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Op/Ed

Amazon kills HQ2 in NY, Austin and Toronto should gloat

(EDITORIAL) Amazon is breaking up with NY, and Toronto and Austin are in a position to say “told you so.”

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Amazon has decided to abandon its plans for its much hyped and much maligned second headquarters in New York City. The location had been chosen after a lengthy (and embarrassing at times) bidding war between cities across the country after local politicians like Governor Andrew Cuomo and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio offered the $1 trillion company over $3 billion in economic incentives.

Amazon’s flip decision comes after increasing frustration and resistance from existing residents in the Long Island City and Brooklyn neighborhoods where the campus was supposed to be built. Many believed that the influx of tech workers from Amazon would drive rent prices higher, crowd an already at-capacity public transportation system, and lead to gentrification of the area.

Reactions to the reversal are mixed. Some see this as a David-versus-Goliath story where communities were able to rally and scare off arguably the biggest corporate monster possible; others lamented the loss of economic opportunity, particularly the 25,000 jobs that Amazon said the HQ would bring to the area.

Amazon itself blamed these small groups in its statement, stating, “[A] number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City.”

It will be interesting to watch and see what the fallout (if any) of this is for New York City. As Tech Crunch reports, it’s all a bit complicated.

According to Amazon’s announcement they will not be reopening the search for a second headquarters. Instead, they say that they will focus their efforts on expanding their existing operations in Virginia and Tennessee. They have not said whether they plan on expanding either campus by the 25k employees that NYC was supposed to offer.

Despite this proclamation, many cities are already reaching out to Amazon to try and entice investments.

Cities across America initially fell over each other, begging (I mean propositioning) Amazon to grace them with their HQ2, offering free land, massive tax breaks, bootcamps at major colleges and new schools to spinoff talent specifically for Amazon, interest-free home loans for employees, massive grants for hitting employment targets, employment relocation reimbursements, and employee tax incentives.

But two cities openly stood above the fray – Toronto basically said, “come here if you want to,” without offering incentives, while Austin said in a friendly Texas voice, “y’all come here if you want to, everyone else in tech does!”

While everyone else fawned over Amazon, it turns out that HQ2 is dead in the water, and Austin plus Toronto are likely patting themselves on the back right now.

Among all of these dizzying revelations, it’s important to note that rather than try to work out a solution with the local residents Amazon thought would be so eager to have them, the tech giant simply pulled its resources and left.  One wonders whether the next city can reasonably expect to have any sort of sway in negotiations with the company at all. 

AprilJo Murphy is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a PhD in English and Creative Writing from the University of North Texas. She is a writer, editor, and sometimes teacher based in Austin, TX who enjoys getting outdoors with her handsome dog, Roan.

Op/Ed

Governors fail renters miserably, a 90-day rent freeze is the only option now

Independent contractors whose only sin is renting instead of owning, are facing evictions even as Governors put tiny bandaids on the situation. A 90-day freeze is the nation’s only option to avoid mass migrations or spikes in homelessness.

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New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo announced Friday the state would observe a 90-day moratorium on commercial and residential evictions to give residents and businesses a break after so many have been ordered to halt operations during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Various states are debating moratoriums on mortgage payments, and for those that aren’t, banks are frequently tweeting that forbearance options are available and reminding property owners of the allure of current refinancing rates.

Several states are announcing similar moratoriums on evictions, but in some states it’s a ruse.

For example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an emergency order to suspend all residential evictions (barring criminal activity) through April 19th. But what the press releases don’t include is this is business as usual. Not only can evictions still be filed for April rent, many counties in Texas accept filings and set court dates around the 19th already. The only relief this ruse of a suspension offers is people being evicted for failure to pay in March.

Other states are renter-friendly and a renter can be months late – in Texas, landlords can issue a 24-hour notice to vacate on the 4th and file for eviction on the 5th, get a hearing roughly two weeks later, and an immediate order for the renter to vacate the property. Many other states are also fast to evict like Texas.

One renter opined, “Yeah sure, once evicted in April, I’ll just take my zero thousand dollars and put a rent and pet deposit down on a new place, buy packing supplies, and then hire expensive movers to take me to my new imaginary home that doesn’t exist because you can’t rent ANYWHERE if you’ve been evicted here [in central Texas].”

Meanwhile, landlords, especially multi-family properties, are able to refinance their holdings at historically low interest rates or negotiate forbearance options on their loans. This is welcome good news for landlords that own one to four units and rely on rents as their primary income. If they can all hold off payments for 90 days, the hit isn’t as devastating, plus they don’t have to turn those units at a cost.

In the meantime, national relief efforts have stalled. Senators are battling over the stimulus package (Phase 3 has failed to pass as expected today) as their political war wages on. Americans hold out hope that three weeks after being announced, a few cash money dollars might still eventually make it their way.

If you’ve spent any time on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably seen petitions in your state demanding a rent freeze, and you might have rolled your eyes. At first, I did too, because I secretly love the beauty of capitalism and typically balk at government intervention into much of anything.

But take a moment to think about a 90-day rent freeze.

This isn’t about empathy, it’s about an imbalance in the marketplace where some are favored over others and our government is picking winners and losers. It’s about business and the shortsightedness of this situation, particularly the willingness to get rid of renters, carrying the cost of a makeready and marketing and staff to refill those units which will be wildly difficult with so many new evictions on peoples’ records.

We spoke to several multi-family property management companies in Texas, and universally there is no plan to suspend rents owed, waive late fees that keep accumulating, or halt evictions.

One landlord told us that for his two properties, he is asking people to pay rent as they can, but as most of his tenants are freelancers, he says it’s unlikely, but he’d “rather keep them in their homes and eventually collect rent, as opposed to coordinate a makeready in this environment, not to mention the fact that no one wants to move to a new place right now when they’re told to shelter in place.”

That takes us to today in politics. Let’s say the Senate passes the wildly expensive relief bill and businesses can make payroll, and families get some money. That’s great. But what about the millions of independent contractors in America? Freelancers, Realtors, stylists, and millions more didn’t lose a traditional job, they’re not on payroll and they don’t have staff on payroll (therefore don’t qualify for most disaster assistance) – many just lost everything with no promise of a future income, tossed into a situation they have no control over.

Many of these folks are renters. And they’re screwed. Why is multi-family the only sector of the economy protected right now? They’ll get funds to make payroll, they’ll be able to skip paying their loans for a few months, but there is not a consensus in the industry that they should extend that grace to option-less people they rent to.

Some will say that putting a 90-day halt on evictions helps, but at the end of June, those people owe 3 months worth of rent or they’ll be immediately evicted. Some believe putting off the inevitable at least keeps these people off the streets. Local news is outlining resources, including motel-vouchers for the newly evicted.

How condescending, insensitive, heartless, and insulting to American renters whose only sin was renting instead of owning.

Right now, President Trump appears to be in the mood to empower governors, so governors must step up and order 90-day suspension of all rent and accumulating rent fees – landlords can’t be the only exempt entities in the nation.

Multi-family property managers will eventually get funds to cover operations and along with landlords, most will be able to take advantage of refinance and/or forbearance options, and while some states have attempted eviction freezes, nothing short of a 90-day suspension of rent (including removing all potential predatory late fees and penalties), both residential and commercial, will help the millions in America who will still be facing eviction at the end of the existing moratoriums.

We MUST take action. Local petitions are floating around, so sign and share them.

But the most powerful thing you can do right now is to send this story to your local representative – you can enter your address here and get the names, Twitter accounts, and Facebook Pages of every politician that represents you down to the local level.

The only way renters (especially independent contractors) will be treated like the rest of the nation is for people like you to speak up – tweet this and tag every one of your representatives. Then do the same tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. And don’t stop until change has been made.

Otherwise, landlords will enjoy a mass migration of family evictees come May 1st, while politicians can scramble to address spikes in homeless populations nationwide.

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Op/Ed

COVID-19: How to cope in your new home workplace (and keep it clean)

(EDITORIAL) Having a clean workspace is important while working from home, If you have to work remotely because of COVID-19, here are some tips.

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As a freelancer who has worked at home since about 2012, I know how hard it is to work out of your home. I have it even harder in some ways, because I live in an efficiency. My workspace is also my living room, kitchen, dining room and bedroom. If you’re trying to work from home during the pandemic, you may not feel as productive as normal. These are troubling times, so it’s understandable. Give yourself a break. Here are some things that I’ve learned to help maintain some semblance of normalcy without an office outside my home.

Keep distance between home and work

When work invades your home, it’s hard to have a good work-life balance. Get into a routine, preferably the same one you had when you went to work. Get your coffee and breakfast. Dress for work, maybe not as much as you might if you were going into the office. Brush your hair. Tell yourself you’re starting work. Wipe down your workspace with cleaning wipes before you start. Take breaks during the day. Eat lunch away from your workspace. When you’re done with work for the day, close the door to your office, either literally or figuratively.

Declutter your workspace

Seriously, you’ll work better when your desk (or kitchen table or wherever you’re working) is clean. Harvard Business Review makes a good case for keeping your workspace clean. Don’t think that you’re going to spend a day cleaning and be ready to work the next day. If you haven’t decluttered in a while, you may need to tackle the jobs one at a time.

First, get your desk cleaned off. If your employee expects you to work from home, you need to be productive. Take 10 to 15 minutes to deal with the clutter on your desk or workspace. Start the day out with a clear space. At the end of the day, clean up again. Wipe your desk down with Clorox wipes. Use this as your mental commute. Make a list of what you need to start on the next day. Leave work at work, even though you’re home.

Take the tortoise approach to organizing. You can’t completely undo days of clutter in just a few minutes. Figure out which places are the priority. Cleaning off your kitchen counter can immediately make your home feel tidier. Tackle those chores in 10 to 15 spurts. Do what helps you work. For me, I need to have the floor vacuumed and swept. I take 20 to 30 minutes before I sit down to work and do some clean-up. When my dishes are done before I start work, it’s easier to get lunch ready and get back to work quickly.

Don’t just veg out in the evening. Spend 30 minutes cleaning up and wiping down surfaces. You’ll be less distracted the next day when you can go into your bathroom and not feel as if you need to clean up. Do laundry and other chores in the evening to leave your day free to work.

Dealing with cats

My cats constantly walk on my laptop. They would sleep on it if I let them. Instead of closing it every time I get up, I place an upside-down laundry basket on my laptop when I’m just going to be gone for a few minutes. I also make a point to play with them every couple of hours. I put a basket on my desk for my cat to be close to me without being on top of me when I work. Beyond that, they’re just annoying sometimes. Even when it’s not cold and flu season, I wipe down my desk with cleaning wipes because my cats are a mess.

I don’t have young children, so I’m not even going to try and offer any help there. All I can say is that we’re all making sacrifices during this pandemic. Your job may have to understand that your kids are home with you. Your kids may have to entertain themselves for a while. Try to find something to laugh at each day. Even though we’re social distancing and sheltering in place, find ways to connect with your loved ones. Just don’t forget to clean all surfaces with Clorox wipes. Wash your hands.

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Op/Ed

COVID-19: How one Realtor’s quiet actions have set an example for all

(EDITORIAL) One Realtor’s kindness to her neighbors has earned her business for life, and caught our attention as a strong example to follow in the COVID-19 times.

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COVID-19 is the first global pandemic any of us experienced, and it has pushed all business practices and mental health to the limit. It is an extreme situation, unforeseen, and nearly impossible to navigate.

Yet here we are, navigating through these murky waters together.

We’ve heard amazing stories of how the real estate community has banded together, but one lone act of kindness caught our attention.

We have numerous local neighborhood Facebook Groups, co-moderated by different types of community leaders, some by brokers. In one Austin group run by a member of the neighborhood, a simple call was put out:

Lise Lucci is a broker at JP & Associates Realtors, and the President at the Austin Chapter of NAHREP (the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals).

She lives in the neighborhood she services, and driving through, you’ll see her signs down the tree-lined streets. But she’s not flashy, she doesn’t have boofy hair and she doesn’t talk loudly on the phone in the Starbucks so everyone know she’s in real estate, no, she’s a professional practitioner doing what is right in her own backyard.

This is a remarkably simple way one broker is quietly taking care of her community instead of just sending out calendar magnets with a 1989 glamour shot, and is a move the neighbors will never forget.

One local told us, “I wish all Realtors were like this, and she has never asked for my business in a cheesy way, but after seeing this, she’ll GET my business from now on.”

Lucci tells us, “My offer will continue until we are finished with this pandemic. My kids do this during normal times for home bound people who are going through illnesses. I hope everyone continues to be taken care of.”

Even this comment reveals her nature – to care for those around her. And isn’t that the real reason most folks get into real estate?

“I do my best to provide value first before letting people know I’m a Realtor,” Lucci noted. “And as communities we must take care of each other. Service first.”

We are deeply moved. We’ll remember this selfless act if you bring it up in 2030.

If you have the capacity to safely do this in your own neighborhood, it’s a beautiful gift to give.

Contact us if you know of any stories of Realtors shining in this dark time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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