New Yorkers Lose Homes to the Homeless, a Bright Spot for Detroit, and the Key to Increasing Home Values

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August 22, 2013

From the department of unintended consequences: According to a report on WNYC, New York City has been desperate to find more shelter space for the homeless. In order to expand the space available, the city’s been paying landlords more than they could get for the same apartments in the private market. “The result? Landlords are pushing out paying tenants to make room for the homeless.”

We’ve been worrying for a while about the understaffing of state courts, which can have all kinds of ramifications. For example, will a new business want to start up in a jurisdiction where minor lawsuits can sit around for years? So we were particularly interested in an ABA Journal article that outlines a variety of threats to state courts other than funding cuts. They include impeachment attacks (of which there were more in 2011 than any time in history), salary cuts, and efforts to increase the number of judges in superior courts in order to “stack the courts.”

We don’t typically write much about the judicial branch, but we’d be very interested in hearing from readers about the lay of the land there.

Looking for innovative, exciting ideas for your city? Here’s a wonderful resource prepared for New York City by NYU’s Graduate School of Public Service and the Center for an Urban Future with fifteen ideas we recommend other city leaders take a look at.

One idea we particularly liked: innovation loan funds. Rather than dipping into budgetary funds, agencies suggest ideas that they believe will pay for themselves within five years and borrow money from the general fund to get them started. If the savings don’t accrue, the loan is sliced from the agency’s budget.

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Chicago, for example, gave a $900,000 loan to the Department of Public Health to help reduce the black market for cigarettes by giving cash rewards to citizens who report illegal tobacco sales. It’s expected to pay for itself within three years.

“Citizen participation [is] a device whereby public officials induce nonpublic individuals to act in a way the officials desire.” -- Daniel P. Moynihan, former U.S. Senator for New York and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and India.

It sure looks like the fiscal woes of Detroit covered every square inch of the beleaguered city. But in July, when Bizjournals.com ranked 100 housing markets based on 18 measures for economic health, it found that Detroit was number 44. The 1-year house value growth in Detroit, for example, was 7.2 percent -- better than most of the other cities.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research has recently pointed out a simple but terribly important idea: Newspaper, magazine and web-based articles that talk about government spending often don’t put the huge numbers into any kind of context. For example, you may read about a multibillion dollar contract the state has signed but not be informed that the contract runs over a ten-year time period. Similarly, the same expenditure number in California is vastly less significant than a similar figure would be in Rhode Island or Maine.

Want to increase the value of housing in your community? A recent study by the Sonoran Institute indicates that one of the keys to doing this (at least in the six western communities studied) is walkability. This is a bit of a switch from the post-WWII world in which people tended to want to live in housing surrounded by more housing. Now, the ability to walk to stores, public amenities and so on seems to heft the housing prices by nearly 20 percent, according to the study.

Revenues are improving -- but perhaps not as much as it seems. Those are the findings of a new report from the Rockefeller Institute of Government. According to the report, the biggest element in increased tax revenues comes from personal income tax collections but that’s “mostly attributable to taxpayer behavior and attempts to accelerate income into 2012 in anticipation of federal tax law changes. Such large increases in personal income tax collections would undoubtedly lead to lower amounts in coming years.”

For a while during the depths of the recession, you couldn’t turn around without hearing some public official say that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Now comes concrete evidence that this was more than just a handy new cliché. A must-read report from the National Association of State Budget Officers called “State Budgeting and the Lessons Learned from the Economic Downturn” gives lots of examples that go to the following point made early on: “The recession was a catalyst for state policy changes. The recession brought with it opportunities for lasting government reform and many states have reduced future budgetary risks by enacting changes to areas like health care, employee retirement systems and corrections. States can capitalize on periods of economic decline by making substantial changes to spending priorities while there is sufficient political will and greater stakeholder understanding for budget adjustments.”

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