Each year, mayors around the country detail their visions for the upcoming year in their state of the city speeches. With the federal process continuing to be in political gridlock, state of the city speeches have taken on new importance and meaning, giving mayors a bigger and brighter stage to articulate the changes their cities need.
For the last five years, NLC has analyzed trends in these speeches. This year our research highlights housing as the fourth most talked about topic in speeches. Housing has been among the top ten issues mentioned in speeches since 2015, but has increased in importance over time.
This year, 39 percent of speeches included significant coverage of housing issues with a primary focus on affordable housing and homelessness. Ten speeches also directly touched on Veterans housing and homelessness issues.
Mayor and NLC President Mark Stodola of Little Rock, Arkansas told his constituents in his state of the city address that, “Through our group meeting regularly at city hall, we will soon be submitting paperwork certifying that we have met the federal benchmark for functionally ending Veteran homelessness in Little Rock.” Under his leadership, Little Rock has seen a 60 percent decrease in Veteran homelessness since 2010.
NLC is cognizant of the importance of this issue, and has been actively supporting housing solutions in many of the nation’s cities, with a special focus on Veterans. Two partnerships that have made this possible are the ones we’ve forged with The Home Depot Foundation and Purple Heart Homes (PHH).
In 2011, The Home Depot Foundation announced their mission to help meet the housing needs of Veterans and their families with a focus on homelessness, combat-wounded Veterans and aging Veterans. Since then, the Foundation has enhanced nearly 40,000 Veterans’ homes and facilities in more than 2,500 cities. In 2016, the Foundation made a commitment to invest a quarter of a billion dollars by 2020. Last month, they announced they had reached this goal a full two years early.
With support from the Foundation, NLC helped establish the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Today, NLC is the lead national partner of this network of more than 500 local elected officials who have made a permanent commitment to ensure homelessness is rare, brief and one-time, beginning with Veterans. The Mayors Challenge has been one of several key drivers behind a historic 46 percent decline in Veteran homelessness since 2010, and has helped 63 communities in 33 states effectively end homelessness.
Building on this progress, NLC has been encouraging cities to focus on home repairs and modifications for seniors, specifically Veterans. Beginning in 2017, NLC partnered with Purple Heart Homes to develop collaborative efforts to improve the homes of senior Veterans and allow them to age in places that are safe and accessible. PHH was established in 2008, by two combat-wounded Veterans who wanted all Veterans to feel like they had a place to call home.
As part of PHH’s Operation Veteran Home Renovation, NLC and PHH are engaging local elected officials, city officials administering CDBG-funded home repair and modification programs, Area Agencies on Aging, home builders associations, financial institutions, and local Team Depots to first identify Veterans in need of home renovations or repairs, and then complete projects. These collaborative efforts come at no cost to the Veterans or the city and provide municipalities with additional resources to help Veterans in their communities.
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Projects include installing wheelchair ramps and grab bars, widening doorways, painting the inside and outside of homes, putting in walk in showers, lowering counter tops, and more, based on specific needs. In 2017, NLC and PHH completed 22 projects in six cities and in 2018, there more than 30 projects in nine cities on pace to be completed.
One city working with NLC and PHH is Tucson, Arizona. In his state of the city speech, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild discussed the important work they do for Veterans. “Tucson is a city that never gives up on its people, working to keep them connected and productive, whether that’s getting dropouts back in school, getting the formerly incarcerated back in the workforce, getting homeless Veterans back in housing or any of the many other social service missions in this community.”
The city is demonstrating its “never give up” attitude through its work to repair and renovate the homes of their Veterans. For nearly 25 years, the city has coordinated home repairs and modifications through their Housing Rehabilitation Collaborative.
Comprised of nearly a dozen community groups, the collaborative focuses its efforts on whole house repairs and access improvements. To increase the number of senior Veterans served through the access improvements work, the city is now expanding their collaborative efforts to include PHH and NLC, with support from The Home Depot Foundation.
Housing affordability is a challenge for nearly all local leaders. But fortunately, city officials are making demonstrable progress by focusing on Veterans first.
About the Authors: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Program Manager for Housing at the National League of Cities (NLC), connecting local leaders to best practices and efforts working to ensure all veterans have a safe place to call home. He has worked at the local, state, and federal levels on homelessness and housing for more than 15 years.
Domenick Lasorsa is the associate for Veterans and Special Needs at the National League of Cities. He is finishing his master’s degree in public service at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Follow him on twitter @DomLasorsa.