U.S. City Mayors Express Having Little Control Over Homelessness, According to Survey

Boston University’s Initiative on Cities’ 2021 Menino Survey of Mayors asked mayors of U.S. cities about homelessness. More than one-third (38%) of mayors who responded said they had little or no control over addressing the issue. Forty-two percent said they had only moderate control. More than three-quarters of respondents identified limited funding as a barrier to addressing homelessness. Approximately 60% identified public opposition to new housing/shelters and limited human and social services as additional barriers. Other significant hindrances to addressing homelessness included lack of coordination between different government and social service agencies, lack of quality data, and evictions.

The researchers invited mayors of all cities with over 75,000 residents to participate in the survey. They interviewed 126 mayors between June and August 2021 on housing and homelessness, COVID-19 recovery, and closing the racial wealth gap. Most of these interviews were conducted over the phone.

Twenty-eight percent of the mayors who responded had no staff dedicated to meeting the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Twenty-two percent relied on staff in police departments to meet their needs in addressing homelessness. When asked how their city defined success in addressing homelessness, only 40% of mayors explicitly referenced reducing homelessness as a policy goal. Forty-two percent identified increasing housing as a policy goal to address homelessness, 16% identified matching homeless populations with social services, and 11% identified reducing the perceived negative impacts of homelessness on surrounding residents, such as by removing encampments.

A report of the survey findings, Mayors and America’s Homelessness Crisis, can be found at: https://bit.ly/3rvop3q