Defying Expectations: Explaining Municipal Responses to the Homelessness Crisis
Why do cities do what they do and what drives wildly divergent urban outcomes? From immigration policy to social service provision, recent municipal behavior has moved beyond what dominant urban politics theories explain. While existing work provides insights into cities’ political underpinnings and the drivers of development policy, it inadequately accounts for non-development policy and largely relies on the unstated assumption that municipalities function in relatively autonomous environments. The challenge with this political, hyper-local focus is that it belies the reality that municipal governments exist in a complex intergovernmental system that is at once political and apolitical. This dissertation begins to fill the gap in existing work by shifting focus from the municipal power structures to municipal responsiveness, examining what causes cities to respond to non-development issues in local environments. I suggest that at least part of the answer lies in the incentivizing power of the federal government and the interaction of federal incentives with local conditions. More specifically, I argue that the federal government creates three types of incentives that spur municipal action: written or policy imperatives, the availability and regulation of fiscal resources, and federal inactivity. The degree to which cities respond to these incentives depends on local conditions, including the strength of advocacy coalitions, the actions of political leadership, the nature of the objective problem, and the capacity of local bureaucracy. I test this using the case of municipal responses to homelessness.