City Authority Varies Widely From State to State

In a new report, NLC finds that states limit city power through preemption in a number of policy areas, ranging from labor protections to taxing authority.

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In some cases, preemption can lead to improved policy statewide. However, preemption that prevents cities from expanding rights, building stronger economies, and promoting innovation can be counterproductive when decision-making is divorced from the core wants and needs of community members. (Getty Images)

State legislatures have gotten more aggressive in their use of preemption in recent years. Preemption is the use of state law to nullify a municipal ordinance or authority. Proponents of preemption argue that it equalizes laws across the state, preventing individuals and firms from navigating a patchwork of regulation. Preemption creates a problem, though, because it means a loss of local control for cities. This can have negative effects on local economies and the rights of marginalized groups. Moreover, these laws counter the intentions of local leaders and their communities.

As preemption efforts often concern a politically divisive issue, they rely on single-party dominance to pass through state legislatures. As of the 2016 election cycle, Republicans have 25 government trifectas, meaning they control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. Democrats have trifectas in six states, but control a larger portion of city halls. Several states where there has been single-party control over the last decade, including Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, have seen increases in preemption.

In our new report, City Rights in an Era of Preemption: A State-by-State Analysis, we closely examine seven different policy areas for preemptive state policies. The following is an overview of our findings:

  • 24 states preempt local minimum wage ordinances
  • 17 states preempt local paid leave ordinances
  • three states explicitly preempt local anti-discrimination ordinances
  • 37 states limit local authority to regulate ride sharing
  • three states limit local authority to regulate home sharing
  • 17 states preempt localities from establishing municipal broadband service
  • 42 states limit local fiscal authority through tax and expenditure limitations

Our analysis finds extensive variation in the number of preemptions and the application of these laws across states. Only two states, Connecticut and Vermont, do not preempt their cities in any of the seven policy areas we examined. On the other hand, 18 states preempt their cities in at least four of the policy areas.

Ultimately, state preemption limits the ability of cities to address critical local issues and uphold the values of those living in their communities. Our call for local control is intended to give cities the ability to adapt and to have the tools they need to build stronger economies, promote innovation, and move their states – and ultimately the country – forward.

Click here to read the full NLC report.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Forecasting the Role of Cities in Education

Both cities and the federal government want great schools because they help create a strong workforce, boosting the economy at a local and national level – but the legal and fiscal powers of both levels of government are limited, and the policies of the new administration will likely complicate this dynamic even more.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters to cities. Part two of the series focused on how one policy – affordable housing assistance – has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today. In this post, we examine federalism in the context of the American educational system.

The expectation that government should provide accessible, quality education for all has become deeply engrained in the American psyche. This responsibility, however, falls squarely on the shoulders of local governments. Quality education is most often a local responsibility, increasingly paid for at the state level, and managed by policies set at the national level. More specifically, states and local school districts have always made the critical decisions about education, from who should teach to what should be taught. The role of the federal government has been more limited; education policy has long flowed from the bottom up, with the federal government often expanding innovative local policies nationally. For these reasons, education presents an interesting look at federalism.

History of National Education Policy

While the role of the federal government in education has been muted, its level of involvement has steadily increased over the last sixty years. Federal interest in schools was triggered by the launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union in 1957 and the fear that American education was falling behind on a global scale. In 1965, President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, delivering resources to poor urban and rural schools. Later in the 1960s and into the 1970s, the federal government worked to combat de facto segregation in public schools. The Department of Education became its own cabinet-level department in the Carter administration, only to see its budget severely reduced during Reagan’s tenure.

Similar to other policies, education policy followed the trend of heightened national importance during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, with the focus shifting back to the states during the Reagan administration. However, these federal trends coupled with changes at the state level to constrain public school budgets. Funding for education, which has typically been tied to property tax revenues, started to come under threat in 1978 when California was the first state to pass a limit on local tax collection. In 1979, state spending overtook local spending as the largest source of education funding, in effect limiting local autonomy.

Today, the federal government contributes between 8 and 10 percent of the public education budget. This amounts to $55 billion annually as of FY 2013, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Much of this funding is discretionary, which means that Congress sets the amount annually through the appropriations process.

The most recent era of federalism, while hard to define, has largely focused on accountability and performance – doing more with less money. No policy area exemplifies this better than education, and no particular legislation better than the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Enacted at the outset of the George W. Bush administration, NCLB was built on the premise that standards should be equalized across states so that a school’s performance could be accurately measured. These priorities continued during the Obama administration with the Race to the Top program, which rewarded states that adopted common standards and broadened performance metrics.

In the Trump administration, the Department of Education will be led by Betsy DeVos. Secretary DeVos has been an advocate for school choice, meaning the privatization of education through school voucher programs and the expansion of charter schools. It is likely she will bring her views on education reform to the Department.

Because of recent reforms to federal education funding, local governments and school districts are under pressure to ensure schools are performing adequately or they risk losing critical funding to privatization. If Vice President Mike Pence’s tenure as Indiana governor is any indication, the Administration will likely move to expand charters and voucher programs. When the vice president was governor, Indiana shifted millions of dollars shifted away from public schools, and more children from middle-income families received vouchers to attend private schools.

Steps Cities Can Take Moving Forward

While education policy is administered at the local level, city governments often do not have direct oversight of their public schools. In some municipalities, school boards are jointly appointed by the mayor, city councilors, and/or the governor. In contrast, many school districts are independent special-purpose governments with leadership that is elected rather than appointed by city officials. In both of these scenarios, the policies of the new administration will likely add to the complexity of local-federal relationships in the education arena even more.

However, whether or not cities are directly responsible for their public schools, local governments can still lead (or expand) educational programs. Many cities offer programs during out-of-school times, either in the evenings or during the summer. These programs enrich the education experience, prepare students for specific careers, or help close the racial achievement gap.

Cities can also use data to improve their school systems. In the City of Nashville, for example, a partnership between Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and the city-funded afterschool program for middle school youth, the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), has significantly improved students’ reading ability in just three months. This is exactly the type of partnership and focus students need, especially if they are struggling or falling behind. In another example of partnerships, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families teamed-up with MomsRising and School Readiness Consulting to produce Strong Start for Strong Cities, an early learning resource guide for mayors, councilmembers and other municipal leaders.

Finally, local elected officials can exercise leadership to support youth education beginning with pre-school, expand alternatives for students who struggle in traditional educational settings, increase high school graduation rates, and promote college access and completion.

To learn more about what NLC is doing in this policy arena – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Cities Are Part of the Prescription to Fix America’s Affordable Housing Crisis

Dr. Ben Carson will likely take over the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its budget. HUD provides significant resources to cities and their residents – so when it comes to affordable housing assistance, what does that mean for cities?

(NLC)

(NLC)

This article was made possible with the research support of American University Department of Public Administration and Policy graduate students.

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters for cities. In this post, we’ll look at how one policy – affordable housing assistance – has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today.

An Affordable Housing Crisis

There is an unprecedented demand for rental housing, among all income levels. With rental markets tight, low- and moderate-income renters are having a difficult time finding housing. In America’s central cities, which house the majority of low-income renters, the problem is exacerbated by an overall decline in public housing developments and a steady increase in transferable vouchers. These cities are seeing an increase in the number of severely distressed renters and a decrease in the affordable housing supply.

While the federal government takes an active role in the housing space, local governments face tough decisions daily. The negative effects of homelessness and poor housing have real effects on resident well-being. And because property values are usually tied to revenues, city budgets are strongly affected by changes in the real estate market. The federal government works to support housing in all of these areas, but the tools available sometimes reflect past problems.

With his likely confirmation, Dr. Ben Carson will take over the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its budget of over $40 billion (FY17 requested outlays). HUD provides significant resources to cities and their residents, including both rental and homeownership assistance. For this reason and others, housing policy offers an interesting look at the federal-city relationship.

Federal Housing Policy

The nature of federalism over the past 30 years has been defined by an interplay between economic and political realities. As the economy has expanded and contracted, governments at all levels have responded by expanding or cutting spending. Similarly, different administrations have had drastically different viewpoints on the size of government and the degree to which local problems warrant national solutions.

During the 1980s, a changing economy and the Reagan administration combined to drastically change the face of federalism. Increased reliance on block grants, incentivizing third-party partnerships, and limiting unrestricted funding all began during this time. To meet their aggressive fiscal goals, the federal government shifted from place-based to person-based aid. By redirecting the flow of federal assistance to people instead of places, housing vouchers became more portable since they were attached to eligible persons instead of eligible units; however, this shift decreased the amount of funding received by local governments. As a result, although federal aid increased by 78 percent from 1989 to 1994, states captured approximately 89 percent of the increase because states are the principal administrators of intergovernmental aid-to-persons programs.

By decreasing the use of direct federal funds allocated to affordable housing, localities were forced to become more involved in supplying affordable housing. This led to the practice of combining grants such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME block grant, and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). The Reagan administration’s emphasis on less federal spending and more private market solutions laid the foundation for the relationship of federalism and affordable housing policies that can still be felt by localities today.

In 1998, Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress enacted the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act, which sought to address the issues of deteriorating public housing, concentrations of poverty, and the allocation of subsidized rental assistance to individual households. The law continued the trend of devolving responsibility to lower levels of government by granting public housing authorities greater flexibility and authority.

Today, with the election of Donald Trump as president, the future of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit has been called into question. The tax credit has subsidized the construction or renovation of a substantial number of multifamily units since its inception in 1986. Funding for new projects funded with LIHTCs have become less attractive as investors anticipate the new administration to reduce corporate tax rates. If the trend holds, this presents a significant worry to cities.

Recommendations

It is likely that the trend toward greater private involvement in affordable housing policy will continue into the future. Members of the new administration, including Dr. Carson, view housing assistance as a government handout that is not necessary to escape poverty. Undoubtedly, local leaders need to be innovative if they want to use yesterday’s tools to address today’s crisis. The following are recommendations for dealing with housing policy in the current federalism context:

Successfully leverage federal aid by drawing from as many programs as possible. Take advantage of the entire package. There are a number of programs and resources available to cities. Each has a different purpose and structure. Working in concert, these funds can be powerful tools for combating a city’s affordable housing crisis from all angles.

Low-cost initiatives like Inclusionary Zones can be successful, but don’t assume that they will work in all situations. There are always going to be new and innovative programs. Make sure these work for your city. When copying a successful model, cities must always evaluate whether administrative structures that have been used elsewhere can be duplicated. When copying a model program that relies on the cooperation of private actors, cities must also assess if there are enough similarities between the extra-governmental environment in the model city and their own.

Make the most of federal programs by making your city attractive to the private sector. Despite the difficulties brought by increased reliance on the private sector, cities can increase the odds of success by making themselves attractive to outside investment. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to simply market existing opportunities to developers. Even if LIHTCs are distributed through state governments, cities can work to help developers apply for them and make the process to attain them as smooth as possible. Similarly, inclusionary zones with density bonuses are more likely to draw investment than inclusionary zones with punitive fees. The less organic interest there is in development, the more cities must do to encourage it. Unfortunately, there can come a point where no amount of promotion can overcome economic realities, and even the most innovating third-party partnership policies will flounder. It is these situations that highlight the continued need for stable federal aid more than what the market will provide.

To learn more about what NLC is doing in this policy arena – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Federalism in Focus

The relationship between the federal and local levels of government has been in the spotlight after just a few short weeks of the new administration. It is clear from public statements, Tweets and an executive order that President Trump intends to shake up political institutions as we’ve come to know them.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In this new series, Federalism in Focus, we’ll unpack the nature of the city-federal relationship today, how federalism is reflected in urban policy, and what an ideal relationship would look like.

What is federalism?

Federalism is the constitutional relationship between state governments and the federal government. Cities have a role in the federal relationship that can be difficult to decipher. Local governments are not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, or even the Federalist Papers, because, for much of early American history, cities – even the largest – tended not to be incorporated. Over the years, cities derived their existence and limited powers from their state governments. Only since the 1930s has there been an active and direct federal-city relationship.

The prevailing interpretation of city authority comes from an 1868 Iowa court case. In it, Judge John Dillon offered a narrow interpretation of a local government’s authority, stating that state legislatures give cities life and can take it away. States, therefore, vary tremendously in their treatment of local governments. Some states offer cities home rule, where the cities have been granted broad authority to create new programs or raise taxes without state approval. However, states have increasingly sought to limit the power of cities through by preempting the authority of cities to regulate particular issues. States also broker the relationship between the federal government and their localities, adding their own preferences to those interactions.

Why is federalism important to cities?

The way in which a president and Congress view the relationship between levels of government is important context for the legislation they produce. From affordable housing to immigration, federal policy toward cities is shaped by the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the federal system it enshrines. Before approaching any policy argument, it is essential to know the way power is divided. In the case of so-called sanctuary cities, President Donald Trump’s executive order relies on the power of the purse. This is a coercive view of federalism, where state and local governments comply with federal mandates based on grant funding.

Although the federal government does not provide a significant amount of funding to local governments (only about 5 percent of general municipal revenue), it has other ways of increasing local revenue or reducing local costs. This includes establishing federal tax exemptions that reduce municipal borrowing costs. Federal tax exemptions for local property, sales and income taxes encourage homeownership and consumption of goods and services, thereby increasing municipal revenue from local sales, income and property taxes.

In addition, federal aid reaches municipalities in the form of grants. Federal grants come in two forms: block and categorical. Block grants are allocated according to a predetermined formula that dictates how much money a locality can expect to receive, depending on quantifiable factors like population, housing density or health indicators. Cities that apply for block grants must use funds from a preapproved broad functional area such as community development, but generally have few restrictions on how it is spent. Categorical grants, on the other hand, may be spent on more narrowly defined programs.

How has federalism changed over time?

As political climates shift, the way federalism plays out in America also changes. The 1960s saw a very activist federal government that worked directly with cities to implement social policy. Federal aid to cities was a much larger share of the budget than it is today. During the administrations of presidents Nixon and Reagan, the paradigm shifted. Grants became less specific, preferring block grants over categorical, and funding also shrunk.

Today, federal policy tends to prefer transfers of aid to individuals rather than to governments. Money for cities is therefore limited. This is emphasized in the federalism today, which values accountability through results oriented programs and increased incentives to work across jurisdictions. Moving forward, we can likely expect a Trump administration and Republican Congress to look for ways to leverage private investment in cities, rather than direct federal dollars. In the current landscape, we can also expect differences between levels of government to become highly politicized to the point of brinksmanship.

In the rest of this series, we’ll look at what specific federal policies can tell us about the city-federal relationship. To find out more – and make your voice heard at the federal level – come to NLC’s Congressional City Conference!

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Mayors – Here’s How to Deliver an Effective State of the City Address

For many mayors, the start of the new year means it’s time to deliver their annual State of the City address, a speech which reviews the previous year’s accomplishments and sets the policy agenda for the year ahead.

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Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto delivers his annual State of the City address on January 26, 2016. (photo: Pittsburgh City Paper)

Your State of the City address has great potential to both inform your community and rally them to action – and success, of course, depends on the quality of your speech and its delivery. To aid in that effort, National League of Cities (NLC) has developed a new guide, “How to Deliver an Effective State of the City Address.Here’s a brief overview:

Developing Content

A good speech owes as much to the research as it does the writing. No rhetorical device can make up for a lack of substance. The time before the speech is delivered is a critical moment when arguments should be crafted, statistics assembled, and personal anecdotes collected.

Mayors should also decide on a central theme for their speeches, which helps listeners follow along. Before writing your speech, consider the headline you want to see in your local newspaper the following morning. This will help determine the key messages you want to deliver.

Drafting Your Speech

In addition to developing the content of your speeches, NLC’s how-to guide helps you structure your State of the City address by providing examples from past speeches delivered by other mayors. A speech of this type should contain five critical components: an attention grabber, a problems section, a solutions section, a visualization of how the solutions will help, and a call-to-action. From introduction to body to conclusion, our guide will help you craft a complete and persuasive argument.

Delivering the Address

State of the City speeches increase government transparency, helping local leaders connect with constituents, network with businesses, and tout accomplishments of the region. To resonate with your audience, you must know its particular needs and interests. Be sure to address them in your speech with the correct tone and substantive arguments. Finally, remember that you are writing for the ear – practice your speech aloud to make sure it sounds good and fits your presentation style.

View NLC’s full guide here.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Mayors Celebrate Diversity, Need to Address Inequities

NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities analysis found that mayors care about the need to create environments that promote equity, especially in diverse neighborhoods, and that multiple mayors set benchmark goals for diversity within their own workforces.

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Mayors often reflect on the visible changes in American demographics that they see in their communities, and they like the strength diverse communities provide to their cities. (Getty Images)

Beginning September 15, Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the history of the Latino community in the United States. Latinos contribute to strong economies, cultural vibrancy, and workforce revitalization in almost every community in America. A growing demographic group, Latinos are expected to make up almost thirty percent of the U.S. population by 2060.

For many years, Latinos have added to the essential diversity of cities. According to Pew Research Center, the Latino population is growing fastest in communities with the fewest Latinos while over half of Latinos lived in just 15 metropolitan areas in 2014.

Diversity isn’t just a buzzword, it’s an important ingredient for thriving, prosperous cities. In its State of the Cities 2016 report, the National League of Cities (NLC) found that 17 percent of mayors mentioned the importance of diversity to their cities. In his State of the City address, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “We draw our strength from diversity. We are a city where everyone is respected.” Diversity is what makes urban places work and thrive. Cities and their leaders are definitely taking notice, but there is more to be done.

Mayors often reflect on the visible changes in American demographics that they see in their communities, and they like the strength diverse communities provide to their cities. In fact, mayors were twice as likely this year to devote significant portions of their speeches to issues of demographics, like immigration and population growth, compared to last.

But just because a city is diverse doesn’t mean it will necessarily be more successful than less diverse cities. The promise of diversity rests on the ability of all communities – ethnic, racial, economic, or otherwise – to have an equal shot at success. In their State of the Cities analysis, NLC found that mayors spoke about the need to create environments that promote equity, especially in diverse neighborhoods. Multiple mayors set benchmark goals for diversity within their own workforces, particularly in police departments.

Diversity isn’t just important in cities, it’s important to American society as a whole. For this reason, the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program has facilitated conversations on developing pathways to equity and opportunity through events like our America’s Future Summit: Reimagining Opportunity in a Changing Nation. We’ve learned that opportunity comes in many forms and that achieving equity requires a cross-sector approach. Moreover, the story of Latinos is often similar to many other underrepresented communities in America – strategies for empowering Latino communities can be useful for empowering other groups.

Supporting diverse communities, including Latinos, matters for the communities themselves and for the cities in which they reside. Latino communities in particular create jobs for their communities and benefit their local economies. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Latino owned businesses grew 46.9 percent nationally from 2007 to 2012, totaling 3.3 million firms. Over the same period, the number of non-Latino owned businesses grew just 0.7 percent. Despite these impressive numbers, Latino entrepreneurs face difficulties finding necessary capital and support in the business community, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

But equity is still lacking in cities, and “we also know, however, that the single greatest way to expand opportunity is by expanding and nurturing our local and small businesses,” said Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg. NLC reported that 17 percent of mayors discussed strategies to support minority-owned businesses this year.

Cities may be diverse, but mayors must find ways to expand equity to include Latino and other communities that have immeasurable contributions to make. Today, more than ever, we must recognize the value of diversity in cities across the country and support policies that encourage equity for all.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about data and technology.

About the Author: Haili Lewis is the Program Assistant for the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program. Follow the program at @AspenLatinos.

Mayors Aren’t Just Talking About Housing and Homelessness – They’re Doing Something About It

For the third straight year, mayors have identified housing as a fundamental challenge facing their communities, according to our 2016 State of the Cities report.

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Recognizing the unique role that housing plays in the fabric of cities, 40 percent of mayors in our sample dedicated significant portions of their State of the City speeches to the issue. (michaeljung/Getty Images)

Nearly a decade since the housing and financial crisis, one of the cruel ironies continuing to grip many cities is the lack of affordable housing – even as they continue to struggle with large numbers of foreclosed or abandoned properties.

To address both of these issues in their State of the City speeches, the mayors of Baltimore and Nashville highlighted recent efforts. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake emphasized the city’s Vacants to Value initiative that has quadrupled demolition funding to $100 million over 10 years. “It makes me proud that Vacants to Value was recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative, and honored by the Financial Times as an original idea that has made life better for people living and working in cities,” said the mayor.

In Nashville, Mayor Megan Barry touted the launch of a Metro Property Donation Process for housing development. “Nearly 60 infill lots will be available for housing development throughout Davidson County. More than half of them are in the urban core. For the first time, we’re making Metro’s own property available for affordable housing,” said Mayor Barry.

The need for affordable housing has been underscored by an increased prevalence of “tent cities” in many communities. While some cities have attempted to address homeless encampments through ordinances banning sleeping or lying in public spaces, others such as Indianapolis have taken the route of proactively outlining how they will handle them.

In Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg has recognized that a part of the city’s solution involves improving access to existing housing stock owned or managed by private landlords. The mayor partnered with NLC to recruit landlords to house homeless veterans, and in his State of the City address he said his goal was to bring the area’s encampments to “a humane but clear and final end in the near future.”

Recognizing the need to take action on homelessness in a strategic manner, 883 local leaders across 45 states and the District of Columbia have joined the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. As a result of the increased focus, veteran homelessness has fallen 47 percent nationwide since 2010. Most notably, for the first time in history, federal partners have defined what it means to effectively end veteran homelessness and certified that 29 communities and two states have achieved those benchmarks. Last Friday, Austin was announced as the most recent city.

Like Mayor Tecklenburg, Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler has also been actively involved in the recruitment of private landlords. Acknowledging the need to stop gentrification or forced displacement, he used his annual State of the City address to stress the need to develop housing “in a way that will actually achieve opportunities for permanent affordability.”

Our 2016 State of the Cities report found mayors acknowledging the unique needs facing veterans as a whole. When analyzing specific demographics mentioned in speeches, 20 percent discussed veterans. Notably, seniors emerged as another frequently mentioned special needs population. This should not be surprising, since we are now five years in to the “silver tsunami” in which 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 years old every day.

Given the central role that affordable housing plays in the health and vitality of a city, it is easy to see why the topic is a consistent feature in mayoral addresses. However, given the depth of the affordable housing crisis in all communities, mayors are taking innovative and strategic approaches to address the issue by focusing on key demographics. As recovery from the Great Recession continues, the cautious optimism expressed by mayors in all regions of the country is well grounded.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about public safety.

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.

Mayors Link Education, Workforce Training to Economic Development

As our 2016 State of the Cities report shows, mayors across the country are becoming increasingly aware of the link between a strong local economy and investment in programs that help residents build workforce skills.

In Newark, New Jersey, over 10,000 residents were engaged in meaningful opportunities linked to learning and workforce development – including exposure to coding, robotics, afterschool assistance and employment training – through the city’s Centers of Hope program. (Miahi Andritoiu/Getty Images)

Economic development and thriving communities are a top priority for mayors across the nation. As seen in the National League of Cities’ 2016 State of the Cities report, elected officials are underscoring the need for access to educational opportunities as well as pathways and training to reach their local economic and workforce goals.

“To have a resilient economy, we must invest in our workforce development, small businesses and neighborhoods – and most of all, we have to invest in public education,” said Providence, Rhode Island, Mayor Jorge Elorza.

Cities across the country are linking education and workforce development. In Richardson, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona, new partnerships are being forged between businesses and higher education institutions. And the cities of  Charleston, South Carolina, and St. Paul, Minnesota are building more robust and workforce-centered summer and expanded learning opportunities.

“We cannot expect our existing businesses to grow if we are not providing well-suited employees, and we will continue to work with our local schools and institutes of higher education to ensure we are creating opportunities,” said Covina, California, Mayor Kevin Stapleton.

For the first time, workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher make up a larger proportion of the current workforce than those with a high school diploma or less, based on the latest research out of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. The research shows that, since the recession, the U.S. economy added 8.4 million jobs which require a bachelor’s degree or higher as compared to the only 80,000 jobs for those with a high school diploma or less. Research also shows the importance of continued learning to promote educational attainment.

Numerous studies have shown that afterschool programs have a beneficial effect on factors that influence high school completion such as a student’s attendance, behavior and academic performance. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning conducted a meta-analysis of 68 studies of afterschool programs and found that, when compared to their non-participating peers, students participating in a high quality afterschool program demonstrated improvements in a number of areas, including better school attendance.

Cities are utilizing a variety of resources, including existing summer and out-of-school time programming, to engage citizens of all ages to not only learn subjects but to build employable skill sets. In Newark, New Jersey, over 10,000 residents were engaged in meaningful opportunities linked to learning and workforce development – including exposure to coding, robotics, afterschool assistance and employment training – through the city’s Centers of Hope program. Hire Newark Employment Ready Boot Camp, one of the many offerings at the Centers of Hope, connected employers with individuals to work on skill development and provided a bridge to training and employment. In St. Paul, Minnesota, over 20,000 youth were connected to over 90 different organizations with various levels of exposure to learning through the Sprockets out-of-school time network, and the city has discovered the link between programming and increased achievement in schools.

Cities are also forging partnerships that combine the expertise of local colleges and universities as well as local employers to meet workforce needs. Austin, Texas, looks to link education and workforce building in a new strategic plan centered around economic needs while also addressing barriers to college completion. In Tucson, Arizona, the city partnered with the University of Arizona’s Tech Launch Arizona and formed a Commercialization Advisory Network of 750 industry professionals available to guide tech entrepreneurs in the city. The program has already received 200 patents, executed 86 licenses, and created 12 new startups in biotech, materials science, software and publishing.

As cities continue to innovate and build thriving communities, NLC supports these efforts through peer-sharing, technical assistance and resource creation. Look for more education and workforce solutions as the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families takes on this burgeoning body of work beginning this fall. For more information, contact Dana D’Orazio at DOrazio@nlc.org.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about housing.

About the Author: Dana D’Orazio is the Program Manager for Postsecondary Education in the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

The State of America’s Cities

The nation’s mayors are leading our country with a critical focus on the issues that matter to citizens. From sustainability and entrepreneurship to public health, mayors described their policy goals in their State of the City speeches. In our recent analysis of these speeches, we found the following trends.

An excerpt from the 2016 State of the Cities report focusing on economic development.

An excerpt from the 2016 State of the Cities report focusing on economic development.

Mayors continue to be focused on improving their local economies and encouraging entrepreneurship.

“Our unemployment rate is down by more than a third, and we have created more than 20,000 new jobs,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, touting her record leading the city of Baltimore. “We focused on the small entrepreneurs in our neighborhoods who are at the heart of job creation, as well as the larger development projects and established businesses that support hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs.” More and more cities are making it easier for entrepreneurs to apply for the permits and licenses needed to start or grow a business. “We will be expanding our online offerings for business — where now, for the first time ever, business licenses can be acquired through our city’s website, and soon, the entire building permit process will be available in a single, seamless online system,” said Mayor John Tecklenburg of Charleston, South Carolina.

Mayors are seeing improved revenue and are being judicious about how to spend it.

Many cities are returning to pre-Recession levels of fiscal health. Detailing the economic success his city has felt these last few years, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James said that this year’s budget continues that momentum and “supports our neighborhoods and our young people. We’ll be able to demolish dangerous buildings and invest more in summer youth employment.” In Covina, California, Mayor Peggy Delach talked about the need for fiscal restraint. “We are continuing to identify ways to reduce our costs and make our organization more efficient and more responsive and ensuring that more of our tax dollars are available to be used for community improvements,” she said.

Mayors are cautiously optimistic about the future and are leading in the development of sustainable communities where people want to live.

Last year was a monumental one for green mayors, like Boston’s Marty Walsh and Atlanta’s Kasim Reed, both of whom traveled to Paris to sign the Compact of Mayors on climate change. In their speeches this year, mayors made the case for sustainable development. “Being green makes great social sense,” said Mayor Rusty Bailey of Riverside, California. “Greener living means more local parkland for running, walking, biking, and playing outside. It means better access to healthy food.”

Mayors are concerned about the uptick in the murder rate even though overall crime rates are historically low.

Many mayors reported an uptick in crime within their cities, and this trend, noticeable across the country, was particularly alarming for homicide. “Many of our homicides are the result of domestic violence. In the past two years, we have made significant changes in the way we deal with these situations. We are handling the calls differently. We are handling the investigations differently. We are learning more and more about which cases are likely to escalate,” said Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City. Research has shown, however, that even though the short-term homicide trend is pointed in the wrong direction, crime overall is still at the lowest point in decades nationally.

Mayors are concerned about the increasing opioid epidemic.

Seventy-eight Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The fact that this epidemic has grown at such an expansive rate in recent years has led NLC to join with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to form the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic. Policies addressing substance abuse, fueled by an increase in opioid addiction, consumed much of the coverage of health-related topics in this year’s State of the City speeches. “It’s a living and breathing epidemic — like a virus — infecting residents of all walks of life. It’s dashed young people’s dreams of going to college or landing a job. It’s torn families apart. Parents have had to bury their children,” said Binghamton, New York, Mayor Richard David.

Mayors are helping their cities see the value of using technology and data to drive decisions and make their city governments more efficient and effective.

In this year’s speeches, multiple cities committed to becoming smart cities, where classrooms, neighborhoods and businesses leverage data and technology to become better connected and more productive. “We need to focus on new technologies, because the solutions we envision today may be obsolete 10 years from now,” said Mayor Megan Barry of Nashville, Tennessee. Cities are also moving their operations online and into the cloud to increase transparency and efficiency. “Greenwood is the first city in Indiana to use OpenGov, a software platform that is transforming how governments analyze, share and compare financial data,” said Mayor Mark Myers. “It’s a remarkable tool, and I urge all citizens to visit the City’s website and take a look.” In Syracuse, New York, residents can submit and track requests for things like sewer backups, trash removal and pothole filling anytime online using “City Line.”

Read the full report here and check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about economic development.

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

In an Improving Job Market, Mayors Struggle to Compete for Top Talent

Each quarter, NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research analyzes local government employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(Getty Images)

With the unemployment rate hovering below five percent, cities hoping to once again grow their ranks will have difficulty finding talented workers. (Getty Images)

From low oil prices and Brexit to the Fed, there are a lot of reasons to be uncertain about the strength of the economy. But when June’s BLS jobs report was released Friday, fears of a slowing economy were ever so slightly assuaged. Across sectors, the nation added 287,000 jobs in June, marking the largest gain since October.

Local governments extended their hiring spree into 18 consecutive months of growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cities and counties added 7,600 jobs in June. A total of 14,100 non-education local jobs were added in this quarter — albeit a sharp decrease from the previous quarter’s growth, which was revised to 32,400 jobs.

Local governments are still 100,900 jobs off of their pre-Recession employment peak. With the unemployment rate hovering below five percent, cities hoping to once again grow their ranks will have difficulty finding talented workers.

In our recent State of the Cities analysis (to be released this week), we find that mayors are keenly aware of the need to attract and retain talent within their own city halls. While strong employment numbers are certainly good for the local economy, governments are competing with the private sector over a diminishing number of highly skilled workers.

In their state of the city speeches, mayors discussed the difficulties they face and their proposed solutions. Concerned about the work-life balance, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James wants to “ensure that women can bring their talents to the city.” Through an initiative called Women’s Empowerment, city employees will be eligible for paid parental leave for the first time this year.

In Duluth, Minnesota, the city is extending the ability to take paid time off beyond its unionized employees. “I’ve asked our Human Resource Department […] to develop a plan that ensures every qualified city employee has the ability to take paid safe and sick time,” said Mayor Emily Larson.

Pensions and other employment benefits continued to be a vexing issue for city budgets. “In order to hire and retain the best and brightest employees, we must continue to invest in them,” said Mayor Kenneth Gulley of Bessemer, Alabama. “Working with the city council, we were able to give our retirees a long overdue seven percent Cost of Living Increase. When we look around at some of our sister cities and the financial struggles they are experiencing, we should feel tremendously blessed,” he said.

Mayors noted that a talented and effective workforce is also diverse. “The city of Salt Lake has employees of every gender, race, ethnicity, economic background, and sexual orientation,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “We will foster an even more inclusive environment, one that allows for innovation and helps our staff deliver products and services with greater appeal,” she said.

To fill positions, mayors also recognized the need to reach deeper into the community. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city will hire 5,000 new employees over the next year, targeting recruitment in communities with the most need – including ex-offenders. “For thousands of individuals, these are transformative opportunities — a chance for people to redefine themselves through integrity and hard work,” Garcetti said.

On the other side of the justice system, public safety recruitment was a frequently discussed topic among mayors. Through competitive compensation and inclusive hiring practices, “San Diego continues to be one of the safest big cities in the entire United States,” according to Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “We’re continuing our efforts to hire police officers from our community to ensure the force reflects the people it serves,” he said. In Seattle, where the city is hiring as many officers as the budget will allow, Mayor Edward Murray noted that “last year, 30 percent of the department’s hires were people of color.”

While the state of the economy remains uncertain, what is clear is that many cities are adapting talent recruitment and retention strategies that not only bolster competitiveness with the private sector but also ensure that the diversity of their communities is reflected in the workforce.

Read the full State of the Cities 2016 report this Thursday.

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