Momentum Building as White House Celebrates Progress on Veteran Homelessness

Participants of the 100,000 Homes Campaign hear from Dr. Jill Biden during White House event this week.

Participants of the 100,000 Homes Campaign hear from Dr. Jill Biden during White House event this week.

Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference about the growing number of elected officials who have joined the Mayors Challenge to End Homelessness.

“The fact that right now our country has more than 58,000 homeless veterans is a stain on the soul of this nation,” Mrs. Obama said. “It is more important than ever that we redouble our efforts and embrace the most effective strategies to end homelessness among veterans.”

Launched at the White House last month, the Mayors Challenge now includes more than 180 local leaders, as well as support from four Governors.

Earlier in the week, the White House hosted local leaders from across the country to celebrate the success of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. A message from Dr. Jill Biden congratulated communities for housing more than 105,000 of the nation’s most vulnerable homeless, including more than 31,000 veterans.

The events come as cities participating in the Department of Veteran Affairs’ 25 Cities Initiative make significant progress in improving the community systems serving homeless veterans.

Launched in March, the initiative is building on the successes and lessons of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. With technical assistance, cities are developing locally tailored systems to help identify the homeless, prioritize them for service, and place them in available housing that can support them based on their individual needs. In Washington, D.C., community stakeholders have already housed more than 200 individuals using their new system.

In addition to developing these systems, some other lessons of the initiative include:

  • San Francisco: The city is dedicating housing resources for veterans not eligible for VA services. In addition, the city is prioritizing veterans within the Public Housing Authority’s plan.
  • Boston: In announcing his participation in the Mayors Challenge and NLC’s Leadership Network, Mayor Walsh launched www.homesforthebrave.boston.gov, a city hosted website where employers can offer jobs and landlords can offer units for homeless veterans.
  • Seattle: The city’s team has begun looking at how to work with surrounding jurisdictions to identify needed housing due to the high cost of rentals.
  • Baltimore: Obtained a $60,000 commitment from the city to use resources raised from the community to pay for move-in expenses, utility arrears, and other costs needed to place the homeless into new homes.
  • Detroit: The community is using staff from the Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness (PATH) program to guide homeless individuals through the complex process of finding a home and the services they will need to keep it. These staff members are a part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

To help other communities learn about what is happening across the country to end veteran homelessness, NLC hosted a webinar with officials from San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Community Solutions, and The Home Depot Foundation. The webinar outlined four steps and five questions that local leaders can take to end veteran homelessness in their city.

All of these efforts are creating the change needed to end veteran homelessness by the federal goal of 2015, and end chronic homelessness in 2016. Communities are showing that ending veteran homelessness is no longer a dream, but a reality, one city at a time. To support cities, Community Solutions has launched Zero: 2016. Unlike previous efforts, cities must apply to be a part of this effort and have the commitment of key leaders.

To learn more about Zero: 2016 and have your city apply, go to www.zero2016.org.

For more information on NLC’s work visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing.

 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.

How Do You House 101,628 People?

One at a time.

100K-Homes

(From left to right) Fred Wacker, COO of The Home Depot Foundation; Becky Kanis, Campaign Director, 100,000 Homes Campaign; Alvin Hill, recently housed U.S. Army Veteran

Alvin Hill, an Army and National Guard veteran, now has a safe place to call home after being homeless for nearly 20 years. Alvin is one of 31,171 veterans out of the 101,628 people housed by communities participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign.

In less than four years, 238 communities across the country have implemented data-driven strategies such as Housing First, rapid re-housing, progressive engagement, client prioritization and coordinated assessment to bring community members without a home out of the shadows and into stable living conditions.

Previous posts on this blog have documented the successes of cities such as Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Nashville. These communities and others have brought together local leaders with non-profit service providers, federal and state agencies, faith-based communities, educational institutions, philanthropies and the private sector to ensure unprecedented levels of support for homeless veterans.

Together with federal agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development resources such as HUD-VASH and Supportive Services for Veteran Families, the 100,000 Homes Campaign has helped lead efforts that have resulted in a 24% decline in veteran homelessness since 2010.

Philanthropies and corporate partners such as The Home Depot Foundation and JP Morgan Chase have complemented these federal resources with unwavering support.

“This campaign has shown that we can end homelessness,” said Jennifer Ho, Senior Advisor at HUD. “We sometimes hear that ‘some people want to live on the street.’ We choose to believe that when we can’t act. This campaign has shown that we can act and we can succeed.”

Alvin was brought home when his caseworker at ASPAN in Arlington, Virginia acted. “She told me it would be alright and in one month she was showing me apartments where I could live,” he said. “I’m not nervous about speaking to you all today, because I know when to be nervous. I was nervous when I had to sleep at the airport, on the street, in the park, or in the laundry mat. Today, I have a counselor, a place to wash my clothes. Homelessness can end with you.”

As the federal goal of ending veteran homeless in 2015 nears, the success of the 100,000 Homes Campaign must be expanded. Last week, the First Lady announced the Mayors Challenge to actively engage elected officials. NLC is supporting this effort with the Homeless Veteran Leadership Network led by NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, NLC 1st Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor of Salt Lake City, and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. This week, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced his support.

Over the last three decades, our country has seen the growth and perpetuation of homelessness. It has become such a prevalent part of urban living that most believe the issue is too complex to ever solve. For years, even homeless advocates have been operating to manage the issue rather than solve it, with the consistent refrain being that there are not enough resources.

Today all of that is false.

Data-driven strategies have been tested and proven. Historic levels of resources are now in the hands of service providers.

Cities have shown homelessness can end. What is left is our choice to act.

 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.

NLC at 90: Supporting Our Nation’s Veterans

NLC is celebrating 90 years of making cities better place to live. Read the anniversary kick-off letter from NLC President Chris Coleman, mayor of Saint Paul, Minn.

NLC supported veteran education opportunities following the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

As NLC celebrates its 90th anniversary, we again join the nation in pausing this Memorial Day weekend to reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

Today, as in the past, cities face the reality of thousands of veterans returning home from the battlefield. With their unique skills and experiences, veterans are assets to our communities.

To support veterans and their families, NLC works with local leaders to ensure our veterans successfully reintegrate into communities after their time in the military has ended.

In the wake of the Vietnam War, NLC partnered with the Office of Economic Opportunity to establish the Veterans’ Education and Training Services (VETS) program. The program worked with veteran “peer counselors” in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Providence, Seattle and Wichita.

Peer counselors worked with veterans to help them connect to education and training programs, employment counseling, housing and other services.

In the program’s first three and a half years, more than 25,000 veterans were connected to some form of assistance. An outside evaluation of the VETS program noted, “The most effective programs tended to be those with strong ties to local governmental agencies.”

Today, NLC’s work to support veterans continues. As the country’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan declines, our military is undergoing force reductions due to changing global needs. The confluence of these factors with an economy continuing to recover from the Great Recession has led to veteran unemployment rates that have been above the national average, particularly for veterans who have served after September 11th.

These challenges are one element that can explain why young veterans and their families are already being seen among the ranks of our nation’s homeless.

To help end this national tragedy by the federal goal of 2015, NLC has partnered with The Home Depot Foundation. By supporting cities, sharing best practices and engaging with local efforts, The Home Depot Foundation, NLC and cities have been a part of a 24 percent decline in veteran homelessness since 2010.

This progress is due to a focused effort by the President and agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. While these federal agencies have provided resources and technical support to communities, it has been the collaborative work driven by city leaders that has powered this change.

From San Diego to Salt Lake City, Phoenix to St. Paul, New Orleans to Washington, D.C., cities are at the center of efforts that are uniting all levels of government with the non-profit community, faith communities, the business sector and philanthropies.

Cities will always be hubs of economic activity and services. Ensuring veterans receive the dignity of a safe place to call home and the opportunity to continue serving their community has been a hallmark of NLC’s first 90 years.

Moving forward, NLC and our members will continue our presence on the front lines to honor our veterans and their families.

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.

60 Minutes Profiles Nashville, while Dallas Convenes Landlords to Bring Veterans Home

Last night on 60 Minutes, the 100,000 Homes Campaign was profiled for their work with cities and other stakeholders across the country to change how we address homelessness. While Nashville was highlighted in the segment, other communities, such as Dallas, are also taking bold steps to bring together the necessary partners to ensure veterans and the chronically homeless have a place to call home.

In Nashville, the city provides the staff and capacity support for the How’s Nashville campaign. The campaign has brought the city together with the area housing authority, private landlords, the VA, and other service providers to prioritize people for housing based on how likely they are to die on the street. To accomplish this goal, housing units are paired with homeless individuals using resources such as Housing Choice Vouchers and HUD-VASH vouchers. The commitment of vouchers has been paired with philanthropic contributions of reduced rent apartments by private landlords. The need for partnerships with private landlords has been recognized as a key to success among stakeholders in Dallas as well.

Recently in Dallas, Assistant City Manager Theresa O’Donnell joined representatives from the Mission Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Team, including officials from the Dallas Housing Authority and the regional VA and HUD offices for a landlord forum. Dozens of landlords attended the event to learn more about community efforts to end veteran homelessness and the need for landlords who are willing to accept veteran-specific (HUD-VASH) housing vouchers.

Assistant City Manager O’Donnell speaks with landlords and property managers at a forum about efforts to bring veterans home.

In April 2013, stakeholders from across the Dallas community came together at a homeless veteran boot-camp facilitated by the 100,000 Homes Campaign. During the 100 days following the boot camp, the team housed 130 homeless veterans. Since the boot-camp, a total of 515 veterans have been housed, with 62 percent being chronically homeless. This progress built upon a 25.9 percent drop in the number of homeless veterans in Dallas between 2011 and 2012. The 2013 Point-in-Time Count showed only 303 homeless veterans. With the 2014 Point-in-Time count recently conducted, the community will soon have more recent data to direct their efforts.

During the initial 100 days, team members worked with NLC and recognized that an obstacle to continued progress was a lack of landlords willing to accept HUD-VASH vouchers. To overcome this obstacle, NLC helped initiate discussions between the city and the team. With the support of team members and the city, NLC drafted a letter, which was signed by Mayor Mike Rawlings and sent to landlords and property managers already working with the city through other housing programs.

To further draw attention to the work and success of the team, Mayor Rawlings also recorded a public service announcement congratulating the team. The mayor used the PSA to urge the public to support the team’s efforts with donations to help with expenses not covered by programs serving veterans. In Nashville, these expenses have also been met by private contributions, but recently the city’s CDBG administrator also announced their commitment of up to $200,000 to help with costs such as rental deposits or utility fees.

With continued focus, both Dallas and Nashville are on pace to join Phoenix and Salt Lake City as a city that have ended chronic veteran homelessness. As each city reviewed their challenges and successes, the need for improving engagement with landlords was identified as a recurring need to help veterans and the chronically homeless find a home more quickly. Combined with an on-going use of data to drive decision-making, Dallas and Nashville are important illustrations of the success that is possible when local collaboration is joined with city leadership

Learn more here about the Mission DFW team.

To learn how you can best support efforts to end veteran homelessness in your city, contact me at harig-blaine@nlc.org.

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

What does the end of chronic veteran homelessness mean for cities?

Last month, Phoenix made the historic announcement that all of their chronically homeless veterans were off the streets. This amazing milestone is the result of collaboration between all parts of the community and the use of data to drive decisions and allocate resources. The accomplishment has sparked a national conversation about whether or not a city can end homelessness.

The success Phoenix has seen around chronically homeless veterans can serve as an example for other segments of the homeless population. As Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said while making his announcement last month, “The strategies that we’re using to end chronic homelessness among veterans are the exact same strategies that we’re going to use to end chronic homelessness among the broader population. This model – doing right by our veterans – is exactly how we’re going to do right by the larger population.”

The progress made in Phoenix does not mean that there are no more homeless in the city, or even that there are no more homeless veterans. Rather, it means that Phoenix has developed the necessary community structures or “social capital” to effectively and efficiently use resources to ensure persistently homeless veterans are no longer on the street. The development of these community structures can be built upon so that all chronically homeless veterans have a permanent home and are not simply off the street and in a shelter or transitional home.

People will always have unfortunate and tragic occurrences that push them over the edge from poverty into homelessness. However, as research has shown, it is difficult to determine why, for example, “John” becomes homeless while “Adam” does not, despite both being poor and facing similar situations.

People such as John will still need a safe place for a short period of time, like a shelter or transitional home. However, in communities with the proper coordination and the necessary resources, John will no longer become trapped in the cycle between shelter, transitional housing, and the streets. Instead, programs that can help rapidly re-house the homeless will be connected to emergency shelter locations and the service providers who administer other assistance programs. This network of collaborating housing providers can coordinate with healthcare providers, employment placement and training programs, educational opportunities, and more.

When done all at once, this process is so multi-faceted that it can become overwhelming. But what cities like Phoenix are showing is that progress can happen by initially focusing on a very specific subset of the homeless population, such as chronically homeless veterans. That progress is measurable. It saves lives and it saves money. This process has been described by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry as “the smart way to do the right thing.”

An argument can be made that poverty will always exist. But chronic street homelessness is more than just poverty. It is a combination of personal tragedy, societal failures, individual choices, and institutional shortcomings. The successes happening in Phoenix, Salt Lake, Philadelphia, Houston, Albuquerque, and other cities gives hope to the idea that chronic homelessness no longer needs to be seen as a permanent fixture of urban life.

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

Cities lead, but cannot go it alone

An extended conversation with NLC President Chris Coleman. Listen to an abbreviated podcast of this interview on NLC’s Sound Cloud account.

Coleman-Sea-CoC

As the end of the year approaches, top 100 lists, year-in-reviews and “person of the year” recognitions are beginning to make their rounds. What are the year’s biggest themes in politics, culture and entertainment? How about for cities? Despite some notable challenges in cities across the country, 2013 has been a year marked by a gradually improving economy, improving city fiscal conditions and a sense that people are “rediscovering” cities and all they have to offer.

I was pleased to recently have a conversation about these themes with NLC President Chris Coleman, mayor, St. Paul, Minnesota. His experience as a mayor during some of the country’s most challenging times provides a unique perspective on the state and future of American cities. Below is the discussion we had on December 13, 2013.

As we’ve recently highlighted in our 10 Critical Imperatives Facing Cities report, cities are facing challenges – many of which are nationwide issues. In your perspective, what should be the role of cities in tackling some of our country’s toughest challenges, such as access to higher education, immigration and aging infrastructure?

Cities don’t have the luxury of not tackling every issue, because every issue is going to affect their community. So whether or not they’re the primary lead on an issue such as higher education or even primary education, cities have to play a role. We have to get our kids ready for college, we have to make sure they’re successful in kindergarten through 12th grade and we have to understand the relationship between what’s happening in the classroom and what’s happening in the rest of the community. Whether you’re a mayor who has mayoral control over the school district or a mayor, such as me, who plays a significant role in the education process – that’s a critical issue evolving even more as an essential role of the city than it historically has been.

Cities don’t have the luxury of not tackling every issue, because every issue is going to affect their community.

But for instance, you can say veterans issues are a federal issue, but the veterans are living in our communities – and too often they are living on our streets. Fiscal stability – obviously we are primarily in charge of our own destiny, but many of our resources are dependent on state and federal resources that are beyond our direct control. Every community is going to have a little different set of priorities within these 10 critical imperatives we’ve described, and may have some things that were not necessarily  identified as a top 10 issue. And there are going to be issues that may be best served by the federal government or the state government or the county government – but regardless of the issue, cities have a stake and an important role to play in creating solutions.

In our work at NLC, we’ve witnessed the powerful role of the mayor to act as a convener or an agenda setter. In these roles, are mayors able to push forward these “national” or “state” issues at the local level?

The strongest power we have is to set the table. When you do that and bring the right people into the room, solutions can be found to our challenges. I liken how we approach education to how we approach emergency management, which is no one department has to do everything or no one person has to do everything but when you’re in a room and you have a situation within your community, you say, ‘Okay fire chief, can you bring resources to bear over here?’ You’ll ask your police obviously to have their deployment set and you also ask your parks department what role they can play. You ask your public works department, ‘I need 5 trucks to block off this intersection,’ – or whatever it is.

In education, I view what we’re doing as convening an emergency operation center for our children. So we have the Mayor’s Education Leadership Team (MELT) in St. Paul, which has the superintendent, county board members, school board members, city councilmembers, service providers and philanthropic partners to say, ‘Okay, what do we need to do, is this covered, who knows about this issue?’ When you bring people together and do it in a way to direct it toward finding solutions – you can find those solutions.

We’ve increasingly seen city leadership recognized on issues such as education and veteran homelessness in the media. But at the same time, we see stories about bankruptcy, urban poverty and violence dominating news headlines. In your experience as mayor and as an NLC officer, how are cities faring in the current political and economic environment?

I’ve been mayor for eight years, about to go into my third term. In a lot of ways I’ve presided over some of the worst times, certainly economically, over these last eight years, which have been very difficult for the country and for our cities. I’ve also been fortunate to be mayor at a time when people are really rediscovering cities and deciding you know what, ‘I don’t want to live in an isolated enclave somewhere, I want to live where there is access to transportation, I want to live where I can walk to a restaurant, I want to live where it’s a five-minute commute to work rather than a two-hour commute.’ The vibrancy that cities provide, all the options – what used to be considered annoying challenges are now exciting opportunities.

Even in the midst of one of our most troubled cities we see some real hope and opportunity.

So I think there are struggles no doubt – you see the fiscal condition of Detroit – but also if you go to Detroit you see the regrowth of the core of downtown. Even in the midst of one of our most troubled cities we see some real hope and opportunity. I think one of the real challenges we’re going to face though, is to make sure that hope and opportunity is for all. We have to make sure those opportunities are available and those pathways are open for all.

What steps can cities take to create those  opportunities to make their communities more vibrant?

What I think is interesting is that while cities are all different, there are some common threads that we can use to all learn from each other. We’ve started competing in a positive way to be the greenest city, or smartest city, or to be the most technically savvy, connected city. St. Paul was designated – our 55101 zip code – the center of the hipster universe. And I think that’s a good thing. So other cities are asking, ‘Why does St. Paul have the hippest zip code in the country – and why don’t we?’ Cities are competing for talent from across the globe – so how do we attract 20-somethings that are coming out of the best colleges and universities that have enormous sets of skills. How do we make sure we have a welcoming place for them?

I look at Denver, I look at Salt Lake City, I look at cities that are doing massive investments in transportation and think, we have got to move faster on this one because this is what people are looking for when making decisions on where to live. We still have some huge challenges but I think that the renewed energy and vitality of cities across the country is truly amazing and provides city leaders with great new opportunities to make their cities better.

As you look at the challenges and opportunities that face cities, in your year as NLC President, what are some of the things you would like to accomplish?

There are a few things.  First of all, just from the education piece – I came to the National League of Cities through the Institute for Youth, Education and Families – that’s how I did a real deep dive into the organization. They gave us technical assistance in building out an out-of-school time network we call “Sprockets” that provides continued learning opportunities for children during afterschool, weekends, and summer. Those are the technical skills and activities we can help cities develop at NLC. NLC is also working on a new partnership with the Department of Education to really look at some early learning and college readiness pathways for cities. That, I think, is really exciting. So I want to make sure we solidify NLC’s role in supporting cities in their education efforts.

Another important issue is resilient cities, given the already dramatic changes we’ve seen with severe weather events and the impacts of climate change. We saw all this in Northern Colorado, in Boulder and some of the other cities around Boulder that sustained some tremendous damage as a result of the heaviest rainfalls they’ve ever seen. If that was an isolated incident perhaps you’d say, ‘Well these things happen.’ But when you see these things happen time after time after time again – the Tornado in Joplin, Missouri that Mayor Melodee Colbert Kean faced in 2011, the effects of Hurricane Sandy – you can go across the country and see reports of these extreme weather circumstances happening if not every day, then every week.

I don’t think any of us recognized or realized how quickly the impacts of climate change were going to start affecting our cities.

So we’re going to have to figure out two things: first of all, how do we help our cities meet some emission reduction targets? The Obama Administration has been helpful in providing some energy efficient block grants and some other tools that we have used to green our buildings to reduce our energy consumption – those things we’re going to have to continue. But we’re also starting to understand that cities are going to have to figure out: ‘Do we have capacity in our sewer systems to handle what used to be 500 year floods that are now happening every 7-10 years? Do we have capacity to respond to gigantic straight line winds, tornadoes, or any number of things?

When I first came into office, the grave concern we were looking at was a pandemic. That is still a real possibility and we are set up to respond to that, but I don’t think any of us recognized or realized how quickly the impacts of climate change were going to start affecting our cities. We, as the National League of Cities really have to be a leader in that conversation, both on the reduction and the response side of it.

You recently testified on the importance of federal investment in transportation, touching on how you’ve benefited from being mayor of a city where all partners “rolled up their sleeves and got to work on building the infrastructure of a strong city and region.”  What type of support do cities and their partners need from the federal government to make their communities better?

First of all, city leaders have to understand what the real threats to their community are – and the real threats are not the next town over or upstate or downstate. The threats that we face in terms of the future vitality of U.S. cities are cities across the globe that are growing rapidly, where they are attracting talent from across the world. The overwhelming evidence is that people coming out of college or universities right now are saying, ‘I’m going to pick where I want to live first and then what am I going to do.

And so whether you’re a city of 50,000 or a city of a couple million, you have to figure out what are you going to do to make your community attractive to folks who have a lot of options. Even before I was mayor, I looked at Austin, Texas and their success. They had a lot of pieces that we had in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. But they also had a thriving cultural scene – there was a “there” there. Look at Nashville right now – Nashville is going gangbusters.

It’s not because they don’t have challenges. Mayor Dean and Councilmember Steine in Nashville are doing incredible work on the education front and they’ve been a model for a lot of the stuff we’re doing. But they have a city that is becoming a huge draw for people across the country, if not the globe. So my advice to cities is to identify the three or four things they’re going to do and do them well to position themselves in  a 21st century economy, then look to others to support that.

The problem is that too many people in Washington see cities as here with an open hand saying give us money, without a true understanding that as our cities go, so goes our country.

The reason I was testifying on the New Starts program, the reason why that was so important was because I’ve seen firsthand the impact of an investment in transportation in the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis – we’re six months out before the Central Corridor light rail line carries its first fare-paying passenger, and yet we’ve already seen $1.2 billion worth of investment. We have 7,500 units of housing underway or in planning along that line. We’ve seen businesses along University Avenue, where the line runs, that have been there for years, now reinvesting in their businesses and cleaning them up and preparing for the influx of customers.

So an area that has been subject to disinvestment since the freeway went through in the mid-60s is now the epicenter of investment in the Twin Cities. And so if you have the partnership with the federal government to support some of those things, then our cities will be vibrant. The problem is that too many people in Washington see cities as here with an open hand saying give us money, without a true understanding that as our cities go so goes our country. And if they understood that then they would be more willing to invest in our communities.

It seems vital to have a feedback loop to the policymakers in Washington because the leaders in our cities understand their communities best – they understand the threats, the challenges, and the opportunities. As you mentioned, we have seen how previous infrastructure projects have led to disinvestment– but you’re doing it differently. Your city is getting community input and the federal government is supporting that process.

A couple things happened in the construction of the Central Corridor, what is now called the Green Line. We were able to change the dynamic from D.C. saying here is how you’re going to build your line, to DC saying what do you need to make the line successful? That was a fundamental shift. The community fought for three additional stops that would serve the most transit dependent members along the line. It wasn’t until former Transportation Secretary LaHood and the Obama Administration said, oh this doesn’t make sense – it makes sense from a Washington perspective – but I understand now how it doesn’t make sense from a St Paul perspective so let’s make a change there.

The value of this investment isn’t just how quickly you can move people through an area – it’s how you can get people to invest in an area. That’s the critical piece.

The New Starts criteria that says were not going to just look at pure numbers and how fast you can move people from point A to point B, we’re going to ask how does this help green development, how does this help create economic opportunities, how does this help serve poor and disenfranchised communities. We still need a line that moves people from point A to point B and do it in an efficient time frame, but when you understand the value of this investment isn’t just how quickly you can move people through an area – it’s how you can get people to invest in an area. That’s the critical piece.

Bruce Katz has notably argued that we will increasingly see cities leading what he calls a “metropolitan revolution.” What are your thoughts on the future of cities? And what do you envision NLC’s role in helping to create that vision?

Bruce Katz and the folks at the Brookings Institution have done an amazing job of capturing in some ways and spearheading in others the kind of new look at cities – understanding that more than 75 percent of our nation’s economic output is coming out of cities, 80 percent of people are living in cities. That these global centers are not going through the federal government, but past the federal government to do direct city to city exchange.

It is a revolution and it’s a revolution mainly because it seems like we are going back to century old city states where the cities were the power. I don’t think that’s a great model in the sense that I hope Washington, D.C. will continue to make themselves relevant – but if they’re not going to make themselves relevant then cities aren’t going to stop moving forward.

This is one of the most interesting times in decades if not centuries for cities. What is happening here and understanding why cities existed in the first place, and why they matter, is really coming to the forefront as federal governments are becoming more and more stagnated. The creativity that occurs because three people are sitting at a coffee shop exchanging ideas, and how we exchange ideas with technology – there’s such an amazing revolution in terms of how people are reacting and exchanging ideas and creating things at a speed that we haven’t seen before. It’s an exciting time for cities. And I think NLC will be in the thick of it.

Fair Housing Act Case Settles…Again

Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

For the second time in two years, the parties have settled a dispute before the Supreme Court over whether the 1968 Fair Housing Act (FHA) allows plaintiffs to bring disparate impact claims.  These claims are brought when actions are perceived to have a discriminatory effect on specific groups, either as an intended or unintended consequence. Local governments across the country have been subject to these claims.

The FHA makes it unlawful to refuse to sell or rent a property to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.  The question presented in Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action v. Township of Mount Holly, which has now been removed from the Supreme Court’s December docket due to the settlement, was whether a policy or action that disproportionately affects a protected class of citizens but does not intentionally discriminate on the basis of race or other factors can give rise to an FHA claim.

In this case, residents sued the Township of Mount Holly, NJ over a plan to redevelop a low-income minority neighborhood on the basis that it violated the FHA, because the redevelopment would disproportionately impact the township’s minority population.

All of the federal circuit courts have ruled that disparate impact claims are recognized under the FHA, and this year the Department of Housing and Urban Development adopted final rules stating the same. The USA Today reports that the financial services industry has vowed to find another case to bring to the Supreme Court — one that won’t settle.

It is widely speculated that the current Supreme Court would hold that disparate impact claims cannot be brought under the FHA.

The International Municipal Lawyers Association filed a brief on behalf of the Township.

This National Tragedy is Ending and Cities Are Leading the Way

This post also appears on the blog of The Home Depot Foundation.

Last week in Seattle, NLC held its annual Congress of Cities and Exposition. More than 3,500 participants gathered to learn about the dynamic ways cities are driving change and finding solutions to the most pressing challenges facing local government. Among these challenges is the issue of homelessness, especially the disgrace of veteran homelessness. At multiple points over the conference, local leaders came together to discuss what is happening in cities across the country and hear from colleagues and others about the progress being made to ensure all veterans have a place to call home.

Of particular note is the recent announcement by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker that his community is on pace to end chronic veteran homelessness in the coming months. Before NLC’s Large Cities Council and during a Veteran Homelessness Roundtable, Mayor Becker discussed the collaborative efforts being made between the city, non-profits, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and others to identify homeless veterans and ensure they receive the services that can best meet their needs.

Fred Wacker, Mayor Becker and Becky Kanis talk about the progress being made in Salt Lake City after the Veteran Homelessness Roundtable at NLC’s Congress of Cities and Exposition.

Fred Wacker, Mayor Becker and Becky Kanis talk about the progress being made in Salt Lake City after the Veteran Homelessness Roundtable at NLC’s Congress of Cities and Exposition.

During the roundtable, participants also heard from Vince Kane of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans. Mr. Kane outlined resources available to end veteran homelessness, including HUD-VA Supportive Housing vouchers (HUD-VASH) and the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program (SSVF). In addition, Mr. Kane spoke about a new 25 Cities Initiative that will soon be underway to bring the communities in line with the national goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

Joining Mr. Kane at the roundtable was Becky Kanis, Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. Ms. Kanis spoke about key strategies that communities are using to place homeless veterans in housing. These strategies include knowing homeless veterans by name, utilizing a vulnerability index to prioritize people for housing based on their likelihood of dying on the street, identifying duplicative processes, building community consensus around housing first models and leveraging Medicaid and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) resources in support of veterans and the chronically homeless.

Fred Wacker, Chief Operating Officer of The Home Depot Foundation, was another roundtable speaker. Mr. Wacker discussed the Foundation’s continued commitment to support the construction and rehabilitation of housing for veterans. The Foundation’s on-going efforts were also discussed at the meeting of NLC’s Military Communities Council.

In another conference session regarding successful reintegration of veterans, attendees heard from Tacoma, Washington Mayor Marilyn Strickland. Mayor Strickland spoke about the citys support of collaborative efforts between the local VA office and medical center with local non-profits and the State of Washington’s Department of Veteran Services. City actions included inserting a preference for veterans in a recent round of funding for multifamily housing rehabilitation projects and partnering with county and state officials to encourage the Washington State Housing Finance Commission to collect data on veterans being served by projects receiving allocations of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs).

In addition to these events, conference attendees helped assemble hundreds of personal care kits to be sent to service men and women as a part of NLC’s on-going partnership with Good360. Also, NLC members involved with the Women in Municipal Government constituency group and the Community and Economic Development Policy Committee received an update about on-going work related to veteran homelessness.

With the federal government’s goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015 fast approaching, the leadership of local elected officials is more important than ever. In a growing number of cities, local leaders are joining with non-profits, businesses, philanthropies, faith communities, and state and federal partners to end what was once thought to be an unsolvable problem. The efforts to build collaborative relationships are a lasting way to honor our veterans and strengthen cities.

For more information about how cities are helping ensure all veterans have a place to call home and how NLC can support local efforts, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine at harig-blaine@nlc.org or visit www.nlc.org/veteranhousing.

Elisha_blog

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

The Homeless Veteran Outside NLC

Earlier this week as I approached the steps of our building, I noticed a man sitting against newspaper stands with a white cardboard sign that simply read “homeless vet.” Out of habit, I kept walking.  After less than 10 feet though, I was struck by what I knew was my obligation to honor his sacrifice by making sure he got the help he needed.

Rob was an infantryman in the Army. Served in Afghanistan. Honorably discharged five months ago. He came home to a changed marriage that quickly ended in divorce and resulted in him losing his house. His savings kept him off the street for a few months, but eventually that money ran out. Now he’s here in our nation’s capital being briskly walked by and getting the occasional dollar and change from someone who had just bought a coffee at the Starbucks he sat across from.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan speaks with Kelly Caffarelli, President of The Home Depot Foundation and Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities at the launch of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan speaks with Kelly Caffarelli, President of The Home Depot Foundation and Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities at the launch of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign.

Fortunately, Washington, D.C.  is one of the many cities that today have HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Support Housing) vouchers. There are also several non-profits administering the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF). Since Rob is not “chronically” homeless, it is likely that with a relatively small amount of assistance and perhaps some job training, he could quickly be self-sufficient once again. This is the exact purpose of the SSVF program. Fortunately, with one phone call Rob was connected with Friendship Place, a service provider who collaborates with other stakeholders in the community to ensure veterans like Rob receive assistance from the right programs for their needs.

Today, many communities are stepping forward to ensure the resources in their city are being directed to those who need them most. One such city is Salt Lake City. Recently, Mayor Ralph Becker proclaimed November to be Veterans Housing Month. In the coming weeks, it is anticipated that Salt Lake City could become the first city to house all of their chronically homeless veterans.

Not to be outdone though, the City of Phoenix will hold a press conference on Veterans Day to discuss how they have reduced chronic veteran homelessness by 62 percent in just two years. Mayor Greg Stanton and other community leaders will outline how the city will house the remaining 56 unsheltered veterans in the coming weeks.

These cities illustrate what is possible when political leadership and community collaboration combine to provide the proper level of resources and work to implement data-driven strategies.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan noted the examples of Phoenix and Salt Lake City during his remarks at the National Alliance to End Homelessness – Never Another Homeless Veteran event earlier this week. NLC is a proud partner of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign and urges everyone to sign the statement committing to ending veteran homelessness today. Leadership committee members of the campaign include President George H.W. Bush, former Secretaries of State James A. Baker and Colin Powell, former Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, The Home Depot Foundation, and many more.

At our Congress of Cities and Exposition in Seattle next week, Mayor Becker and Mayor Stanton will join Vince Kane, Director of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, and Becky Kanis, Campaign Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign to discuss how more cities can join Salt Lake and Phoenix in their race to getting to zero chronically homeless veterans.

In an era of tight budgets and partisan politics, providing an unprecedented level of resources for our veterans has received broad bipartisan support. But this support must be met with decisive actions on the ground. Local leaders can be the difference between success and failure. Veterans Day parades are nice, but making sure all veterans and their families have a place to call home is a more lasting way of showing our appreciation for their commitment and sacrifice.

Elisha_blog

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

HUD Secretary Donovan: “Communities are assets to be built on”

Recently in Atlanta, federal, state, and local officials joined advocates and local practitioners to discuss solutions to housing issues facing communities across the country. During the event, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan spoke about the Administration’s recognition that housing is one of the primary pillars needed to help grow the middle class. Secretary Donovan noted, “communities are not places with problems to be solved, but assets to be built on.”

In outlining the vision of a “new federalism,” the Secretary noted that the federal government needed to again become a strong partner with local stakeholders. Donovan outlined several examples of this partnership such as the Sustainable Communities Initiative and the Rental Assistance Demonstration. In addition, a renewed relationship between federal agencies and local partners is shown in the growing progress being made toward ending chronic veteran homelessness.

In the coming months, either Salt Lake City or Phoenix will become the first city in the nation to end chronic veteran homelessness. This unprecedented accomplishment is on the cusp of reality because of a focused and sustained commitment by both federal and local government officials, as well as non-governmental stakeholders in these communities.

At the federal level, since 2008, over 48,000 housing vouchers specifically designated for veterans have been distributed to communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Unlike traditional Housing Choice Vouchers (aka Section 8), HUD-VASH vouchers have additional support from VA case workers. As a result, both veterans and landlords have a resource should issues arise.

Also in 2008, the VA was authorized to begin the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. SSVF’s goal is to promote housing stability among very low-income veterans and their families who reside in or are transitioning to permanent housing. In FY13, the SSVF program provided nearly $300 million to 319 organizations to serve approximately 120,000 veteran households.

In 2010, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released Opening Doors, a comprehensive plan to prevent and end homelessness, with the specific goal of ending chronic veteran homelessness by 2015. Ongoing support from Congress and the Administration for the HUD-VASH and SSVF programs, combined with improved implementation at the local level, has led to a 17% decline in veteran homelessness since the release of Opening Doors.

In Phoenix, these federal resources have been maximized by local stakeholders, including the city. To help reduce the amount of time between when a veteran is awarded a voucher and when they move in to a unit, the two city departments that are required to conduct housing inspections collaborated to allow for one inspection to occur that met both agencies’ requirements. In addition, the city has supported a locally developed innovation called a navigator with funds from their Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Emergency Solutions Grant programs. The navigators provide peer support to chronically homeless veterans by walking them step-by-step through the process and providing assistance when necessary to make certain they obtain and sustain housing.

In Salt Lake City, stakeholders recognized they were starting their efforts to end veteran homelessness with imperfect data. To overcome this, partners began regular meetings to identify the veterans in need, come to agreement about what people should be prioritized, and determine what resources were available in the community to meet those needs.

In addition to these steps, city, county, and state officials worked to create a uniform reporting process for organizations using federal Emergency Shelter Grant resources. These resources were primarily being used to fund rapid re-housing efforts, and the uniform reporting reduced administrative time and costs associated with their use. As a result, since February 2013, Salt Lake City has been placing the homeless into housing at a rate that puts the city on a path to end veteran and chronic homelessness in the coming months.

Finally, in Tacoma, WA, community stakeholders have come together to form a Veterans Housing Options Group. The group consists of the WA State Department of Veterans Affairs, the two local agencies administering SSVF, and representatives from the regional VA office. The work to improve how services are delivered to homeless veterans is being complemented by the city, which has encouraged the WA State Housing Finance Commission to consider including a veteran preference when determining how federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits are distributed. In addition, the city is considering actions that would benefit homeless veterans, including inclusionary zoning requirements and voluntary housing development incentives, among others.

In an environment of limited fiscal resources, Secretary Donovan is correct when he acknowledges that cities are where innovations are born and progress is made. But these innovations cannot happen when there is persistent uncertainty about the level of federal resources and where those resources will be directed. Increasing partnerships between the federal government and municipal officials is a common sense notion that requires sustained support in order to see results. In their own ways, these cities are illustrating how progress on an issue can be made when local governments have focused and committed partners at the federal level.

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