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Three Issues Facing Veterans in Your Community

Veterans bring a lot to the table, and many of the skills they learned in the armed forces can benefit your community once they’ve been discharged. Many times, a veteran just needs a helping hand, like Edward Andruskieicz, of Lynn, Massachusetts.

Edward, an 87-year-old World War II veteran, saw several feet of flood waters invade his home during the record-setting January storms. The water ruined his boiler at the same time record low temperatures struck the area. However, a national company – Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company – stepped in and replaced his boiler at no cost.

While veterans bring unique skills, they also have unique hurdles, including higher than national average rates of unemployment, homelessness and suicide, but with the help of their communities, they can overcome them. Like Edward, many need a helping hand at the right time – especially offered by the people, organizations and businesses in their communities.

Veteran Unemployment

Veteran unemployment is twice the national average. Veterans’ biggest obstacles in obtaining employment are translating their military background into work experience easily understandable by civilians, meeting licensing requirements and finding employment while disabled.

The older a veteran is and the longer he or she has been separated from military service, the better their prospects are for employment. Enlisting immediately following high school means much of a recently separated veteran’s networking opportunities and skills training have taken place in the military.

While 80 percent of military jobs have a civilian counterpart, licensing requirements can differ. They may require a veteran to go through civilian education in a field they have already mastered. In addition, the educational and testing requirements may vary from state to state. The Veterans Administration will pay for testing, but the cost of education – even if it goes over the same ground veterans covered in their military training – falls on the veteran.

Disability rates are higher among veterans; about 29 percent of recent veterans have some sort of service-related disability. Most common are missing limbs, burns, spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss and traumatic brain injuries. Veterans with service-connected disabilities had an employment-population ratio of 43.3 percent, lower than the ratio for those veterans without a disability at 49 percent.

The VA provides a Military Skills Translator, which translates military jobs into resume-ready information – and imports it to the organization’s Resume Builder. Additionally, there are special unemployment benefits for ex-service members. Those who were discharged honorably from active duty can apply in their state of residence.

In partnership with the Department of Labor, the VA offers Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment services, which helps with training for new job skills, starting a business or receiving educational counseling. The Veterans Opportunity to Work program can extend those vocational rehabilitation benefits for those who have completed the initial program and qualify.

RallyPoint provides post-military professional networking opportunities for veterans, and Jobless Warrior provides employment and job search resources, including career coaches and information on employers looking to hire veterans.

Those veterans with service-connected disabilities have preference when applying for certain federal jobs or winning federal government contacts. Disabled veterans also are eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation. Those who hire service-disabled veterans qualify for tax incentives through the Special Employer Incentive program. The VOW program also can assist veterans in receiving disability accommodations.

Veteran Homelessness

One in ten of those who are homeless are veterans, 50 percent are disabled and three-quarters of homeless veterans have mental health issues. Another 1.4 million veterans are at-risk for homelessness, because of poverty, lack of support networks and overcrowded housing. Half a million veterans pay more than half of their income in rent.

Many veterans who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness have service-connected disabilities, especially PSTD, or substance abuse issues. Unemployment because of the inability to transition military training to civilian work also factors in.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans stresses the need for housing, nutrition, physical and mental healthcare and job services for homeless and at-risk veterans. The coalition reports that community-based programs with veterans serving veterans saw the greatest success rate.

The Interagency Council on Homelessness has established a benchmark guide for communities looking to actively address veteran homelessness. The council also has published a strategy guide, recommending public commitment to eradicating veteran homelessness; coordination between programs and with private landlords to match homeless vets with housing; identifying available resources on the federal, state and local levels; and coordinating with job assistance programs to provide training and services.

In April, the Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service announced $12 million available in grant funding to provide veterans with job training to transition them from homelessness to sustainable housing.

The VA provides housing assistance in conjunction with Housing and Urban Development; the Health Care for Homeless Veterans program, which includes exams, treatment and referrals; Domiciliary Care for Homeless Veterans program, which offers mental health and rehabilitation services; and job services targeted specifically toward homeless veterans.

Veterans Matter is a nonprofit organization that provides housing to homeless veterans and was founded by a formerly homeless man. Veterans Matter works directly with organizations to raise awareness and funding.

Veteran Suicide

Veterans represent one in five of all those who die of suicide in America. Twenty veterans die of suicide daily. Many of those either lack access to or don’t utilize available VA services.

Veterans who suffer from isolation, with little to no meaningful social connections, are particularly prone to suicide, especially during transitional periods – such as separation from the military, according to a University of Southern California study. Unemployment and homelessness — periods when veterans may see themselves as burdens to their communities – are significant stressors, the study found. The risk of suicide is greatest during the first three years after separation.

This isolation or loneliness can be especially acute in veterans who suffer from PSTD or were prisoners of war, even if they have an adequate support system. In such cases, veterans may feel that it is impossible for others to understand the trauma they’ve endured, even while yearning for that understanding, causing a feeling of disconnection.

Prevention measures recommended in a Veterans Health Administration report include outreach; focusing on gun and medication safety; focusing on those with a higher risk, including young men aged 18 to 25, women and those who had prior mental health conditions and made prior suicide attempts; and offering skill building to prevent stressors such as unemployment and homelessness.

A Center for Disease Control report on suicide prevention includes recommendations such as strengthening financial security, stabilizing housing, increasing access to mental health care, improving safe storage practices for firearms and medicines, promoting community engagement, strengthening communication and problem-solving skills, encouraging emotional intelligence and identifying and intervening with those most at-risk.

The VA has a dedicated crisis line – call 1(800) 273-8255 or text 838255 – including resources for veterans and concerned loved ones, information on suicide warning signs and crisis resources.

The VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention has developed “Signs, Ask, Validate, Encourage and Expedite” training to help those who encounter veterans to recognize suicide red flags and act. The training is available in partnership with the nonprofit PsychArmor Institute and covers a variety of subjects from military culture and myths to supporting veterans and self-care.

The VA Strategy for Preventing Veteran Suicide addresses veteran suicide in a multi-pronged approach: visibility and awareness; preventive services; treatment and support; and research. At the heart of it – at the heart of all efforts to address major issues impacting veterans – is a community-based approach that puts those professionals and organizations, the “boots on the ground,” at the front lines in providing care and services.

Through awareness, pro-active and preventive measures and support, your community can best serve its veterans, reaping the benefits of all they have to offer in return and thanking them for their service. Learn more about how NLC member cities and private industry are working together to tackle these issues.

 

Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, administers the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program, offering education on homeowners’ service line maintenance responsibilities and offering warranty repairs from local, licensed and vetted contractors.


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Not All Home Warranties Are Created Equal

Linda J. of Baton Rouge thought she was covered in the case of an emergency home repair – after all, she had a plumbing policy from a national home warranty company.

So when Linda started having drainage issues, she called on K&S Plumbing.

The plumber removed roots from her sewer line, but advised her that the problem was larger than she had anticipated – her entire sewer line had been overtaken by tree roots. In addition, the huge water oak in front of her home – the roots of which were chewing up the pipe – couldn’t be cut down.

Tree roots typically seek out the warmth generated by sewage lines, particularly in colder months. To compound Linda’s problem, the sewer line was an old clay tile. K&S Plumbing recommended the entire line be replaced with root-resistant PVC pipes and be re-routed to avoid the tree roots as much as possible. The job would cost approximately $10,000, she was told. However, Linda was confident that she was covered under her home warranty policy.

Only she wasn’t.

“I called them, and anything outside the house wasn’t covered,” Linda said.

Not only would Linda be responsible for the entire $10,000 repair cost, but her sewer line, riddled with holes from the encroaching roots, was leaking raw sewage into her front yard. Desperate to have the repair done, Linda applied for financing, but was denied. Despite her job as a custodian at a local school, Linda’s income was limited.

Linda had done everything right, but she was still faced with a costly repair she couldn’t afford. She didn’t know where to turn.

But Danny, K&S Plumbing owner, hadn’t forgotten her. A network contractor for the NLC Service Line Warranty Program, Danny knew they had a program that could help Linda. So Danny contacted them and suggested Linda’s repair be covered under their Cares program, which offers no-cost, emergency repairs to qualifying residents who don’t have NLC Service Line Warranty Program plans.

They came through for Linda, and K&S Plumbing recently installed a brand-new sewage line at no cost to Linda.

“I’m getting rid of [her prior warranty company],” Linda said. She inquired that day about obtaining a NLC Service Line Warranty Program policy.

Contact us to learn more about how the National League of Cities (NLC) Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community.


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In Honor of NLC Small Cities Month, We Are Highlighting Hendersonville, N.C. – a Small Community With Growing Population Turning to Tech to Manage Water

For Small Cities Month, the National League of Cities is exploring innovative projects and developments that bring will bring small cities to the next level and improve life for residents and business owners.

Hendersonville, N.C., is a small city, but its Water and Sewer Department serves a growing population as Henderson County sees an influx of residents – who also will receive their water from Hendersonville.

“I think this is the best water you can get,” Jeremy Poss, Technology and Metering Manager, said. “The water source is protected by tens of thousands of acres of national forest.”

Water from that unspoiled forest goes to a water treatment plant outside of Hendersonville, where it then is distributed to residents throughout the county. Henderson County is growing by leaps and bounds, and the water department is using the latest technology and implementing a water system master plan to meet milestones in increasing capacity.

Although Hendersonville itself is a small town of 17,000 residents, tens of thousands more live in Henderson County and that number is expected to increase. To provide clean, safe water, the Hendersonville water department employs a number of new technologies that help staff determine what areas need an increase in capacity and what areas are in need of repair.

When Hendersonville water employees make a repair in the system, they enter it into their work routing system and include that information on a “heat map” to see which areas have the most breaks.

“The more breaks you have, the more likely it is that the line will fail,” Poss said, noting the practice allows them to prioritize which areas to replace or upgrade lines and pumping stations.

Recently, the department began using a modeling program that takes into account a host of variables, including line size and population clusters, to determine where flow needs to be improved or increased. Poss explained that the model could account for developments not yet built so the water department could be proactive in upgrading the lines and preventing a low-flow problem before it could develop.

The water department also shares that information with the local fire department, so they can determine whether their hydrants have adequate flow. Not only does this make the community safer, but it also lowers insurance rates for homeowners.

Hendersonville also implemented Advanced Metering Infrastructure, allowing customers to see their usage online and even establish alert thresholds for usage and billing – something that improves customer satisfaction for the water department.

“[The customers] really like that,” Poss said.

Customers can register on AquaHawk and view their usage when it’s convenient for them, and some even use it to keep an eye on their homes when they’re out of town.

“We’ll get a call, ‘I think I left the outside bib faucet on,’” Poss said. “That happens more than you would think.”

That isn’t even the extent of the technology the Hendersonville water department employs – the department also uses a Geographic Information System to help map their system.

Hendersonville’s water department was established in the 1920s, and it wasn’t an easy task – locomotives and mule trains were needed to haul the pipe needed to carry water from the national forest to the community.

“It’s pretty wild, to see the pictures of the horse-drawn wagons that hauled the pipes,” Poss said.

Although the community’s water system has grown and modernized since then, that old system has still left its mark on Hendersonville.

“We still come across the wooden pipes, excavating downtown,” Poss said, noting that while the pipes remain in the ground, they are no longer part of the system.

Hendersonville has come a long way – from wooden pipes to high-tech models – and has partnered with the National League of Cities Service Line Warranties Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, to better educate their residents about their responsibility to maintain and repair their water and sewer service lines.

“A lot of people are surprised to learn that [service lines] are their responsibility,” Poss said. “They think we can come and locate and repair their leak, but we have no way to know where the lines even are. The line from the meter into the house is [the homeowner’s] responsibility.”

While the water department isn’t responsible for repairing leaking lines on private property, employees will attempt to help determine where a leak is, if possible. Only licensed plumbers are permitted to open the department’s meter boxes. The department encourages homeowners to install their own shutoff valve on their side of the meter and offers a discount for doing so.

Poss noted that many more homeowners are aware of their responsibilities since the SLWP began educational campaigns in the community. He also encourages residents to sign up for the service line warranties through SLWP.

“When you need it, it’s a good thing to have – I’ve heard a lot of stories,” he said, adding that he has looked into several other vendors offering similar products, but SLWP offers the best value for the price.

In addition to educating homeowners about their service line responsibilities, the Service Line Warranty Program offers warranties for service lines. The work is performed by licensed, local plumbers who will call the customer within one hour of filing a claim. For information about the program, contact us.


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A Community Effort Brings an All-Abilities Playground to Partner City Orem, Utah

The All Together Playground in Orem, Utah, is the first of its kind in Utah County and on the crest of a movement to make play accessible to all children and provide children with disabilities a way to play alongside their peers, and the playground’s story began when the city sought public input about making recreational improvements.

“We reached out through social media to find out what the needs and wants were in the community,” Steve Downs, Orem deputy city manager, said.

Two mothers, Katrina Bleyl and Mindy Gleason, whose daughters used wheelchairs, suggested an all-abilities playground.

“They didn’t have a local place to play,” Downs said. “They had to go to Salt Lake City to play [at an all-abilities playground].”

Bleyl and Gleason hoped for a wheelchair accessible swing set, but the city committed to an entire playground, at an estimated cost of $1.2 million. The city pledged $600,000, and the community rallied to raise the funds needed for the playground and local businesses donated materials and labor.

“Just knowing that it wouldn’t just affect (my daughter), but knowing that it would affect other kids in the area, and not just Orem,” Bleyl told the Daily Universe. “It just builds awareness and kindness, and all sorts of good stuff.”

As city officials began to work with the community to plan the park, they reached out to local elementary school pupils, asking them what they wanted in a park, while considering the needs of children of all abilities and Orem’s unique history.

Children asked for – and received – a pirate ship, space ship and castle, and Orem’s past is represented with a clock tower, train and mammoth-themed slide. Utah’s mountain peaks are invoked by the playground’s design, particularly nearby Mount Timpanogos. James C. Christensen, an award-winning artist, author and Orem resident, created a one-of-a-kind mural for the playground.

“He actually just passed from cancer – he was going through that, and he spent some of his final days painting for us,” Downs said.

Most importantly, those planning the park listened to families with children impacted with mobility and neurological issues. One of the items included a fence around the playground to keep children on the autism spectrum safe.

“Some of them are runners, and parents were worried they could run into the parking lot or the street,” Downs said. “They wanted some type of protection, a border between the parking lot and the playground.”

Other considerations include switching to a soft rubber matting instead of a mulch that could cause issues for those children with mobility or sensory issues, making the walkways wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and including ramps instead of stairs.

“We wanted everything to be without barriers,” Downs said. “There are no stairs; we have ramps the whole way up to the highest point. There isn’t anywhere they can’t go.”

One of the primary pushes was to design a playground that would be attractive to all children while allowing children of all abilities to play side-by-side with their peers.

To encourage cooperative play, games such as the NEOS 360 – an interactive game system that improves auditory and spatial awareness and peripheral vision – were incorporated. The playground also features zip lines with chairs alongside traditional set ups so children of all abilities can race one another.

“One of the big pushes is to allow children with disabilities to socialize with their peers,” Downs said. “This playground allows them to do the same activities beside their friends.”

When the community was called upon for volunteers to build the playground, more than 4,000 showed up – almost a thousand more than city leaders had asked for, and Habitat for Humanity donated the tools used to build the playground. A local Boy Scout, Leo Parcell, made 50 sawhorses for the playground’s construction, and volunteers worked from sunup to sundown for seven straight days.

“All of them took time away from work and family to build this for our children,” Downs said.

The Daily Herald wrote an editorial praising the effort, noting “Many local children suffer from physical disabilities, while many others fall on the autism spectrum. Traditional playgrounds oftentimes are not equipped to provide the same play experience for children who must use wheelchairs or walkers or who deal with certain sensory issues.

“There are a handful of nonprofit organizations that have recognized this, and have created all-ability facilities for the use of their own patients and clients. Now, thankfully, we have a local city stepping forward and recognizing the need for a public space that offers those same benefits.”

Downs was moved by watching Brinley Bleyl play in the park shortly after completion.

“She got behind the wheel [of the pirate ship], she was giving orders and you could see that she knew what she wanted to do,” he said. “She was participating in imaginative role play and she had a story for the ship. She’s always had this imagination, but she couldn’t express it this way before. And we were able to take away that physical barrier.”

“Play is called the work of children. We believe that children of all abilities deserve an opportunity to play,” Orem Mayor Richard Brunst told Utah Valley 360. “That’s what this playground is all about. Families, individuals, college students, city staff, businesses and residents have all volunteered time and money to help build this great and beautiful playground with love. All people need to feel love. I hope that all the love that has been put into this park will be a reminder to the children who play here how much we love and appreciate them.”

Downs noted the city encourages the local school district to utilize the park, especially those classes that include children with mobility issues or who are neurodiverse and he enjoys driving past the park and seeing school buses in the parking lot.

“This playground was founded in the minds of our young children and built by their parents and neighbors,” Downs said. “At the end of the day, the community built this for their kids, their neighbors and their friends’ kids.”

Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe USA company, was one of the playground’s sponsors. Utility Service Partners administers the National League of City’s Service Line Warranty Program, which provides emergency repair warranties and education on service line responsibilities at no cost to cities. Qualifying cities can receive royalties that can go toward similar and other programs and needs. For information on how the Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community, contact us.


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Parks Serve as Beneficial Infrastructure for Many Cities

When you think essential infrastructure, you may not think about parks or playgrounds, but providing residents a place for recreation garners socioeconomic benefits, and parks designed for mixed use also can be used in water management and transportation.

A park will increase adjacent properties’ value by 15 to 20 percent, and businesses cite the presence of a robust park system as one of the top three reasons to relocate to a community. While parks generate revenue with user fees, they also generate indirect revenue through hosting special and sporting events – America’s local parks generate $154 billion in economic activity.

Parks, especially in urban settings, provide psychological restoration, lowering stress and mental fatigue and improving concentration, and surveys have shown that minor crimes, such as vandalism, graffiti and littering, are reduced near greenspaces.

Many cities are reclaiming industrial corridors, such as railways, and turning them into linear parks, including bike and walking paths – and residents are using them for transportation to work, school and shopping. Parks, both existing and new, can be part of a city’s green infrastructure by diverting storm water away from sewer systems and acting as a natural filter.

These aren’t the only exciting developments in park improvements – inclusive playgrounds, designed to be accessible to children with mobility, sensory and neurological issues have been gaining attention and support. An inclusive, or all-abilities, playground can include ramps, wider aisles, soft ground surfaces and accessible swings and merry-go-rounds for children with mobility difficulties. It also can include sensory games or musical equipment and safe, quiet spaces for children on the autism spectrum.

Whether through planning a new space or converting an existing space, envisioning parks as infrastructure addresses a variety of needs facing contemporary communities, including population density, environmentalism, health and accessibility.


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The NLC Service Line Warranty Program Helps a Young Couple with a Major Repair

Adam and Jennifer F. loved the first home they bought together, a historic 100 year old house in a quiet Wichita neighborhood – but they didn’t love the sewer line problems that came with it.

The couple bought the home knowing that the sewer line would need attention, and Adam and a friend rented equipment and spent hours cleaning out the line. The couple believed that would keep the problem from worsening until they were able to implement a more permeant fix.

However, within two years, the couple noticed they once again were experiencing drainage problems.

“I thought, ‘I just fixed that,’” Adam said. “I didn’t think it had been long enough to have another problem.”

But it was – one of the features of the backyard the couple loved was an enormous tree, easily as old as their home, but the sewer line passed beneath it. The tree’s roots sought out the warmth the line emitted, especially during the colder months. In addition, the line was an old clay pipe and offered little resistance to the encroaching roots.

To compound the problem, at some point between the house initially being built and Adam and Jennifer purchasing it, an outbuilding had been erected at the rear of the property, directly over the sewer line. The line would have to be replaced using an auger to dig beneath the outbuilding without damaging the foundation or completely re-routed to avoid the tree and the building.

The cost would be thousands of dollars – an expense the young couple simply could not afford. Fortunately, Adam had assisted a local church, and the pastor put him in contact with Sunflower Services.

Sunflower recommended replacing the clay pipe with sturdier, more resistant PVC and rerouting it to avoid the tree and outbuilding to prevent continuing root encroachment and make the line more accessible if it should ever need repair in the future. The problem was the $7,000 price tag, representing a significant portion of their annual income.

Sunflower Services employees knew just what to do and reached out to contacts at Utility Service Partners to see if the couple could have their job covered through the company’s charitable program. Utility Service Partners, a leading home warranty company providing plumbing and electrical warranties throughout the U.S. and Canada, agreed to cover the cost of the repair.

Utility Service Partners also offers low-cost water and sewer service line warranties through the National League of Cities Service Line Warranty Program in partnership with municipalities and utilities. The program also has been endorsed by several state leagues, including the Kansas League of Cities.

As for Adam and Jennifer, everything is back to normal.

“It’s draining just fine now,” Adam said.


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Six Tips to Help Residents Age in Place

Since Jan. 1, 2011, 10,000 Baby Boomers are eligible to retire daily, and Americans 65 and older will make up 19 percent of the population by 2030. Many of those Baby Boomers would like to stay in their own homes as they age – a trend called “aging in place” – born of their desire to remain in familiar surroundings.

This is a happy trend for municipalities, because not only does it costs less for older adults to remain in their own homes, but they have a lot to contribute to their communities. However, many municipalities could be more senior friendly.

There are several key areas that make a city more livable for seniors, including: providing reliable transportation; making neighborhoods walkable; providing social engagement and reducing isolation; providing low-cost housing and job training opportunities; and making older adults safe in their homes.

Reliable transportation

When older adults can no longer drive, they become very isolated – since roughly 90 percent of trips are taken by automobile – and that is the root of health and mental problems for many seniors. One of the indicators of good mental and physical health is a support network of five or more people. A strong public transportation network can make it easier for older adults to engage socially, access necessary services and participate in community events.

General improvements for your public transit system won’t only benefit older adults, but the entirety of the commuters in the community. Commuters want three things: frequent service, an efficient ticketing system; and attention to transit as a public space.

Making service available every fifteen minutes is the gold standard, and your ticketing system can be made more efficient through the use of available technologies, such as using smart phone ticketing apps. Consider making transit buildings and stops a public space that combines infrastructure, architecture, programming and public art. Additionally, installing benches at stops and stations make waiting easier for older adults.

When considering older adults’ needs in the transit sphere, consider transit as regional infrastructure – don’t force commuters to have multiple passes and maps to get from one place to another, even if they are switching between both means of transit and transit authorities. Several communities have seen success with one pass covering multiple authorities. Furthermore, some municipalities, such as Seattle, have given flat, discounted rates to older adults.

Walkable neighborhoods

In addition to social engagement and avoiding depression, the best indications of healthy aging is moderate drinking, not smoking and walking. Making your neighborhoods more walkable doesn’t only benefit the health of older adults, but the entire community.

However, not enough cities have invested in improving the walkability of their neighborhoods – the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance has given the country an “F” for walkability.

Improving walkability isn’t only about smooth sidewalks and curb cuts for wheelchairs and walkers, but creating mixed use neighborhoods with “walk appeal.” A neighborhood with a mix of residential, retail, business and public spaces becomes a destination to go to, instead of a place to travel from.

Improving streetscaping features, such as lighting, handicap-accessible sidewalks, curb cuts and benches, improves not only appearance, but also safety, while additions such as trees, landscaping and building facades provides valuable “greening” of public spaces and improves the “walk appeal,” or how welcoming it is to be in a neighborhood versus the mere ability to navigate it. To encourage walking, new buildings should be oriented to the street, with an entrance on the sidewalk and parking at the rear.

Again, while an entire community would reap the benefits of walkability, making small tweaks, such as increasing the time to cross the street at intersections, adding pedestrian friendly medians and benches and renovating lighting and sidewalks with an eye toward accessibility and safety, makes it workable for older adults as well.

Social engagement

One in six adults 65 or older lives alone, and suffering from loneliness means older adults are 45 percent more likely to die and 59 percent more likely to see a decline in health over six years. If encouraging older adults to exercise through creating walkable neighborhoods addresses physical health, then providing social engagement opportunities improves mental health.

In fact, providing reliable transportation and creating walkable neighborhoods is the first step in encouraging social engagement. If you can’t get residents out of their homes, then they won’t become engaged. Transportation is part of the solution, not the entirety – older adults need somewhere to go, which is why providing cultural and volunteer opportunities geared toward older adults is important.

When providing volunteer opportunities, consider community organization training. Older adults are in a position to assess what their community needs and how best to address it. Having a sense of purpose helps older adults combat depression and reduces dementia-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

Volunteer opportunities also are available through AmeriCorps’ Senior Corps, which provides grants and stipends, funding programs such as Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), which offers opportunities in tutoring and teaching English as a second language.

Providing cultural opportunities can be as easy as discounts and hours reserved for older adults during cultural events and at community facilities. Colleges and universities can play an important role, as many offer tuition waivers or scholarships for older adults who want to continue their education and tax benefits are available to those who go back to school. A program of informal history, art, literature, science and technology lectures also can promote learning, which helps older adults’ cognitive abilities and social engagement. Continuing education can touch many areas, from cultural to exercise to civic engagement.

When it comes to civic engagement, there are many low-cost or free ways to bring local government to older adults – and the rest of the community. Holding informal open houses, utilizing tools such as social media and smart phone applications to communicate and holding occasional meetings at times and venues more convenient to the public are all ways to promote engagement.

For older adults’ special needs, consider the venues used for meetings: turnstiles and stairs can prevent older adults from attending. Many public buildings don’t take into account older adults’ particular needs, and involving them in plans for renovations or new construction are great ways to get them involved.

Finances

One in six Baby Boomers live in poverty and half of those facing retirement have less than $10,000 in the bank – the real estate bubble destroyed a third of Boomers’ wealth. Only one-third of them have developed a retirement plan, and many may underestimate how much inflation will eat into their purchasing power after retirement. Meanwhile, a year in a nursing home has a median cost of $85,000.

Even those who are remaining in their own homes may have difficulty managing bills and debts after retiring and moving to a fixed income, while others may have incurred debts while assisting children or grandchildren. Those older adults who have had a spouse die may have not handled finances prior to their spouse’s death or had a reverse mortgage in their spouse’s name.

As the overall working population ages, there is the potential for a labor shortage and knowledge gap, as well as many Baby Boomers coming to the realization that they won’t be able to fully retire. As they transition into “encore careers,” the U.S. Department of Labor’s Senior Community Employment Program allows them to gain work experience at schools, hospitals, day care centers and senior centers for approximately 20 hours a week. Job centers like New York City’s Workforce 1 Career Centers offer services tailored to older adults, like workshops, courses and job training to improve their employment prospects.

Affordable housing

While 84 percent of older adults own their own homes, more than 40 percent of Baby Boomers are looking to downsize from their current homes to affordable housing in attractive neighborhoods.

For those older adults who don’t own their own homes, housing should only cost about 30 percent of monthly expenses and the median income of retirees 65 to 74 is approximately $47,000. However, the average income for those between 65 and 69 is $37,200, with roughly one-third of income coming from Social Security, one-third from work and one-third from pension or retirement benefits, according to U.S. News and World Report.

In January 2018, the median monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in the country’s 100 largest cities ranged from a low of $560 in Wichita, Kansas, ($6,720 per year) to a high of $2,390 in San Francisco ($28,680 per year). Since this is the median, some older adults will be in better circumstances, while others will be in worse.

Inclusionary zoning can make high-density, diverse neighborhoods affordable for low-income residents, including older adults by incentivizing developers to set aside units in new housing for low-income residents. Accessory Dwelling Units – so-called “granny flats” – are additional units, such as apartments in a basement or attic or over a garage or tiny houses on foundations, on the same property as a single family home. They have become a way to expand housing to include relatives or earn extra money through rental – both things that make them attractive to older adults.

Safety

While two-thirds of Baby Boomers plan to age in place, more than 80 percent of them own their own single family homes – 32 million of them. As they age, their at-home needs are changing – many need retrofits to their homes so they can remain there longer and more safely.

Older adult friendly fixes, include widening doorways and removing thresholds, placing power outlets higher on walls, replacing doorknobs and faucet handles with levers, replacing toggle switches with rocker switchers, placing handrails on both sides of a stairwell, and installing moveable shower heads and bathroom grab bars, make it possible for them to remain in their homes – and out of elder care facilities.

Home maintenance is where home safety and finances intersect for older adults. Georgia Institute of Technology researchers studied how aging affects performing home maintenance, exploring issues older adults have with maintaining their home and issues they might have in performing those tasks in the future. The most difficult home maintenance activities included cleaning, outdoor work, home upkeep and repair and indoor updating and remodeling. Home upkeep accounted for 16 percent of difficult tasks, including heating, ventilating and air conditioning maintenance.

When it comes to finances, while the HomeServe USA State of the Home Winter 2017 survey indicates that older adults are more financially prepared for emergency home maintenance – approximately 48 percent of older adults have funds set aside – but would rather spend the money on remodeling their homes.

The National League of Cities Water Service Line Warranty Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe Company, can help older adults keep that money in their pocket with warranties covering everything from water and sewer service lines to indoor plumbing, making home maintenance low-cost and as easy as picking up the phone.

Contact us to learn more about how the NLC Service Line Warranty Program can benefit your community.


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Green Infrastructure: Three Ways to Partner With Residents

As municipal officials turn to the cost-savings and environmental and social benefits of green infrastructure, there’s one important factor that can mean the difference between success and failure: community buy-in.

How do you convince residents not only to buy-in to green infrastructure, but to green their own homes and businesses? Residents need to get informed, get involved and get green.

Get informed

Green infrastructure can have an immediate impact on – and be immediately visible in – communities, while a storm water sewer may take years to fund and build. In addition, since green infrastructure is more cost efficient, it can mitigate increases in water rates, which is attractive to residents. For example, Philadelphia chose a green infrastructure system that officials estimate will cost $1.6 billion over 25 years – a savings of $4.3 billion over a grey system.

While green infrastructure also can mitigate water costs, if your municipality has storm water fees based on the amount of impervious surface on a property, like Washington, D.C., it also can save your residents money. D.C. gives residents credits when they install green infrastructure, such as rain barrels and cisterns, on their properties, and resident even may sell excess credits to third-party buyers.

In addition, residents could see a boost in their property values – the closer a home is to a greenspace, the more valuable it is, studies have shown – according to Smart Money Magazine, a home’s value can increase by more than 11 percent when it’s near a greenspace.

Green infrastructure is a good investment for commercial properties as well. Adding landscaping, such as a water garden, increases the average rental rate by 7 percent and shoppers spend an average of 8 to 12 percent more in shopping districts with tree canopies, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In some cases, it’s not about the money for residents, but the social benefits of green infrastructure. Tree canopies can reduce urban heat islands and improve air quality, while water gardens and green roofs mitigate flooding and improve water quality. In addition, having access to greenspaces, especially in densely populated areas, have positive psychological effects.

There are several ways to introduce green infrastructure to residents, such as hosting a community clean up or a River Sweep, garden preparation or planting; holding a tour of another green infrastructure site or water or sewer treatment plant; or holding a program or hosting a lecture featuring a green infrastructure expert. With more community engagement, the more knowledgeable residents will be, communications between officials and residents will improve and trust will build.

Get Involved

When launching a project in a community or neighborhood, facts and figures are useful, but getting local groups, whether they’re nonprofits, local schools or service groups, to partner with municipal leaders can get you even further. Both can bring different, valuable ideas and expertise to the table.

In the case of a community cleanup, municipal leaders have resources such as trucks to pick up garbage and bags to collect it, while community groups are skilled at organizing and rallying volunteers.

Partnerships can be unlimited: Partner with an art association to paint a mural or install a temporary exhibit in a greenspace or park; community groups to plant gardens and urban farms; a school to teach children about environmental science; and gardening clubs to provide educational programs.

What you can do with green infrastructure as a framework is only limited by who you can bring to the table. As noted above, the more partnerships you leverage, the more trust you will build in the community.

As greening takes effect across neighborhoods, residents will begin to see the social benefits of green infrastructure.

Get Green

Once your residents are informed and involved, it’s time for them to take ownership of the projects in their neighborhoods and even begin their own green infrastructure projects.

Baltimore allows residents to adopt lots to create community gardens and urban gardens, turning formerly vacant, abandoned lots into community greenspaces. On their properties – especially if storm water reduction credits are available – they can incorporate their own green infrastructure improvements.

Such improvements can include rain gardens, planting trees, green roofs, permeable paving and rain barrels. Making green infrastructure improvements to their homes not only will reap financial and social benefits, but environmental, including improvements to air and water quality, improving climate resiliency and creating urban wildlife habitats.

Working with residents to educate, leverage partnerships and incorporate green infrastructure across the board shouldn’t be a minor detail of your green infrastructure plans, but the cornerstone. Building social acceptability for it should be part of your plans from the very beginning.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program is proud to partner with more than 500 municipalities to offer important protection to residents. Contact us to learn more about how program can benefit your community!


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Green Infrastructure: Three Key Concepts

As municipal officials look to improve infrastructure, rehabilitate distressed neighborhoods and make communities more livable, many are turning to green infrastructure, which uses existing infrastructure, such as parks, to contain and filter water and direct it away from storm sewers.

Green infrastructure improves water quality, reduces flood risk and manages storm water. It also provides outdoor recreation, educational programming and entertainment space.

Sound too good to be true? Establishing green infrastructure requires planning, innovation and collaboration. Many cities are implementing creative green infrastructure programs. In this article we discuss examples from the cities of Baltimore, Maryland and Kansas City, Missouri, both NLC members and participants in the NLC Service Line Warranty Program.

Calculate

While green infrastructure is more affordable than man-made infrastructure such as storm water sewers, it does require funding and initial maintenance. However, grant funding is available through federal sources including:

Funding also can be sourced locally, through utility, development, impact and usage fees and carbon credits. Private grant and funding programs are available.

When considering areas where initial resources and funding should be focused, it may be difficult to decide what should be a priority. Analyzing data – including going beyond environmental data – will provide a snapshot of not only the environmental needs of your community, but the needs of your residents. Consider the amount of greenspaces versus impervious surfaces that create storm water runoff; the amount of tree cover, which can prevent heat islands and provide urban wildlife habitats; and air and water quality.

While developing your green infrastructure action plan, get input from local planning committees, solicitors and engineers. Local ordinances and regulations and can benefit – or hinder – green infrastructure, so work with other local municipalities to address how local laws impact efforts.

Don’t think small: Kansas City’s MetroGreen includes 1,444 miles of interconnected greenspaces passing through two states and several counties. Working as team with other local stakeholders opens up additional funding, resources and ideas.

Restore

While green infrastructure is a powerful environmental tool, it also can improve quality of life and promote development by turning unattractive properties into greenspaces, green parking, community parks and gardens or urban farms.

In addition to environmental factors, consider population density, median age and income, and access to public parks. It will not only give a broader, clearer picture of your community’s needs, but identify the boots-on-the-ground stakeholders who will make your green infrastructure projects successful.

Baltimore City’s goal is to have a community greenspace within walking distance of all residents. Baltimore officials found younger, less affluent and higher population density neighborhoods also had the least amount of greenspace. Information on blighted areas, from dilapidated houses to blocks of vacant lots, can provide a map of areas that can be restored and transformed.

Baltimore’s Vacants to Value program helps transform lots into community greenspaces, including parks, athletic fields and gardens, depending on that neighborhood’s needs. The Growing Green Initiative encourages repurposing vacant lots, including encouraging homeowners to purchase and rehabilitate adjacent lots, residents to adopt lots in their neighborhoods and residents, city departments and community groups to plant trees.

In Kansas City, the Heartland Conservation Alliance, a grassroots organization dedicated to conserving, restoring and protecting natural lands, partnered with the Mid-America Regional Council, which oversees the MetroGreen, to launch the Vacant Lots to Greenways program. The program is an effort to create a greenway, utilizing vacant lots, to provide community access to the Blue River.

That’s not the only way Kansas Citians are repurposing vacant lots. In October, the EPA awarded $30,000 to Kansas City Community Gardens to establish 15 to 20 community orchards through the Giving Grove project. The Giving Grove helps establish community gardens for those at risk for food insecurity.

Connect

Collaboration is a constant in green infrastructure success. Community collaborators can include schools, service organizations and neighborhood and environmental groups.

Collaboration thrives on communication and community ownership of projects. Promote engagement through regularly updated websites and apps.  For example, Baltimore has the Green Pattern Book, a guidebook on its green infrastructure programs available online, and the Park Finder app, which gives directions to the nearest park and filters parks by their amenities, including playgrounds, swimming pools and athletic fields.

The Mid-America Regional Council offers a free printed map of MetroGreen hiking and biking trails – or residents can download the free app, which includes a digital version. The agency also provides an online resource guide, including maps, videos and PowerPoint presentations, for speaking about MetroGreen’s benefits to the community.

Additional outreach and education efforts in Kansas City include the Blue River Watershed Association which leads several educational programs, including:

The Baltimore Office of Sustainability also incorporates youth education and leadership in outreach efforts. The office’s Youth Environmental Internship Program launched Baltimore Beyond Plastic, a Brower Youth Award-winning program, and GreenScape, an annual celebration of youth environmental leadership.

Green infrastructure requires cultural change, but your community will realize environmental, economic and social benefits through increased flood and storm water resiliency, increased greenspace and lower infrastructure costs.

The NLC Service Line Warranty Program is proud to partner with more than 500 municipalities to offer important protection to residents. Contact us to learn more about how program can benefit your community!


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CitiesSpeaks Focuses on How P3s Can Benefit Your Community

As the Trump administration encourages the use of public-private partnerships in addressing infrastructure issues, you may question whether a P3 is the right choice for your community. The National League of Cities’ CitiesSpeak explores three ways P3 can benefit communities – by stretching the budget, allowing flexibility and shortening project timelines, and providing access to innovation not otherwise available. P3s can allow a municipality to share the risk and responsibility while retaining ownership of infrastructure assets.