Executive Summary

The resilience of our cities is critical to the economic well-being of the nation. 
U.S. cities contribute almost 85% to the national Gross Domestic Product and house over 80% of the nation’s citizens.

Cities therefore have huge responsibilities in ensuring the health, safety and well-being of the business community, industries, and large and diverse populations of residents. Yet America’s cities are facing increasingly complex risks caused by increasingly severe weather, socioeconomic inequality and deteriorating infrastructure, which are affecting their ability to meet the needs of their residents and the nation. City resilience is also critical to avoiding costs to the federal government from natural disasters. The number of declared disasters each year has been steadily increasing, and the costs are undeniably expensive.

Just in fiscal years 2011 through 2013 the U.S. government spent $138 billion in federal taxpayer dollars responding to the impacts of natural disasters. Recent statistics from NOAA show a 5-fold increase in the number of billion-dollar disasters from 1980 to 2012. Recent 2017 storms have had an unprecedented impact on cities like Houston, Miami and San Juan and necessitate an innovative approach to planning housing and infrastructure in flood prone communities.

These events, which are exacerbated by more gradual effects of climate change, such as sea level rise and warming temperatures, can prove devastating to cities’ infrastructure, residents, and businesses. Cities are also universally challenged by aging infrastructure, maintenance backlogs, and declining federal budgets that hinder their ability to keep pace with increasing demands for infrastructure investment from growing populations, improving technologies and impacts from changing patterns of extreme weather. In its 2017 report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. infrastructure a grade of D+, demonstrating the significant backlog of overdue maintenance across our infrastructure systems, and a pressing need for modernization.

Systemic stressors like lack of affordable housing further challenge the ability of cities and residents to grow and thrive. For instance, in New Orleans there are only 47 affordable rental units for every 100 very low-income residents. Federal programs that promote investments in affordable housing are insufficient to meet demands. Furthermore, a sizable percentage of cities’ housing stock is not resilient to the effects of extreme weather and climate change: Zillow, an online real estate and rental marketplace, calculates that 1.87 million U.S. homes at all income levels will face increasing risk of flooding from sea level rise.

Businesses are also threatened by the effects of a changing climate and increasing disaster events. While cities drive the national economy, small businesses drive the economy of cities and make up 99.7% of all US employers. Small firms can be especially challenged by disaster events: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes that 43% of small businesses do not recover from natural disasters. At the same time, the US workforce must keep pace with growing technology demands and emerging opportunities, including in resilience.

Still other systemic challenges affect the ability of cities and residents to thrive and recover from disasters and other shocks. Many cities lack the necessary assets to deal with the cross-cutting issues of mental health, youth needs, 
and criminal justice. The United States has the highest prison population in the world, with 2.2 million Americans incarcerated and an average cost per-inmate of $31,286 per year. The problems are particularly acute for both the mentally ill and children with behavioral challenges, who do not have access to support services and may end up in the justice system for relatively minor offenses. After incarceration, many people have trouble finding housing or supporting themselves, and may return to the criminal justice system due to re-offense.

Cities need strong federal partners to manage these challenges. Dozens of federal agencies contribute to the safety, security and stability of our cities. Too often federal programs that are aimed at supporting municipal infrastructure, economies, housing and services fail to adequately ensure that cities, businesses and residents are more resilient to disaster events and other shocks they are facing. This report is intended to help city leaders advocate for common-sense changes in federal law and policy that will help cities enhance the resilience of their communities and meet the needs of their residents and businesses.

Nearly two dozen mayors from across the 100RC Network have already supported the proposals and said their adoption would help them build resilience in their cities. Those mayors are:

  • Bill de Blasio, (New York, NY)
  • Martin J. Walsh (Boston, MA)
  • Keisha Lance Bottoms (Atlanta, GA)
  • Mitch Landrieu (New Orleans, LA)
  • William Peduto (Pittsburgh, PA)
  • Libby Schaaf (Oakland, CA)
  • Greg Fischer (Louisville, KY)
  • Jenny Durkan (Seattle, WA)
  • Kenny Alexander (Norfolk, VA)
  • David Briley (Nashville, TN)
  • Kirk Caldwell (Honolulu, HI)
  • Eric Garcetti (Los Angeles, CA)
  • Muriel Bowser (Washington, DC)
  • Rahm Emanuel (Chicago, IL)
  • Carlos Gimenez (Miami-Dade, FL)
  • Francis X. Suarez (Miami, FL)
  • Dan Gelber (Miami Beach, FL)
  • Suzanne Jones (Boulder, CO)
  • Jacob Frey (Minneapolis, MN)
  • Lyda Krewson (St. Louis, MO)
  • Jesse Arreguín (Berkeley, CA)
  • Dee Margo (El Paso, TX)

Our Recommendations

This report includes the following recommendations for politically actionable federal reforms that would better help cities and the nation thrive in the face of changing conditions:

Promote Safe and Resilient Infrastructure

Our modern, urban-centered economy demands strong linkages within and between cities, and our increasingly volatile climate requires cities to be prepared to withstand intense weather phenomena like floods, fires and storms. The Federal Government provides the major funding source for most large-scale infrastructure projects such as flood control projects, water infrastructure, highways, transit hubs and ports, electrical systems, telecommunications systems and more. The Federal Government also sets requirements that recipients of federal funding for infrastructure projects must follow to receive and deploy the money, which provides opportunities to ensure investments improve resilience. The federal government can craft policy and provide resources to attract private sector participation and should:

  1. Create a National Infrastructure Bank that supports private-public investments in resilient infrastructure, including retrofits.
  2. Align cost-benefit analyses across federal agencies and require agencies to consider the full life cycle costs and benefits of infrastructure over the asset’s design life and in consideration of future conditions.
  3. Cultivate partnerships between cities and the Defense Department to promote resilience of city assets that are critical to national security and military installations.
  4. Implement a system that scores infrastructure based on its resilience to better prioritize scarce federal funds.
  5. Coordinate Federal Government grant-making and permitting related to hazard mitigation and disaster recovery.

Increase Safe and Healthy Housing

A critical part of community health and vitality is ensuring safe housing that is affordable to all households. An expanded supply of affordable housing prevents homelessness, results in better health and educational outcomes, and increases the likelihood of stable employment. Housing also needs to be resilient in the face of extreme weather. The Federal Government plays a key role in ensuring safe, affordable housing, by underwriting housing development, funding rehabilitation programs, and setting standards that contribute to the health and resilience of the nation’s housing stock. In addition, in the aftermath of certain severe weather events, the Federal Government provides funding to support city recovery and rebuilding efforts. Cities rely on the Federal Government to help provide safe, healthy and affordable housing for residents. The federal government should invest in our nation’s housing stability by:

  1. Expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit by at least 50 percent.
  2. Expand HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for flexible community development and housing.
  3. Stabilize and strengthen the Pre-Disaster Mitigation program so that cities have greater resources to safeguard housing.
  4. Increase the allotment of units allowed in the HUD Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program.
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Support the Resilience of City Economies

A resilient city must have a healthy and growing economy that provides a range of employment opportunities for individuals throughout city regions and fosters the formation of new businesses and innovation. As awareness of the need for resilience measures grows, cities must not miss the opportunity to train workers to provide the skills and services that will be needed. There are a host of federal programs designed to stimulate the economy through regulatory and market controls that ensure equity, safety and fairness in business operations, and through infrastructure rules, regulation and funding. The Federal Government should:

  1. Grow local economies through a workforce training program dedicated to promoting the nation’s safety and resilience.
  2. Direct federal resources for small business to support business continuity, disaster preparedness and post-disaster recovery.
  3. Engage the private sector to develop innovative solutions for social and economic problems facing low-income communities.

Improve Public Safety and Justice

Our communities and cities should be resilient not only in the face of natural disaster and economic downturns but also in their ability to withstand and prevent social tensions. Criminal justice and law enforcement practices should seek to prevent crime, not only punish and penalize individuals who commit crimes or who are at elevated risk. Cities rely on the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies to help reduce crime and increase access to an array of support services that increase community security. The Federal Government should help cities:

  1. Support local law enforcement.
  2. Support a public health approach to reduce violence.
  3. Invest in Evidence-Based Reforms that reduce crime and incarceration.
  4. Prioritize the Successful Community-Reentry of formerly-incarcerated persons.
  5. Support Survivors of violent crime.