New York City is poised to be the first city in the US to purchase delinquent mortgages in an effort to help owners remain in their homes and stabilize neighborhoods that have not recovered from the 2008 housing crisis. Under the $13 million Community Restoration Plan, funded by a variety of public and private sources, the city will buy 24 economically distressed mortgages for one- to four-family homes. After the purchase, nonprofit partners will reach out to the homeowners to provide them with financial counseling and to identify solutions, through either mortgage modification or refinancing. Those homes that cannot be kept by their original homeowners will be repositioned as affordable housing or other rental housing opportunities.
This fall, Oregon State University will open an on-campus dorm solely for students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. The Recovery and Learning Community will provide living and programming space to students in recovery, removing them from triggers that can hinder them from being substance-free. The university expects nine students to live in the new dorm initially, and to eventually reach capacity at 24 students.
An increasing number of cities are taking the threat of skin cancer seriously for its residents and are installing dispensers of free sunscreen as a result. Responding to the US Surgeon General’s call to combat skin cancer, Boston and Miami have partnered with nonprofits to install dispensers in public areas, and Los Angeles and Palm Beach County, Florida, are following suit. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer, yet one of the most preventable.
An increasing number of cities are exploring a shift to open-source voting projects to increase the transparency and the integrity of the vote-count system. San Francisco, for example, is looking to develop open source software that it would own and share. Supporters of these efforts observe that unlike private vendors’ systems, open source technology is cheaper, runs on off-the-shelf hardware, and the code is viewable by anyone, thereby increasing the confidence of citizens that their votes are being accurately counted. San Francisco’s Elections Commission wants the technology in place by the 2020 elections.
Somerville, Massachusetts, is one of a growing number of cities that are placing the data they are collecting in real-time in the palm of their leaders’ hands. The city’s mayor, for example, receives constantly updating daily data dashboards on his mobile phone and a screen on his office wall. With the tool, the mayor can have up-to-the-minute information on an overlaid map of the city’s 311 calls, incidents of crime, number of permits and licenses being issued, and work orders that city departments are generating. The information, which is also available to the public, is part of the city’s expanding open data policy.
For the past several weeks, many local governments have taken steps to capitalize on the “Pokémon Go” phenomenon, the smartphone app that acts as a high-tech treasure hunt. Agencies such as the Budget Office in Portland, Oregon, are tweeting that they will have some Pokémon at their next event to lure people to attend. The National Archives in Washington, DC, and the Ohio State Capitol grounds are also using the game to attract more visitors. Other public officials are nimbly inserting Pokémon characters into their social media outreach to grab more people’s attention.