Below is the text of Mayor Sorace’s 2019 State of the City address, given on Tuesday, January 22, 2019.
Good evening. Thank you for coming to my first State of the City Address. Tonight, I would like to stock of our City after completing my first year as Mayor.
In recent months, you may have heard me talking about how we need to learn to embrace “AND” rather than allowing “Either/Or” thinking to dominate the way we approach our most serious issues.
Living in the tension of the “AND” has become an unofficial theme. Far too often, the view of our city is influenced by an overly rigid choice: either we are the envy of many small cities across the nation, topping livability, and travel lists, OR we are a city that faces a stubborn poverty rate, racial disparities in income, and an overwhelming sense that not everyone is experiencing the rising tides in our city.
In fact, it is the case, that we are BOTH…AND. We are a special community AND we need to be better. We should be optimistic about the future AND realistic about the work we still must accomplish, together.
While our community, by most metrics, is improving, I hear it loud and clear that not everyone is experiencing that improvement as they go about their daily lives. In short, the State of the City is very good, but it must feel that way to more people. No one can be left out or left behind if we want to create a Lancaster that is economically, culturally, and environmentally sustainable.
I believe even more strongly now that the things that make Lancaster a special place—our diversity, our collaborative atmosphere, our work ethic and core values—are the very features that will bring about a day when every resident can share in the wealth of all that Lancaster has to offer.
The State of the City will highlight the work that we have undertaken over the last year. That work was informed by four priorities that I outlined during my campaign. I hope those priorities are starting to sound familiar. They are: strong neighborhoods, safe streets, secure incomes, and sound government.
While no mayor can predict the many unexpected opportunities and crises they will face—and it seems like my first year had its fair share of both—these four priorities have guided my decision-making through thick and thin.
Later tonight, I will be sharing with you the strategic plan that my team and I have been working on for the past six months. This plan has transformed these priorities into a roadmap for the next three years. This year, I will discuss not only the vision but also the work ahead for 2019. I imagine that next year, the State of the City Address will be less of a speech, and more an overview of what objectives we reached, and which we missed, and why. This year, I want to use the time to offer some insight into what it all means.
The vision statement of that strategic plan is: building a stronger community, block by block.
To me this is more than a slogan. It encompasses what I believe to be the unique opportunity of NOW. Now, after a decade of work to build the infrastructure of government, to forge new partnerships, and to realize a tremendous renaissance of our City – our community is coalescing around a shared vision.
A vision, in the words of Dr. Wubah at yesterday’s MLK celebration, that “if we are OK, and our neighbor is not OK, we are NOT OK.” And as important as a shared vision is – in fact, it essential – we collectively have the ability, the know-how, the energy, the partnerships, and, most of all, the undivided will to make it so – to ensure that our neighbors are OK. This confluence of vision is where I see the greatest opportunity to realize the vision of a building a stronger community. This synergy. NOW.
So, let me start my assessment of year one with neighborhoods, because I believe this is where block-by-block thinking gets its fullest expression.
- We hired the City’s first ever Director of Neighborhood Engagement.
- We were one of ten cities nationally to receive a prestigious Bloomberg Love Your Block grant to increase engagement and reduce blight on Howard Avenue and the Churchtowne Neighborhood.
- We held the Mayor’s Neighborhood Week with community meetings in all areas of the city and an opportunity for neighborhood leaders to learn more about City government.
- We continue to support and leverage the talents of the many amazing neighborhood groups and non-profit organizations that have made neighborhoods their focus.
- With private support, I sponsored 10 block parties across that city that brought neighbors together toward a common purpose.
- The Neighborhood Working Group, which brings together problem solving staff from all City departments, is up and running. We recognize that neighborhood issues do not obey the boundaries of departments at City Hall. Tackling various issues at once is requiring us to be more integrated and more willing to work across disciplinary silos to get the work done.
What does it all mean?
Much of the work of Strong Neighborhoods this year was laying the foundation on which future efforts will be built. Those efforts will be based around a number of objectives that will maximize connections among residents, City government, non-profits, places of worship and business stakeholders working with a shared vision to improve neighborhoods. Laying that groundwork means building community, organizing meetings, and empowering residents to create their own (supported) plans so that they can create sustainable growth that reflects their priorities.
One important and frequently overlooked benefit of this neighborhood work is its role in pushing back against the negative consequences of gentrification. It seems to me that we need to have more, and deeper community conversation about the topic, because we are often not using the term in consistent ways. Gentrification is used to describe everything from displacement of existing residents and rising home and rental prices, to the existence of new businesses and faux shutters we don’t like.
If there is one way that local government can play an important role in resisting what I consider to be the most serious concerns with gentrification (i.e. displacement) it’s through building the type of neighborhood capacity and self-determination that allows residents to have a larger say in what happens in their neighborhoods.
There is an extremely encouraging emphasis among philanthropies, non-profits and policymakers toward making sure that our neighborhood retains their cultural and historic diversity. Residents want their neighborhoods to improve, AND they want to benefit from these improvements, not be displaced by them! We are not going to stop investing in neighborhoods, increasing home ownership, supporting small business, AND we must be intentional and strategic about how we do it!
Strong Neighborhoods are safe neighborhoods. A crucial factor of safe neighborhoods is the ongoing relationship between residents and the law enforcement officers who serve them. The fault lines of that relationship were on full display in our community after the tasing incident in June. Restoring and expanding the trust between the community and the police is a top priority of mine and our police leadership. I recognize that these relationships do not just happen overnight AND I believe that we have taken some incredibly positive steps toward that goal.
- We created a Community Planning group to address police-resident relationships
- We revised the Use of Force Policy.
- We funded body cameras and began a pilot program in November.
- We created a Community Outreach Sergeant to better integrate the work of community engagement at the neighborhood level.
- We created a police social worker position that will work to support our residents in crisis
- We have hosted several Coffee with a Cop/Painting with Police events to complement more traditional forms of engagement like block parties.
- We have four officers certified to train in de-escalation and trauma-informed policing techniques
- We expanded recruitment and educational opportunities for City residents to push toward the goal of a force that better reflects the diversity of the City, seeing as only 6 of the 122 passing scores were earned by City residents this year.
Together these actions lay significant groundwork for the work ahead. Where we can change policies and procedures to better reflect these goals, we have and will. But the real work–the work that is built around deepened relationships and shared vision– will need to unfold over years, not months.
Some have questioned whether our Community Planning Group is the right answer to creating better relationships between residents and police. Instead, they believe we need a Civilian Review Board. Our consultation with Community Relations Service of the Department of Justice along with a national survey of Civilian Review Boards show that, without subpoena power – a power that I cannot give as Mayor — these boards are largely symbolic and do not achieve their goal of creating more accountability, nor better relationships.
In many cases, they have had the opposite of their intended effect, and have engendered more mistrust and tension between residents and police. I’m not interested in creating paper tigers. I prefer a step forward that is pro-active, that is about finding solutions before problems arise and about addressing them wisely when they do.
As a community, it can no longer be the case that we care about policing when the news cameras are on and ignore the relationships that must be built when they go away. We’ve got to do better than this! It is not easy work, but it is necessary. It is the responsibility of the entire community to find ways forward on this critical issue.
A cornerstone of strong neighborhoods is quality, safe housing. Few factors hold neighborhoods back like problem properties. During my second week in office, I asked for a list of our top ten problem landlords; landlords who routinely disregarded even the most basic housing standards and wasted precious time and taxpayer money by requiring inspection after inspection to finally become compliant.
We’ve taken decisive action against two problem landlords who, together, own (owned) nearly 40 properties. My team led a coordinated effort to inspect the properties of Dwain London Sr., which were found to be unsafe, unsanitary and, in many cases, operating as illegal boarding houses. Despite threats to me and my staff, culminating in the cowardly attack on City Hall, we pushed through to make sure that those properties were either brought up to code or condemned.
In these circumstances, tenants of condemned properties find themselves, through no fault of their own, suddenly without a home. That unintended consequence of good enforcement work created another seemingly either/or dilemma: either we tolerate serious housing violations and risk the safety of residents or we enforce the code and risk displacing innocent tenants.
My tea, led by Milzy Carrasco, saw an innovative way to find the “AND” in this situation. Working with community partners, property owners, landlords and private funders, they created a system that could rehouse many of the individuals displaced by the irresponsible actions of their landlords. We named it the “Landlords Who Care” program. It matches landlords willing to provide moderate rent apartments to displaced tenants.
Through existing programs at Community Action Partnership, Tabor, and Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership, the tenant is provided financial and other social supports, which increases the likelihood that displaced tenants can create stable residency and mitigate the risk taken on by the landlord. Twenty-five applications have been received and the program has been adopted by the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness.
- We continued our enforcement, educational and financial partnerships to help remediate the lead hazard in our city’s housing stock.
- With the help of the fire marshals we educated residents on the availability of free smoke detectors and distributed over 115 smoke detectors to residences.
Going forward we need to shift at least one aspect of our thinking about housing, and that is going from largely reactive enforcement to proactive education (and enforcement). Outside of our standard four-year inspection cycle, last year we received 2,000 complaints about problem properties from tenants and neighbors.
We want to be ahead of that curve so we can stop problems before they get to the point of draining city resources and becoming a drag on our blocks. We have begun to implement the tools needed to do just that. The most powerful is the data platform Building Blocks, which will help us more effectively understand where to put resources and how to better coordinate them in order to spot problem areas before they fall into crisis mode using some predictive modeling.
Affordable housing, it is clear, is on the minds of many Lancastrians, mine included. It is a national crisis. At the end of the day, the City, on its own, does not the legal or financial ability to substantially increase the stock of affordable housing. There are many barriers to affordability, but few more stubborn than low wages (which I will touch on later) and high unemployment in concentrated areas of our city.
Annually, the city invests its federal allocation of HOME dollars – a mere $400,000 when you consider the need — to preserve existing affordable housing and partner with others to create more. Tax subsidies for affordable housing from both the Federal and State government have largely dried up and many private companies are not able to create more affordable housing in a way that makes financial sense. I say this not to sidestep the City’s role in this work, but to highlight that this is a community problem that needs a full community solution. Private corporations, non-profits, City government, and residents need to come together to find innovative solutions to funding affordable housing.
The affordable housing conversation often coincides with resentment and frustration about new economic development projects that are coming online in our City. How, some ask, can a city that has multi-million-dollar construction projects and new companies moving in still struggle with housing for our residents? A full answer would fill the rest of the evening, but I believe the formulation of the question presumes another of those pernicious false choices: either you are for economic development OR affordable housing.
I hear concerns about 101NQ, for instance. What I see is a project that is transforming an abandoned, blighted building and been the catalyst for a full-scale revitalization of a dormant city block. I see a business that has brought to Lancaster an employee-owned, socially responsible tech firm, that holds recruiting and training city residents for high-paying programming jobs as one of its key strategic priorities. I see a revitalized 101NQ that will pay taxes on a much higher accessed value and bring life to Lancaster Square, a scar of urban renewal.
I ran on a belief that secure income is the foundation of the economic health and wellbeing of our city. Like affordable housing, there are not many things the City can do alone to directly affect the wages our residents bring home. State law forbids us to create a minimum wage or implement rent control. But what I can (and have done) is use the bully pulpit and the convening power of the Mayor’s office to create partnerships that can move the needle on wages.
Admittedly, 2018 was not the year of implementing a grand plan on secure incomes. Instead, I spent the year convening key players and doing the needed work to understand the problems that we face. The underlying issue can be summarized like this: Good-paying employers cannot fill hundreds of vacant jobs. The City faces an unemployment rate twice as high as the State and three times higher than the County overall. What obstacles keep those in need of jobs in the City to the employees who desperately need workers? The analysis of the problem has highlighted some of the typical culprits: transportation, childcare, education and training, and many others.
The big plus is a mutual belief that our community has all the key components to solve these recurring problems. The path forward, is that there needs to be systems-level change in order to make sure that those individual components are effectively working together.
To that end, a group of partners (Community Action Partnership, Chamber of Commerce, Workforce Development Board, Assets, and EDC) applied for $2.6M from the JP Morgan Advancing Cities Grant. The Grant would allow us to make sure that City residents are connected to the social services, training, childcare, and transportation they need to acquire well-paying, careers and employers find a continuing source of workers in Lancaster – block by block.
These kinds of proactive, collaborative efforts must continue. No one else is going to solve this problem for us.
I’m proud of many things we’ve accomplished throughout this year, in terms of governmental operations.
- We filled crucial leadership positions in Police, Fire, and the Department of Neighborhood Engagement.
- Our stormwater management projects have been recognized regionally, nationally, and internationally for their creativity and effectiveness.
- We have started a Climate Action Steering Committee, which will evaluate the way that city operations can better align with the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.
- We have continued along the path of fiscal responsibility and given greater transparency to the budgeting process.
- We have expanded the participation on Boards, Commissions, and Authorities to the most diverse group of City residents in history.
- We have begun the process of overhauling the City’s website to make it more user-friendly, intuitive, and accessible to non-English speakers and expanded our social media efforts to reach our residents in new ways.
Now, I’d like to turn our attention to the next three years – the City’s strategic plan and discuss the work ahead for 2019.
Transition to SLIDE DECK