Why Housing is Key to Loving Your City

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This post is contributed by NLC President Karen Freeman-Wilson, mayor of Gary, Indiana.

As elected officials, we want everyone to see our cities the same way we do. We work hard to make our residents feel the same passion, love and optimism that motivated us to run to serve themBut it’s hard to love your city if you’re concerned about the basics—like having a roof over your head. And for far too many people across the country, the basic necessity of quality housing at an affordable cost is not being met.

Some estimates indicate that almost 4 million Americans will experience housing insecurity in their lifetimes, and countless others will face unsafe housing situations. Inadequate plumbing and electricity, and even lack of air conditioning during heat waves and heating during the winter, can cause negative effects on health and result in exorbitant costs for taxpayers. That, coupled with soaring housing prices in many communities, and a lack of housing stock in others, creates an untenable situation.

For years, local officials like myself have been working tirelessly to ensure all of our residents can have a place to call home. Whether it is making use of housing trust funds, engaging in private sector partnerships, or identifying innovative financing strategies, local leaders in cities and towns across the country are translating basic needs into targeted and forward-looking strategies.

But we still have many people whose housing needs are not being met.

These are just some of the reasons why I have assembled a diverse and thoughtful group of city leaders to serve on a task force devoted to the complex issue of housing. The task force is comprised of 18 leaders representing a wide range of city sizes, geographies, roles in their respective regions, and market types, who will develop a set of best and promising practices at the local level, as well as policy recommendations to federal and state governments. The task force will convene several times during the first six months of 2019, and will release a final report at NLC’s leadership meeting in June.

Through this task force, we will leverage our collective experience to solve this urgent challenge.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announces housing task force at the 2018 City Summit in Los Angeles. Mayor Bowser will serve as the task force chair. Photo: Jason Dixson Photography for NLC.

Task force officials are already testing new models and innovative tools to support their residents. You have to look no further than what housing task force chair Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. is doing in her city. She’s investing hundreds of millions of dollars for affordable units in new developments, while also building creative living spaces like grand-family housing for seniors raising their grandchildren.

And in my city of Gary, Indiana, we’re addressing our problem with vacant and abandoned houses through a multi-pronged strategy that includes leveraging data to identify demolition targets and areas for reinvestment, while leveraging local, state and federal funds to tear down crumbling structures and creating an innovative public-private real estate partnership to attract developers.

These are just two examples of how city leaders are making bold moves towards solving our housing crisis. We don’t have any time to waste.

As president of the National League of Cities, I’m proud to direct our resources and support to solve this problem. Today, let’s remind residents across the country why they should love their cities, and how we are committed to insuring that their cities, in turn, love them.

About the Author: Karen Freeman-Wilson is the mayor of Gary, Indiana, and president of the National League of Cities (NLC). Follow Mayor Freeman-Wilson on Twitter at @karenaboutgary.