This post is part of a Shelterforce series called Letters to the Next President.
In cities across the country, our communities face crises of housing affordability, dangerous and unsustainable infrastructure, unprecedented inequality, and attacks on our right to participate democratically in determining our future. Given that much of our diversity, industry, and the vast majority of our country’s population can be found in cities, and with the chances of a Clinton presidency looking increasingly likely, it is important that we clearly outline what steps she should take to support cities in tackling these pressing issues.
While Secretary Clinton has started to outline a plan for rural America, there has been less focus on setting an urban-specific agenda. She would have many places to turn for help in developing that agenda. The Movement for Black Lives has developed a platform of comprehensive policy demands. Local Progress, an organization of progressive local elected officials, has outlined a national policy platform that would move us toward local communities that are inclusive, equitable, livable, sustainable, and just.
But where should she start?
Here, we highlight four executive actions that the next president should take within the first 100 days in office.
1. Build Opportunity as We Rebuild Our Country
Secretary Clinton has outlined an ambitious and much-needed investment in our country’s infrastructure. We must work to replace the crumbling bridges and failing water systems that hurt our families and hold our communities back, while expanding access to key communications technologies. Yet an ambitious infrastructure plan should go beyond replacing and expanding systems; it should also be a tool for addressing deep racial and economic inequality in our communities while making our cities more climate resilient and transitioning to more sustainable energy.
If a Clinton administration is serious about creating economic opportunity that reaches those who need it most while challenging historical inequalities, any grand infrastructure program must include an equity agenda. To do so, Clinton should act to attach job quality and access standards to all federal infrastructure funds, ensure adoption and implementation of proposed Obama administration regulations on equal opportunity in apprenticeship and modify (as U.S. Department of Transportation is currently attempting to do) the common grant rule to permit recipients of federal funds for infrastructure projects to adopt targeted and local hire requirements for those projects. Doing so would help ensure that cities have the tools, discretion, and funding necessary to ensure that job opportunities created by an ambitious infrastructure program reach disadvantaged residents, including low-income workers, people of color, and the formerly incarcerated. (See the Movement for Black Lives policy recommendation on “banning the box.”)
2. Tackle Soaring Rents
All too often as our cities grow, a lack of affordable housing options pushes families out of neighborhoods where they have made their homes for decades. In extreme cases, working people are forced to travel hours to their jobs and even professional couples struggle to afford rent. This creates instability in our communities and makes it harder for those who have been displaced to access services or find jobs. In order to ensure that residents, especially people of color and low-income workers, are not pushed out of our cities and away from public transit and economic opportunity, a Clinton administration will need to act to increase the availability of affordable housing. It can do so by providing substantial new resources to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development so it can work directly with local jurisdictions implementing the new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule in a comprehensive, innovative, and far reaching way. It can attach inclusionary housing requirements to all federal funds that will support the construction of residential units, including funds that will support transit-oriented development. The administration should also ensure both protection and expansion of the stock of federally-supported affordable housing at levels that meet identified local needs.
3. Protect Democratic Input
Across the country, we have seen the rise of attacks on voting rights and local democratic input. Regressive forces have sought to dismantle the Voting Rights Act in order to block the votes of people of color and silence their input in our democratic processes. Our districts are often reshaped, not to reflect the will of our communities, but instead to guarantee specific political outcomes. Most recently, majority white state legislatures have sought to block important policies created and democratically adopted by communities where most people are of color. States have blocked forward-thinking action on climate change, LGBT equality, job protections, and creating economic opportunities where they are desperately needed. A Clinton administration could help protect the will of local voters by modifying Executive Order 12612 (which embodied the Reagan administration's states-rights-focused federalism principles) to recognize the importance of local government policy. In cases where states are seeking to block cities’ standards on development projects, the administration could protect important policies (such as local hire initiatives) by attaching requirements to funds flowing from states to localities. It could also prohibit states from denying funds for local measures that advance federal objectives, like creating high-quality job opportunities for disadvantaged populations.
4. Ensure Working People Have a Voice on the Job
While technological innovations have increased our productivity, they have coincided with, and sometimes facilitated, more precarious employment structures that create instability for families and communities. Rather than holding one, long-term job, many city residents find themselves piecing together multiple “gigs,” scrambling between temporary jobs or struggling between unreliable paychecks and sometimes having to navigate confusing layers of joint employers and payroll companies. So far, the National Labor Relations Board has taken some promising steps toward holding companies accountable for work conditions, even while they seek to outsource jobs and distance themselves from responsibility. The administration could reaffirm the value of this work by setting an example through federal contracting and grant requirements. The administration could take important steps toward establishing employer joint liability and limiting the use of temporary workers on federal projects. It could also focus resources to increase strategic enforcement of labor law, including by working with local enforcement agencies to ensure the most vulnerable workers are protected.
While not exhaustive, the practical actions outlined here would demonstrate a deep commitment to racial, climate, and economic justice from a Clinton administration. They would also provide the policy framework, funding, and support cities need to implement local solutions to these pressing challenges. By taking such actions, a Clinton administration could play a vital leadership role in allowing our cities to innovate and thrive.
(Photo: George Makris via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)