Nationally Representative Survey of American Mayors Supported by Citi and The Rockefeller Foundation, Addresses Housing Affordability, Climate Change, Responses to Federal and State Funding Shifts & More
WASHINGTON, DC – Mayors nationwide, from cities large and small, agree that housing availability and affordability is their most pressing concern and the top reason that people are moving away from their cities. Mayors are also deeply concerned by the consequences of climate change and agree that cities should play a strong role in mitigating the negative effects. At a time when cutbacks in federal and state funding threaten to adversely impact infrastructure and education, mayors are even willing to advocate for increased state and local taxes to close the budgetary gaps and enhance the quality of life for their constituents.
These are the key findings of the 2017 Menino Survey of Mayors released today by the Boston University Initiative on Cities. The annual survey, supported by Citi and The Rockefeller Foundation, details the most pressing needs and policy priorities of America’s mayors. 115 mayors from 39 states were interviewed throughout the summer of 2017, providing a representative sample of mayors and cities nationally.
The survey was released at the National Press Club on Tuesday, January 23, 2018, with a presentation of key findings and a moderated discussion with Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, KY.
“As the widening wealth gap, rising cost of housing and other economic challenges dominate the discourse in Washington, D.C. and across the country, the 2017 Menino Survey of Mayors provides invaluable insights into some of the most complex issues facing our nation’s mayors,” said Bob Annibale, Global Director of Citi Community Development and Inclusive Finance. “This year’s survey confirms yet again that our nation’s mayors are leading the way — prioritizing issues within and beyond their municipal borders, such as affordable housing and climate change, with innovative approaches that affect positive change for their constituents.”
“Mayors, perhaps now more than ever, are being called to serve as agents of both local and global change. Our center, the Boston University Initiative on Cities, was co-founded by one of America’s most revered mayors, Tom Menino, and we continue to marvel at the incredible breadth of responsibilities that mayors must bear,” said Graham Wilson, Director of the BU Initiative on Cities. “We hope that the Menino Survey provides a platform for mayors to share their needs with a national audience and serves as a valuable tool for guiding those who support their work.”
“Throughout the United States, mayors are leading the charge to develop the innovative solutions cities need to thrive,” said Ryan Whalen, Director of Global Partnerships, The Rockefeller Foundation. “From housing affordability to climate change to the evolving budget landscape, the Menino Survey provides a window into the challenges mayors see every day in their work and opportunities to address them. These insights will serve as the foundation for the creative partnerships and problem-solving cities need to make their communities more resilient and inclusive.”
Named in honor of the late Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, the survey, now in its fourth year, explores mayoral views on issues of both local and global import – from housing the young and the old, the rich and the poor, to mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change. The key findings of the survey – which can be read in full at www.surveyofmayors.com – are below. Follow the conversation on social media using the hashtag #MeninoSurvey.
A National Housing Crunch: Housing Costs Top List of Reasons People Move
Mayors nationwide are challenged by rising housing costs. More than half of the mayors (51 percent) interviewed said housing costs are one of the top reasons people move away from their city – outpacing other highly salient issues like jobs, schools, and public safety.
- The vast majority of mayors see significant room for improvement in their cities’ housing stock; in fact, only a very small share of mayors (13 percent) believe their current housing stock effectively meets the needs of their constituents.
- While the crunch is being felt nationally, mayors in the West (45 percent) were most likely to report a significant mismatch between available housing and the needs of their residents. While housing stock is a problem nationwide, affecting both expensive and inexpensive cities, mayors vary on how to mitigate the problem.
- Increasing homeownership rates is a top priority for many mayors (36 percent), regardless of housing prices, but mayors of less expensive cities are also eager to update their aging housing stock (30 percent) while those in more expensive cities need to build more affordable multi-bed units (39 percent).
- The most commonly cited obstacles to improving housing access vary for different constituencies. The lack of government funding tops the lists of barriers for improving housing access for low-income residents, while difficulty obtaining bank financing is the greatest barrier for middle-class families and residents of color.
Taking Action on Climate Change
Mayors overwhelmingly agreed that climate change is due to human activities – 84 percent of surveyed mayors attributed increases in Earth’s temperature to human activities rather than natural changes, relative to 68 percent of Americans according to a 2017 Gallup poll. A majority of mayors are committed to local action on climate change, but the issue is politicized even at the local level.
- A striking 68 percent of mayors believe cities should play a strong role in addressing climate change, even if it means sacrificing revenues or increasing expenditures, a slight increase from three years ago.
- However, in keeping with the national political divide, 84 percent of Democratic mayors are willing to make fiscal sacrifices to address climate change, while only 24 percent of Republican mayors are willing to do the same. Compared to three years ago, Republicans are 20 percentage points more likely to oppose the trade-off.
- Mayors cite a range of top climate and sustainability priorities, including reducing the number of vehicles on the road (36 percent), upgrading city buildings and vehicles (31 percent), and sourcing greener energy (27 percent).
- Signing on to climate pacts and networks, which have proliferated in recent years, are viewed by more than half of mayors as important mechanisms for fighting climate change. However, Democrats were 46 percent more likely than Republicans to agree with making binding commitments to climate pacts or networks.
Budgets and Federalism: Going Local to Keep Their Cities in Good Repair
Facing federal funding cutbacks, mayors are looking to a variety of alternative funding sources, particularly their own source revenues, and see new local and state taxes and resources as the most promising way to plug fiscal gaps.
- Mayors are optimistic that they can do “a lot” in response to objectionable federal level actions pertaining to the environment or policing, but are less sanguine about their ability to counteract the administration when they disagree on education and immigration policies.
- In a few instances, mayors report that federal budget shortfalls are “not an issue” though many did say that there was no way to make up for a lack of federal resources in areas such as mass transit and affordable housing.
- More than half of mayors (52 percent) believe they have the resources to fund just half of their city’s infrastructure needs over the next five years. This pessimism is shared by both Republican and Democratic mayors.
- In particular, mayors cited state taxes as the funding source they were most likely to pursue to make up for diminished federal resources for education and roads and bridges while citing local taxes in areas such as bike and pedestrian friendliness and water infrastructure.
- Mayors almost never saw nonprofits or privatization as plausible fiscal gap fillers in any issue area, though a few (roughly 10 percent) saw potential for these options in aﬀordable housing provision.
- Public-private partnerships were the most commonly cited pathway to meet funding shortfalls related to affordable housing, with 35 percent of mayors choosing this response.
About the Initiative on Cities
The Boston University Initiative on Cities researches, promotes, and advances the adaptive urban leadership strategies and policies necessary to support cities as dynamic and inclusive centers of growth and positive development in the 21st century. Founded by a proven urban leader, the late Mayor of Boston Thomas Menino, and a highly regarded academic, Professor Graham Wilson, the Initiative serves as a bridge between academic research and the real-life practice of city governance.
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About The Rockefeller Foundation
For more than 100 years, The Rockefeller Foundation’s mission has been to promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world. Together with partners and grantees, The Rockefeller Foundation strives to catalyze and scale transformative innovations, create unlikely partnerships that span sectors, and take risks others cannot–or will not. For more information, please visit www.rockefellerfoundation.org.
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 “Global Warming Concern at Three-Decade High in US,” Gallup News, March 17, 2017.