2019 State of Our Cities & Towns:
10 Year Retrospective


The 2019 version of CML's State of Our Cities & Towns report looks back at the past 10 years since the Great Recession. Read the full report or its executive summary, or view complete survey results.

CML asked our members to reflect on the years since the very first report. Looking back, what lasting challenges did the Great Recession leave for their municipalities, and what were they able to accomplish in spite of them? Looking forward, what is next? 

Key findings of the report include: 

  • One thing stood out: Housing. Twenty-six percent of respondents answered that it was “somewhat worse” than 10 years ago, and 17 percent stated it was “much worse.” Only 3 percent said that it was “much better.” Focusing in on the past three years alone, not a single municipality responded that housing had gotten “much better,” and 56 percent selected “somewhat worse” or “much worse.” Visit our Affordable Housing page for more information.
  • Most municipalities have better financial health today than just before the recession. The most common lasting impacts of the Great Recession are delayed maintenance of capital improvement projects and lagging economic growth; one-quarter of municipalities experienced no lasting impacts from the recession. 
  • Feelings about the local economy and municipal revenue have improved steadily since 2011. On average, municipalities thought their local economy was better than the benchmark of the previous year.  
  • The greatest challenges municipalities face are unfunded street maintenance and improvement needs, lack of affordable housing, tight labor markets, unfunded water/wastewater improvement needs, increased health insurance costs, and increased demand for municipal services.  
  • Major challenges have varied over the years. From 2008 to 2011, common major challenges were slow growth in tax revenues, adverse local economic conditions, declining state funding, and decreases in tax revenues. From 2012 to 2015, common major challenges included unfunded street maintenance and improvement needs, federal and state mandated expenditures, and decline in federal funding. From 2016 to 2018, common major challenges included lack of affordable housing, tight labor market, and increased demand for municipal services. On average, unfunded street maintenance and improvement needs was the most common major challenge across years. 
  • Most municipalities have a positive financial outlook for the next five years. Only one in 10 municipalities has a negative outlook for the next five years; these municipalities are all small or mid-sized.  
  • Budget constraints and housing affordability are the two most common challenges municipalities expect to face in the next five years.