2015 National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation Starts April 1

This is a guest post by Steve Creech.

mayor's challenge for water conservationCities with the highest participation in the 2015 National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation not only discover ways they can reduce the strain on water systems, but they qualify to win over $100,000 in prizes as well. (photo: The Wyland Foundation)

Water shortages may be one of the most dramatic headlines in the news, but cities everywhere are facing mounting challenges to the tune of nearly $1 trillion to address aging water systems, eliminate water waste, and secure a legacy of sustainable water use for our communities.

The National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation gives local governments a consumer-friendly way to rev up residential interest in addressing those issues, from promoting water and energy efficiency to waste reduction and ecosystem health. Held annually from April 1-30, the nonprofit challenge encourages cities nationwide to see who can be the most “water-wise.”

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings (pictured) and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will join together in Dallas on April 9 to promote the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation. (photo: The Wyland Foundation)

Mayors rally residents to take action by pledging to conserve more water and other natural resources at mywaterpledge.com. Residents, in turn, rally their families, friends, colleagues and neighbors. Cities with the highest participation not only discover ways they can reduce the strain on water systems, they qualify to win over $100,000 in prizes, including efficient irrigation products, water-saving appliances, and even a Grand Prize Toyota Prius Plug-in. The campaign gets national promotion all month long in USA Today, and winning cities are recognized in a special segment on the Weather Channel with Al Roker. There’s even a classroom edition for schools.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, winner of the 2013 Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation. (photo: The Wyland Foundation)

The campaign is presented nationally by the Wyland Foundation and Toyota, with support from the U.S. EPA, the National League of Cities, and the Toro Company. During the most recent campaign, mayors, city leaders and local water utilities led an effort among residents across 3,600 cities in all 50 states to take 277,742 specific actions over the following year to change the way they use water in their homes, yards and communities.

Translated, those online pledges meant potential reductions in water waste by 1.4 billion gallons. As residents conserve, it also means less money spent on transporting and generating the electricity that brings water to homes, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and less impact on the nation’s already overburdened water infrastructure.

Best of all, supplemental outreach campaigns like the Mayor’s Challenge bring together elected officials, companies, communities and individuals working together to protect and conserve the limited supply of water we have for the future health of our economy and environment.

Cities can participate in the 2015 National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation by signing an online letter of support, which includes complete details about the program, or by calling (949) 643-7070 to request participation information.

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

Three Approaches for Untangling the Knots of Local Business Regulations

knot(Getty Images)

Oh, what a tangled knot cities can weave with local business regulations. Whether it’s the dizzying application paper trail at city hall, inexplicable permitting or licensing requirements, or an arbitrary approval timeline, this is a government problem that is ripe for a solution. Thankfully, a number of cities are creating a path forward on regulatory reform.

The scope of this problem, although difficult to fully quantify, is substantial for both business owners and local governments. In a recent Thumbtack Small Business Friendliness Survey, the top frustration reported by business owners is a complicated regulatory process. The time spent navigating the current broken system translates into lost income and delayed openings for new businesses.

Meanwhile, the economic health of cities suffers when local business owners and entrepreneurs cannot open their doors quickly, or even worse, decided to locate elsewhere that is more business-friendly. The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Regulatory Climate Index recommends streamlining permitting and licensing as a necessary reform for encouraging entrepreneurship, job creation, and overall economic growth.

Cities are taking three approaches to untangling the knots of local business regulation.

Reviewing existing regulations, eliminating ones without a purpose. First, many cities are making sure their local business regulations are actually serving a purpose. Regulations can sometimes be superfluous (for example, an “open flame” permit to place votive candles on restaurant tables) or contradictory to county or state guidelines.

To help cities confront this issue, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance at Harvard Kennedy School launched a regulatory reform framework that provides guiding principles to understand the origin and purpose of a regulation and how to streamline permitting and licensing (side note: it also shares information on using predictive monitoring to prioritize inspections where they are needed most).

Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed a new commissioner to modernize Chicago’s entire municipal code and eliminate unnecessary regulations, and also signed licensing reform legislation that reduced the number of business licenses by 60 percent. The Seattle Restaurant Reform Initiative program formed a team of city, county, and state representatives to tackle regulatory inefficiencies for the local restaurant industry. Kansas City’s Dead Letter Office website is crowdsourcing ideas for regulations that are impractical and no longer serving a valid purpose.

Improving interdepartmental coordination and customer service at city hall. Opening a business often requires paperwork from separate city offices, and these applications can get passed around to different departments like a game of pinball. No wonder the process is frustrating.

Cincinnati reduces this administrative headache, and more quickly process permitting and licensing requests, by using “jump teams” of key staff from across the necessary departments to support the application process from start to finish. Kansas City created the KCBizcare office to offer in-person support and encouragement for business owners navigating the regulatory process. The KCBizcare team serves as an advocate for business owners who are working with city departments, and helps monitor the progress of applications. The one-stop-shop Small Business Center in Chicago has an express lane that streamlines specific types of requests (for example, updating account information or printing a new license) and provides assistance in 15 minutes or less.

Making the regulatory process more transparent and easily accessible. Business permitting and licensing process works better when expectations are clearly communicated, information is easily accessible, and the application process is available online.

The San Francisco Business Portal is a comprehensive website with “starter kits” by industry on how to start a business in the city. New York City also has online “starter guides.” The Seattle Restaurant Success Initiative developed an infographic that serves as a roadmap for starting a restaurant.

Lastly, some cities are moving towards putting the actual permitting and licensing application process online. Boston, Kansas City, and Denver have all secured contracts to move from paper to an online interface. The ultimate goal is to enable business owners and entrepreneurs to apply for all permits and licenses quickly and efficiently, and track their approval status, through one streamlined city website.

By working on one or all of these reform approaches local governments can create a regulatory environment that allows small businesses and entrepreneurs to spring into action, instead of getting tangled along the way.

Robbins_small (2)About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate, Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

Climate Change Update: FOCUS 2015 and Preparing for COP-21 in Paris

This post was co-authored with Allison Paisner.

FOCUS 2015NLC Second Vice President Matt Zone (sixth from left) pauses for a photo with other elected officials at the FOCUS (Forum Of Communities for Urban Sustainability) 2015 event at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. on March 6, 2015. The event was designed around a discussion of how cities and local governments can fight climate change and provide residents with a higher quality of life. (photo: FOCUS 2015)

This December, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will meet in Paris for COP-21 (the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC) in hopes of negotiating a new, international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions. Whether you are optimistic or doubtful about the prospects for a global accord among the various nations, it is clear that cities and towns will continue to be at the center of any effort to mitigate or adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.

That is why the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. recently hosted FOCUS-15: A Forum of Communities for Urban Sustainability. The mission was to spark thinking, create networks and establish bonds between local actors prior to the UN Conference of Parties in Paris this December. The event brought together French and American leaders from public, private and philanthropic sectors, including nearly a dozen representatives from the National League of Cities (NLC).

NLC Second Vice President Matt Zone and Henrietta Davis, both of whom were part of the NLC COP-15 delegation in Copenhagen, noted how much attitudes had improved in recognizing the role cities play in the process. Just six years ago, all of the attention was given to national governments, and local leaders were treated no differently than small, non-profit interest groups. Looking at COP-21 though, local leaders are closer to center stage.

Workshops centered on the pillars of urban sustainability: waste and water, energy, transportation and land use, resiliency, and urban policy and community empowerment. Because cities are engines of innovation where commitments to sustainability develop at the local level, the forum emphasized the need to for cities and regional authorities to coordinate policies and disseminate best practices as key actors. Communities also need to educate their residents and serve as facilitators for change by equipping citizens with the tools necessary to participate in the decision making process.

Green investments geared towards climate change mitigation, adaptation and resiliency involve high short-term costs – the results of which only translate in the long term. Policymakers need to understand this tradeoff and make fiscally and environmentally responsible decisions that balance the cost- and results-oriented spheres for the future of tomorrow.

Highlights from the FOCUS 2015 conference in Washington, D.C.

Other sustainability trends recognized in French and American cities over the two-day event included the need to accommodate population growth while limiting urban sprawl, transitioning away from a carbon-based transportation system, the inclusion of natural systems and green infrastructure as sustainable alternatives to depreciating built infrastructure, and working within the institutional framework for research and support of city innovation.

Partnerships between local & federal governments and the public & private sector are crucial stimulants to sustainable development, providing means for innovation, access to financial capital, and broadening the scale of influence.

Based on the dialogue between national and local actors throughout the conference, it is clear that the gradual transition to sustainable cities will involve healthy competition and inspire a race to the top.

More immediately, though, there is significant preparation and progress to be made prior to COP-21 this December. With limited authority as local and regional governments, cities need a “Paris deal;” sub-national actors need to bring clear objectives to the discussion, outline what is possible, and show their political support for an equitable and achievable agreement.

Whatever is decided in Paris will not be the end of the road, however. With luck – and the support of cities and towns – it will be only the beginning of a new and ambitious era in urban sustainability.

About the Authors:

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

 

Allison Paisner headshot Allison Paisner is an intern with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Investing in the Future is Paying Off for Cities Today

Researchers, policymakers, educators and parents are increasingly recognizing the value and benefits of early childhood care and education. Even the President of the Unites States has made this issue a priority.

<> on September 20, 2012 in Woodbourne, New York.Research shows that children who receive a high-quality early education are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school, and beyond. (Getty Images)

Last December, President Obama convened the White House Summit on Early Education, which brought together state and local policymakers, mayors, school superintendents and business and community leaders to talk about the importance of quality early childhood education. The summit highlighted the launch of Invest in US, a new initiative created by the First Five Years Fund to help communities expand early learning programs by connecting them with philanthropic and private resources. The National League of Cities (NLC) is a partner with Invest in US in furthering these efforts.

Obama_invest in us

President Obama hosts the White House Summit on Early Education on December 10, 2014. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

A growing body of research shows that children who receive a high-quality early education are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school, and beyond. Economists have documented a return of $7 or more for each dollar invested in quality early education. This has been achieved partly through a reduced need for spending on services such as remedial and special education, and partly through increased productivity and earnings in adulthood. The long-term, societal returns on investment include a more competitive workforce, the ability to attract and keep more families in cities, and fewer residents living in poverty.

Mayors and local officials have a unique ground-level perspective on the impact that a high-quality early education system can have on the lives of young people, families and residents. Local officials know that in order to improve educational, economic and social outcomes for young people, these systems must begin at birth and continue through preschool and into the early grades.

Cities in Action
City leaders can and increasingly do play a lead role in ensuring more children and families have access to high-quality early learning opportunities.

Cities such as Hartford, Conn., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Seattle (to name just a few) are making long-term investments in their young residents by allocating resources to early education programs. Hartford has even set a goal to have 100 percent of preschoolers in school by 2019.

Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra also established the Mayor’s Cabinet for Young Children, which serves to consolidate all policymaking, planning, coordination and implementation on early childhood issues. This cabinet is composed of nine elected and appointed public sector leaders who advise the mayor on policy issues affecting young children and their families. The cabinet also works with the mayor to advance the city’s early childhood plan.

Several years ago, city leaders in San Antonio decided to make early childhood education a high priority. To explore options for creating a citywide Pre-K program, former Mayor Julián Castro created the “Brainpower Taskforce.” Made up of members of the business community, school superintendents and education professionals, the taskforce determined that a tax increase would be necessary in order for the city to be able to fund a high-quality Pre-K program.

In November 2012, San Antonio voters passed the Pre-K4 SA initiative, increasing the sales tax by one-eighth of a cent to fund a full-day Pre-K program for 4-year-olds. The initiative has demonstrated progress so far – preliminary results indicate that achievement gaps for children in the program, compared to kindergarten students who did not participate, have been reduced by at least 25 percent in language, 33 percent in math and 90 percent in literacy.

Finally, as part of our Early Alignment for Young Children initiative, NLC is working with six cities to promote the healthy development and education of children from birth to age eight. The initiative focuses on three key elements of educational alignment: formal partnerships or governance structures, quality professional development opportunities for early education providers, and parent engagement and family supports. Contact us to learn more!

Emily

About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Principal Associate for Communications in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

How Startups Solve Problems at the Intersection of Urbanization and Climate Change

This is a guest post by Stonly Baptiste.

startups postCould startups be the secret weapon to make cities smarter and combat climate change in the face of ever increasing urbanization? (Getty Images)

When you see the word ‘startups’ in the news, you see headlines like “Meet the Hottest Tech Startups,” “Snapchat Could Become One of the 3 Highest-Valued Startups in the World,” or “Why Startups Want This 28-Year-Old to Really Like Them.” But the most interesting startups may be the ones working on problems that can directly help cities.

The Problem: More People + More Energy Consumption = Climate Change

People are moving to cities at rates never before recorded. The urban population of the world has grown rapidly since 1950, from 746 million to 3.9 billion in 2014. This represents a shift from two out of 10 people to five out of 10 people living in cities. The motivations behind this migration vary, from the search for more employment opportunities and increased earning potential to better health care and improved living standards; social factors like better education opportunities also play a role. Whatever the cause, there is no denying the rapid rate of global urbanization.

So what does this mean in terms of climate change? Energy consumption is the biggest contributing factor to global climate change, and more people means more energy consumption. In fact, 75% of global energy consumption occurs in cities. That consumption is likely to increase as we experience the shift from 54% of the world’s population residing in urban areas in 2014  to 66% by 2050. The environment around us will simply not be able to support this kind of growth and the increased level of energy consumption. Managing climate change seems more and more like a city efficiency challenge.

The Challenge: Redesign Cities

“No challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”
– President Barack Obama, State of the Union, Jan 20, 2015

The challenge is to create a fast, widely-adopted, effective and lasting impact on the future sustainability of cities; to redesign cities in response to climate change. Previously, the burden of these issues fell on the government. However, due to the increasing budget constraints of so many of the world’s economies, government can no longer afford to take on all of that responsibility.

The Solution: More Urbantech Startups

Technology has always helped shape urban and suburban environments. “Urbantech” describes the emerging technologies that are being used to solve problems at the intersection of urbanization and climate change, from reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to reducing crime and increasing government efficiency.

Over the last 18 months at Urban.Us, we’ve analyzed hundreds of startups that are working on Urbantech problems. We wanted to understand what problems they are solving as well as their customer focus (consumers, businesses or governments). By creating the Urbantech radar, we were able to visualize companies according to their customers and problems they are trying to solve.

startups pic

The visualization reveals some interesting patterns about where founders and investors have chosen to focus – but it also shows where there is open space and opportunity.

The radar also provides strong evidence that the challenge of redesigning cities to positively impact climate change could very well lie in the hands of the consumer, therefore circumventing the government-first approach. By reaching mass consumer adoption, these startups are able to make cities sustainable through channels like the Apple Store, Home Depot and Amazon.

No one can predict what the future of cities will look like – but we can get a glimpse of what’s possible by looking at some of the fastest-growing startups currently reshaping the way people live and work in cities:

  • DASH, a hardware plugin tool that syncs to your mobile phone to turn any car into a smart car, unlocking enhanced performance, cost savings and social driving.
  • OneWheel, a one-wheeled electric skateboard to quickly and easily get you to and from mass transit.
  • Whill, an all-terrain wheelchair that makes hard-to-navigate obstacles like stairs a thing of the past for people with disabilities.
  • Radiator Labs, a radiator cover that converts old cast-iron radiators into precision heating machines with climate control, operational efficiency and safety comparable to any radiator, transforming steam heat into a comfortable and efficient solution.
  • Hammerhead, a handless device that enables cyclists to safely navigate streets.
  • Rachio, a smart sprinkler controller that automatically adjusts your watering schedule based on weather or seasonality to save on water consumption.
  • Zuli, a plug-and-play smart outlet that enables users to control appliances, dim lights, set schedules, and conserve energy from their mobile phones.
  • Lagoon, a smart water sensor that alerts you when there is a leak, tracks usage, and saves money on water bills.

These startups have found a way to impact climate change by leveraging consumers’ need to collect data, save money, and enjoy the user experience. The climate change aspect may not even be a factor for consumer adoption – but through new crowdfunding platforms, distribution channels and government procurement initiatives, these startups could change the future of our cities and the environment.

The Next Step: Local Government as the Coach vs. Quarterback

The way cities work with emerging technologies is entering a new paradigm in which the city is not always the customer but, more often, the regulator and promoter of the best ideas. We are excited to be hosting 100 of the most promising Urbantech startups at this year’s Smart City Startups event – and, thanks to the support and partnership of the National League of Cities, we will introduce local government officials from Tel Aviv, San Francisco, New York, Boston and elsewhere to the innovations these startups offer.

We have all seen the battle between Uber and regulators – and it’s likely that no local government made an attempt to discuss regulating Uber before the battle occurred. We’ve also seen the impact that Rachio is having on water consumption around the country – and in most cities, this shift is still under the radar. Recently, we’ve seen police departments fighting against some of the information shared on Waze.

Our goal is to enhance awareness and increase partnership between local governments and startups working to solve the same problems, so that the best solutions can be promoted and cities can begin to preemptively manage the impact of regulation. Urban.us and NLC are joined by Direct Energy, the Knight Foundation and others aligned with the goal of sharing experiences that cities are having as they work with startups to build new relationships that will forge the future of urbanization and climate change.

stonly_baptiste_headshotAbout the Author: Stonly Baptiste is the Co-Founder of Urban.Us, where he leads investment research, community management and platform development for the fund, which now works with 16 startups around the world solving urban challenges. Additionally, he is co-organizer of Smart City Startups, a multi-day, multi-track event based in Miami that recruits 100 of the the most promising startups from around the world who are working to solve challenges at the intersection of climate change and urbanization. Additional participants include officials focused on innovation and economic development from local governments in Tel Aviv, San Francisco, New York, Boston and more. Investors such as Vast Ventures and Fontinalis Partners, and global companies such as Direct Energy, EDF, and Canary Wharf join to further government efforts to work with startups and promote innovation in cities.

Carrots and Sticks: How Cities Are Taking a New Approach to Regulatory Compliance

This post is a response to the recent Governing article on regulatory compliance.

carrot stick(Getty Images)

There has been some recent buzz about the dangers of local regulatory compliance. Regulating businesses is necessary – you wouldn’t want to eat at an unsanitary restaurant, or take your car to an auto mechanic who wasn’t certified. However, some say that regulating businesses can be counterproductive, costly and raise equity concerns. Holding up examples of cities coming down hard against large swathes of businesses on relatively minor infractions can certainly make that case.

But these instances are the exception, not the rule.

Less Stick, More Carrot

While local governments would be wise to heed the warnings of fallout from “inspector zeal,” the regulatory reality is that most cities aren’t filling their coffers with health inspection fines. Ensuring that businesses operate in a healthy and safe way is clearly an important function of city government, but paying for inspectors can be expensive. And because cities are still facing fiscal challenges, many are approaching compliance with caution, carefully scoping out the financial, social and economic costs and benefits of their compliance approaches.

As a result, the regulatory environment emerging in most cities is guided by a clear articulation of the end game – to ensure safe, healthy communities and prosperous businesses. This means a more informed, sensible carrot-andstick approach: punitive “stick” measures when necessary, paired with a bushel of “carrots” in the form of compliance incentives and supports.

The “stick only” approach characterized by harsh, blanket enforcement is giving way to targeted compliance that leverages innovations in data and analytics, reforms bureaucratic red tape and makes it easier for businesses to comply in the first place.

Driving Innovation: The Impact of Analytics and Legislation 

New York City and others have enlisted the help of online review tools like Yelp to proactively identify health and safety concerns. A new Pew analysis noted that “[New York City’s] Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched a nine-month pilot study in July 2012 that used data-mining software to screen and analyze about 294,000 Yelp reviews. It searched for keywords such as ‘sick’ or ‘food poisoning’ to find cases of foodborne illness that may not have been officially reported.”

Some cities – such as Boston, which has created a Problem Properties Taskforce – are even starting to use predictive analytics to better understand and pinpoint particular cases where compliance interventions can have the greatest impact.

Despite efforts to target the worst offenders, compliance “crackdowns” can disproportionately affect lower-income and legacy businesses that don’t have the skills or time to navigate government regulations and can’t afford to pay for fees, tax increases or compliance upgrades to their business. For these reasons, San Francisco is currently considering Legacy Business Legislation to help businesses that have been in operation for over 30 years remain in compliance and in their original locationThese businesses would be eligible for certain types of assistance, including priority access to pre-inspections for ADA compliancy, pro bono legal advice on leases, and property tax rebates. The legislation will predominantly support small mom-and-pop restaurants and cafes, and smaller bars and retailers that cater to the LGBT community.

Regulatory Overhauls

Even more common than predictive analytics and legacy business legislation is simply regulatory reform. Take ChicagoBoston, Cleveland, Kansas City, Mo., and Seattle, for example. These cities are making it easier for businesses to comply by reducing the number of permits and licenses, improving approval times, making requirements and timelines more transparent, revisiting outdated and onerous laws, and creating accessible ways for businesses to interface with government and obtain information.

Improving the ease of doing business is not only the most impactful compliance carrot available to local governments, but it is also a top contributor to a business-friendly environment (often surpassing low taxes). By using carrots and sticks in an innovative approach to regulatory compliance, cities are creating a win-win scenario in which the community is protected and businesses are encouraged to contribute to a vibrant, healthy economy.

christy-mcfarland

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

How the City of New Orleans Ended Veteran Homelessness

President Obama & HUD Secretary Castro @ 2015 NLC Congressional City ConferenceAs part of his remarks last week at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., President Obama thanked city leaders for stepping forward and joining the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Echoing the President, HUD Secretary Julián Castro thanked city officials for their partnership and leadership, citing the recent announcement by the city of New Orleans as the latest proof that the goal of ending veteran homelessness in 2015 is achievable. (photos: Jason Dixson)

Building on the success of Phoenix and Salt Lake City in ending chronic veteran homelessness, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced in January that the city had achieved the goal of the Mayors Challenge and reached functional zero on homelessness among all veterans.

In making the announcement, Mayor Landrieu said, “Six months ago on Independence Day, we came together to pay homage to our service members and veterans who courageously serve our great nation, and announced our goal to effectively end veteran homelessness in New Orleans by the end of 2014. I am honored and very pleased to report that we have housed 227 veterans, exceeding our goal of 193, thanks to the hard work of our committed partners. We owe our veterans our eternal gratitude for their service and sacrifice to this nation, and making sure they have a place to call home is a small but powerful way we can show our appreciation.”

To help disseminate some of the best practices from New Orleans, the city’s work has been highlighted during joint NLC/HUD regional forums in support of the Mayors Challenge. According to city officials, there were several key elements that led them to this historic accomplishment:

  • Leadership

Mayor Landrieu was one of the first mayors to join the Mayors Challenge. His support of the work was translated into daily engagement thanks to a dedicated staff person. The mayor’s focus resulted in specific challenges being identified and pursed relentlessly.

For example, in response to service gaps identified by community partners, the city committed HOME Investment Partnership resources to pay for rental assistance and to help with the development of permanent supportive housing. Mayor Landrieu’s leadership also served as a catalyst for other elements of success, such as:

  • Collaboration

Central to the success in New Orleans was the coordinated teamwork of all community partners. Joining the city in the effort were public and private partners from the local, state and federal levels.

Locally, the 63 partner agencies and service providers that are part of the Continuum of Care, including UNITY of Greater New Orleans, were critical allies. In addition, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, Housing Authority of New Orleans, Downtown Development District, and the New Orleans Interagency Council were key partners. These stakeholders joined forces with officials from federal partners at HUD, Veterans Affairs and the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) as well as leaders from organizations such as Community Solutions, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and The Home Depot Foundation.

  • Access to affordable housing

Collectively, these partners enacted a local strategy to provide all veterans with access to permanent housing and supportive services. In the face of housing shortages faced by most major metropolitan areas, caused by rising rents and low vacancy rates, housing solutions in New Orleans have been further complicated by the on-going recovery from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, which flooded 80 percent of the city.

One way the community identified housing for veterans was through direct landlord engagement. Mayor Landrieu sent a letter to all landlords currently contracting with the city and the housing authority. Landlords were invited to a forum to learn more about available housing resources as well as the coordinated collaborations that would partner with them in support of formerly homeless veterans.

In addition, the city’s partnership with the Housing Authority of New Orleans, the local VA, and UNITY of Greater New Orleans resulted in 200 Housing Choice vouchers being designated for veterans no longer in need of HUD-VASH vouchers or other permanent supportive housing programs. This allowed other VASH and supportive housing vouchers to be made available for other homeless veterans.

As the city entered the final stretch of their efforts, a critical number of housing units became available through the Sacred Heart apartment complex. “The Sacred Heart units set us up for success when we needed it most,” said Sam Joel, the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor during a recent HUD/NLC Mayors Challenge forum.

Initially built in 1908 as a convent and school, the first of Sacred Heart apartments’ three development phases began accepting tenants in December 2014. When completed, the building will have 109 units, comprised of efficiencies and one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. 55 units will be prioritized for chronically homeless veterans, with the remaining 54 units being available for households earning less than 50 percent of the area’s median income. As development continues, the building also will have a sunroom, a computer lab, a courtyard area and an on-site parking lot.

The $7.6 million project was made possible by a partnership between The Home Depot Foundation, the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana, UNITY of Greater New Orleans, and the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority. Various local, state and federal affordable housing programs were used to finance the construction of the property, including $1.2 million from the Landrieu administration. The remaining gap in financing was provided by The Home Depot Foundation.

In addition to providing investment capital, the Foundation donated construction supplies, fixtures and other furnishings for the new units. Volunteers of the local Team Depot visited the site to deliver and assemble furniture such as tables, chairs and shelving to ensure the veterans’ new apartments were comfortable enough to call home.

Elisha's blog post - Team Depot at Sacred Heart in NOLAMembers of Team Depot assemble furniture for veterans as they move into units at the Sacred Hearts apartments in New Orleans. (photo courtesy of The Home Depot Foundation)

Maintaining Functional Zero

New Orleans joins Salt Lake City and Phoenix in proving that communities can solve an issue once thought to be intractable. New Orleans’ success demonstrates that, with persistent leadership, community collaboration and the determination to identify needed housing, cities can provide housing for all veterans and ensure that future episodes of homelessness are rare, brief and non-recurring.

As the first city to declare they have reached the goal of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, New Orleans provides precedent for how a city can measure and discuss what it means to “end veteran homelessness.” Attaining this goal has come to be characterized as reaching “functional zero.”

New Orleans defines ending veteran homelessness as ensuring every homeless veteran who can be located is placed in permanent housing or in temporary housing with an identified permanent housing placement.

“Veteran homelessness is an important and challenging issue, and we are very proud of our accomplishment in New Orleans – but the work of ending veteran homelessness is never really done,” said Mayor Landrieu. “That’s why we have also created a new and sustainable rapid response model that combines all available local, state and federal resources with the work of our local active duty and former military personnel – utilizing veterans to help veterans. I hope our model here in New Orleans can be replicated nationwide so that we can end veteran homelessness in America once and for all.”

Veterans and others will always face periods of housing instability. But ensuring homelessness is not perennial is a dramatic change in how our country has addressed homelessness for more than 30 years. New Orleans’ accomplishment – and Mayor Landrieu’s understanding of what functional zero means for his city – provides guidance as other cities move closer to this goal.

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.

Workforce Development, Jobs Report, and Broadband: This Month in Economic Development

Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. This month’s roundup features stories from NLC’s Congressional Cities Conference. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

"Photo by Jason Dixson Photography. www.jasondixson.com"President Obama announces his new TechHire initiative, which calls for a partnership between cities, higher education and the private sector to expand access to tech jobs in communities across the country, at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. last week. (Jason Dixson Photography)

White House announces TechHire initiative to expand skills training for tech jobs. President Obama addressed NLC’s membership at the Congressional Cities Conference and asked for cities to partner with him on TechHire, a new workforce program designed to train low-skilled workers for well-paying information technology jobs like software development, network administration and cybersecurity. The new initiative will include $100 million in competitive grant funding as well as private sector resources and support for 21 communities selected to participate.

Skills gap: myth or reality? Meanwhile, the ongoing debate continues over whether or not a skills gap actually exists in our country’s workforce. Tom Snyder, President of Ivy Tech Community College, wrote a piece for The Huffington Post about leveraging community colleges for skills training on emerging technologies. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently challenged the idea of a skills gap, arguing there’s insufficient evidence to prove a skills gap is holding back employment. However at the local level, where job opportunities are returning but going unfilled, mayors are responding by developing workforce programs to meet the specific hiring needs of area businesses (like in Missoula, Mont., and Heath, Ohio).

The latest employment trends in local government. NLC’s latest Local Jobs Report analysis by Christiana McFarland found slight gains in overall public sector employment, with local government responsible for the majority of those new jobs last month. But this positive news is tempered by the fact that the local government workforce is still smaller today than it was at its peak in 2008. Another local government trend highlighted by the Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) network is the lack of growth in the percentage of chief administrative officers that are women. That number still stands at 13 percent – the same today as it was back in 1984. The thought-provoking ELGL “13 Percent” blog series features personal stories from city employees.

Municipal broadband could be coming to a neighborhood near you. In case you missed it, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to allow the municipal broadband systems in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to expand outside their existing borders. This is encouraging news for other cities that are considering building their own broadband systems, like Seattle. The decision also affirms NLC’s position that municipal broadband systems can play an important role in supporting local growth and opportunity. More info from the FCC can be found here.

Cities are making the sharing economy work. NLC released a new report, Cities, the Sharing Economy, and What’s Next, at the Congressional Cities Conference. The report provides analysis from interviews with city officials about the impact of the sharing economy (and companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb) on innovation and economic development and how cities are managing safety and implementation considerations. NLC’s Brooks Rainwater explained how this new resource will assist city leaders as they understand, encourage, and regulate the sharing economy in their cities.

For a laugh. Not to start a dog-versus-cat war, but how great would it be if every economic development strategy included plans for a cat café? Meanwhile in Boston, a GoFundMe campaign aiming to raise $300 million to fix the struggling local transit system first started out as a joke but is now receiving national media attention. The campaign is unlikely to reach its goal, but if you donate $50, the fund’s creator will scream your name on the orange line for 45 minutes during rush hour.

Idea of the month: Life experience as college credit. Getting a degree later in life is hard, but Pennsylvania’s community colleges are making it easier by now counting life experience as college credit.

What we’re reading. There were a few solid reports this month on workforce, wages, and jobs. Brookings released a report identifying the advanced industries with the greatest prospects for long-term economic growth (Governing provided a solid overview of the key findings). The Boston Consulting Group found that the top three reasons companies bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. are better access to skilled workers, lower shipping costs, and shorter supply chains. Finally, the Economic Policy Institute testified before Congress about government actions needed to create jobs and grow wages. The testimony said that local governments should implement targeted employment programs and also invest in broadband, education, transportation and other infrastructure projects.

(Last month’s roundup is here.)

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About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate, Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

From the Mayor of Boston: How to Streamline Permitting and Licensing for Small Businesses

This is a guest post by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Boston-HubHacks-2014The first HubHacks Challenge was held to design a better online permitting process for the city of Boston. (Photo: Dave Levy)

Since my first day in office, I have committed to making sure that small businesses throughout Boston have all of the tools they need to succeed, contribute to the city’s economy, and provide good jobs for residents. Keeping this promise has meant rehauling the cities’ permitting and licensing system. If an entrepreneur is working to get a business open, he or she should be able to focus on business plans, and not have to travel from one city department to another, getting tangled in red tape.

I challenged my team to evaluate and improve the city’s permitting experience with a special focus on improving the process for small businesses. We have improved our  customer service and guidance tools for small businesses throughout the permitting process. Since we knew that fixing this system wasn’t going to happen overnight, we made sure that our current customers had a place to go for help. Here are a few things we did:

  • Enhance customer service at the Inspectional Services Department. We restructured our call center to use a top-of-the-line software to assist in constituent interaction tracking. We also instituted a greeter program for an improved customer experience.
  • Expand and promote the small business referral program in partnership with our Department of Neighborhood Development. We provide business development specialists who can walk constituents through each step, taking their business ideas and launching them into action, with a heavy focus on permitting and licensing.
  • Install kiosks with upgraded customer service software at small business touchpoints citywide. By placing kiosks at various offices and locations, we connect constituents within two business days to resources and technical assistance.
  • Host a Hackathon where developers, designers, city employees, and other interested residents worked together to attempt to solve a series of challenges for those seeking permit applications. As a result of the Hackathon, two tools were created. In December, we released Permit-Finder which allows individuals to track the status of their permits throughout the approval process. The other is an improved address search feature within our current online permitting portal, which allows applicants to find their address in an easy, modern way, on a map, and connect that address with their permit application.
  • Design and deploy a modern system that meets Boston’s high standards for innovation and usability, by joining a partnership with Accela. We will work together to build a comprehensive online permitting system.
  • Streamline the appeals process for small businesses in response to the long wait times, and other inconveniences for relatively minor zoning variances needed to open a small business, we lengthened Zoning Board of Appeals hearings from half days to full days. We created a streamlined process for small businesses, whose appeals are now heard by a subcommittee which has shorter hearings, shorter wait times, and works outside of business hours.

Finally, we have some regulatory changes in the works. We have announced zoning changes, which will make low-impact uses (such as art galleries or bakeries) allowed across all business districts. We also have plans to reform entertainment licensing policies to reduce the regulatory burden on small businesses.

My work here is not close to done, and I am the first to acknowledge that we still have a ways to go. Every single day, we are working to ensure that  processes are not getting in the way of entrepreneurs who give so much to our city. Bostonians should expect to see changes that will make permitting and licensing easier for small business owners.

Mayor Walsh Head Shot PhotoAbout the author:Mayor Martin J. Walsh, an accomplished advocate for working people and a proud product of the City of Boston, was sworn in as the City’s 54th Mayor on January 6, 2014. With a commitment to community, equality and opportunity for every resident and neighborhood, Mayor Walsh is putting all his experience, skills, and passion to work in moving Boston forward. Mayor Walsh lives on Tuttle Street in Savin Hill and is a graduate of Boston College. He shares his life with his longtime Partner, Lorrie Higgins, and her daughter, Lauren.

Big Ideas for Small Cities: 6 Mayors Discuss How to Get Creative on a Budget

Union City, Ga., Mayor Vince Williams at the Big Ideas for Small Cities EventUnion City, Ga., Mayor Vince Williams at the Congressional City Conference Big Ideas for Small Cities event on Sunday, March 8, 2015. (Jason Dixson)

In a large city, implementing a creative idea doesn’t necessarily mean choosing between innovation and laying off a police officer. Smaller cities, on the other hand, have a significant challenge when it comes to establishing new programs – a smaller budget. This afternoon, mayors from small cities gave examples of out-of-the-box ideas that didn’t break their bank. Here are six ideas they shared with Congressional City Conference delegates:

1. Build your brand around a cultural endeavor: Mayor Jud Ashman of Gaithersburg, Maryland encourages small city leaders to define their community to the larger world through culture. The Gaithersburg Book Festival attracts prominent and celebrity authors from all over the world, not to mention scores of attendees who eat, shop, and stay in the city of Gaithersburg, which normally has a population of 64,000. He shares three tips for putting on this kind of game-changing event in your city: get the whole community involved (including schools, libraries, and private partners), make sure it occurs at the right time, and choose the right event for the market.

2. Believe in your own city. Mayor Nancy Backus of Auburn, Washington says “Show everyone how much you believe in your city, and they’ll believe in you.” Through a very tough economic time, Backus and her council asked “What can we do to attract developers?” And answered their question by restraining development fees, securing grants, and starting a small business assistance program.

3. Put people on your team without putting them on the payroll. If you have the challenges of a big city without the resources, Mayor Christian Price of Maricopa, Arizona suggests finding people in your city who can help change the narrative. These are well-connected, outgoing citizens who can serve as “ambassadors.” They are given accolades and responsibility to debunk the idea that their city is less desirable than their neighbors. Mayor Price’s ambassador program has tremendously changed the story of Maricopa, through real citizens who love their community and want to share it.

4. Have vision for your community. Mayor Vince Williams of Union City, Georgia transformed a failing mall into a movie set, and brought 800-1200 jobs into his city in one year. After a lot of work and state lobbying, this endeavor brought incredible opportunities for young people, huge growth in small businesses, job training, tourism, and tax credits. Identify what challenges could transform into something beneficial for your whole community.

5. The three most important ways to improve your community are partnerships, partnerships, and partnerships. Mayor Garrett Nancolas of Caldwell, Idaho created the Caldwell Youth Master Plan using resources from NLC’s YEF Institute and collaboration with public and private partnerships. For example, the city now offers free swimming lessons for all 3rd graders with help from the bus companies, who bus kids free of charge to this important after-school program that directly correlates to a major improvement in reading scores. Crime has gone down and reading scores have gone up since Mayor Nancolas began collaborating to meet huge goals. Caldwell is now considered one of America’s 100 best communities for young people!

6. Provide education for your business owners. After his city lost its successful and vibrant downtown due to big box shopping centers and online retailers, Mayor Stan Koci of Bedford, Ohio joined with his small town downtown retailers to revitalize the area through education. To reengage with the community identity of Bedford, he invested public dollars to fund free classes to give retailers the tools they need to grow with the times and prosper as small business owners.

Want more big ideas? This event kicks off NLC’s brand new, ever-growing database of City Practices. This is a resource for you to find examples of initiatives and projects in cities of all sizes across the country.

Mari Andrew bio photoAbout the author: Mari Andrew is the Senior Associate of Marketing at the National League of Cities. She works hard to help city leaders build better communities, and believes the world would be a better place if people wore more creative clothing.