Top 3 Takeaways From the First Lady’s Address on Veteran Homelessness

First Lady Michelle Obama addressed and thanked city officials and the National League of Cities (NLC) for their support of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness as part of NLC’s 2016 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C.

Addressing by video more than 2,000 city leaders in Washington, D.C. as part of the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference, First Lady Michelle Obama applauded the historic commitment to veteran homelessness by city officials and NLC through the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness.

Since launching in June of 2014 as part of Joining Forces, more than 850 elected officials across 45 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico have accepted the Mayors Challenge.

The First Lady highlighted three key elements as part of her address:

  1. Success is Possible

Since establishing the Mayors Challenge, 21 communities and two states have effectively ended veteran homelessness. These achievements illustrate that it is possible to build a community system that can ensure veteran homelessness is rare, brief, and non-recurring.

  1. Impacts Are Real

In the last year alone, more than 157,000 veterans and their families have secured or remained in permanent housing. Since 2010, veteran homelessness is down 36 percent and unsheltered veteran homelessness has been cut by almost half.

  1. Our Commitment to Veterans Must Be Permanent

The progress on veteran homelessness cannot stop. As long as we have men and women serving in our armed forces, there will always be veterans who may fall on hard times and need help. It is our duty to serve them as they have served us.

The National League of Cities is proud to be a key partner with the Administration on this effort since Day One. Click here for more information about how NLC can support your city’s efforts.

NLC has also published success stories that reveal in detail how the cities of Phoenix, Houston, New Orleans, and the Commonwealth of Virginia have accomplished monumental achievements.

These case studies can provide step-by-step examples for city leaders who wish to join the Mayors Challenge and make a real commitment to ending veteran homelessness.

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.

60 Minutes Profiles Nashville, while Dallas Convenes Landlords to Bring Veterans Home

Last night on 60 Minutes, the 100,000 Homes Campaign was profiled for their work with cities and other stakeholders across the country to change how we address homelessness. While Nashville was highlighted in the segment, other communities, such as Dallas, are also taking bold steps to bring together the necessary partners to ensure veterans and the chronically homeless have a place to call home.

In Nashville, the city provides the staff and capacity support for the How’s Nashville campaign. The campaign has brought the city together with the area housing authority, private landlords, the VA, and other service providers to prioritize people for housing based on how likely they are to die on the street. To accomplish this goal, housing units are paired with homeless individuals using resources such as Housing Choice Vouchers and HUD-VASH vouchers. The commitment of vouchers has been paired with philanthropic contributions of reduced rent apartments by private landlords. The need for partnerships with private landlords has been recognized as a key to success among stakeholders in Dallas as well.

Recently in Dallas, Assistant City Manager Theresa O’Donnell joined representatives from the Mission Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) Team, including officials from the Dallas Housing Authority and the regional VA and HUD offices for a landlord forum. Dozens of landlords attended the event to learn more about community efforts to end veteran homelessness and the need for landlords who are willing to accept veteran-specific (HUD-VASH) housing vouchers.

Assistant City Manager O’Donnell speaks with landlords and property managers at a forum about efforts to bring veterans home.

In April 2013, stakeholders from across the Dallas community came together at a homeless veteran boot-camp facilitated by the 100,000 Homes Campaign. During the 100 days following the boot camp, the team housed 130 homeless veterans. Since the boot-camp, a total of 515 veterans have been housed, with 62 percent being chronically homeless. This progress built upon a 25.9 percent drop in the number of homeless veterans in Dallas between 2011 and 2012. The 2013 Point-in-Time Count showed only 303 homeless veterans. With the 2014 Point-in-Time count recently conducted, the community will soon have more recent data to direct their efforts.

During the initial 100 days, team members worked with NLC and recognized that an obstacle to continued progress was a lack of landlords willing to accept HUD-VASH vouchers. To overcome this obstacle, NLC helped initiate discussions between the city and the team. With the support of team members and the city, NLC drafted a letter, which was signed by Mayor Mike Rawlings and sent to landlords and property managers already working with the city through other housing programs.

To further draw attention to the work and success of the team, Mayor Rawlings also recorded a public service announcement congratulating the team. The mayor used the PSA to urge the public to support the team’s efforts with donations to help with expenses not covered by programs serving veterans. In Nashville, these expenses have also been met by private contributions, but recently the city’s CDBG administrator also announced their commitment of up to $200,000 to help with costs such as rental deposits or utility fees.

With continued focus, both Dallas and Nashville are on pace to join Phoenix and Salt Lake City as a city that have ended chronic veteran homelessness. As each city reviewed their challenges and successes, the need for improving engagement with landlords was identified as a recurring need to help veterans and the chronically homeless find a home more quickly. Combined with an on-going use of data to drive decision-making, Dallas and Nashville are important illustrations of the success that is possible when local collaboration is joined with city leadership

Learn more here about the Mission DFW team.

To learn how you can best support efforts to end veteran homelessness in your city, contact me at

About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is a Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

What does the end of chronic veteran homelessness mean for cities?

Last month, Phoenix made the historic announcement that all of their chronically homeless veterans were off the streets. This amazing milestone is the result of collaboration between all parts of the community and the use of data to drive decisions and allocate resources. The accomplishment has sparked a national conversation about whether or not a city can end homelessness.

The success Phoenix has seen around chronically homeless veterans can serve as an example for other segments of the homeless population. As Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said while making his announcement last month, “The strategies that we’re using to end chronic homelessness among veterans are the exact same strategies that we’re going to use to end chronic homelessness among the broader population. This model – doing right by our veterans – is exactly how we’re going to do right by the larger population.”

The progress made in Phoenix does not mean that there are no more homeless in the city, or even that there are no more homeless veterans. Rather, it means that Phoenix has developed the necessary community structures or “social capital” to effectively and efficiently use resources to ensure persistently homeless veterans are no longer on the street. The development of these community structures can be built upon so that all chronically homeless veterans have a permanent home and are not simply off the street and in a shelter or transitional home.

People will always have unfortunate and tragic occurrences that push them over the edge from poverty into homelessness. However, as research has shown, it is difficult to determine why, for example, “John” becomes homeless while “Adam” does not, despite both being poor and facing similar situations.

People such as John will still need a safe place for a short period of time, like a shelter or transitional home. However, in communities with the proper coordination and the necessary resources, John will no longer become trapped in the cycle between shelter, transitional housing, and the streets. Instead, programs that can help rapidly re-house the homeless will be connected to emergency shelter locations and the service providers who administer other assistance programs. This network of collaborating housing providers can coordinate with healthcare providers, employment placement and training programs, educational opportunities, and more.

When done all at once, this process is so multi-faceted that it can become overwhelming. But what cities like Phoenix are showing is that progress can happen by initially focusing on a very specific subset of the homeless population, such as chronically homeless veterans. That progress is measurable. It saves lives and it saves money. This process has been described by Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry as “the smart way to do the right thing.”

An argument can be made that poverty will always exist. But chronic street homelessness is more than just poverty. It is a combination of personal tragedy, societal failures, individual choices, and institutional shortcomings. The successes happening in Phoenix, Salt Lake, Philadelphia, Houston, Albuquerque, and other cities gives hope to the idea that chronic homelessness no longer needs to be seen as a permanent fixture of urban life.

About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is a Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

The Homeless Veteran Outside NLC

Earlier this week as I approached the steps of our building, I noticed a man sitting against newspaper stands with a white cardboard sign that simply read “homeless vet.” Out of habit, I kept walking.  After less than 10 feet though, I was struck by what I knew was my obligation to honor his sacrifice by making sure he got the help he needed.

Rob was an infantryman in the Army. Served in Afghanistan. Honorably discharged five months ago. He came home to a changed marriage that quickly ended in divorce and resulted in him losing his house. His savings kept him off the street for a few months, but eventually that money ran out. Now he’s here in our nation’s capital being briskly walked by and getting the occasional dollar and change from someone who had just bought a coffee at the Starbucks he sat across from.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan speaks with Kelly Caffarelli, President of The Home Depot Foundation and Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities at the launch of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan speaks with Kelly Caffarelli, President of The Home Depot Foundation and Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities at the launch of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign.

Fortunately, Washington, D.C.  is one of the many cities that today have HUD-VASH (Veterans Affairs Support Housing) vouchers. There are also several non-profits administering the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF). Since Rob is not “chronically” homeless, it is likely that with a relatively small amount of assistance and perhaps some job training, he could quickly be self-sufficient once again. This is the exact purpose of the SSVF program. Fortunately, with one phone call Rob was connected with Friendship Place, a service provider who collaborates with other stakeholders in the community to ensure veterans like Rob receive assistance from the right programs for their needs.

Today, many communities are stepping forward to ensure the resources in their city are being directed to those who need them most. One such city is Salt Lake City. Recently, Mayor Ralph Becker proclaimed November to be Veterans Housing Month. In the coming weeks, it is anticipated that Salt Lake City could become the first city to house all of their chronically homeless veterans.

Not to be outdone though, the City of Phoenix will hold a press conference on Veterans Day to discuss how they have reduced chronic veteran homelessness by 62 percent in just two years. Mayor Greg Stanton and other community leaders will outline how the city will house the remaining 56 unsheltered veterans in the coming weeks.

These cities illustrate what is possible when political leadership and community collaboration combine to provide the proper level of resources and work to implement data-driven strategies.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan noted the examples of Phoenix and Salt Lake City during his remarks at the National Alliance to End Homelessness – Never Another Homeless Veteran event earlier this week. NLC is a proud partner of the Never Another Homeless Veteran campaign and urges everyone to sign the statement committing to ending veteran homelessness today. Leadership committee members of the campaign include President George H.W. Bush, former Secretaries of State James A. Baker and Colin Powell, former Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, The Home Depot Foundation, and many more.

At our Congress of Cities and Exposition in Seattle next week, Mayor Becker and Mayor Stanton will join Vince Kane, Director of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans, and Becky Kanis, Campaign Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign to discuss how more cities can join Salt Lake and Phoenix in their race to getting to zero chronically homeless veterans.

In an era of tight budgets and partisan politics, providing an unprecedented level of resources for our veterans has received broad bipartisan support. But this support must be met with decisive actions on the ground. Local leaders can be the difference between success and failure. Veterans Day parades are nice, but making sure all veterans and their families have a place to call home is a more lasting way of showing our appreciation for their commitment and sacrifice.


About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is a Senior Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

HUD Secretary Donovan: “Communities are assets to be built on”

Recently in Atlanta, federal, state, and local officials joined advocates and local practitioners to discuss solutions to housing issues facing communities across the country. During the event, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan spoke about the Administration’s recognition that housing is one of the primary pillars needed to help grow the middle class. Secretary Donovan noted, “communities are not places with problems to be solved, but assets to be built on.”

In outlining the vision of a “new federalism,” the Secretary noted that the federal government needed to again become a strong partner with local stakeholders. Donovan outlined several examples of this partnership such as the Sustainable Communities Initiative and the Rental Assistance Demonstration. In addition, a renewed relationship between federal agencies and local partners is shown in the growing progress being made toward ending chronic veteran homelessness.

In the coming months, either Salt Lake City or Phoenix will become the first city in the nation to end chronic veteran homelessness. This unprecedented accomplishment is on the cusp of reality because of a focused and sustained commitment by both federal and local government officials, as well as non-governmental stakeholders in these communities.

At the federal level, since 2008, over 48,000 housing vouchers specifically designated for veterans have been distributed to communities in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Unlike traditional Housing Choice Vouchers (aka Section 8), HUD-VASH vouchers have additional support from VA case workers. As a result, both veterans and landlords have a resource should issues arise.

Also in 2008, the VA was authorized to begin the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. SSVF’s goal is to promote housing stability among very low-income veterans and their families who reside in or are transitioning to permanent housing. In FY13, the SSVF program provided nearly $300 million to 319 organizations to serve approximately 120,000 veteran households.

In 2010, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) released Opening Doors, a comprehensive plan to prevent and end homelessness, with the specific goal of ending chronic veteran homelessness by 2015. Ongoing support from Congress and the Administration for the HUD-VASH and SSVF programs, combined with improved implementation at the local level, has led to a 17% decline in veteran homelessness since the release of Opening Doors.

In Phoenix, these federal resources have been maximized by local stakeholders, including the city. To help reduce the amount of time between when a veteran is awarded a voucher and when they move in to a unit, the two city departments that are required to conduct housing inspections collaborated to allow for one inspection to occur that met both agencies’ requirements. In addition, the city has supported a locally developed innovation called a navigator with funds from their Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Emergency Solutions Grant programs. The navigators provide peer support to chronically homeless veterans by walking them step-by-step through the process and providing assistance when necessary to make certain they obtain and sustain housing.

In Salt Lake City, stakeholders recognized they were starting their efforts to end veteran homelessness with imperfect data. To overcome this, partners began regular meetings to identify the veterans in need, come to agreement about what people should be prioritized, and determine what resources were available in the community to meet those needs.

In addition to these steps, city, county, and state officials worked to create a uniform reporting process for organizations using federal Emergency Shelter Grant resources. These resources were primarily being used to fund rapid re-housing efforts, and the uniform reporting reduced administrative time and costs associated with their use. As a result, since February 2013, Salt Lake City has been placing the homeless into housing at a rate that puts the city on a path to end veteran and chronic homelessness in the coming months.

Finally, in Tacoma, WA, community stakeholders have come together to form a Veterans Housing Options Group. The group consists of the WA State Department of Veterans Affairs, the two local agencies administering SSVF, and representatives from the regional VA office. The work to improve how services are delivered to homeless veterans is being complemented by the city, which has encouraged the WA State Housing Finance Commission to consider including a veteran preference when determining how federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits are distributed. In addition, the city is considering actions that would benefit homeless veterans, including inclusionary zoning requirements and voluntary housing development incentives, among others.

In an environment of limited fiscal resources, Secretary Donovan is correct when he acknowledges that cities are where innovations are born and progress is made. But these innovations cannot happen when there is persistent uncertainty about the level of federal resources and where those resources will be directed. Increasing partnerships between the federal government and municipal officials is a common sense notion that requires sustained support in order to see results. In their own ways, these cities are illustrating how progress on an issue can be made when local governments have focused and committed partners at the federal level.

About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is a Senior Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Why Did President Obama Choose Phoenix to Talk About Housing? It Might Not Be Why You Think.

Recently, President Obama gave a speech in Phoenix, AZ about housing and homeownership. In much of his speech, the President discussed his Administration’s principals for reform of the housing finance system, as well as the on-going rebound in home prices. While the city is cited as an example of the housing boom, bust, and recovery cycle – the choice of Phoenix to deliver the speech was significant for another reason. Thanks to local leadership, collaboration, and resource coordination, Phoenix is on track to end chronic homelessness among veterans in 2014.

We’ll wade into the debate around potential reforms of the mortgage finance system at another time. But the on-going rebound in prices should not be mindlessly celebrated. While rising home values are no doubt good, the pace of the price increases is causing concern by some market observers. The heavy involvement of large investors paying cash for many homes is likely driving some of the increases. The question is, how much of the increases are being driven by all cash home purchases?

How much can local leaders influence these aspects of the housing market? Similarly, are there actions that local leaders can take to significantly impact the debate around mortgage finance reform?

This past February, NLC convened stakeholders in Phoenix to identify public leadership roles necessary to build more sustainable and resilient communities, particularly in the face of cyclical volatility in the real estate and housing markets. While local leaders can take steps to create an environment that attracts and retains individuals and families, there are limited actions local leaders can take to prevent the rise of home values based on market speculation. Furthermore, there are few things officials can do locally around reforming the mortgage finance system.

However, when dealing with veteran homelessness, local leaders can play a large role. In Phoenix, Mayor Greg Stanton has taken numerous steps that merit his recognition by the President. As documented in a recent NLC case study, the City of Phoenix has supported the efforts to end veteran homelessness with resources to fund “navigator” positions to walk homeless individuals through the confusing process of getting help and housing. These navigator positions work to ensure that homeless veterans get the help they need to obtain housing.

With a navigator assisting a homeless veteran, stakeholders can be sure that the limited numbers of housing vouchers are used for those with the most intensive needs. If a veteran needs help getting into housing, the navigator can help make sure the veteran receives rapid re-housing assistance. This targeting of resources has allowed the City of Phoenix to reduce the number of chronically homeless veterans from 222 in March 2012 to 156 in March 2013. An additional 50 housing vouchers specifically targeting homeless veterans have since been used, leaving an estimated 105 chronically homeless veterans in Phoenix.

As the City turns a corner in its efforts to reduce chronic veteran homeless, Mayor Stanton is also focusing on veteran employment with the assistance of the Military Veterans Commission, a board of local leaders in the veteran community that advises the Phoenix City Council.

The Hire, Educate, Recruit and Organize (HERO) Initiative has successfully connected local small businesses and corporate employers with veterans at strategically planned hiring events. The HERO initiative takes a targeted approach in reaching out to employers in industries in which military experience provides highly transferrable skills, such as logistics and advanced business services. The employers are pre-screened to ensure they are actively hiring, able to pay a minimum of $12/hour, and willing to interview on-site. The employers also receive educational training that highlights veterans’ assets, and demystifies common misconceptions associated with hiring veterans. Veteran participants receive pre-session interview and resume assistance to translate their military experience to a civilian audience. At the first HERO event in December 2012, 30 employers and 170 veterans attended, and 20 job offers were extended as a result of the event. This initiative began as a pilot program by the mayor’s office, and has now become a permanent fixture in the city’s economic development landscape.

President Obama rightfully drew the nation’s attention to Phoenix. As possibly the first city in the nation to end any form of homelessness, their work must be celebrated. The fact that the population which would no longer experience homelessness are veterans should be a call to action to leaders across the country.

Lessons Learned from Richmond, Virginia to Improve the Lives of Veterans Everywhere

In September 2012, in conjunction with the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, NLC sponsored an event that highlighted the work that the City of Richmond, VA is doing to alleviate poverty. As part of the “Cities Promote Opportunity” series, Mayor Dwight C. Jones, Richmond, spoke about the importance of city leadership and service coordination in helping the city move toward their goal of reducing poverty.

This post was written by Mayor Dwight Jones and was originally posted by the Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

The need for city leadership and service coordination is central to ensuring our cities provide veterans with the welcome home they deserve. Cities of all sizes are showing the impact that local leadership can have. From larger cities such as Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and the District of Columbia, to more moderately sized cities such as Eugene, OR and Colorado Springs, CO and even smaller communities such as Glastonbury, CT and Port Angeles, WA, local leadership consistently makes the difference. To learn more about what you can do to lead efforts in your city to improve service coordination and help welcome home veterans, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine, Senior Associate, Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at

Restructuring Municipal Budgets to Fight Poverty

In Richmond, Virginia, we are witnessing a troubling trend. Over one in four residents live in poverty, and many more live just above the poverty line or are at risk of falling into poverty. In response to this community crisis, I appointed an Anti-Poverty Commission to review this problem and offer recommendations.

What they came back with was inspiring. We found that we can make a measurable impact if we focus our anti-poverty strategies on upgrading our workers’ skills, expanding employment opportunities, boosting academic achievement, and enhancing public housing. And we know that we can afford many of these initiatives, even in a time of fiscal stress, by leveraging outside funding, improving coordination, refocusing existing programs, and finding savings that reduce our residents’ cost of living.

The Commission made clear that we can significantly reduce poverty—for example, permanently moving 5,000 adults into full-time employment could cut Richmond’s poverty rate by over 20 percent. To achieve tangible progress, the Commission established five major recommendations:

• Target workforce development strategies toward low-skilled and long-term unemployed and underemployed residents, which can be integrated with economic development strategies.

• Recruit or develop one or more major employers capable of creating hundreds of jobs accessible to underemployed Richmond residents.

• Create a regional transit system to make thousands more jobs accessible to metropolitan Richmond residents through effective public transportation that links the regional economy together.

• Develop an effective educational pipeline that prepares Richmond Public Schools graduates for either college or the workforce.

• Redevelop much of the city’s public housing stock without involuntarily displacing residents, with the aim of improving the physical and social environment of public housing residents.

These recommendations will require substantial investments to implement, but the key is to do more with what we have. We believe that, if we can establish a focused strategy to guide the investment of these dollars, we can maximize the use of existing local, state, and federal funds to fight poverty more effectively.

With this approach, we prepared our budget with an eye toward the things we could and would do to help mitigate poverty in our city, while also upholding our central responsibility to provide core municipal services.

One area ripe for reform was the Richmond water system. We are proposing to cut the base rate for these services to make them more affordable for our residents. We are also migrating to an approach that will help with our water conservation efforts. Additionally, we are establishing a new assistance program that will help pay water and wastewater bills for qualified low-income households.

In transportation, we are working to develop a pilot program for van pooling, which will help transport our residents to jobs and address issues of inadequate transportation. Other efforts include augmenting funding to support health resource centers in our public housing complexes, as well as continuing on our trajectory to transform public housing models and deconcentrate poverty.

While we are doing what we can within the confines of our budget, the Anti-Poverty Commission rightly noted that the city government has limited resources and capacity. This means that collaboration will be essential in our fight against poverty.

One example of this kind of collaboration is our new Adolescent Transition Initiative. Working together
with our school system and other community agencies, our goal is to launch a major community effort to strengthen support systems and opportunities for children ages 11-15 who are making the critical transition from middle childhood to the high school years. We want to reduce the number of children who are falling behind socially and academically. This initiative will connect teenagers to real-world experiences through extracurricular activities and mentoring relationships with trusted adults.

Another example is in the area of workforce development. We are preparing to fund a new pilot project through our existing Workforce Pipeline program. Through this pilot, we will combine the efforts of our workforce development program and the state Virginia Initiative for Employment, not Welfare (VIEW) job program, which serves Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients. Our new, combined program will provide training for job readiness, focusing on jobs with sufficiently high wages to lift people out of poverty and promote economic stability.

These initiatives are just a precursor to programs we hope to invest in more heavily going forward. We intend to stay focused and to be held accountable to our citizens through the creation of a permanent Citizens Advisory Commission on Poverty Policy. By working together and being smart about finances, we can begin to move our city towards the path of economic prosperity.

The VA Claims Backlog: Yes, It’s An Outrage, But What Can Cities Do? Plenty.

In the past several weeks, there have been an increasing number of reports by the federal government (here and here) and in the media (see other stories here and here) about the travesty our veterans are facing as they wait–at times for years–to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

There is no doubt this is a national disgrace. Combined with the fact that in 2012 there were an estimated 62,619 homeless veterans in our country, these are serious contradictions of our national priorities.

The Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Eric Shinsecki has recently committed to reducing the egregious backlog of VA benefit claims to 125 days or less by 2015. But for the veteran with a complex benefit claim today, who may be currently unemployed or underemployed, with an increasingly precarious housing situation that threatens to put his or her family’s stability at risk, the promise that the VA will get to their claim sometime in the next approximately 650 days is hardly reassuring.

While it is easy to point the blame at federal “incompetence” and/or lack of planning, these assertions, regardless of their merit, do nothing to address the current challenges of those who have served their country. It is of course imperative that we hold our federal delegations and the administration accountable for their actions (or lack thereof) to address the current state of affairs, but the question still remains, what can be done for our veterans now?

As the frequently cited quote from former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill goes, “All politics is local.” In this situation, the solutions to many of the challenges facing our veterans must also be local.

More and more communities are stepping forward to improve the coordination of services for our veterans, convening local stakeholders to identify pragmatic steps that can be taken and tapping into local assets as effectively as possible.

In Phoenix, Ariz., stakeholders from the VA, non-profits, state and local government agencies have come together to coordinate their intake processes in a manner that allows them to quickly identify members of the homeless population who are most likely to die on the streets, and in the process consume the most public resources. In addition, the Arizona Department of Housing has included a set-aside for the homeless, some of whom are veterans, in the distribution of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.

In Tacoma, Wash., leaders from the City, Pierce County, the VA and non-profits are continuing their work to implement and improve a coordinated intake process that has been in place for the past few years. Given this community’s proximity to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, one of our most active military installations, the commitment and proactive leadership shown by local officials in improving services and opportunities for veterans has been, and will continue to be, instrumental in achieving successful, coordinated outcomes.

Also in Washington State, the City of Auburn’s Mayor and City Council have taken aggressive steps to situate their community as an attractive place for returning veterans to come and build a life. Through partnerships with the local community college, area employers, local offices of the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Veterans Affairs, Auburn has recognized their need to take action to not only help returning veterans, but also to tap in to the unique economic development opportunities these men and women present to the city and the region.

Whenever there is a problem, there is never a lack of people willing to yell and throw accusations about how awful something is. But the true testament to measure how much someone actually cares about an issue is how they acknowledge a problem, think carefully about what aspects of the problem they can control, and then act. Officials in Phoenix, Tacoma, Auburn, and other cities are doing just this.

Join them today and tell us what you and your city are doing to ensure our veterans receive the recognition of their service and sacrifices that they deserve.

Latest in Economic Development

This week’s Latest in Economic Development looks at a new regional partnership in St. Louis, ideas for improved small business permitting, more on a library co-working space, and the economic development effects of the sequester.

Have thoughts to add? Comment below or send to

St. Louis City and County announced a new partnership for economic development. The partial merger still preserves each individual jurisdiction’s economic development offices, but will combine “business development and attraction, loan programs and entrepreneurship efforts” under one umbrella. According to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, “We’re going to work together to make sure that business lands in St. Louis. And whether its city or county, we all benefit. It’s a regional economy. And we have to stop competing against each other.” The move received support from the business leaders who stressed that businesses want simplicity, leaders who work together, and one agency to interface with.  To learn more about regional economic development, check out NLC’s brief on the topic.

Waiting in line at city hall is a drag, and mayors are looking for solutions to simplify processes for new businesses.  As a finalist for Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, St. Paul Mayor and NLC First Vice President Chris Coleman makes a case for Permit Saint Paul, an online portal to secure businesses licenses and permits. The idea is to help residents avoid  the bureaucratic morass that can be part and parcel of the in-person licensing and permitting process. (Check out the other city finalists here at the Huffington Post.)

In San Antonio, Mayor Julián Castro is also trying to streamline things for small and new businesses. The Mayor is calling for a library-based one-stop shop where businesses could “get information, and the resources, the market data and the assistance they need to start their business.”

Speaking of libraries and small business, Atlantic Cities has details on Arizona State University’s “Alexandria Network.” The program will set-up dedicated co-working spaces and offer entrepreneurship courses and training in public libraries. According to Atlantic Cities’ Emily Badger, libraries are an ideal venue for the effort because “they offer a more familiar entry-point for potential entrepreneurs less likely to walk into a traditional start-up incubator.” The first location, mentioned in the last Latest in Economic Development, will be launching in partnership with the city of Scottsdale, AZ. next month.

Well, it’s happened, and the direct economic development effects of the sequester will largely play out in communities with defense-driven economies. It’s no surprise that the greater Washington, DC metro region will take a hit.   Military communities like Hinesville, GA and Killeen, TX, which expects 6,000 furloughed workers at Fort Hood are bracing for the impacts. And the three percent growth rate of the Greater Phoenix region is predicted to be cut by about half because of the sequester.  According to Mayor Scott Smithof Mesa, AZ, the region’s big economic contributors like Boeing will be fine, while smaller suppliers who depend on contracts with the larger companies will likely be the ones that suffer most.

Learn more about NLC’s economic development work here.

The Latest in Economic Development

The Latest in Economic Development is back after a holiday hiatus and we’re kicking the year off with a look at a new program in NYC, the Bay Area’s food truck related growth, Phoenix’s economic recovery, and a round-up of the new city rankings.

Have thoughts or pieces to add? Comment below or email me at

Businesses in New York City get a new way to interface with government.

As part of a city-wide effort to provide more business services online, New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) launched a new live chat to help answer questions about regulations. According to Crain’s New York Business, business owners who sign in to the system are greeted by a DCA staff person and asked, “How can Consumer Affairs help you today?” in a Google Chat type format. In addition to the new online chat system, the city hopes to have 80% of applications for business permits and licenses online by the close of 2013.

Food trucks are in high demand, but they’re not the only businesses profiting from the mobile food craze.

According to Ben Worthen in The Wall Street Journal, the addition of an estimated 250 food trucks in the Bay Area has generated demand for other local businesses like vehicle customizers and logo makers.

Recovery is good, but will cities repeat past mistakes?

The Phoenix region was one of the hardest hit by the recession and is now experiencing a quicker than average recovery. However, Richard Shearer and Shyamali Maya Choudhury caution in The New Republic, Phoenix and other similar regions’ recoveries are driven by the same consumption industries like hospitality, retail, construction and real estate that “sunk their economies” in the first place. Further, these regions must move  “from a growth model focused inward and characterized by consumption to one that is globally engaged and driven by production and innovation.”

Not to be outdone by all Golden Globes, the new year brings a sort-of “best dressed list” for the economic development crowd.

Forbes released its “America’s New Tech Hot Spots” using research from the Praxis Strategy Group.  According to the ranking, which measures growth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related (STEM) jobs,  traditional tech hot spots have remained flat or lost STEM employment while “…double-digit rate expansions of tech employment have occurred in lower-density metro areas such as Austin, Texas; Raleigh, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Houston and Salt Lake City.” The Washington, DC region came out on top in the rankings.

While San Jose, California was slighted in the aforementioned “America’s New Tech Hot Spots,” it took top billing in The Milken Institute’s Best Performing Cities, which uses a variety of weighted metrics (job growth, wage growth, concentration of tech companies, etc.). The Austin and Raleigh metropolitan areas captured the second and third spots.