Public Options: Enhancing Accessibility, Affordability, and Community Well-being

Public options are goods or services provided by the government that are accessible to everyone, existing alongside private offerings. Public options aim to address market failures where private providers fall short in delivering affordable, high-quality access to essential items such as healthcare, utilities, financial services, food, education, and more. By addressing these shortcomings, public options foster competition, enhance affordability, and ensure that essential goods and services are universally available. They benefit the entire community; even those who do not directly use them gain from living in healthier, more educated, and more prosperous communities with greater security.

What do we do?

HR&A advises cities, states, and other public leaders on establishing public banks to fill gaps in banking access, expand local resources, and reinvest public funds into priority areas like affordable housing, small businesses, or green investments for local economic development. We excel in developing feasibility studies, estimating lending gaps, and preparing business plans required for State charter and Federal deposit insurance applications.

HR&A specializes in crafting strategies for equitable food access and community development, particularly in underserved regions. Through partnerships with municipalities, non-profits, and advocacy groups, we conduct thorough market analyses and feasibility studies to support the establishment of sustainable public grocery options. HR&A’s approach not only addresses immediate food access challenges but also fosters sustainable community growth through engagement with local communities.

HR&A collaborates with pioneering organizations to provide local governments with transformative tools for addressing market failures. Through meticulously crafted toolkits and extensive research, we showcase successful public options implemented by municipalities nationwide, inspiring local action. These resources illuminate how public leadership, investment, and governance models for sustainable public options can empower communities, offering essential services alongside private providers.

Featured Projects

Public Options for Mayors Toolkit


The Economic Security Project (ESP) champions initiatives that enhance economic power for all Americans. As part of this commitment, ESP supports public options—publicly-funded alternatives to goods or services typically provided by private companies. In partnership with HR&A Advisors, ESP aimed to catalyze local action and demonstrate the viability of public options by showcasing successful initiatives and building a support network for their adoption across the United States. HR&A selected and studied four public options: Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board’s record-setting high-speed internet deployment; California’s CalRx Biosimilar Insulin Initiative, which will benefit 3.5 million Californians with diabetes; Los Angeles’ AngelenoConnect fee-free banking services; and Baldwin Market, a municipal grocery store improving food accessibility in northern Florida. These case studies provided in-depth insights into funding and implementation strategies and the role government can take to make markets more competitive and accessible to benefit communities. The case studies are available online to inspire and serve as toolkits for policymakers nationwide.

Chicago and Venice Grocery Studies


On behalf of the City of Chicago and the nonprofit Venice Revitalization Project (VRP), in partnership with the Economic Security Project, HR&A developed analytical and narrative products to evaluate and promote municipally owned grocery models for the State of Illinois’ Grocery Initiative. In Chicago, HR&A assessed the feasibility of a public grocery option by analyzing the current market, identifying opportunities and challenges, and evaluating different operational models and partnerships. HR&A tested three scenarios to understand the complexities of opening and operating grocery stores, identified funding gaps, and proposed public operating subsidies to mitigate financial risks. They also conducted a risk analysis and presented mitigation strategies and recommendations. Additionally, HR&A worked with VRP in Venice, IL, to create a case statement for funding a publicly owned grocery store in a food desert, alongside a new health center, school, affordable housing, social services, and childcare. This analysis highlighted the project’s benefits, feasibility, and funding needs, supporting VRP’s grant application to the Illinois Grocery Initiative.

Advisory Services to the City of Berkeley for the Public Bank

East Bay, CA 

HR&A supported the City of Berkeley by evaluating the business plan prepared by the Friends of the Public Bank East Bay. This evaluation included assessing Berkeley’s potential involvement as an organizer of the proposed Public Bank, in collaboration with Oakland, Richmond, and Alameda County. Our evaluation encompassed the assessment of capitalization needs, alternatives, and regulatory risks related to public agencies making equity contributions from investment pool funds to newly created entities. This evaluation was conducted within the framework of California Government Code provisions and local Investment Policies. Furthermore, HR&A conducted a comprehensive evaluation of funding sources and mechanisms to ensure a consistent flow of deposits to support the lending goals outlined in the business plan. We also meticulously reviewed the proposed range of products and services for the public bank, aligning them with local market needs to ensure that the bank serves as a catalyst for local economic development. In addition, HR&A contributed to recommending a governance structure that accurately reflects the interests and responsibilities of each partner in the public bank initiative. This was aimed at guaranteeing Berkeley’s strategic and meaningful participation in the initiative.

Supporting the Creation of a San Francisco Public Bank


HR&A Advisors led a team to develop a business and governance plan and feasibility study for the City of San Francisco to create a municipal public bank to reinvest public funds into expanding affordable housing, small business lending, and green investments to support a more equitable and prosperous city. The HR&A team developed comprehensive business and governance plans that define the vision, mission, and structure of the bank and that define the range of products and services that the bank will offer to serve San Francisco’s communities. The HR&A team also produced a viability study and pro forma financial statements that inform the investment and return conditions to guide City planning and bank management. The San Francisco Reinvestment Working Group voted unanimously in May 2023 to submit the plans to the Board of Supervisors, and the Government Audit & Oversight Committee of the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in July 2023 to submit the plans to the full Board for its consideration and adoption. Information on the submission of the plans to the Board of Supervisors and the full business and governance plan and viability study are available here and here 



The California Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the California Public Banking Alliance coalition of dozens of civic groups sponsored the landmark California Public Banking Option Act (Assembly Bill 1177) to establish a public banking option to give all Californians access to high-quality, low-cost financial services. HR&A supported SEIU’s advocacy for AB 1177 through the first analysis of its kind, which examined who is not being served by the formal banking system, where they live, what the financial costs are to individuals and to the economy of un- and under-banking, and the economic benefits of the legislation to California. Our two reports — the “Atlas of Banking Access,” which details the causes of financial exclusion and its financial costs, and “Creating Universal Access to Bank Accounts,” which describes the viable model behind the program and its widespread economic benefits — informed legislators, advocates, and the public about the value of AB 1177. HR&A also conducted a live legislative briefing and supported SEIU’s communications for the bill. The California Assembly and Senate passed AB 1177 and the Governor signed this historic legislation into law in October 2021, paving the way towards establishing the CalAccounts public banking option program. Learn More →



Activists and organizations around the world have called for new ownership models that deconcentrate and reassign economic power, often with the goals of proactively extending capital and employment to those who have been excluded, divesting from exploitative economic arrangements, and erasing the distinctions between “shareholder” and “stakeholder.” Public banking has emerged as an interesting but relatively unproven means of advancing these goals. Excited by the power of finding alignment between these movements, HR&A is currently supporting a philanthropic foundation with its economic justice program strategy by exploring how leaders of municipalist movements in the US and UK might use public banks to advance the values and impact of shared ownership—such as by using public banks to extend capital to cooperatives and credit unions.



With one of the highest poverty rates, as well as the highest rate of un- and underbanked residents among major U.S. cities, Philadelphia’s City Council was eager to explore new methodologies that would help them enact bold change for residents. They asked HR&A to conduct an independent landmark study investigating a Public Bank as a potential solution. We analyzed the local context driving the bank’s purpose, evaluated the financial, legal, and administrative feasibility of establishing and operating the bank, measured the scale of potential impact, and developed a roadmap to guide the City towards implementation. In March 2022, the Philadelphia City Council voted to establish the Philadelphia Public Financial Authority, the country’s first institution which will lend capital to small businesses and address the historic racial disparities in commercial banking. Learn More →



The City of Seattle asked HR&A to conduct a feasibility study to inform their explorations into creating a municipally-operated bank as an alternative to their financial services contract with a private bank. We investigated the universe of potential funding and governance structures for the bank, associated trade-offs in terms of risk and benefit, and created a strategy for pitching the selected alternative to the public and enabling bodies. We also collaborated with Pacifica Law Group, who answered questions of legal risk and feasibility. With a deeper understanding of their banking options, The City asked us to create a public study recommending next steps for implementation and proposing alternative models to achieve the City’s social and financial goals. Learn More →