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Why Did President Obama Choose Phoenix to Talk About Housing? It Might Not Be Why You Think.

August 19, 2013

Recently, President Obama gave a speech in Phoenix, AZ about housing and homeownership. In much of his speech, the President discussed his Administration’s principals for reform of the housing finance system, as well as the on-going rebound in home prices. While the city is cited as an example of the housing boom, bust, and recovery cycle – the choice of Phoenix to deliver the speech was significant for another reason. Thanks to local leadership, collaboration, and resource coordination, Phoenix is on track to end chronic homelessness among veterans in 2014.

We’ll wade into the debate around potential reforms of the mortgage finance system at another time. But the on-going rebound in prices should not be mindlessly celebrated. While rising home values are no doubt good, the pace of the price increases is causing concern by some market observers. The heavy involvement of large investors paying cash for many homes is likely driving some of the increases. The question is, how much of the increases are being driven by all cash home purchases?

How much can local leaders influence these aspects of the housing market? Similarly, are there actions that local leaders can take to significantly impact the debate around mortgage finance reform?

This past February, NLC convened stakeholders in Phoenix to identify public leadership roles necessary to build more sustainable and resilient communities, particularly in the face of cyclical volatility in the real estate and housing markets. While local leaders can take steps to create an environment that attracts and retains individuals and families, there are limited actions local leaders can take to prevent the rise of home values based on market speculation. Furthermore, there are few things officials can do locally around reforming the mortgage finance system.

However, when dealing with veteran homelessness, local leaders can play a large role. In Phoenix, Mayor Greg Stanton has taken numerous steps that merit his recognition by the President. As documented in a recent NLC case study, the City of Phoenix has supported the efforts to end veteran homelessness with resources to fund “navigator” positions to walk homeless individuals through the confusing process of getting help and housing. These navigator positions work to ensure that homeless veterans get the help they need to obtain housing.

With a navigator assisting a homeless veteran, stakeholders can be sure that the limited numbers of housing vouchers are used for those with the most intensive needs. If a veteran needs help getting into housing, the navigator can help make sure the veteran receives rapid re-housing assistance. This targeting of resources has allowed the City of Phoenix to reduce the number of chronically homeless veterans from 222 in March 2012 to 156 in March 2013. An additional 50 housing vouchers specifically targeting homeless veterans have since been used, leaving an estimated 105 chronically homeless veterans in Phoenix.

As the City turns a corner in its efforts to reduce chronic veteran homeless, Mayor Stanton is also focusing on veteran employment with the assistance of the Military Veterans Commission, a board of local leaders in the veteran community that advises the Phoenix City Council.

The Hire, Educate, Recruit and Organize (HERO) Initiative has successfully connected local small businesses and corporate employers with veterans at strategically planned hiring events. The HERO initiative takes a targeted approach in reaching out to employers in industries in which military experience provides highly transferrable skills, such as logistics and advanced business services. The employers are pre-screened to ensure they are actively hiring, able to pay a minimum of $12/hour, and willing to interview on-site. The employers also receive educational training that highlights veterans’ assets, and demystifies common misconceptions associated with hiring veterans. Veteran participants receive pre-session interview and resume assistance to translate their military experience to a civilian audience. At the first HERO event in December 2012, 30 employers and 170 veterans attended, and 20 job offers were extended as a result of the event. This initiative began as a pilot program by the mayor’s office, and has now become a permanent fixture in the city’s economic development landscape.

President Obama rightfully drew the nation’s attention to Phoenix. As possibly the first city in the nation to end any form of homelessness, their work must be celebrated. The fact that the population which would no longer experience homelessness are veterans should be a call to action to leaders across the country.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 20, 2013 2:40 PM

    Thanks to the National League of Cities for highlighting the work that we’re doing to end chronic homelessness among Veterans in Phoenix and Maricopa County. By prioritizing access to HUD-VASH and other PSH resources for the most vulnerable, chronically homeless veterans, including those not connected to the VA, using a Housing First model, we are on track! Collaboration is key!

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