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Historic Mansion is demolished, pointing out flaws in protections

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) West Mansion in Houston almost makes it 90 years before being demolished; this points out some issues in historical preservation protections.

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“No money will be spared to make this one of the showplaces of the country,” declared Joseph Finger, architect of the West Mansion. Constructed in Clear Lake in 1930, West Mansion’s had a unique 89 years – housing everything from the Lunar Science Institute to the luxurious Dr34m display – but that came to a close with its recent demolition.

The mansion was in good structural condition, was listed as a Historic Landmark and had even been ranked on Preservation Texas’s “most endangered” list in 2007.

So, why did it get demolished?

First, it’s worth understanding that West Mansion has been on the chopping block before. The original owner, James M. West Sr., initially built the mansion as a centerpiece of his sprawling ranch. Still, he sold the mansion, along with the ranch, a mere 8 years after it had been constructed.

The mansion remained unused for over 20 years.

From 1961 – 1992, West Mansion became the Lunar Science Institute (later renamed Lunar Planetary Institute), at which point it was sold with the restriction that it had to be preserved for twenty years. Although many groups tried to fight for it to be preserved longer, none could raise the money necessary for extensive preservation.

West Mansion was once again at risk of demolition in 2012, but the current owner (Rockets player Hakeem Olajuwan) instead opted to renovate the home and use it as a place to showcase his luxury clothing line, Dr34m.

Although groups like Preservation Houston continued to work towards keeping this historic landmark, Olajuwan was able to schedule and demolish in under a month.

This move came abruptly. Pasadena, the city where West Mansion resided, has no preservation ordinances for historic structures. Although outside organizations have offered incentives for owners of historical structures, there was nothing stopping owner Olajuwan from tearing it down without any public notice.

Worse, according to David Bush of the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, there was no attempt made to salvage any of the material, much of which was expensive and easily recyclable.

West Mansion, which had grown to become more than simply a landmark of Texas wealth, will certainly be missed. There is also a lesson in the West Mansion demolition: while non-profits can work hard to preserve historical structures, it also comes down to residents working to ensure there are local protections in place.

Brittany is a Staff Writer for The American Genius with a Master's in Media Studies under her belt. When she's not writing or analyzing the educational potential of video games, she's probably baking.

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Homeownership

Demand for newly built homes soars, but so is the cost of lumber

[HOMEOWNERSHIP] Many potential buyers are looking for newly built homes, but will builders be able to meet this demand with lumber prices on the rise?

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COVID-19 has had an undeniable effect on the U.S. economy. In the housing market, increased interest in single-family, new-construction homes has given builders a bright spot in the crisis. Builder confidence in this market has now reached a 35-year high, but builders are not out of the woods yet.

Potential homebuyers are showing up in hoards (figuratively speaking, we hope) this fall with a keen interest in new-construction homes. Buyers looking to take advantage of record-low interest rates are knocking on model home doors, seeking improved living arrangements with more space and functionality. The market sentiment for single-family homes is positive, but rising lumber prices are tempering home builders’ excitement for booming business.

Many white-collar workers are staring down an indefinite stretch of remote working arrangements, with some large tech companies even considering making the change to remote work permanent. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced workers to make big shifts in their everyday life. These lifestyles changes, along with low interest rates, have prompted a new wave of homebuyers.

Unfortunately for builders, the pandemic has had a much harder impact on blue-collar workers and a negative impact on supply and demand. While office workers sit on their couches and open up their laptops to Zillow, places like lumber mills and factories had no choice but to shut down during the height (if that is even past us) of the pandemic.

Many lumber mills and factories remain closed or are dealing with severe labor shortages as these blue-collar workers are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and access to adequate health care.

Prior to shutdowns, the market was not expecting this type of boom in new-construction interest from homebuyers. Builders are now seeing lumber prices rise as a result of increased demand and dwindling supplies.

Mortgage rates hit record lows in early August, and while those have risen somewhat since then, it is unlikely that rates will skyrocket anytime soon. With no end to the pandemic in sight for the U.S., potential homebuyers will keep coming and builders will just have to deal with the premium on lumber for the foreseeable future.

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Homeownership

The split realities of renters vs. homeowners

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) The housing market is telling a tale of two countries: Between renters and homeowners, wealth inequality has split the country in two.

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The pandemic has generated a tidal wave of house hunters attempting to relocate; previously ignored markets all across the country, particularly in suburban areas, are awash with new clients eagerly seeking an escape from expensive and densely populated cities. Record low mortgage interest rates in the US have only bolstered this migration scramble. The ultra-wealthy are even opting to leave the US entirely, fleeing to regions with fewer cases, such as New Zealand.

Renters, on the other hand, generally don’t have the luxury of being able to afford a house. Most are currently trapped between a rock and a hard place (proverbially speaking).

The extra unemployment assistance granted by the CARES Act, which was helping countless Americans pay rent, expired two weeks ago alongside the federal eviction moratorium. State and local moratoriums on evictions are also withering away. Young adults have holed up with their parents where they can (myself included). Meanwhile, the Senate continues to deliberate on the details of the HEROES Act, which – hopefully – will extend the $600 weekly unemployment bonus, and provide more stimulus checks to people in need.

As renters face destitution, landlords have in turn seen their incomes dry up. Twitter is rich with specific examples of threats and harassment received by tenants from their landlords for failure to pay rent, despite the unemployment crisis, and the cutthroat job competition it’s created. In all fairness, though, small landlords are themselves facing similar heat from their banks. One survey of landlords in Massachusetts, performed by MassLandlords, showed that one-fifth did not know how they would make ends meet this year – clearly a ripple effect from this preventable rental crisis.

The role of demographics here is important to note, as is often the case when housing is concerned. Of course, Millennials have been mostly relegated to renting for a long time. It’s been a meme among my generation for the better part of a decade that very few Millennials will ever end up buying homes, and Gen Z is on a fast track to join us. Not to mention that the historical impact of redlining, which extends several decades, has yet to be reconciled. It can still be seen in the national rates of homeownership which are disproportionately low among non-white, and particularly Black, Americans.

If youth, people of color, and impoverished renters are about to face mass nationwide evictions, the HEROES Act is their best shot at a miracle. But if it fails… then, I guess, Congress will ask that they eat cake.

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Homeownership

Hilarious things that are left behind when people move out of their house

(HOMEOWNERSHIP) People often forget what changes and additions they’ve made to a house until it is too late. This Twitter thread is a hilarious reminder to take everything with you when you leave.

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There are moments when social media brings people together and gives us comedy gold. Have you ever left something behind when you moved, something that while maybe not so crucially important to you, will definitely offer an interesting insight into your life? Such as a message written behind a wall, or a note hidden in an air duct? Well a twitter thread posted earlier this week opened up Pandora’s box for amusements on this topic and some of these are just getting stranger and stranger.

The original poster, @KaylaKumari, brought it up originally when she asked her mother, who had just recently moved out of her last home, if she’d uninstalled the special fire alarms that she recorded in her voice yelling, “GET OUT OF THE HOUSE BECAUSE MOM’S CANDLES CAUGHT THE HOUSE ON FIRE”. A perfect line, short and succinct. Now some poor family is going to have a fire and some woman’s voice will be ushering them out instead of an alarm. Hopefully there won’t be too much confusion there.

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My parents sold their house like a month ago but my mother JUST realized she did not uninstall the special fire alarms she had put in that are a recording of her own voice screaming at me and my sister to “GET OUT OF THE HOUSE BECAUSE MOM’S CANDLES CAUGHT THE HOUSE ON FIRE”

After that, the tweets and retweets just kept coming. Some of them mostly relating to habits or forgotten moments. In four days, the post has gotten over 17K retweets and/or comments and some of these are gems.

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A lot of people seem to enjoy feeding wildlife as well. Lots of fun shocks to go around. I would recommend however, to disclose that upon sale of the house so you don’t get sued. But this just goes to show that social media can be nice sometimes. A nice uplifting moment in our days.

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