New Study Demonstrates Dramatic, Immediate Energy Shift Needed

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This new research means the human race needs to move rapidly into a very different way of using and producing energy. This means, for example, that by 2018, no new cars, homes, schools, factories, or electrical power plants should be built anywhere in the world, ever again, unless they’re either replacements for old ones or carbon neutral. This is the first study to look at “carbon commitments” (a term coined by the authors) and is sure to result in more information being developed for other sectors, e.g. not examined is agriculture which is a major carbon producer or land use planning and building codes designed to reduce carbon use. Hopefully, it will also result in more information and action for reducing waste and increasing efficiency as this has been much neglected even though it is the essential first step toward rational climate policy. It has always been evident that the more we delay in responding to the climate crisis the steeper the cost will be to ameliorate and adapt to it. The alarm bells on climate have been ringing for two decades but political and economic leadership has for the most part been frozen and unable to adequately act. Now, the bill for those mistakes are coming due and the need to act is constantly becoming more urgent.

The RAD-ical Shifts To Public Housing

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Traditional public housing is out of favor and substantially out of funds. It’s bureaucratic, concentrates the very poor, and is literally crumbling due to a huge backlog of deferred maintenance. Yet despite real catastrophes—such as Chicago’s bleak, crime-ridden Robert Taylor Homes, dynamited over a decade ago—public housing provides low-rent apartments to some 2.2 million people, and much of it is reasonably well run by local authorities. For half a century, presidents, legislators and housing developers have sought alternatives, involving supposedly more efficient private market incentives. However, these alternatives, too, have been far from scandal-free. The Johnson-era Section 236 program (named for part of the housing code) gave private developers tax benefits and direct payments to build low-rent housing, underwritten by subsidized thirty-year mortgages. But then, as the mortgages started being paid off in the 1990s, many developers kicked out poor tenants and converted the buildings to middle-class and even luxury apartments—taking low-rent units that had been built and maintained with taxpayer money and removing them from the pool of affordable housing.

The Holder Doctrine: Bank Settlements Without Criminal Prosecutions

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Even though there is tacit acceptance, or perhaps more accurately, sullen resignation, about regulators’ failure to make serious investigations into financial firm misconduct (probes on specific issues don’t cut it), occasionally a pundit steps up to remind the public of the farce that passes for bank enforcement. Today William Cohan tore into Attorney General Eric Holder, and by implication the Administration, for its raft of bank “settlements” which have come is a sudden spurt, no doubt intended to boost the Democrat’s flagging standing in the runup to the Congressional midterms. We’ve pointed out that the comparatively few commentators who have looked past the overhyped Department of Justice press releases into the details of the agreements have been appalled at the embarrassing lack of detail, meaning the almost total absence of any admission of wrongdoing. It’s critical to understand why this silence is important. It means that regulators have accepted as a condition of the settlement that they are to protect the bank from private suits by remaining as silent as possible about precisely what horrible things were done. The absurd part is that regulators and prosecutors could easily call the banks’ bluff by threatening to go a few rounds in court: “Would you rather have us start discovery and see what we can get in the record, or would you rather make some admissions right now?”

Ferguson Highlights The Black-White Housing Gap

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On the surface, the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., was about local police using deadly force on an unarmed young man. But on a deeper level, it reflected the increasing poverty and economic decline that affects ethnic communities all over America. Despite rosy reports in the media about the end of the national foreclosure crisis and the recession that followed, all is not well in our inner cities and suburbs with largely minority populations, like Ferguson. The foreclosure crisis was hard on many Americans, but it was a disaster for communities of color, including the citizens of Ferguson. Half of Ferguson Homes Underwater In the zip code that encompasses Ferguson, half (49 percent) of homes were underwater in 2013, meaning the home’s market value was below the mortgage’s outstanding balance. This condition (also called “negative equity”) is often a first step toward loan default or foreclosure, according to the recent report, “Underwater America,” from the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ferguson Violence Exposes America’s Political Decay

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For anyone with a consciousness of American history, the events of the last week and a half in Ferguson, Missouri, a predominately African-American suburb outside of St. Louis, should seem all too familiar. A police officer murders an unarmed black man. As days go by and more information on the shooting is released, residents take to the streets to protest. Their protests are met with force utterly disproportionate to a free society. In response, the protests turn sporadically violent themselves, producing and even more violent response on the part of authorities. Harlem, 1943; Philadelphia and Rochester, 1964; Watts (Los Angeles), 1965; Newark, 1967; Camden, 1971; Tampa, 1987 and 1989; Washington, D.C., 1991; Los Angeles, 1992; Cincinnati, 2001; Benton Harbor (Southwest Michigan), 2003; Brooklyn, 2013 – all these incidents, and many others, contain the basic contours of the situation in Ferguson. By now many in the United States and across the world have weighed in on the underlying causes of the escalating violence in Ferguson. Analysts have rightly pointed out the massive build-up in American police militarisation, the depths of poverty that are endemic to many American neighbourhoods, a broad culture that equates young African-American men with criminality, a failed war on drugs that has led to the incarceration of generations of the American poor and the corresponding transformation of much of urban America into a police state.

A RAD-ical Housing Experiment

Baltimore residents staged a Speak-Out to Rethink RAD on June 11. (Photo courtesy of Right to Housing Alliance)

After decades of decay, public housing in the United States could soon be relegated to the dustbin of history, thanks to a new Obama administration initiative called the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. A pilot launched last year in response to a $26 billion backlog in needed repairs, RAD will hand over 60,000 units of public housing nationwide to private management by 2015. Though that’s only a fraction of the nearly 1.2 million public housing units that provide a safety net for more than 2 million people, housing advocates worry that RAD’s reforms are a Trojan horse for sweeping privatization of a crucial public asset. In the wake of the Great Depression, a surge of tenant activism helped usher in public housing as a federally funded, locally administered program to address poor living conditions in urban areas. But the program came to be viewed less as a public good and more as housing of last resort, giving rise to a cycle of demonization and neglect, followed by pernicious “reforms.” RAD is the latest in a series of initiatives to address the underfunding of public housing with a familiar free-market solution: handing off state-owned assets to private actors who receive public subsidies in exchange for an increasingly involved role in managing housing for low-income tenants. Though public housing residents have been assured that RAD will fund long-overdue repairs while keeping housing affordable and preserving tenants’ rights, similar promises have been broken by would-be free-market saviors before. Critics say RAD shares key features with past privatization initiatives that have displaced hundreds of thousands of public-housing residents. In the last decade and a half alone, more than 100,000 units of public housing have been lost to demolition or sale.

The Typical Household, Now Worth A Third Less

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Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too. The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially. The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 95 percent of the population had less wealth.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years. Other research, by economists like Edward Wolff at New York University, has shown even greater gains in wealth for the richest 1 percent of households. For households at the median level of net worth, much of the damage has occurred since the start of the last recession in 2007. Until then, net worth had been rising for the typical household, although at a slower pace than for households in higher wealth brackets.

Grandma's Tiny Home Shed, Gives Daughter's Family A Home

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Many people have been moving into smaller homes for a host of reasons: it could be a conscious change toward a simpler lifestyle, it could be a way to avoid paying all the bills and taxes associated with a larger home, or for some younger people, tiny homes are a quick and affordable start for home ownership and an early lesson in independence. But choosing to live in a tiny home could also be done for selfless reasons, as this elderly woman did when she chose to give up her own house to her daughter and five kids, all of whom had recently become homeless. Instead of seeing her daughter go out onto the street, Monica Smith elected to move instead into a converted 8-foot by 10-foot shed in her backyard. Monica gradually transformed a tool shed into a two-storey tiny home. There is a kitchen, a sitting area and a bedroom tucked above the ground floor, accessible by a stepladder. Monica did much of the renovation work herself, keeping costs down.

The Collapse Of Black Wealth

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How the recession turned owners into renters and obliterated black American wealth. In 2005, three years before the Great Recession, the median black household had a net worth of $12,124. Yes, this was far behind the median white household—which had a net worth of $134,992—but it was a huge improvement from previous decades, in which housing discrimination made wealth accumulation difficult (if not impossible) for the large majority of African-American families. By the official end of the recession in 2009, median household net worth for blacks had fallen to $5,677—a generation’s worth of hard work and progress wiped out. (The number for whites, by comparison, was $113,149.) Overall, from 2007 to 2010, wealth for blacks declined by an average of 31 percent, home equity by an average of 28 percent, and retirement savings by an average of 35 percent. By contrast, whites lost 11 percent in wealth, lost 24 percent in home equity, and gained 9 percent in retirement savings. According to a 2013 report by researchers at Brandeis University, “half the collective wealth of African-American families was stripped away during the Great Recession.” It was a startling retrenchment, creating the largest wealth, income, and employment gaps since the 1990s. And, if a new study from researchers at Cornell University and Rice University is any indication, these gaps are deep, persistent, and difficult to eradicate.

It's Not Just Water: Detroit Thirsts For Democracy

Detroit protest on July 18. Photo by David Coates  for the The Detroit News.

Several thousand people marched from Cobo Hall to Detroit’s Hart Plaza on July 18, decrying the destruction of democracy in Detroit. The rally, organized in part by theMoratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs, took place after a week of actions against the disconnection of water service to households unable to pay their bills. People previously blockaded to keep Homrich, a private contractor employed by the city, from shutting off people’s water on July 10. Another blockade took place the day of the rally, lasting six hours before police arrested a pastor, a veteran journalist in her 70s, welfare rights organizers and others. . . . Acts of resistance and the creation of forward-looking alternatives are in their embryonic stages, and the various forms both take have implications for what democracy will mean in Detroit and elsewhere in the future. “So we have to restore democracy in order for us to be in a position where we can really control our own destiny,” she said.

NYC Approves Building With Separate Entrance For Poor People

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It would be difficult to come with a more on-the-nose metaphor for New York City’s income inequality problem than the new high-rise apartment building coming to 40 Riverside Boulevard, which will feature separate doors for regular, wealthy humans and whatever you call the scum that rents affordable housing. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development approved Extell’s Inclusionary Housing Program application for the 33-story tower this week, the New York Post reports. The status grants Extell the aforementioned tax breaks and the right to construct a larger building than would ordinarily be allowed. According to the Daily Mail, affordable housing tenants will enter through a door situated on a “back alley.”

Stopping Foreclosure - New Lamps For Old

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Once upon a time, financing the purchase of a home with a mortgage loan, compared to today, was much simpler. After saving the customary 20% down payment, the borrower would meet with the local banker for a long-term, fixed-rate loan. Once income and character were investigated, qualified and then approved, the borrower signed a mortgage note, and gave a mortgage in exchange for a loan. A mortgage note is the personal promise to repay a loan. A mortgage (lien) collateralizes or secures the mortgage note. Foreclosure can force the sale of the collateral (home) to repay the debt. It was at the same local bank where the borrower made monthly loan payments for the life of the loan. If and when the borrower had a problem making a scheduled payment due to an unexpected expense or temporary hardship it wasn’t necessarily an earthshaking event.

Homeowners Still At Risk Of Foreclosure Demand Action

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The Occupy movement started on Wall Street and now its sibling, the grassroots movement to restore community wealth, has come to New York City. On Wednesday, a broad coalition of community activists joined with four allies on the New York City Council to draw attention to the epidemic of foreclosures and to call for immediate action to help rescue homeowners who are drowning in debt. At a press conference at City Hall, they released an eye-opening report, Thousands of Homeowners Still Drowning in Underwater Mortgages: How Toxic Loans Keep Fueling Foreclosures and the Need for Eminent Domain, designed to jump-start a campaign to address the problem. The report, sponsored by New York Communities for Change and the Mutual Housing Association of New York, reveals that tens of thousands of New York City homeowners are still at risk of foreclosure, because their mortgages are underwater and the banks aren’t providing any relief.

Brad Pitt To Help Build 20 LEED Platinum Homes For Tribes In Montana

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The Make It Right nonprofit founded by Brad Pitt is partnering with the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of Fort Peck, Montana, to build sustainable homes, buildings and communities on their reservation. In addition to 20 LEED Platinum certified homes, the project will develop a sustainable master plan for the entire reservation, which covers thousands of acres and is home to more than 6,000 Native Americans. Make It Right was set up in 2007 to provide housing for people in need. All Make It Right projects are LEED Platinum certified, Cradle to Cradle inspired, and designed by renowned architects in collaboration with the community involved. For the current project, architects and designers from GRAFT, Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative, Architecture for Humanity, Method Homes, and Living Homes spent four days meeting with tribal members before developing their designs. Currently, more than 600 people are waiting for housing on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Overcrowding is a chronic problem, with multiple families commonly living together in two-bedroom homes due to lack of accommodation.

Brazilians Take Back The City

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Only the steady flow of men, women and children through a rusted, grey door alert passersby that anyone lives inside the 22-story building. It’s covered in graffiti: a small house – bright yellow, with a brown door, window and roof – two women’s faces, and the number 911. With an abundance of unused buildings peppering the city, low-income residents of Sao Paulo occupy vacant structures, often with the help of local social and housing rights movements. This is one of them. “We occupy [buildings] to give a social function to the properties and give houses to people without houses,” said Maria Silva, one of the residents. In other cases, several families occupy large homes, and each family rents out a single room while sharing other facilities, like bathrooms and kitchens. These structures are known as corticos (boarding houses, or tenement buildings). Unlike the favelas, corticos consist of large, urban apartment-syle buildings shared by several families. In Sao Paulo, rapid urbanisation was linked to a shift from agriculture to more modern industries, and as labourers moved into makeshift communities to be closer to work. While most favelas are in the peripheries of Sao Paulo, many low-income families also moved into the city centre to be closer to basic services