Amid Financial Difficulties, City Leaders’ Pessimism Grows

A record number of municipal officials expressed their growing pessimism for the nation’s direction, according to a survey released late last week by the National League of Cities, largely due to the adverse effect of the nation’s credit crisis on cities’ collective bottom lines. The State of America’s Cities survey, created nearly 20 years ago, shows that at mid-recession, more than six out of 10 city officials are pessimistic about the nation’s future — a percentage that far exceeds levels seen in two previous recessions during the survey’s history, officials at the NLC told HousingWire. Seven in ten city officials say that their cities see overall economic conditions as being a problem, with nearly one in two reporting that they are having problems financing city services. Is the problem housing? Not so, the survey found — interestingly, city officials overwhelmingly indicated that affordable health care was at the top of their list relative to relieving budgetary pressures. The second issue cited most frequently for the incoming Obama administration is deteriorating transportation infrastructure; almost seven in ten city managers said the quality of roads, bridges, and airports are problems for their city, with 29 percent saying the conditions worsened in the past year. “The survey clearly shows that the intergovernmental partnership has broken down. The Federal government and cities need to come together to work for the common goals of improving our nation’s infrastructure and assisting our citizens during these difficult economic times,” says NLC president, Kathleen Novak, mayor in Northglenn, Colo. “This will not only help get our nation back to work, but will also make our cities stronger and more globally competitive for decades and generations to come.” A New York Times story Monday highlighted some of the problems facing the nation’s cities, and zeroed in on Columbia, South Carolina — a city that was largely bypassed by the nation’s housing boom and bust cycle, yet nonetheless is finding itself in a tough position. The Times reports that the city’s government expects a 14 percent unemployment rate soon enough. Layoff that once were centered in blue-collar factory jobs now “run the gamut,” Jessica Horsely, a case manager at the local employment office, is quoted as saying in the story. “You see a heightened sense of desperation. People are just grasping for anything.” That heightened desperation among a city’s citizens is clearly having an impact on city officials, and their budgets. And managers may be more pessimistic that the survey indicated: the NLC poll was in the field in September and October, prior to the latest jobless numbers and before a broad recession had been largely recognized. Write to Paul Jackson at

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