwest and Southeast, where activity is currently limited. Supporting and strengthening statewide reengagement networks, such as those forming in Washington and Massachusetts is also a priority.

Read the Opening Remarks in their entirety…

Andrew Moore
About the Author:
Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families.  Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore. Learn more about 2014 Reengagement Plus on Twitter by searching the hashtag #ReengagePDX14.

Supreme Court Rules No Pay for Passing Through Security Screenings

The Supreme Court has ruled that their employers are not required to compensate them.

Jesse Busk and Laurie Castro worked at warehouses filling orders. Their employer, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc., required its hourly workers to undergo a security screening before leaving the warehouse each day. Busk and Castro claimed that they were entitled to compensation for this time, and subsequently took their argument to court.

In the case of Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not require hourly employees to be paid for the time they spend undergoing security screenings. The ruling has significant impact on employers as well as employees working in courthouses, correctional institutions and other environments where security screenings are prevalent.

Under the FLSA, employers only have to pay “non-exempt” employees for preliminary and postliminary activities that are “integral and indispensable” to a principal activity. According to the Court, an activity is “integral and indispensable” to a principal activity “if it is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.” The Court concluded that security screenings were not intrinsic to retrieving and packing products, and that Integrity Staffing Solutions could have eliminated the screenings altogether without impairing employees’ ability to complete their work.

The SLLC’s amicus brief made similar arguments to those the Court adopted. This case is a significant victory for local governments who will now not be faced with higher payroll costs for employee security screenings or a mandate to reduce screenings to a de minimis amount.

James Ho, Ashley Johnson and Andrew LeGrand, of the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Dallas, TX, wrote the SLLC’s brief, which was joined by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the Government Finance Officers Association, the National Public Employer Labor Relations Association and the International Public Management Association for Human Resources.

First (Only?) Environmental Case of the Supreme Court’s Term is a Big One

This coal-fueled power plant

This coal-fired power plant is excited to receive its 15 minutes of fame when the Supreme Court rules on a complex environmental case later this term.

The consolidated cases of Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, Utility Air Regulatory Group v. Environmental Protection Agency and National Mining Association v. Environmental Protection Agency challenge a 2012 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation intended to limit mercury and other emissions from mostly coal-fired power plants.

Before regulating emissions from electric utilities, the Clean Air Act (CAA) requires the EPA Administrator to find that regulation is “appropriate and necessary” based on a public health hazards study. The simple legal question in this complicated case is whether the EPA unreasonably refused to consider costs in making its determination that regulation was “appropriate.”

In 1990 Congress required the EPA to identify stationary sources for 189 hazardous air pollutants and adopt maximum achievable control technology standards (MACT) for limiting their emissions. But the CAA regulates emissions from electric utilities differently than from other stationary sources. Before the EPA may regulate electric utilities under the MACT program, it must perform a health hazards study and determine whether regulation of them is appropriate and necessary.

In 2000, the EPA determined it would regulate mercury and other emissions from electric utilities, but it reversed course in 2005. Then in 2012, the agency issued the final rule challenged in this case which concluded that regulating electric utilities was appropriate and necessary. The EPA “rejected the 2005 interpretation that authorizes the Agency to consider other factors (e.g., cost).”

The D.C. Circuit agreed with the EPA that it was not required to consider costs. “Appropriate” isn’t defined in the relevant section of the CAA and dictionary definitions of the term don’t mention costs.  Throughout the CAA “Congress mentioned costs explicitly where it intended the EPA to consider them.”

A dissenting judge pointed that the cost of regulation in this case is nearly $10 billion dollars annually and opined that the cost of complying will “likely knock a bunch of coal-fired electric utilities out of business and require enormous expenditures by other coal- and oil-fired electric utilities.”

States are involved in this case on both sides. During its last term, the Supreme Court ruled on two significant Clean Air Act cases: EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, involving the CAA’s Good Neighbor Provision, and Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, involving greenhouse gases and stationary sources.

Why the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act Matters to Cities

NLC’s new guide for city-led juvenile justice reform outlines steps that cities can take ahead of three key proposed changes in the recently introduced federal juvenile justice bill.

JJR_Zora Murff - blogCredit: Zora Murff

Last week, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) introduced the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2014. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) provides state and local government agencies with federal standards and supports for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention.

Of high interest to cities are three key changes to the way state and local governments address and treat young people. The proposed bill would:

  • Remove a loop-hole that allows juvenile courts to detain youth for non-criminal acts;
  • Give local and state governments more guidance on understanding and reducing racial and ethnic disparities; and
  • Require several evidence-based steps to reduce the harm the juvenile justice system does to many young people.

NLC’s new municipal action guide, Increasing Public Safety and Improving Outcomes for Youth through Juvenile Justice Reform, documents steps cities can take ahead of these proposed changes to the law.

Repeating the Same Mistake Doesn’t Equal Lockup
Parents know that kids and teens usually need to be told something more than once in order to get them to change their behavior. “If I have to tell you one more time…” One proposed change to the JJDPA would ask courts to give youth under court supervision for non-criminal acts the same chances.

The Vera Institute of Justice's Status Offense Reform Center reveals the significant number of youth who are detained in status offense cases, which would violate the new law if approved.

Infographic from the Vera Institute of Justice’s Status Offense Reform Center shows the significant number of youth detained in status offense cases, which would violate the new law if approved.

If approved, the JJDPA would require juvenile systems to phase out the use of incarceration for repeated non-criminal status offenses, such as running away, ‘incorrigibility’ and skipping school. This would keep about 8,800 youth annually who are currently detained for repeating the same mistake out of detention and in their homes, schools and communities. This change will not affect young people under the court’s supervision who are charged with actual crimes.

Ample evidence that shows incarcerating youth increases the risk they will drop out of school, have trouble finding a job and be incarcerated as adults. Based on this evidence, the current JJDPA already prohibits juvenile agencies from putting youth charged with status offenses in detention. Instead, courts put those youth under supervision in the community and, typically, place requirements on them. For example, the court will order a truant youth to attend school every day.

Making the same mistake again then violates that court order– something for which the current JJDPA allows detention. The proposed change would require juvenile courts and agencies to hold youth accountable for these violations without detaining them.

Often, what works best to hold youth accountable and change their behavior will be something in the young person’s neighborhood and community. Cities that have a robust continuum of community-based services, much like the services outlined in the guide, will see better outcomes for these 8,800 or more youth.

Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities
Evidence shows that racial and ethnic disparities have persisted in the state and local agencies responsible for juvenile justice, including in arrests by local law enforcement agencies. The proposed JJDPA requires juvenile justice systems to use data-driven policies and programs to ensure fairness in their decisions about youth. It also asks States to establish measurable goals for reducing disparities across the system and to share their goals and progress with the public. In our guide, we share Tucson, Ariz.’s data-driven response to racial disparities in their arrests of youth, which trains patrol officers to use an objective, decision-making tool at the point of arrest.

Do No (or Less) Harm
Judges and other juvenile justice professionals haven’t adopted the Hippocratic Oath of our medical colleagues, but perhaps we should. Based on evidence of significant harm to and subsequent negative outcomes for youth in incarceration, the revised JJDPA would take several steps to reduce the severity and risks of incarceration to young people.

The bill protects youth from being incarcerated with adults while awaiting trial and encourages states to use effective behavior modification techniques in juvenile facilities as an alternative to isolation and physical restraint practices. The bill also promotes accountability of state juvenile justice agencies by requiring more public reporting. Important to cities, it also reauthorizes the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant, which states may distribute to localities to support juvenile justice programs.

the Author: Laura E. Furr is the Senior Associate for Juvenile Justice Reform in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @Laura_Furr.

The Kids are Alright: The Need for City-Led Juvenile Justice Reform

A new resource is available for city leaders committed to increasing public safety and improving youth outcomes through juvenile justice reform. NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) also recently announced the selection of six cities to receive technical assistance for juvenile justice reform projects.

Infographic: Inside the Juvenile Justice SystemNLC’s new Municipal Action Guide (MAG), Increasing Public Safety and Improving Outcomes for Youth through Juvenile Justice Reform, documents the results of a year-long survey of opportunities and examples for city-led juvenile justice reform. Cities can increase public safety and improve outcomes for youth by implementing strategies that hold them accountable for their actions in more effective, equitable and developmentally appropriate ways. The guide also emphasizes that youth need individualized responses at every point in their involvement with the juvenile justice system.

Progress must include breaking down collaboration barriers among agencies and service providers that touch young people. Strong partnerships with county and state agencies can also enable city leaders to foster community-based alternatives to arrest and prosecution, reduce racial and ethnic disparities at the point of arrest and reconnect youth leaving the system with supportive community resources.

The MAG recommends several early steps in local juvenile justice reform, including:

  • Identify first steps to reforms based on existing activities.
  • Implement training to change the nature of law enforcement interactions with youth.
  • Utilize objective decision-making tools at arrest.
  • Create mechanisms for referring youth to community-based alternatives to arrest and prosecution.
  • Implement a continuum of high-quality community-based services.
  • Open community-based services to youth re-entering the community.Create agreements to support local goals and facilitate information sharing.

The MAG also highlights several local examples, including innovative programs and policies in Tucson, Ariz., Gainesville, Fla., Minneapolis, Minn., and Baltimore, Md.

Six Cities to Receive Technical Assistance
Using this new resource as a foundation, the YEF Institute also launched a new technical assistance initiative. NLC selected these cities to join the initiative:

  • Gresham, Ore.
  • Las Vegas, Nev.
  • Little Rock, Ark.
  • Minneapolis, Minn.
  • New Orleans, La.
  • Philadelphia, Pa.

The technical assistance will include a Mayor’s Institute for Children and Families focused on juvenile justice reform. The YEF Institute has led Mayor’s Institutes to successfully engage multiple mayors as champions and leaders on a wide range of issues. Immediately following the Mayor’s Institute, city teams will draft action plans at a cross-site meeting. YEF Institute staff will support cities to implement these action plans during the ensuing months through site visits and regular cross-city opportunities for learning and collaboration.

City Leaders Recognized As Key Allies in National Juvenile Justice Reform Movement
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative recognizes that local leaders play a key role in juvenile justice reform, and supports NLC’s work in this area. Models for Change also brings local leaders to its annual conference, which is taking place December 15-16 this year. The conference provides key opportunities for local leaders to engage with juvenile justice experts and better understand how to become involved in local reform efforts.

This year’s conference will welcome several city leaders to Washington, D.C. A workshop featuring Councilmember Ricki Barlow from Las Vegas, Nev. and Gainesville, Fla. Chief of Police Tony Jones will provide concrete examples of local reforms and recommendations to juvenile justice practitioners on engaging local leaders early and consistently in juvenile justice reform.

the Author: Laura Furr, Senior Associate for Juvenile Justice Reform in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @Laura_Furr. For more information about the Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform initiative, email Laura at

The Who, What and Why of Google Fiber

Having your city selected for deployment of Google Fiber has many of the same subsequent effects as the development of a municipally owned network.

Google-Fiber-2By UCFFool (Mario at Google Fiber – Kansas City, MO), via Wikimedia Commons

Google has built itself securely into our everyday lives. Between Google mail, Google chat and Google maps, few of us get through the day without relying on one of this gargantuan company’s products or programs. Most people probably default to the company’s website when they are searching for anything on the internet. In fact, the word Google is nearly ubiquitous with the web.

However, tucked into the Google empire’s large portfolio is one of its more discreet and misunderstood programs: Google Fiber. What is it? How does it differ from or compliment a municipal broadband network? Most importantly, why is Google doing this? As part of our Muni Broadband blog series, we will unpack the role of Google Fiber in the broadband game and explore the ways that it supports cities in their efforts to expand internet access.

Google Fiber provides broadband internet service to a small (yet increasing) number of cities throughout the United States. The initial locality for the service was chosen through a competition, in which cities and towns submitted applications and initiated various sorts of campaigns to garner support.

On March 30, 2011, Google announced Kansas City, Kan. as the first recipient of the fiber to the premises service. Subsequently the service was expanded to Kansas, City, Mo., and in 2013 several suburban communities in the Kansas City area were announced, along with Austin, Texas and Provo, Utah.  In February 2014, Google announced 34 additional prospective cities which they invited to be a part of a collaborative process to explore deployment options.

Google offers households and businesses three tiers of service: 1) Free broadband internet service with 5 Mb/s download speed[1] and 1 Mb/s upload speed; 2) 1 Gb/s (upload and download speed) broadband internet service for approximately $70.00 per month; and 3) 1Gb/s broadband internet service with television service for approximately $120.00 per month.

Having your city selected for deployment of Google Fiber has many of the same subsequent effects as the development of a municipally owned network. It ensures that people have access to quality, high speed internet that is affordable, and it spurs economic development. Kansas City saw a surge of start-ups and entrepreneurs following the deployment of the service, including Homes for Hackers, an incubator that hosts and supports entrepreneurs with Fiber connections so that they can develop their new business ideas. That’s why cities are so eager to compete for the chance to get it. Google pays for the infrastructure investment, and the community reaps all of the glorious benefits of municipally owned broadband without the payout and management responsibility.

Google’s choice to host their services in particular cities hinges on several variables. Some cities have existing infrastructure-pipes and fibers already in the ground that make them attractive prospects. Geography always plays into the cost-benefit analysis of prospective infrastructure projects. Another concern is whether right-of-way and other administrative negotiations will go smoothly.

Because the types of agreements and negotiations necessary for Google Fiber projects to run smoothly become increasingly complex in large cities, some have argued that there is less likelihood that we will see Google Fiber deploy in cities like Chicago or New York. Some cities, like Washington, D.C., have non-compete agreements with large telecom companies that keep away Google Fiber as well as the possibility of opening up existing high-speed fiber to residents.

While it’s a shame to think about the fact that some communities might have a better chance at securing these services than others, the ultimate remaining question is not where but why. Why is Google, a multi-billion dollar corporation, investing in pricey broadband infrastructure on which they will see virtually no return? In the organization’s vast portfolio, Google Fiber is one of the smaller projects. However, Google’s announcements of new service locations are impactful, especially with communications service providers (CSPs) who are already selling internet and television service in these areas.

AT&T, for instance, has committed to comparable, high speed service in several of the prospective Fiber locations announced by Google, and some speculate that this might just be the tech giant’s plan. By deploying high speed, low cost broadband service in communities across the nation, Google is both raising the bar for existing service and injecting more competition into the market.

Despite the enthusiasm surrounding these deployments, they tend to move very slowly, mostly because this is new territory for both Google and its host cities. Kansas City saw departures from the originally promised deployment timeline, and Austin promoted the service for over a year before residents were able to begin signing up.

Additionally, new roll outs of service have forced Google to squarely face the reality of the digital divide. In Kansas City, Google found that only the more affluent neighborhoods were signing up for the service, and that there were large swaths of the city without internet access. To address this disparity, Google hired a field team to promote the new service to low subscribing communities and initiated several programs and grant funding opportunities around digital literacy. With new opportunities come new challenges, and Google has worked with cities to overcome some of the initial hurdles.

In a way, Google Fiber has the same impact on the broadband game in communities as the build out of municipal broadband networks. It offers better, more affordable service, deflects the power of telecom monopolies and duopolies, and promotes economic development. It is no wonder that cities across the country are begging for the service. The difference is the seemingly philanthropic position of the service provider, Google. Perhaps Fiber is meant to catalyze improved internet services in the market, or perhaps Google is trying to dominate the connectivity market. Either way, cities win.

ND headshotAbout the Author: Nicole DuPuis is the Senior Associate for Infrastructure in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicolemdupuis.



[1] Free for up to 10 years per address.

The Evolution of Economic Gardening and What it Means for Big Business

This post originally appeared in the November edition of Site Selection magazine.

Cleveland-OhioThe City of Cleveland, Ohio, has made cultivation of second-stage companies a central cog in its anchor strategy, in part through development of post-incubator space. (Getty Images)

Economic gardening is an economic development approach that targets second stage businesses – small, local businesses with the potential and desire to grow.  This “grow from within” development strategy started in Littleton, Colo., in 1989 after the relocation of a major employer devastated the local economy. Precisely because of this harsh history, economic gardening became associated with small businesses, specifically eschewing economic recruitment or a focus on larger employers.

According to Chris Gibbons, director of business/industry affairs for the City of Littleton and co-creator of economic gardening, “The relocation of manufacturing plants offshore and the general decline of economic health in parts of the country have reduced the effectiveness of traditional economic ‘hunting.’ ” For these reasons, economic gardening in its purest form has been adopted in many smaller, more rural and harder-hit areas of the country.

Out of those start-up seedlings has come a harvest of second-stage businesses – companies that have moved past the start-up phase of development but are not yet fully mature. They have a proven product and a market for their goods or services often reaching beyond the local area, bringing dollars into the community, and generating a substantial economic impact.

As the outsized impact of second-stage businesses became more apparent, as cities came to realize that typical small business programs didn’t meet the needs of these unique businesses, and with a desire to strengthen the broader business ecosystem, cities across the country have therefore adapted economic gardening to their local circumstances. What has evolved is a second-stage strategy that leverages larger employers in meaningful ways to accelerate smaller businesses.

Where to Connect?

According to the Edward Lowe Foundation, between 1995 and 2012, second-stage companies represented 11.6 percent of establishments, but 33.9 percent of jobs. Employee numbers and revenue ranges vary by industry, but the population of firms with 10 to 100 employees and/or $750,000 to $50 million in receipts includes the vast majority of second-stage companies.

“Second-stagers now face more strategic issues as they strive to gain a stronger foothold in the market and win more customers,” says the foundation. “Second-stagers wrestle with refining core strategy, adapting to industry changes, expanding their markets, building a management team and embracing new leadership roles.”

4 quadrants (2)According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, economic gardening addresses these unique needs by providing infrastructure, connectivity and market intelligence.

In Kansas City, Mo., KCSourceLink connects small businesses to a network of more than 200 nonprofit resource organizations in the region that provide business-building services.

“In the 11 years we’ve been working in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, we’ve determined that second-stage companies are a key segment, creating jobs and stability in the community,” says Maria Meyers, director of the UMKC Innovation Center and KCSourceLink founder. “Resource partner organizations in the network – such as the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program, the Small Business and Technology Development Center and the World Trade Center – provide second-stage companies with critical connections to larger corporations, mentoring and market opportunities.”

From Vacant to Vibrant

A key trait of second-stage companies is their readiness to grow, both physically and with new market reach. Acceleration of growth firms has actually become an attraction strategy for some suburban communities located outside of larger innovation hubs such as Boston, Austin, Cleveland and Kansas City.

These communities may not have a high density of traditional start-up supports, but can offer value-add to companies seeking to expand, such as affordable wet-lab space.

In turn, some innovation hubs are focusing not only on the growth of start-up and second-stage companies, but on retaining them as well. In order to do that, these cities need to provide both the physical space and the market opportunities for them to continue to grow from within -and this where the opportunities lie to engage larger businesses.

The City of Cleveland’s rallying point for second-stage companies is actually its anchor strategy, an economic development approach that leverages the economic power of major employers such as hospitals and universities to build wealth in neighborhoods and grow other industries and businesses.

In Cleveland, anchor institutions were incubating some great start-ups, but as they reached second stage, they left for the suburbs, or were purchased and moved to other locations. In an effort to further capture value from their anchor strategy, the City of Cleveland partnered with local developer Fred Geis to create space for second-stage companies. This “post incubator space” came with all the amenities these growth companies seek, as well as incentives from the city and continued engagement with hospitals and universities.

“The three buildings in the Midtown Tech Center have allowed us to capitalize on our Anchor Strategy, attracting companies like Cleveland Heart Lab that have grown from 15 jobs when they exited the incubator to over 115 high-paying technical jobs now,” says Tracey Nichols, director of economic development for the City of Cleveland. “These former vacant properties have brought 389 jobs to the area since 2012.”

Although economic gardening arose as the antithesis to larger employers, the approach as a solo strategy disconnected from retention/attraction efforts is rare. More often, as in Cleveland, economic gardening has evolved as an integral part of a broader economic development portfolio, leading to a more strengthened and supportive business ecosystem.

christy-mcfarlandAbout the Author: Christiana K. McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.

Regional Forums Begin as HUD and NLC sign Memorandum of Understanding

The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness presents a rare opportunity for local officials to lead the way across the finish line on a community issue once thought intractable.

HUD-Meeting-PhillyA regional forum in Philadelphia supporting the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. (Photo Credit: HUD)

This week in Philadelphia, mayors, city representatives, non-profit leaders, federal and state officials gathered as part of the second regional forum supporting the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

The first forum was held two weeks ago in Austin before the start of NLC’s annual conference, the Congress of Cities and Exposition. During the conference, NLC and HUD signed a formal Memorandum of Understanding to develop more regional forums across the country.

As part of the regional forums, local elected officials are not only encouraged to join the challenge, but are provided more information about the available resources in communities and who are the local contacts. In addition, participants share with one another how they have made progress toward ending veteran homelessness.

During this week’s forum, participants heard from representatives about success in Philadelphia and Binghamton, New York. In Binghamton, Mayor Richard David and the city commission pledged their commitment to end veteran homelessness at an event on September 5, 2014.

After making his commitment, Mayor David reached out to local veterans, homelessness advocates, community leaders, service providers and state and federal officials. Collectively, the group identified veterans in need and the available resources in the community.

As of November 12, 21 veterans had been housed and that night, there were no veterans sleeping on the streets of Binghamton.

During the Austin forum, participants heard about specific actions taken by the city in Salt Lake City, New Orleans and Houston.

In Salt Lake City, officials worked with county and state leaders to ensure program administrators using CDBG resources only needed to file one report to meet federal reporting requirements rather than multiple reports for local, county and/or state CDBG dollars.

Additionally, Mayor Becker has engaged local landlords to provide apartments for veterans who have been matched with supportive services and housing resources. Similarly, in New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu worked with local realtors and property management companies to recruit landlords to join city efforts.

Houston’s Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives spoke about the importance of creating a “yes” culture. “We have learned that it is not enough to simply have a drop-in center or VASH or SSVF or even coordinated assessment; we must have a “yes” culture,” said Mandy Chapman-Semple. “We operate with the understanding that there is a housing option for every homeless veteran and that it is our duty to offer those choices and deliver.”

Another key element of the regional forums is developing an understanding of what the end of veteran homelessness looks like. While veterans will continue to experience housing instability due to economic, medical or personal circumstances, representatives from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and HUD discussed the end of veteran homelessness meaning that any episode of homelessness is brief, rare and non-recurring.

In Philadelphia, stakeholders believe they will reach this point, called “functional zero,” by fall of 2015. This achievement was first made in Phoenix and Salt Lake City among chronically homeless veterans in the last year.

As part of Congress of Cities, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, joined a panel with the President of Denver’s City Council, Chris Herndon and representatives from The Home Depot Foundation, Community Solutions and the American Legion. The panel discussed how an initial focus on ending homelessness among veterans can better position cities to improve the community for everyone.

Mayor Stanton and Councilman Herndon talked about the opportunity their communities have found to tie together supportive services related to employment, education and healthcare after veterans are stably housed.

Mayor Stanton specifically discussed how his community is now beginning to move the successes they’ve learned around chronically homeless veterans to non-chronically homeless veterans and all chronically homeless individuals and families.

Stanton-SessionPhoenix Mayor Greg Stanton speaking during a panel session at the Congress of Cities in Austin.

With a 33% decline in veteran homelessness since 2010, including a 40% decline among unsheltered homeless veterans, cities across the country are proving that homelessness can end.

In 391 days, we reach the federal goal date when we have aimed to end veteran homelessness. The Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness presents a rare opportunity for local officials to lead the way across the finish line on a community issue once thought intractable. Regional forums developed by NLC and HUD will continue to help city leaders identify specific actions they can take to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home.

For specific questions and actions you can take in your city, see Three Steps & Five Questions.

NLC and HUD are actively developing future regional forums. If you are interested in learning about or having a regional forum in or near your community, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine at

 Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Managing Municipal Risk In The Face Of Climate Change

The 2014 NLC Congress of Cities in Austin, TX was a fantastic opportunity to learn and share information related to sustainability, but not all NLC members and partners were able to attend. Through the end of the year, the Sustainable Cities Institute will highlight the tools and resources that were presented at some of the key sessions related to sustainability and resilience. More information is available through the SCI Website.

PowerPlantFlorida-EPAThe National League of Cities recognizes that local governments are on the front line in efforts to mitigate  and adapt to climate change. Nearly all available science indicates that the urgency to take action is greater than ever, and earlier this year the National Climate Assessment summarized its findings by stating that “climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”

As climate change progresses, it will alter likelihood of various extreme weather events and change the risk profiles for many local governments and their citizens. At the Congress of Cities, attendees explored the potential implications in a session on Climate Change & the Future of Municipal Risk Management (slides available here). The session was designed to explore the perspectives of private insurers and ratings agencies who are taking a long-range view of the issue.

The key takeaway from all speakers was that data and projections relating to climate impacts have become remarkably localized. We know more than ever about the climate challenges that are already facing cities and this information can be used to guide decisions on issues ranging from land use, to infrastructure development, to the kinds of insurance policies a city might carry.

The session opened with Alex Kaplan from SwissRE, who began by noting that global losses to natural catastrophes has been increasing, but the proportion of losses that are uninsured are rising more quickly than losses that are insured, creating a widening protection gap. The key finding from recent work was that climate change, if unmitigated, could result in losses totaling 20% of global GDP by the end of the century.

SwissRE Climate Losses Chart

The research conducted by SwissRE is also regional in nature. By analyzing 77 counties on the Gulf Coast, they were able to create a current risk profile for over $2.2 trillion in regional assets and project how growth and development would affect the profile moving forward. For instance, even without changes to climate, a storm of Hurricane Katrina’s strength occurring in 2030 would result in estimated damages near $200 billion as a result of greater economic development alone. Factoring in climate change, such a storm would be 2.5x more likely.

The projection sounds dire, but the same report estimates 33% of this loss can be averted through cost-effective measures. Levees around critical infrastructure such as refineries or petrochemical plants, increased roof and wall standards for new construction, or regional beach nourishment all would be expected to result in net savings over time. This type of cost-benefit analysis can greatly help local officials as they evaluate long term development proposals or updates to building or energy codes.

Sascha Peterson, affiliated with both the Institute for Sustainable Communities as well as the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, reinforced this point by noting that some communities are creating climate thresholds for less dramatic impacts. Austin, TX for example, recognizes that heat above 105 is a tipping point that can strain the electric grid and cause rolling blackouts, reduce water availability, and increase incidents of heat stroke. In other areas the specific thresholds for heat, cold, or precipitation would be different, but by understanding their thresholds and projecting number of days per year that are likely to exceed them, the community can accurately design infrastructure or budget for emergency service delivery.

Geoffrey Buswick from Standard & Poor’s added to the broader picture, explaining that climate change was one of two key macro-trends, along with global aging, that ratings agencies believe will shape access to credit throughout the economy. Although their research publications presently indicate that it is extremely unlikely that a rating would be altered in anticipation of climate impacts, he recognized that capacity to respond and recover from climate event events has already affected ratings, and that these events themselves were more likely to occur.

Following Hurricane Sandy, for instance, Long Island Power Authority was unable to serve millions of customers for days or weeks, which limited its liquidity. The downtime, coupled with the agency’s financial and political response to the storm, ultimately caused the credit outlook to be changed to negative. Conversely, the Metropolitan Transit Agency, which was completely flooded in many neighborhoods, was only down for a handful of days before a majority of service was back on line. Instead of simply restoring service, in many instances the system was upgraded to be more robust and redundant to prevent future damage, and capital controls were put in place. The agency’s successful response actually had the effect of reassuring long-term investors and will keep future borrowing costs down.

The panel concluded with an emphasis on positive trends in local adaptation as Sascha Peterson presented two trends that are enabling local governments to take action and better prepare for climate change: the understanding of extreme weather thresholds, covered above, and greater regional collaboration.

Initiatives such as the Western Adaptation Alliance or the Southeast Florida Climate Compact are enabling local government to tackle similar climate challenges. In the case of the Southeast Florida Climate Compact, 4 counties and 109 municipalities joined together to create a regional action plan with over 100 activities that have been jointly vetted and approved. Peterson noted that the collective planning and action has enabled these communities to avoid redundant engagement processes and pool resources to pursue the action items at greater scale. The climate challenges themselves tend to be regional, and it is encouraging to see governments willing to meet them with regional solutions.

Overall, the speakers summarized a broad array of the information, data, and tools that are now available to local governments, as well we innovative ways to integrate these tools into officials’ decision making process.

Headshot1-CMartinAbout the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Does the ADA Apply to Arrests?

The Supreme Court has agreed to review a Ninth Circuit decision ruling that individuals with mental illnesses must be accommodated under the ADA when being arrested.

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The Fourth Amendment applies to arrests, no question about it.  What about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?  Specifically, do individuals with mental illnesses have to be accommodated under the ADA when being arrested?  The Ninth Circuit said yes and the Supreme Court has agreed to review its decision in City & County of San Francisco v. Sheehan.

When police officers entered Teresa Sheehan’s room in a group home for persons with mental illness she threatened to kill them with a knife she held, so they retreated.  When the officers reentered her room soon after leaving it, Sheehan stepped toward them with her knife raised and continued to hold it after the officers pepper sprayed and ultimately shot her.

Title II of the ADA provides that individuals with a disability must be able to participate in the “services, programs, or activities of a public entity,” and that their disability must be reasonably accommodated.

Sheehan argued that Title II of the ADA applies to arrests and that the officers should have taken her mental illness into account when reentering her room.  Her proposed accommodations included:  respecting her comfort zone, engaging in non-threatening communications, and using the passage of time to defuse the situation

The Ninth Circuit agreed with Sheehan that Title II of the ADA applies to arrests.  The ADA applies broadly to police “services, programs, or activities,” which the Ninth Circuit interpreted to mean “anything a public entity does,” including arresting people.  The court refused to dismiss Sheehan’s ADA claim against the city reasoning that whether her proposed accommodations are reasonable is a question of fact for a jury.

The Ninth Circuit also concluded that reentry into Sheehan’s room violated the Fourth Amendment because it was unreasonable.  Although Sheehan needed help, “the officers had no reason to believe that a delay in entering her room would cause her serious harm, especially when weighed against the high likelihood that a deadly confrontation would ensue if they forced a confrontation.”

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights.  Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”

The Ninth Circuit refused to grant the officers qualified immunity related to their reentry:  “If there was no pressing need to rush in, and every reason to expect that doing so would result in Sheehan’s death or serious injury, then any reasonable officer would have known that this use of force was excessive.”  The Court also has agreed to review the Ninth Circuit’s decision on qualified immunity.

Soronen_Pic (2)About the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.