Partnerships in Phoenix Bring Veterans Home

The city has made dramatic progress in housing homeless veterans thanks to bold leadership and community partnerships.

Phoenix’s approach of partnering with expert affordable housing developers and service providers, as well as educational institutions, the medical and mental health communities, and philanthropies, offers cities a blueprint for how local officials can make good on their commitment to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. (Getty Images)

Phoenix’s approach of partnering with expert affordable housing developers and service providers, as well as educational institutions, the medical and mental health communities, and philanthropies, offers cities a blueprint for how local officials can make good on their commitment to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. (Getty Images)

If you are younger than 40, you likely have no memory of a time when persistent and chronic homelessness wasn’t a part of most major cities.

If you are older than 40, you witnessed the emergence of chronic homelessness in the early 1980’s, its persistent presence in urban landscapes and may have come to the conclusion that there is simply nothing that can be done about it.

Despite this, the past two years have seen the emergence of a historic level of local leaders committed to showing that homelessness need not be a permanent fixture in communities. As part of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, 859 local leaders across 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have committed to ensuring all Veterans and their families have a place to call home.

As 2016 begins, we have a chance to see how specific communities are doing on this issue. One city that has made dramatic progress is Phoenix thanks to bold leadership and community partnerships.

During his inaugural address in 2012, Mayor Greg Stanton pledged that ending chronic homelessness was a priority. To achieve this goal, the Mayor and the community made the conscious decision to focus on the city’s chronically homeless veterans as a first sub-population. Mayor Stanton and community leaders recognized that focusing on veteran homelessness was the gateway that would allow them to ensure all veterans and all those experiencing homelessness could obtain the services they need.

Once all veterans have a place to call home, the next step is to look at what is needed to maintain that housing. Employment, job training, education, medical care, and mental health supports can only be successful when someone is stably housed. Making sure these supports flow from a housing-centered focus is known as a Housing First strategy and has been at the core of Phoenix’s Project H3VETS Initiative.

ProjectH3 VETS grew out of the Maricopa County team that was a part of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. Lead by the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness, the initiative is comprised of leaders from non-profits such as the United Way, federal, state, and city government, affordable housing developers and businesses across the Greater Phoenix area. Project H3 VETS has continued to lead the community’s response to house all homeless Veterans as efforts evolved through initiatives such as the VA’s 25 Cities.

Two housing developments that uniquely illustrate the collaborative approach of the Phoenix community are Grand Veterans Village and Victory Place. Developed and operated by U.S. VETS and Cloudbreak Communities, respectively, the projects were made possible through coordination with philanthropies, veteran service organizations, non-profits, local universities, the state and the city.

The Grand Veterans Village development converted a 134-unit motel into 107 long-term supportive housing and 24 units of permanent housing for homeless veterans, including 15 women veterans.

Funding to rehabilitate the old motel units came in part from philanthropies such as The Home Depot Foundation. Support from the Foundation helped with the installation of kitchenettes, refrigerators, counter tops and double sinks in rooms. Funding also supported the creation of multiple community spaces including a computer room, lounge, counseling offices and an outdoor living space, which included a community garden. In addition, associates from Home Depot’s local retail stores volunteered on three separate occasions. As part of the company’s Team Depot, associates helped paint, lay flooring, and landscape the complex.

Complementing these contributions, local service organizations such as the Elks Lodge, American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars adopted individual rooms. Their support provided furnishings such as bedding, plates and utensils. In addition, Good 360 and Sleep America provided new mattresses for each room.

Team Depot volunteers build a community garden at Grand Veterans Village. Collaboration between the City of Phoenix, non-profits, federal and state partners and philanthropies such as The Home Depot Foundation have been central to providing housing for homeless Veterans. (photo: The Home Depot Foundation)

Team Depot volunteers build a community garden at Grand Veterans Village. Collaboration between the City of Phoenix, non-profits, federal and state partners and philanthropies such as The Home Depot Foundation have been central to providing housing for homeless Veterans. (photo: U.S. Vets)

Notably, as a result of this support for the project, Grand Veterans Village was completed without the use of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs), the nation’s largest program supporting the development and preservation of affordable housing. This demonstrates that there are multiple ways to create affordable housing for homeless veterans through creativity and collaboration.

A variety of lessons and supports needed by formerly homeless veterans are provided with help from social work students from Arizona State University and Arizona State University School of Nursing. Residents are offered groups on budgeting, hygiene and nutrition. Nursing students provide residents with information on illnesses such as diabetes and offer self-care education around checking their glucose levels and blood pressure.

The development is located on Grand Avenue in Phoenix, which is accessible to the city’s buses and the VA hospital is approximately 15 minutes away providing access for residents to VA medical care. U.S. Vets provides residents with weekly shuttle rides to area food banks and a supermarket is across the street.

Another development that illustrates the impact of broad partnerships across the community is Victory Place, a five-acre campus comprised of four residential and one commercial phases of development. Cloudbreak Communities, with U.S. VETS as the primary support services partner, began master planning the veterans-specific community in 2002.

Cloudbreak Communities began leasing units in January of 2016 at part of their latest phase of development, Victory Place Phase IV. The latest component to Victory Place is a 96-unit addition to the existing permanent supportive housing units on the campus now totaling 203 units, plus 70 beds of transitional housing operated by U.S. VETS.

The latest phase features 30 one-bedroom and 66 studio apartments all dedicated to providing affordable and supportive housing for homeless, formerly homeless and low-income veterans. While many of the units are supported with HUD-VASH housing vouchers, a partnership with the Arizona Behavioral Health Corporation is providing 30 rental subsidies for chronically homeless veterans with a diagnosed serious mental illness who are not able to utilize the HUD-VASH program.

The Victory Place Campus still plans a fifth commercial phase of development to create an community health clinic on-site to include VA and Medicaid health services and plans to acquire an adjacent two acres to continue residential development. The Campus was completed throughout its phases using City of Phoenix and State HOME financing, LIHTC, other State resources and private equity.

The units made available at Grand Veterans Village and Victory Place are part of Phoenix’s housing stock that are paired with homeless veterans through the community’s coordinated assessment system operated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC).

When a homeless veteran in Phoenix is identified, service providers across the city use a common assessment tool to help determine what supports and services a homeless individual needs. By using a common assessment, all of the area’s homeless are prioritized for assistance based on their acute need, rather than receiving services on a first come first serve basis.

Prioritizing housing and services in this way allows Phoenix to more efficiently and effectively use the community’s limited resources. In addition, prioritization allows the city to reduce the costs associated with homelessness, such as police and first-responder engagement, legal system costs and emergency room expenses.

The use of a common assessment tool has allowed Phoenix service providers to make sure homeless veterans get the personalized help they need. To help place homeless veterans into the most appropriate environment as quickly as possible, even when a housing voucher may not be immediately available, the 25 Cities system uses money from the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program to get the veteran into their new home until the process for using a housing voucher to keep them in their new home is completed.

Phoenix’s approach of partnering with expert affordable housing developers and service providers, as well as educational institutions, the medical and mental health communities, and philanthropies, offers cities a blueprint for how local officials can make good on their commitment to the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

In 2015, Phoenix housed more than 715 homeless veterans and illustrated what progress looks like. While more work remains, the community has put in place a system that is more rapidly responding to the needs of homeless and at-risk Veterans than ever before.

The challenge of Veteran homelessness will never fully disappear. Every day new Veterans will lose their jobs, face housing insecurity, medical emergencies or need to get away from unsafe living environments. However, as cities like Phoenix come together to strengthen the way they respond to these situations, they provide proof that homelessness is not intractable and can indeed be rare, brief and non-recurring.

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.

10 Innovative Ways to Attract Millennials to Your City

Philadelphia is a city that has implemented a set of successful policies aimed at attracting and retaining talent in the last decade. During that same period, the city’s population grew by 100,000.

While Philadelphia certainly owes its success to a strong, diversified economy, its deliberate efforts to attract and retain talent are a major part of the story. (Getty Images)

While Philadelphia certainly owes its success to a strong, diversified economy, its deliberate efforts to attract and retain talent are a major part of the story. (Getty Images)

Talent attraction and retention is an issue that is immensely important to cities as they compete not only nationally, but globally, for the best, most productive workers. Employers, professional associations, and municipalities encounter talent-related matters constantly. As a talented workforce is essential to the vitality of a city, talent attraction and retention has economic, community-based and civic-level implications.

Philadelphia is a city that has implemented a set of successful policies aimed at attracting and retaining talent in the last decade. During that same period, the city’s population grew by 100,000. This migration has largely consisted of a younger, entry-level, and middle class population. As Millennials now comprise the largest share of the labor force, Philadelphia’s efforts will reap massive benefits for the local economy.

With support from the Knight Foundation, Equal Measure, a research firm for philanthropies, published a report titled “Key Insights into Talent Attraction and Retention Efforts in Philadelphia.” NLC participated in the study, which underscored the importance of cooperation among city institutions.

“City leaders can create a culture of authentic engagement and align existing, but often siloed, programs and partners to bolster the talent pipeline,” says NLC Research Director Christy McFarland.

The following are 10 methods for attracting Millennials listed in the report. Philadelphia used many of these to create a more open and collaborative space, reflective of its founding principle of brotherly love.

  1. Deliver an appealing reality: Rebranding campaigns do not cut it. Cities need things like density, shopping, culture, diversity, walkability, and good transit.
  1. Put values on display: Demonstrate how the city welcomes newcomers and new ideas. The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians is a great example.
  1. Keep in touch with former residents: Think of all those who left the region to attend college elsewhere. Find ways to have them return to the city.
  1. Create opportunities for civic involvement: Deliberately seek out the opinions of young people. Young Involved Philadelphia is a group that has been shaping the city for years.
  1. Use internships to connect with young adults.
  1. Survey young adults regularly.
  1. Celebrate young entrepreneurs and civic contributors.
  1. Communicate development plans to young adults.
  1. Promote your city: Place marketing works best when it is based on authentic stories that people are willing to tell about their cities.
  1. Promote a young adult lifestyle: Embrace an active nightlife that is not worried about scaring off soccer moms.

While Philadelphia certainly owes its success to a strong, diversified economy, its deliberate efforts to attract and retain talent are a major part of the story. In a survey, only 43 percent of college students said job opportunity was their number one driver of where they chose to live after graduation.

Philadelphia is fortunate to have been a highly desired, or “hot” city, these past few years. The city has attracted recent graduates with not only jobs, but brotherly love.

About the Author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Tenth Circuit Upholds Colorado’s Effort to Collect Use Tax on Remote Sales

The Tenth Circuit Court upheld a Colorado law that requires internet sellers to inform Colorado buyers of their purchases and send the same information to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The Tenth Circuit began its opinion by noting the difficulty states and local governments face collecting use tax in an e-commerce economy. (Getty Images)

The Tenth Circuit began its opinion by noting the difficulty state and local governments face collecting use tax in an e-commerce economy. (Getty Images)

A dream shared by states and local governments nationwide may be realized shortly in Colorado. Use tax collection on internet purchases in the state may increase.

The Tenth Circuit held that a Colorado law requiring remote sellers to inform Colorado purchasers annually of their purchases – and send the same information to the Colorado Department of Revenue – is constitutional.

In Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, decided in 1992, the Supreme Court held that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect use tax. To improve tax collection, in 2010 the Colorado legislature began requiring remote sellers to inform Colorado purchasers annually of their purchases and send the same information to the Colorado Department of Revenue. The Direct Marketing Association sued Colorado in federal court claiming the law was unconstitutional under Quill.

In Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, the Tenth Circuit disagreed concluding that Quill “applies narrowly to sales and use tax collection.” The Tenth Circuit noted that neither the Supreme Court nor the Tenth Circuit has extended Quill “beyond the realm of sales and use tax collection.” The Tenth Circuit further concluded the Colorado law doesn’t discriminate against interstate commerce because DMA was unable to point to any evidence that the notice and reporting requirements imposed on out-of-state retailers are more burdensome than the sales tax collection and administration requirements imposed on in-state retailers.

In March 2015 the Supreme Court held unanimously that the Tax Injunction Act does did not bar the Tenth Circuit from deciding this case. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC)  filed an amicus brief discusses the devastating impact Quill has had on state and local governments in light of the rise of internet purchases, Congress’s failure to pass the Marketplace Fairness Act, and states’ need to improve use tax collection through statutes like Colorado’s. Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion which appeared to rely on the SLLC’s brief, stating that the “legal system should find an appropriate case for this Court to reexamine Quill.”

The SLLC filed an amicus brief in Tenth Circuit making the same policy arguments that it made in the Supreme Court. The brief also argued that Quill does not apply to the Colorado law and that the notice and reporting requirements aren’t discriminatory.

The Tenth Circuit began its opinion by noting the difficulty state and local governments face collecting use tax in an e-commerce economy. The opinion cited the SLLC brief, which provided an estimate of the very low rate of use tax compliance, and quoted Justice Kennedy’s recent criticism of Quill.

At least three other states have similar notice and reporting requirements (Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Vermont).

All of the “Big Seven” members of the SLLC joined the amicus brief as did SLLC associate members the International Municipal Lawyers Association and the Government Finances Officers Association. Ron ParsonsJohnson, Abdallah, Bolleg & Parsons in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Lisa Soronen, SLLC, wrote the SLLC brief.

The SLLC generally only files amicus briefs in U.S. Supreme Court merits cases affecting state and local government. The SLLC made an exception and filed an amicus brief in the Tenth Circuit because of the importance of this issue to SLLC members.

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

4 Ways Civic Technology Drives Results for Policy Outcomes

Even with the best-intentioned legislation, public policy initiatives can stall without the proper tools to enable easy and efficient compliance.

After seeing a 300 percent increase in requests for solar permits over five years, San Diego County extended its online building permitting solution to include solar permits, decreasing processing time by 75 percent. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Tim Woodbury.

Municipal laws and codes have been forged over decades and are currently facing challenges keeping up with emerging and rapidly expanding regulatory issues, such as solar/clean energy and the legalization of marijuana, and initiatives like the White House’s Startup in a Day challenge. Even with the best-intentioned legislation, public policy initiatives can stall without the proper tools to enable easy and efficient compliance.

So how do governments balance the additional workload required to address these emerging issues with limited staff resources? How can cities keep up with the demands and expectations of their citizens?

Fortunately, civic technology, which provides targeted solutions for governments to solve real problems, is experiencing exponential growth, reaching not just urban cities, but also suburbs, farm towns and remote resort villages. In fact, it is growing 14 times faster than traditional technology, and its growth is ushering in an ecosystem of civic innovation — from app developers to service providers — committed to delivering productivity and engagement solutions to capitalize on the immense opportunities, as well as address considerations, that may impact new policy outcomes.

Where to Begin: Gathering Data and Using It

Some of the biggest knocks against allocating resources for data collection is that data can be difficult to collect, challenging to analyze and rarely leveraged. However, the value of collected and viewed data is significant. This past year, a coalition of civic technology companies, governments and other stakeholders rallied around an effort to create a shared data specification for building and construction permit data, called BLDS (pronounced “Builds”). Ultimately, the new standard will be implemented in cities across the country, provide powerful insights into the fabric of communities and serve as a proxy for an area’s overall economic activity and development — just imagine the impact and possibilities of making decisions based on that kind of data!

 Open Data for Results

While collecting data by itself can provide insights that help drive informed decisions, the power of open data can even help drive regulatory compliance. Many cities are now sharing building permitting and inspection data with real estate marketplace Zillow, which was part of the coalition that created BLDS. In addition to previous sales data and tax records, potential homeowners and even inquisitive neighbors can see an official record of building permit activity in the area. This can encourage homeowners to obtain the proper permits for any renovations to ensure nothing goes on their “permanent record” and it’s easier to sell their home in the future.

Another instance of using open data to help drive compliance is with health inspection scores. Roughly one in six Americans is hit with a foodborne illness each year. Evanston, Ill., and other cities now use open data to share restaurant health inspection scores and the associated details with Yelp, which consumers already use. Making this information easy to find can help drive purchase decisions, which in turn can motivate restaurant owners to achieve compliance with food preparation and safety regulations.

Diners in Evanston and other cities can now consider health inspection scores when deciding where to eat.

Diners in Evanston and other cities can now consider health inspection scores when deciding where to eat.

The Technology of Economic Development

Small businesses create two out of every three new jobs, and employ just over half of the country’s private sector workforce. Last year, the White House’s Startup in a Day initiative challenged cities across the country to reduce the new business licensing and permitting process to less than a day. I think it’s safe to say that local governments want to get new businesses up and running as quickly as possible, along with the associated revenue that entails, but are encumbered by existing processes to ensure compliance.

Fortunately, modern permitting and licensing technology exists that makes it easy to process business applications, engages citizens and spurs economic development. The City of Palo Alto, Calif., for example, uses technology to intelligently route applicants through the registration process in seven screens or less. As we’ve seen, making it easier to open a business in your community attracts entrepreneurs and innovation, which fosters job and investment growth — clearly something we’d all like to see happen in our own towns versus the ones next door.

The Palo Alto Business Registry provides an intuitive workflow that applicants can complete online, getting new businesses up and running faster.

The Palo Alto Business Registry provides an intuitive workflow that applicants
can complete online, getting new businesses up and running faster.

Moving Toward Sustainability with Solar Permitting

The Paris climate conference this past December moved the conversation about global warming and renewable energy to the world stage, with all 195 countries agreeing to a global action plan. A little closer to home, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Sunshot Initiative “seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with other forms of electricity by the end of the decade,” which is now true in 14 states. My organization is proud to be part of the Northern and Central California SunShot Alliance along with PG&E, SolarCity, Qado Energy and a growing list of cities including Livermore, Berkeley and San Francisco. The goal of the initiative is to enable the construction and interconnection of rooftop solar systems in seven days or less, an unprecedented goal given the industry’s current average of 30 days.

We’ve already seen San Diego County get in front of exploding residential solar growth. After seeing a 300 percent increase in requests for solar permits over five years, the County extended its online building permitting solution to include solar permits, decreasing processing time by 75 percent. It’s a win for government staff, homeowners, solar companies and the environment.

These are just a few examples of how technology can help governments achieve desired policy outcomes as they tackle the uncharted regulatory issues of the modern economy. In a world where people already use Yelp, Uber and Amazon, they have come to demand the same level of service from their government. Civic tech serves as a bridge between public policy and enabling and enforcing compliance, in a way that citizens already understand and expect.

About the Author: As Director of Government Relations for Accela, Tim Woodbury helps governments leverage technology to deliver better services and improve citizen engagement. Mr. Woodbury works with government, associations and community leaders to translate policy priorities into real-world results.

8 Steps Cities Can Take to Increase the Financial Capability of Young People in Employment Programs

A first job is a pivotal moment in a young person’s life and a key first step towards adulthood.

American Apparel Holds Open Call For Jobs In New York City

City leaders nationwide are adopting new efforts to help their youth gain a strong financial foothold.  (Photo: Getty Images)

City youth employment programs provide a unique opportunity for participants to learn important job and life skills as they earn their first paychecks. Unfortunately, all too often these programs miss the chance to also teach critical financial skills, such as how to manage money, budget and save for future goals.

Some cities leaders are now seizing this opportunity and launching new efforts to help youth get off to a strong financial start in life. Their goal is to bring financial education and access to appropriate financial products into youth employment programs, making them an integral part of the “first job” experience.

The potential payoffs reach beyond better financial habits and new options for participants in youth employment programs. Enabling young people to acquire financial skills and bank independently also helps meet important city goals – for example, reducing dependence on predatory financial providers such as high-cost  check cashing services paving the way toward a more capable and financially prepared workforce.

Through a generous grant from JPMorgan Chase, the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families conducted a series of interviews and site visits with 13 cities and their nonprofit partners to learn more about these emerging efforts. The resulting findings and promising practices are highlighted in a new report released today, Youth Employment and Financial Capability: A Municipal Action Guide. The report highlights innovative program models as well as creative ways that cities are funding their programs and forging lasting partnerships with banks and employers.

NLC’s report describes eight specific steps that city leaders can take:

  • Use their authority and “bully pulpit” to become champions of financial capability for young people.
  • Require service providers to include financial capability in city-funded youth employment programs.
  • Harness the power of innovative technologies – mobile applications, interactive games, social media and online platforms – to make learning fun and information more accessible and applicable in real-time situations.
  • Combine financial education with access to mainstream financial services and products, recognizing that knowledge is most powerful when put into practice.
  • Design payroll systems that reinforce financial capability concepts, such as automatic direct deposit and payroll cards, to prevent use of costly alternative financial services.
  • Diversify funding and evaluate results so that programs become stronger and are more sustainable over time.
  • Form strong, cross-sector partnerships with financial institutions, youth-serving organizations, multiple city agencies and local employers to strengthen and scale local efforts.
  • Maintain a customer-centric approach that recognizes and responds to the unique needs of the diverse young people participating in youth employment programs.

Exciting models can guide new city initiatives. For example, the City and County of San Francisco partnered with MyPath, a nonprofit organization, to integrate financial capability services into youth employment programs. This collaboration led to an innovative program that includes:

  • enrollment in safe, affordable accounts with features targeted to youth customers;
  • direct deposit, with an option to automatically deposit part of each paycheck into a savings account which included a matched savings incentive;
  • online financial education training modules; and
  • a savings contract with youth participants to reinforce their savings goals.

Evaluations of the San Francisco/MyPath program lend support to the idea that even short‐term programs with behavioral economics features can have significant effects on the financial capability of economically vulnerable participants in youth employment programs.

For more information about incorporating financial capability into municipal youth employment programs and to read NLC’s new Municipal Action Guide, go to www.nlc.org/financialinclusion or contact Anthony Santiago at santiago@nlc.org or Courtney Coffin at coffin@nlc.org.

About the Authors:

Heidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.

Courtney Coffin is the senior associate for financial inclusion in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Cities Can Use This Innovative Technology to Reduce Gun Violence

Getting to the scene of gunfire quickly and having the situational intelligence necessary for immediate action is key for first responders.

An example of ShotSpotter's dashboard, showing where within a city gunfire was detected by audio sensors. (photo: ShotSpotter)

An example of ShotSpotter’s dashboard, showing where in a city gunfire was detected by acoustic sensors. (photo: ShotSpotter)

This is a guest post by Ralph A. Clark of SST. Inc./ShotSpotter.

Technology can be a wonderful thing, yet just acquiring the latest device or gadget doesn’t mean it will magically transform your life if you don’t know how to effectively use it. The same thing can be said about gunfire detection technology and the potential it has to be a significant game changer.

Today’s technology can offer tremendous new breakthroughs for cities, but successful outcomes must be planned for and embraced by both city officials and the community at large. The technology provider must also provide a full solution and be a trusted partner offering access to industry experts, ongoing services, training and more.

It’s no secret that gun violence in our cities is escalating and impacting public safety. Cities of all sizes across the country have already employed, or are considering implementing, gunfire detection technology as a potential solution. Rather than just adding more “feet on the street,” cities are finding that the right investment in technology can make cities safer while maximizing existing personnel and allowing them to better engage with the community.

Timely and Accurate Information is Key

One of the most important benefits gunfire detection provides is to radically improve access to vital information that enables safe and timely response to emergencies and can help resolve and prevent incidents in the first place. Whether it’s the urban gunfire that plagues our cities daily, or the very infrequent, yet tragic, gunfire from an ‘active shooter’, getting to the scene quickly and having the situational intelligence necessary for immediate action is key for first responders.

Unfortunately, the citizens most affected by gunfire are the least likely to call it in. In fact, it is estimated that fewer than two in 10 shooting incidents are reported to 911 – and, when calls do come in, the information comes in several minutes after the fact and is most often inaccurate.

To help remedy this problem, my company provides a gunfire detection and analysis solution – ShotSpotter – that uses proprietary acoustic sensors to detect and locate gunfire in real time. Alerts are then qualified in our Incident Review Center (IRC) and broadcast in under than a minute to 911 dispatch centers, patrol cars and even smartphones, with the precise location, number of rounds fired, multiple or single shooters, and other valuable situational intelligence. These alerts are critical because they enable first responders to arrive at the scene quickly and safely in order to aid victims, collect evidence, and quickly apprehend offenders.

A Proven Tool for Gun Violence Reduction

Already, many cities and police departments across the country have turned to advanced gunfire detection technology to dramatically improve their ability to respond to gunfire incidents. With more than 90 deployments across the country, cities using this technology are reporting significantly reduced gun-related crime and achieving better engagement with their communities. In our National Gunfire Index for 2014, an analysis of actual gunfire data from 47 American cities using our solution, we found the median reduction in gunfire incidents was 28.8 percent from 2013 to 2014. Fall River, Massachusetts, saw the largest decrease with an almost 58 percent reduction. More recently, our 2015 Index shows that gunfire incidents declined by a median of 12.8 percent last year, with the cities of New Haven (-39%), Atlantic City (-35%) and San Francisco (-35%) showing the greatest decline.

Mayor Sam Sutter of Fall River said, “We are extremely pleased with the dramatic decline in gunshots Fall River has seen over the last few years. While the 57.4 percent decrease is substantial, there is still much more to do. I believe we have the people, the strategy and the tools – including ShotSpotter – to make our city even safer yet.”

One of our early customers, the city and police department of San Francisco, California, has experienced nearly a 50 percent decrease in recorded firearms violence since deploying ShotSpotter as part of their gun violence abatement strategy. A spokesperson from the office of the mayor said that ShotSpotter was key in lowering crime rates, with homicides now at a 30-year low in the city.

Across the country in Canton, Ohio, the police department is using ShotSpotter as a preventative tool, along with proactive community-focused efforts, to combat gun-related crime that was escalating in the 75,000-person city. With the system in place for more than two years, the department reports that gunfire incidents have decreased by nearly one third per year, and evidence collection has increased by nearly four times.

The Future of Gun Detection is Bright

ShotSpotter is already driving meaningful outcomes in cities today, and we are hard at work on new developments that could make it even easier and more cost-effective for cities to use the technology. We recently announced that we are working with GE and its energy start-up, Current, to embed our technology into Current’s intelligent LED street lights. This means wherever there is an array of streetlights, there could also be a precise, real time gunfire detection alerting service to help law enforcement respond to and deter gunfire.

With ShotSpotter sensors embedded into lighting fixtures throughout a city, broader coverage areas will be available on a more affordable basis. Well-lit streets are already a plus for crime prevention, but now cities will be able to use street lighting for much more than just illumination.

The new GE LED streetlights are another way cities can get on board with gunfire detection by smartly leveraging their existing infrastructure. By blending new technologies together, cities can get more for less while improving the public safety outcomes and benefits to the communities they serve.

Smart Cities with Smart Technology

The use of technology to enhance and extend the capabilities of today’s cities is a smart and wise investment.  There is only so much that more manpower can do to reduce gun violence, and budget constraints are a constant issue. The results of gunfire detection technology prove that timely and accurate information helps cities to do more with less, enabling them to respond  and making the city safer for both the communities they serve and first responders.

About the Author: Ralph A. Clark is the President and CEO of SST. Inc./ShotSpotter.

How Two Ohio Cities Used Partnerships to House Veterans

Cities like Parma, Ohio, are partnering with organizations such as Purple Heart Homes and The Home Depot Foundation to ensure aging veterans and those with service-connected disabilities have safe housing. (Photos: Purple Heart Homes)

Cities in the Cleveland area are increasingly using the opportunity to rally their communities in support of housing for veterans, including aging veterans and those with service-connected disabilities.

In the face of limited local and federal resources, the cities of Parma and South Euclid have begun to partner with nonprofits to build, preserve, or adapt the homes of aging veterans as well as those with service-connected disabilities. These partnerships allow the cities to maximize the use of traditional programs used to rehabilitate or adapt homes for seniors and those with special needs, such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

From 1966-1972, as part of the Vietnam War, Parma resident Dale Dunmire served in the U.S. Navy. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal, and returned home where he began a 35-year career with Cuyahoga County Corrections and the Sherriff’s Office.

After a 2014 operation left Mr. Dunmire wheelchair-bound, he had a ramp installed to help him get in and out of his home. Following an insurance denial for the ramp, the durable medical supply company offered to finance the metal ramp for $325 a month – an amount which Dale could not afford. The ramp was repossessed, leaving Dale home-bound and unable to continue his physical therapy.

As Dale and his family began grappling with their new reality, his Medicare provider connected him to Purple Heart Homes (PHH). PHH is a non-profit started by Dale Beatty and John Gallina, both service-connected disabled veterans of the Iraq War, to provide housing solutions to aging veterans and fellow service-connected disabled veterans.

To build Mr. Dunmire’s ramp, PHH worked closely with both the City of Parma and The Home Depot Foundation. In addition, volunteer associates from the local retail Home Depot, known as “Team Depot,” were key partners. Joining this team were local contractors who provided expertise and local restaurants that provided volunteers with food.

“Our city’s motto is ‘Progress Through Partnerships,’” said Parma Mayor Tim DeGeeter. “I couldn’t think of a better example that illustrates this.”

To help the project, the city waived the permit fees affiliated with the work. “Our city was happy to help in a small way in terms of the permit fees – but overall, we have limited resources to do this type of work for our residents,” said Mayor DeGeeter. “We aren’t in a position to use a lot of CDBG money for home accessibility projects and we have only some money available through our senior center. By working with Purple Heart Homes, and thanks to the support of our local Team Depot, The Home Depot Foundation, and the good will of our community, we were able to make sure that a veteran who has called Parma home for more than 20 years can continue to do so.”

In South Euclid, another Cleveland suburb in Cuyahoga County, the city worked with Purple Heart Homes, Inc. to revitalize foreclosed properties and provide homes for two service-connected disabled veterans. Working with One South Euclid (a nonprofit citizens group), the North East Ohio Foundation for Patriotism (NEOPAT), and local contractors and suppliers, two previously foreclosed vacant properties that were acquired by the Cuyahoga Land Bank were rehabilitated and provided to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Thanks to the property contributed by the land bank for these projects, the overall cost of each home was dramatically reduced. PHH then worked with the city, which agreed to waive contractor registration fees and permitting expenses and expedite the inspection process for the homes.

Once again, PHH’s involvement with the city rallied the community’s support, and volunteers provided much of the needed labor to rehab each home. During the volunteer days when building was happening, the city provided extra police to direct traffic and manage the increased need for parking.

As a result of low land and labor costs, each home is financed with low-cost mortgages that are paid in part by the veteran, with a second soft mortgage held by PHH that diminishes over time and conditionally gifts 50 percent of the home value. A deed restriction ensures each home will remain owner-occupied by a veteran, and over time, the veteran accrues equity in the home, which they are able to take with them in the event they choose to move to another location.

On January 25, 2016, after seeing the value of their work for both veterans and cities in the region, PHH moved to solidify their presence and held the first meeting of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of Purple Heart Homes. The organization’s chapter will bring together the networks and experiences established during each of these projects to more cities in the area.

Cities are increasingly facing the challenges of an aging population with varying degrees of disabilities. Previous CitiesSpeak articles have talked about the value that can be found by focusing on the issue of housing and the veteran sub-population.

As cities in Ohio have seen, a focus on veteran housing provides leaders with the opportunity to learn what works, which stakeholders and programs can be best aligned, and how to best bring communities together to meet the housing needs of their neighbors.

For more information on Purple Heart Homes visit purplehearthomesusa.org, and for more information about The Home Depot Foundation visit homedepotfoundation.org.

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.

Does the Maker Movement Hold the Key to Economic Growth?

The power of this movement is its ability to draw production back into cities. This can have profound economic and social benefits.

MakerspaceA man builds a 3D printer at a makerspace. (Getty)

This is an excerpt from NLC’s upcoming report, The Maker Movement. The report was created in partnership with the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University.

If you’ve visited Pittsburgh lately, you might have noticed companies like Google and TechShop have setup outposts in the city’s developing urban core. Drawing on the prowess of the robotics engineering programs at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Melon, the city has found a new calling, becoming one of the most encouraging spots for innovation in the country, and the so-called maker movement.

These economic investments in startups, makerspaces and the technology sector are resulting in real dividends for the city. Revenue from economic growth has translated into protected bike lanes, open spaces and parks, and events – projects aimed at making the city a place people want to stay and lead active lives.

From Rust Belt cities like Pittsburgh to rugged outdoors towns like Burlington, Vermont, the maker movement is providing localities a framework for unlocking growth and engaging citizens. With the growth of the movement, which views the producer as the consumer, co-location of manufacturing, engineering and design is common – a process that is transforming our city landscapes.

And that’s the power of the movement: its ability to draw production back into the cities where consumption occurs. This can have profound economic and social benefits. In addition to added jobs, proximity means more innovative potential for workers. The untapped skills and knowledge of out-of-work producers become part of the creative economy of the city.

But, what is the maker movement, exactly?

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the United States’ technology and manufacturing industries experienced a significant transition. With the advent of the Internet, computers began shrinking in size and price, while global connections grew exponentially and economies became inextricably linked.

During this time, the U.S. began outsourcing much of its technological needs. However, the introduction of new technologies such as 3D printers and non-commercial droids spurred an interest in Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Do-It-With-Others (DIWO) hobbies. Faster prototyping and the availability of fabrication tools as well as easier sourcing of parts and direct distribution of physical products online further contributed to the desire to grow community workspaces.

In this sense, the maker movement gained momentum from the increasing participation of all kinds of people in interconnected communities, defined by interests and skills. The increased predominance of makerspaces offers individuals a compelling social experience that is built around interpersonal relationships.

According to Atmel Corporation, the leading manufacturer of microcontrollers and touch technology semiconductors, and a major backer of the maker movement, there are an estimated 135 million U.S. adults who are makers. In 2013, Wired magazine reported that the overall market for 3D printing products and similar maker services reached $2.2 billion in 2012, a compounded annual growth rate of almost 29 percent when compared to the $1.7 billion the industry recorded in 2011. Projections are expected to reach $6 billion by 2017 and reach $8.4 billion by 2020.

Each region of the U.S. and each local community has a slightly varied understanding of what the actual maker movement is, and its definition is often affected by the unique economic environment of each locality. In many cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the maker movement has emerged organically as former manufacturing cities look to diversify by incorporating innovative new technologies into their existing factories.

The transition away from generic, mass-produced, made-in-China merchandise and back to local industry seems to encourage entrepreneurs who are looking to share their ideas and innovations with other like-minded people, and build broad-based support for the maker movement.

Brooks Rainwater bio photoAbout the Author: Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Supreme Court Puts Clean Power Plan Regulations on Hold

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan requires power plants to reduce carbon emissions and establishes state-by-state targets to accomplish this goal.

In a 5-4 decision, the court halted enforcement of the plan until after legal challenges are resolved. (Getty Images)

The Supreme Court may currently be on recess but that did not stop it from issuing a stay preventing the Clean Power Plan regulations from going into effect until the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court if it chooses to, rules on the regulations.

The Clean Power Plan requires power plants to reduce carbon emissions and establishes state-by-state targets to accomplish this goal.

Twenty-seven states and others are currently challenging the Clean Power Plan. They argue that the regulations exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority granted under the Clean Air Act.

“We disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the Clean Power Plan while litigation proceeds,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement. The National League of Cities, on behalf of local leaders across the country, reaffirmed its support for the plan.

The National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors also previously filed a motion in the D.C. Circuit supporting the Clean Power Act. It discussed the impact climate change has had on cities.

The Supreme Court has apparently never blocked an EPA regulation before the Court has had a chance to rule on the regulation. The Court’s actions indicate it is likely to hear this case on appeal after it is decided by the D.C. Circuit. The four more liberal Justices (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) voted against the stay.

Curious as to how this might affect your city? There will be two upcoming conference calls to learn more about the impact of the Clean Power Plan stay on local governments.

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

Predatory Small Business Lending Concerns Voiced at Federal, State Hearings

The push for more fairness and transparency within the non-traditional business lending industry was recently brought to the attention of policymakers on Capitol Hill and at the Illinois State House.

As we recently covered, predatory lending to small business owners is of growing concern now that entrepreneurs are increasingly relying on the unregulated, alternative lending market to borrow under the $250,000 threshold needed for most traditional bank loans.

The lack of regulation and oversight of the alternative business lending industry has allowed several bad apples to emerge and take advantage of business owners – particularly in lower income and high-minority communities – with exorbitantly high interest rates, hidden fees, and other unreasonable penalties that make repayment difficult.

A panel discussion on Capitol Hill, spearheaded by the advocacy group Small Business Majority, zeroed in on how educating business owners and regulating the alternative lending market are two needed strategies to prevent businesses from taking out loans with predatory terms. Small Business Majority Founder and CEO John Arensmeyer was joined by representation from Accion Chicago, Fundera, and the Aspen Institute to raise awareness about what Arensmeyer called the “wild west” of business lending.

“It’s crucial that small business owners have protections in place and a way to separate trustworthy lenders from bad actors,” said Arensmeyer.

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The Illinois State Senate Financial Institutions Committee recently convened a hearing on predatory small business lending. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Senate Financial Institutions Committee convened a hearing on predatory small business lending and the lack of access to capital for business owners. During the hearing, Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers called for new state legislation to protect business owners from becoming victims of alternative lending schemes that are not in the best interest of the borrower.

The legislation suggested by Treasurer Summers would require transparency in loan terms and prevent fee traps, among several other steps to protect small business borrowers.

“Chicago’s small business community deserves protection from the unchecked greed of predatory lenders,” Summers said. “While access to capital is the number one concern of small business owners across the state, bank and commercial loans continue to decline, steering [business owners] to underhanded lenders. As we continue to urge banking partners to increase their local investment, this new, common-sense legislation would ensure transparency in lending that so often puts our entrepreneurs at risk.”

If state legislation emerges from the ongoing discussions in Chicago, it would likely mirror many of the same stipulations that are in the national Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights, a pledge that NLC recently endorsed that pushes for more transparency in the alternative lending market.

City leaders can begin to understand the scope of this issue in their own communities by surveying business owners about their credit usage, talking to businesses about their borrowing needs, and informing business owners about their borrowing rights.

We are curious to know about the landscape of access to capital in your city. Are their credit barriers for business owners? Is predatory lending on your radar as a potential issue? Share your story with us.

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