The Path to Reopening Our Cities

As the dreaded coronavirus bolts across the globe, city after city has locked down, transforming urban business centers and suburban malls alike into veritable ghost towns. Our cities can’t stay in lockdown indefinitely. The economic costs — never mind the toll on our society and our mental health — is just too devastating. But the reality is we can’t just hit a reset button and revert to how things were before. This pandemic, like all great pandemics, threatens to reappear in subsequent waves over the next year to eighteen months, until we find a vaccine or develop herd immunity. Even as cities focus on a full-out mobilization of required health and medical resources to cope with the first phase of this pandemic, it is important they get prepared safely and securely for the future, too.

There are several key changes states and cities, mayors, governors and community leaders must focus on, based on research I conducted with my colleague Steven Pedigo of the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs, to get back up and running.

First, a number of transportation adaptations will be crucial. Transportation infrastructure is the circulatory system and lifeblood of the economy. Airports not only connect cities and enable the flow of people and goods across the world; they are key drivers of urban economies. They cannot be idled indefinitely. We will need to get them up-and-running again. That means mobilizing like we did in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, adding temperature checks and necessary health screenings to the security measures that are already in place. It also means taking steps to reduce crowding and delays: Painted lines on floors and stanchions can promote adequate social distancing in waiting areas, as well as making masks and hand sanitizer available. Airlines will need to reduce their passenger counts and keep middle seats open.

Buses, subways, and trains get people to work. Beyond emergency infusions of cash to keep the systems solvent during this first wave of the pandemic when ridership is low or nonexistent, design changes in stations and seating will be needed when they are back in service.

Streets may need some retrofits, too. In the midst of the crisis, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for pedestrianizing New York City streets to promote social distancing. Some changes like this should become permanent. Bike lanes will have to be expanded and better protected, and bike and scooter-sharing programs refined and expanded for when public transit is compromised. Sidewalks, especially those in crowded business and commercial districts, may also need to be widened to promote needed social distancing.

Second, we need strategies for altering how we use other forms of large-scale infrastructure – stadiums, arenas, convention centers, performing arts centers, universities, and schools. Because they bring together large groups of people, all of them will pose risks until the virus is stamped out. City leaders must act to pandemic-proof these assets as much as possible. Class sizes may need to be reduced in schools and audience sizes reduced in theaters, with many seats left open. Masks may need to be required and made available to patrons as needed, and temperature checks carried out. The sooner such large-scale civic infrastructure can be safely reopened, the faster our urban economies will rebound.

Third, we need strong and proactive steps to protect the core of our local economies. Main Street is taking a devastating hit from forced closures. Some projections suggest that as many as three-quarters of barbershops, restaurants, mom-and-pop stores, and the like will be bankrupted before the first wave of the pandemic is over. In the short run, it is imperative that our small businesses, which generate so many jobs and lend our communities so much of their character, survive. They need whatever support they can get, in the form of mortgage, rent, and tax relief; zero-interest loans; and more. In the interim, cities need to provide assistance and advice to help prepare these vital small businesses to reopen safely.

The creative economy of art galleries, museums, theaters, and music venues, along with the artists, musicians, and actors who fuel them, is also at dire risk. Cities must partner with other levels of government, the private sector and philanthropies to marshal the funding and expertise that is needed to keep their cultural scenes alive. Once they are allowed to reopen, they will also need to make interim and long-term changes in the way that they operate. Cities should mobilize to provide advice and assistance on the necessary procedures — from temperature screenings, better spacing for social distancing and the like — for these venues to reopen safely.

Fourth, we must take proactive measures to protect the people that animate these economies and spaces. Now is the time to upgrade how we value front-line service workers with better protection, higher pay, and more benefits. Nearly half of Americans work in low-wage service jobs, and a considerable percentage of those are on the front lines of this pandemic. Supporting them in their work will help protect us in future crises.

For others, we should make remote work more available and accessible. We are in the midst of a massive experiment in telework, and learning from the experience can help cities understand how to better support this workforce — and perhaps even offer an opportunity for some cities to lure new residents who move further away from their offices.

We should not forget one takeaway from this crisis, which we already know from history: Concentrated poverty, economic inequality, and racial and economic segregation are not only morally unjust — they also provide fertile ground for pandemics to take root and spread.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. In a matter of months, our cities will begin to come back to life; in a year or two, we will see a return to a new normal. Eventually, we will go back to work and school and send our kids on play dates again; we will gather in restaurants and theaters and sports stadiums. In time, our great cities will rise again, as they always have after great health crises and pandemics.

But they just won’t pop back to normal. We need a readiness and preparedness plan for getting our cities and communities back up and running, and the time to start is now. What we do over the course of the next 12 to 18 months will matter greatly to the safety of our cities, the public health of our workers, and to our economic rebound.

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Ideas and Resources for How Cities Can Attack the COVID-19 Crisis

In Kansas City, MO: “People are coming into our office to start businesses because they don’t believe the companies they work for will make it through the COVID-19 shut down. People are preparing to have something to fall back on or are getting serious about starting their new business venture full-time due to shut downs and layoffs, or not being compensated during their quarantine.”

Meanwhile in Saint Paul, MN, staff helped to ensure that people were able to line up six feet apart when visiting the Safety and Inspections office.

As a major purchaser of goods and services, the city of Philadelphia’s procurement team is working to make sure the city contracts and purchasing needs continue in a timely manner, relaxing restrictions where necessary to respond to time-sensitive purchases.

As policy makers, service providers and employers, city governments are working around the clock to develop executive orders that provide relief and support to their residents. These efforts include convening partners to coordinate local responses and mobilizing resources for community-based organizations to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, cities are undertaking an overwhelming effort to prevent the small businesses (businesses with fewer than 500 employees) from closing down to prevent loss of income and jobs to the 59 million Americans they employ.

While the U.S. Government’s Small Business Administration is taking measures to work directly with governors to provide targeted, low-interest disaster recovery loans to small businesses that have been severely impacted, Living Cities’ staff has been impressed with municipal efforts from around the country to support their local small businesses. From relief funds and executive orders, here is a growing list that we will update regularly and that we invite you to contribute to.

The types of support to local businesses include:

  • $500-10k grants
  • 0% interest loans
  • Commercial eviction moratorium and rent freezes
  • Waivers of late payment penalties for small businesses resulting from failure to file taxes
  • Waivers on permits and licensing fees
  • Financial support for employees
  • Deferred utility payment plans

Much more is needed. In fact, much more was always needed for businesses owned by people of color. That is why many of these relief and emergency efforts to deal with COVID-19 were already pilots implemented to support businesses owned by people of color, and in turn their employees. For example, last year in our City Accelerator, the City of Atlanta began helping business owners with downpayment assistance to manage the rising commercial real estate costs. And in New Orleans, we invested in a mobilization fund to help contractors meet payroll while waiting for payments to come in.

The impact of COVID-19 shutdowns and closures cuts deep for all, but similar to seniors and those with pre-existing conditions, for small businesses owned by people of color, COVID-19 can be fatal. And the impact on their communities can be devastating. Businesses owned by people of color, sometimes referred to as MBE (minority business enterprises) or DBEs (Disadvantaged Business Enterprises), generally tend to have smaller reserves and lines of credit. MBEs are often some of the only employers and service providers in their communities and are an important element of the value chain for larger companies. As such, they tend to be hit harder after disasters hit. FEMA estimates that nationwide, 40% of small businesses never reopen after a major disaster. Those numbers are undoubtedly much higher for businesses owned by people of color. That is why strategies need to be conscious of racial disparities that existed before the pandemic.

There are lots of terrific recommendations on how we can mitigate the expected record levels of unemployment, abandoned commercial properties, and reduced availability of products and services. And most of them are race neutral. But what if local governments:

  • Contracted with local firms owned by people of color that provide direct services in support of emergency relief efforts?

  • Provided technical assistance to help businesses make quick pivots on the line of products and services they develop or sell? For example, a rum distillery in Puerto Rico has shifted its production to making rubbing alcohol and a Long Beach distillery is making hand sanitizers.

  • Maintained commercial leases through payment freezes for up to 18 months for businesses without capital reserves or strong personal/business credit?

  • In addition to commercial and residential rent freezes, partnered with banks to provide mortgage relief for business owners who use their homes as equity?

  • Provided free childcare to health care workers, essential City employees, grocery store and restaurant workers similar to Sacramento’s efforts for first responders and essential workers?

The following measures are devoted to restaurants, as they are owned by, managed by or employ a significant number of people of color and are amongst the hardest hit industries due to social distancing enforcement:

  • Free or relaxed on-street parking rules and regulations to help food establishments accommodate curbside pick-up like in Memphis.

  • Delayed or cancelled monthly meal taxes that restaurants owe to state and local governments, such as Massachusetts has.

  • Waived zoning or permit restrictions to allow restaurants to temporarily offer an alternative to overcrowded supermarkets.

Many city governments had begun to step up to shore up enterprises owned by people of color through increased procurement, investment and policy-making before the pandemic. This crisis is an opportunity for local leaders and public servants to disrupt inequities by intentionally reducing the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. See the NAACP’s Policy Recommendations to temper the impact of the pandemic on communities of color and their Action Tool Kit.

I have been repeating these words of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks a lot these past few weeks, “we are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” While local governments are appropriately focused on implementing emergency measures, Living Cities remains a partner by serving as a national resource and connector to local governments, as we lay the foundation for the Closing the Gaps Network to welcome cities committed to addressing the racial income and wealth gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.

Rod Miller contributed to this piece. He is author of an upcoming guide for public sector practitioners based on what we learned by working with five cities in our City Accelerator on Local Business and Job Growth. It contains tactical approaches, tools, tips and metrics and lessons learned for city governments seeking solutions to support local, diverse businesses.

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What Cities Are Doing to Stall Evictions and Foreclosures

On Monday afternoon, the Bay Area became the first region in the U.S. to institute a shelter in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19, barring visits to restaurants or bars or the hair salon, having friends over, and taking unnecessary public transit trips. The restriction made another recent San Francisco measure all-the-more urgent: keeping people housed while they deal with the cascading economic toll of such an emergency.

As other cities consider escalating their own lockdowns in the coming days, they are already following the lead of San Francisco by pursuing eviction freezes, foreclosure pauses, and utility shut-off deferrals. Over the past few days, the states of California and New York, and cities including Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, Seattle, and Philadelphia have taken up a range of housing security strategies, hoping to avoid exacerbating the public health crisis posed by Covid-19 by pushing more people into homelessness. These efforts follow earlier measures in Singapore and Italy to stem homelessness during outbreaks there.

Across the U.S., The Guardian reports that almost 90 cities and states have stopped shutting off people’s water utilities, even if they can’t afford to pay their bills. Detroit is one of the few cities that has taken this measure a step further, restoring water access to tens of thousands of poor residents whose taps had previously been shut off due to debt.

Although there is no indication that U.S. will pass a national moratorium, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called for such action in a speech on March 12, asking federal lawmakers to prevent evictions, foreclosures, and utility bill collections.

Because each jurisdiction handles housing policy differently, officials are pulling different levers to protect renters and homeowners alike: Penalizing landlords for kicking tenants out, telling their police and sheriff’s departments to stop enforcing pending or new eviction notices, and urging banks and utility companies to temporarily forgive non-payments. Several of the proposals recognize the financial burden of mass social isolation and business closures by tying the housing reprieves to documented coronavirus-related losses. Others take a blanket approach to protecting people from housing insecurity during a global pandemic.

“People shouldn’t lose or be forced out of their home because of the spread of COVID-19,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement, after he issued an executive order giving local governments the authority to impose their own moratoria. “Over the next few weeks, everyone will have to make sacrifices — but a place to live shouldn’t be one of them. I strongly encourage cities and counties take up this authority to protect Californians.”

Tenants’ rights organizations said that the measure was disappointing because it didn’t bar evictions outright at the state level. Meanwhile, in cities like San Jose and San Francisco, lawmakers have already taken up their authority, and are finalizing measures that freeze evictions for a set period of time. Both require affected tenants to demonstrate some kind of coronavirus-related loss. San Francisco, whose mayor London Breed enacted the eviction moratorium on March 13, is also working on more non-binding resolutions that would urge banks and utility companies to freeze foreclosures and utility debt.

In Los Angeles — where 63% of the city’s 4 million residents are renters, and a third of them pay half or more of their earned income on rent — Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an executive order to halt evictions for struggling tenants. Documented child-care, domestic-care, or health-care expenses could prove need, as well as work stoppages; and rent would be due six months after the state of emergency ends.

Some other cities whose constituents have pushed them to take action say they’re looking to their states or counties to act first, due to preemption measures or court powers. Even without issuing a legislative moratorium on landlord-initiated evictions, however, cities can direct (or urge) law enforcement to stand down and stop expelling people from their homes, or halt court proceedings already in motion.

In the Miami area, for example, an immediate halt on evictions came not from a proposal through city council, but directly from the police department: After Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez declared a state of emergency on March 11, the department announced it was temporarily suspending its own activities to enforce evictions “until further notice,” effectively halting tenants’ removals.

Law enforcement in Philadelphia, which ranks fourth in the nation for eviction filings, started collaborating with the city after Councilmember Helen Gym successfully lobbied the city’s sheriff and its courts to stop enforcing evictions, residential foreclosures, and tax liens on residential properties for at least the next two weeks. Just this week, more than 550 evictions were scheduled to be heard — as part of the emergency eviction pause, the courts also agreed to pause hearing those cases already in the pipeline.

During those two weeks, major gas, electric, and WiFi utilities won’t pursue shut-offs, either. “We know that one of the most dangerous things we can do at this time — when we’re telling people to stay at home or be in safe places — is to take away a roof over people’s heads, or turn off their water or electricity because they’re not allowed to work right now,” Gym told CityLab.

New York State is currently the area experiencing the largest number of coronavirus cases — more than 450 — and lawmakers there are attacking housing insecurity from all sides. After New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state disaster emergency, state legislators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh submitted legislation that would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants without a court order, and gives new powers to courts to stop evictions, foreclosures, and “adjust lease obligations.”

The state courts took their own decisive action over the weekend, issuing an indefinite end to eviction proceedings at the residential and commercial level, and a stall on all pending housing court orders across the state. This order extends New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own commitment to suspend evictions in the city for three months.

Oakland, too, is taking a two-pronged approach. Under pressure from housing activists last week, Oakland’s city council sent a letter asking the county to pause evictions until the council’s next meeting on April 7; the Superior Court agreed, stopping all court proceedings, including evictions, under the Bay Area’s shelter in place.

In the meantime, Councilmember Nikki Fortunato Bas also successfully called on the Alameda County Sheriff’s office to stop pursuing eviction enforcement. But she says a city-imposed moratorium is crucial. “I think it’s very important to look comprehensively,” Bas said. “Ensuring that eviction protections are strong, including moratoriums on evictions due to this pandemic; and ensuring that eviction proceedings that may already be in the works be halted, and that any court orders are’t pursued.”

Even San Francisco’s original legislation — which paused evictions for unpaid rent left gaps: San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston  introduced another measure that would bar no-fault evictions, like owner move-ins or renovations, after landlords ejected a “medically disabled Mission resident,” using the state’s Ellis Act, Mission Local reported. (“[S]ome landlords seem to be lacking a heart or a brain or both,” Preston wrote on Twitter.) He’s also struggling to ensure that the San Francisco court system doesn’t proceed with eviction trials.

And although L.A. has ensured that the most precarious tenants are protected, Councilmember Mike Bonin told CityLab he’s planning to introduce a more sweeping suite of legislation at a future city council meeting. He’ll also ask for a freeze on evictions, but his legislation wouldn’t require any documentation of work disruption, and it would go through the city attorney.

For those who can document coronavirus economic impacts, he’s seeking another more specific mandate that forces all landlords and residential mortgage-holders to allow tenants and homeowners up to 24 months to fulfill their payment obligations.

And, to ensure that people won’t be stuck looking for housing amidst a downturn due to a poorly timed lease end date, Bonin says this draft of his legislation would require all residential landlords to extend expiring leases for three months after the emergency declaration is lifted.

“In this crisis we have to do everything that we possibly can — everything we know we can do. And we need to push the envelope of what that is,” he said. “One or two weeks of lost income is the difference between [some workers] living indoors and them living outdoors.”

Mom-and-pop landlords have expressed concerns that this new trend would have unintended consequences, pushing property owners behind on their own payments as they, too, grapple with the financial and health implications of the virus. In cities where eviction moratoriums are paired with foreclosure forgiveness, they have less to worry about. Cities like L.A. and Philadelphia are pursuing small business support funds.

“If this goes on, we’re going to have to look at using city, state and federal money to help keep people whole,” said Bonin. “We’ve got tenants, we’ve got workers, we’ve got small businesses, we’ve got landlords — it just becomes a self-perpetuating and constantly repeating cycle of harm.”

To break out of this cycle, localities can’t be the only ones legislating on the ground, says Philadelphia’s Gym, who calls on President Donald Trump to adopt Sanders’ national housing relief directive and enact expanded paid leave, cash assistance, or a universal basic income on a temporary basis. “People are in crisis,” she said. “All of us need to make a broad-based appeal for state and federal relief that comes directly to states and large cities.”

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Sustainable Cities Need Smart Investment and Policies

While the outlook for the environment may often seem bleak, there are many proven methods already available for cities to make their energy systems and other infrastructure not only more sustainable, but cheaper and more resilient at the same time. This confluence of benefits will drive investments in clean, efficient energy, transportation, and water infrastructure that will enable cities to realize their sustainability goals.

Given that many of the policy mechanisms that impact cities’ ability to boost sustainability are implemented at the state or federal level, municipalities should look to their own operations to implement change. Cities can lead as a major market player, for example, by converting their own fleets to zero emission electric vehicles, investing in more robust and efficient water facilities, procuring clean power, and requiring municipal buildings to be LEED certified.

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Why Aren’t Cities Testing for Coronavirus?

On March 1, on a return flight to her home in Washington, D.C., after a five-day work trip in Bangkok, Maggie McDow came down with something.

The symptoms — aches and fatigue, tightness in her chest — come and go. “One minute I think I’m getting better and the next I’m having trouble breathing and can barely lift my head off the pillow,” McDow wrote in an email on Saturday from her home in D.C.’s Forest Hills neighborhood, where she has been on self-imposed quarantine since her return. “I don’t know if this is Covid-19, but it [is] definitely different [than] anything I’ve had before.”

Because she traveled through an airport in South Korea — where some 7,400 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 as of Monday — McDow was concerned. A colleague who traveled with her came down with the same symptoms, she says, but in that colleague’s home in rural Indonesia, tests for the coronavirus were not yet available. To McDow’s surprise, getting tested in D.C. would be difficult, too.

Last week, McDow bounced around between her doctor, George Washington University Hospital, and the D.C. Department of Health. On Friday afternoon, she checked in at the hospital’s emergency room. No luck: Even after she tested negative for the flu, she said that the city’s health department declined to run her test for coronavirus. The reason? Since she never left the airport in Seoul, she was deemed at low risk for infection. (The Department of Health did not return requests for comment; George Washington University Hospital referred CityLab to the city.)

McDow described her Kafkaesque journey through the medical system in a Facebook post that was quickly shared more than 20,000 times. On Monday night, she finally got tested for Covid-19: negative. It’s a relief in more ways than one, since she can now see her doctors, who couldn’t treat her before, for whatever is ailing her. She can see her daughters again, too.

McDow’s story has parallels with that of Robin Shulman, who wrote in The New York Times about making three trips to the emergency room before she was given a coronavirus test. (It was also negative.) Chris Hayes, the MSNBC host, reports the same trend in San Diego. “In order to get a test the patient has to have had close contact [with] someone [with] a confirmed infection or travelled to an infected area,” he writes. “But that’s totally insufficient!”

As President Donald Trump has repeatedly stated, coronavirus cases in the U.S. are still fewer than those being reported in France, Germany, or Spain, to say nothing of the many thousands more cases in hot spots like Italy or Iran. Yet the reported number of cases in the U.S. may simply reflect the fact that so few tests are being administered. Given the experience of other nations, it’s almost certainly the case that test results in the U.S. fail to convey the true severity of the problem.

“The numbers of ‘new’ cases reported daily in the U.S. are not new,” writes Marc Lipsitch, director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard University, in a post on Twitter. “They are newly discovered as we start to test more. Testing is still completely inadequate, and actual case numbers are much larger than the numbers we’re hearing because most cases never get tested.”

This coronavirus map Europe and North America from Johns Hopkins University’s now even has a graphic feature showing how each of Singapore’s 166 confirmed cases are linked; the rate of new cases has flattened and is now declining. China and South Korea have also seen their rates of new infections dip. Their interventions came early: Guangzho implemented strict social distancing protocols when the region had just seven confirmed cases (and zero deaths), according to Lipsitch. Wuhan went on lockdown when they had 495 confirmed cases (and 23 deaths). The U.S. is now further along than those places were — but with far fewer tests in the field to guide public decisions.

Health experts such as Lipsitch say that efforts to trace the contacts of infected individuals in order to contain the virus are now overwhelming health departments in the U.S.; mass testing only works in the early stages of a contagion outbreak. Now, it’s critical to lower the demand for medical attention before the nation’s healthcare system is overwhelmed (a real possibility). The way to flatten that demand curve is to make the painful decisions associated with social distancing. For the New York suburb of New Rochelle, that means a one-mile “containment” zone that will be administered by the National Guard. Soon, for a host of North American cities, that may mean mass closures of schools, workplaces, public gatherings, and other high-risk sites and events.

As local authorities begin to make those hard calls, questions about testing are starting to look more like woulda, coulda, shoulda. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Covid Tracking Project’s findings show 4,449 total tests nationwide, with 566 positive results and 409 cases pending. That looks like a reassuringly tiny percentage of people in a nation of 329 million are walking around with this bug. Keeping it that way, though, likely looks less like testing centers and more like proclamations. The federal government failed to do more to get tests to the public in time, notwithstanding Trump’s repeated claims that everyone with symptoms “gets a test.” Bottlenecks at the state and local levels proceeded from there — perhaps thwarting the containment stage entirely.

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We Were There: Reckoning with Living Cities’ History on Race

Nearly 30 years ago, Living Cities began as the National Community Development Initiative (NCDI), an organization made up of many of the same philanthropic members we have today and designed to support community development across the U.S. In those days, we were primarily focused on building and sustaining affordable housing, and though we were successful in many ways, our efforts were completely race neutral.

In our latest interactive piece, we wanted to reckon with the landmark political and cultural history that pushed both Living Cities as an organization–and as a philanthropic collective–forward. We wanted to highlight the moments during which our staff and members were actively considering race and racism in their decision-making, and points in time where we, frankly, didn’t get it quite right. The timeline you’re about to see references everything from the Community Reinvestment Act, passed in 1977, to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray. All caused us in some way to reexamine our work and dig deeper into the root causes of the problems we want to solve.

By looking back at Living Cities’ history,
maybe we can see where we as a collective
and as individuals got it wrong.
Maybe we can see how to correct these mistakes;
center race in everything we do; and collectively
envision a bright, just future.

The timeline first reflects on these stories, and then forward into the next several decades, to imagine an anti-racist America where people are economically secure, building wealth, and living abundant, dignified and connected lives. By looking back at Living Cities’ history, maybe we can see where we as a collective and as individuals got it wrong. Maybe we can see how to correct these mistakes; center race in everything we do; and collectively envision a bright, just future.

We hope as you explore the timeline you’ll think about where you were in these moments, the effect these events had on you, and whether they have changed how you and your organization think about race in this country.

If you’d like to share, please tweet us @Living_Cities and let us know where you were in our movement history timeline.

Thanks to Global Action Project for their support in creating this timeline.

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Living Cities’ Catalyst Impact Funds Named to ImpactAssets 50 for Ninth Consecutive Year

For over a decade, Living Cities’ impact investing work has helped us test innovative approaches to spark and accelerate social change. Our commitment to using capital to achieve better outcomes for people in US cities, is aligned with our organizational priorities and reflected in our race-centric impact strategy. That’s why we are thrilled to announce that the Catalyst Fund and the Blended Catalyst Fund have been selected to the ImpactAssets 50, a publicly available showcase that recognizes a diverse group of impact investment fund managers who demonstrate a commitment to generating positive social, environmental and financial impact!

With record applicants from a variety of sectors, this year’s showcase includes eleven impact funds with more than $1 billion in assets under management and a list of emergent impact managers with a tracked record of exploring alternative approaches to advance social change. This recognition is not only a testament of our commitment to using capital as catalyst for change, but an opportunity to share proof points on what it takes to invest in closing the racial wealth gaps, with the impact investing field.
Through our impact investments, we drive more capital to founders and fund managers of color to influence how the field assesses risk and shift the entities and individuals who get to access wealth-building opportunities. By testing innovative investing approaches and exploring alternative underwriting methods, the Blended Catalyst fund aims to disrupt racial income and wealth disparities that have been 400 years in the making.

The Catalyst Family of Funds

The Catalyst Fund and Blended Catalyst Fund are structured debt funds that advance Living Cities’ programmatic initiatives. Through the Catalyst Family of Funds, we have deployed approximately $57 million and our 29 investments have leveraged over $1 billion in additional financing. Our second fund, the Blended Catalyst Fund (BCF), is in its deployment period and is actively seeking new investment opportunities.

Below are two examples of recent transactions:

UP Community Fund: The BCF made a $2.6 million loan to Up Community Fund, a lender that provides technical assistance and flexible capital in the form of loans ranging between $250k – $2mm to businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color in the Southeast. The $19.5mm Fund is focused on addressing the capital gap experienced by founders of color, which among many other factors, contributes to the staggering racial disparities in income and wealth.

The Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement PFS Project (“MA Pathways”): The BCF made a $650,000 investment in the first Pay For Success (PFS) initiative in the nation to be focused exclusively on workforce development. Through the provision of vocational English classes, skills training and job access, this $12.43M Pay for Success project improves economic outcomes for approximately 2,000 English language learners living in low-income neighborhoods in the Greater Boston area.

We are especially honored to be part of such extraordinary group of leaders in the impact investing field this year, as we continue to implement our race-centric impact strategy. We are certain that we will continue to learn from their investing experience and commitment social and environmental impact.

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Why Cities Should Support Right-of-Way Charging

Cities that are serious about reducing carbon pollution from transportation need to promote walking and biking, expand transit and micro-mobility services, manage development, and use pricing to reduce traffic and parking congestion.

Many of these steps are designed to reduce the use of single occupancy cars. At the same time, though, cities will also need to electrify everything that moves, including those passenger cars. Just as our approach to solid waste requires a “reduce, reuse, recycle” approach, city transportation policy needs to pursue a “both-and” strategy. Making it easier to use an electric car does not conflict with encouraging alternative transportation options, any more than making it easier to recycle conflicts with discouraging single-use packaging.

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