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On housing challenges in cities… where to begin?

NLC Housing Task ForceI was recently appointed to the National League of Cities national task force on housing by Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, IN. (my apologies for the passive voice Mr. Hemingway)  The task is comprised of 23 individuals from across the country, among them the mayors of Miami, Charlotte, Oakland and San Antonio as well as council members from Denver, Baltimore, Peoria and Seattle. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, DC is the chairperson.

In a bit of irony our first convening was last month in Washington at a time that the federal government was shut down.

The work plan is below. Spoiler alert, it includes the term “elucidate”. Fancy.


Our nation’s cities face a housing crisis. In order to respond to this challenge and create actionable steps for city leaders and other key constituents, NLC has convened a National Housing Task Force. The Task Force brings the breadth of leadership to bear from across America’s cities to create an action plan that helps alleviate the housing crisis. This plan
will be memorialized in a report—to be completed and presented in June of 2019—that will help local leaders formulate an action agenda for their city. Leading mayors and councilmembers from across the country will address how communities can better respond to the challenge of housing affordability, supply and investment. The Housing Task Force is created under the leadership of NLC President Karen Freeman-Wilson, mayor of Gary, Indiana, and is chaired by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Every American deserves a place to call home. Cities aspire to be prosperous for all members of their communities. This requires being intentional in focus, goals and policy, especially in the critical area of ensuring safe, affordable healthy housing for all. While there is a wide variant in housing challenges facing cities—two stand out. In fast-growing cities wages are not keeping up with housing costs, leading to a dearth of affordable housing, and we must create additional units of affordable housing. In slower growth, legacy cities there is a persistent high rate of vacant and blighted housing due to the ongoing after effects of the foreclosure crisis and general economic disruption. The Housing                                                 Task Force will elucidate city solutions on housing challenges faced by cities large, small and in between. NLC represents cities across America, and we are seeking to positively effect housing affordability and quality within America’s cities.

• The NLC Housing Task Force is first and foremost focused on finding city solutions to America’s housing crisis. We will lead a collaborative process with leaders from
communities across America to share housing best practices, develop stronger public and private partnerships, and build a national plan for action.
• The Housing Task Force will work with and learn from partners in the non-profit and private sectors. The engagement of those steeped in the national data and research of these issues tied together with representatives of the financial institutions, homebuilders and landlords is paramount for our local elected leaders to help alleviate the housing crisis in America. City leaders will learn from one another—and national experts—and take actionable steps broadly focused on the areas of housing availability, affordability, investment and quality.
• Policy matters. Beyond just local steps and solutions, the Task Force recognizes that we need to be intentional from city to federal level policy, in building a national campaign on housing. The task force report will be a springboard to action for municipal leaders and will activate a unified advocacy campaign to ensure housing is a top priority.

In Michigan, like it is across the country, our housing issues run the gamut from a pressing need for low-income solutions to a shortage of workforce housing to providing more options for veterans. A dearth of housing options in walkable communities and a pronounced lack of construction workers throughout the state exacerbate the problems. Add in state outdated government tax codes and actions that promote exurban sprawl and we have ourselves a genuine conundrum.

Race relations and how they are manifested in public policy decisions involving housing continue to checker the landscape as well.

All of which is to say that there are no easy answers to the maladies that confront housing issues in the U.S. At least none that are politically doable. My work on the task force will continue through the summer months and our advocacy efforts will last well beyond then. If you have thoughts on how we can promote better housing choices in American cities, I would love to hear them.

Dan Gilmartin

Dan Gilmartin is the executive director & CEO of the Michigan Municipal League. Through his work with communities, Dan is recognized as a national leader in the fields of urban revitalization, placemaking, local government reform, and transportation policy. Under his leadership, the League was recognized by Crain's Detroit Business as a “Cool Place to Work” in 2011.

Model D Media recently referred to him as “an urban thinker with an eye for the small, oft-unnoticed changes that can make ‘places’ out of streets and buildings.”