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Fighting fire with fire by building border wall out of hemp?

(POLITICS) Is there any irony in hemp being one of the most industrial plants? No on would think so except when it could be used to stop marijuana in “The Wall”.

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Show of hands, how many of you believe people eating tide pods was this year? Seems at least five years ago, right? That’s because 2019 was a humdinger when it comes to the pace of the news cycle. And due to that, you might have missed this little tidbit about The Wall, Steve Bannon and hemp, of all things.

After President Trump legalized hemp almost a year ago, this plant started sprouting up in farms across the country. According to Quartz, hemp experienced a planting surge of 368 percent in 2019 as compared to 2018 planting data. Of course, you can chalk that up to the explosion of the CBD industry. But there are other industrial uses for this hearty plant. Enter hempcrete and The Wall.

Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon is reportedly enamored with hempcrete, a concrete compound made with 40 percent hemp byproducts. Bannon is on record telling Vice News that “I’m obsessed with the hempcrete. I think this plant has got tremendous entrepreneurial aspects to it, and it’s innovative.”

There’s more evidence to suggest Bannon considered hempcrete for The Wall. After Bannon raised millions of dollars to build his own private border wall in May, he told Politico reporters that, “Do you understand the irony of using hempcrete to keep out marijuana?” That got us wondering: could there be a hempcrete border wall? Some analysts say that it could be possible, in theory.

“One million acres of hemp builds Trump’s wall and $700 million buys the hemp, a pittance compared to overall construction estimates ranging from $15 billion to $70 billion,” wrote Chris Bennett in reporting for Ag Web Farm Journal.

$700 million would be a huge boon for cannabusiness — that is if supply could keep up with demand. US Farmers have only grown a little under 130,000 acres of hemp this year. For a hempcrete wall to be even slightly feasible, farmers would have to massively step up supply OR import the crop from overseas. That doesn’t gel well with Trump and Bannon’s trade agenda, does it? Plus, the price point, while much better than non-hempcrete construction estimates, is still much more than the 22 million managed to raise during Bannon’s GoFundMe effort this year.

Looks like without funding assistance from the feds and an incentive for farmers to grow more hemp, hempcrete border wall is just another pipe dream.

Alexandra Bohannon has a Master of Public Administration degree from University of Oklahoma with a concentration in public policy. She is currently based in Oklahoma City, working as a freelance filmmaker, writer, and podcaster. Alexandra loves playing Dungeons and Dragons and is a diehard Trekkie.

Politics

FCC looking into how landlords are getting around predatory ISP laws

(NEWS) It became illegal in 2008 for landlords to restrict ISP access to their “partners,” but the FCC is looking into loopholes allowing the practice to persist.

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced it is seeking comments on broadband access in multi-tenant buildings.

The FCC wants to gain a better understanding of consumer choice and pricing in apartment and office buildings. Even though most cities have multiple internet service providers (ISPs), renters are often stuck with only one option due to agreements between ISPs and landlords. 


The Wireline Competition Bureau is seeking comments about:

  • Revenue sharing agreements between landlords and ISPs, which incentivizes the landlord to steer tenants to a certain provider.
  • Exclusive wiring agreements in which a landlord says only one ISP can provide service to the building.
  • Exclusive marketing agreements in which only one ISP is allowed to market in the building.

In 2008, the FCC banned exclusive contracts for telecommunications services in apartment buildings.

Even so, ISPs and landlords have found ways to circumvent the rules, preventing tenants from having internet options. A landlord is prohibited from contracting with an ISP for sole service to a building.

One way to get around this rule is to deed ownership of the wiring to the landlord, allowing the landlord to decide which companies have access or not. The FCC rules do not apply, because the landlord owns the wiring.

ISPs can also enter into an agreement with landlords to prevent advertising in the building. The landlord can impose fees on companies that need access to install new wiring. All of these practices block competition for tenants, which drives up prices and limits options, and is the focus of the FCC’s push.

The FCC wants to hear from consumers who have dealt with broadband building restrictions. Tenants, landlords, real estate agents and even ISP owners can comment on the FCC proceedings for 30 days following the public notice.

If you’re a property owner, it’s time to review your agreements in this area to make sure you don’t end up in the FCC’s crosshairs now or in the future.

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Politics

Housing supply crisis: NAR insists governments take ‘once-in-a-generation’ action

(POLITICS) After years of sounding the alarm bell regarding housing supply and demand imbalances, NAR is pushing local and federal governments to respond “immediately.”

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The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has repeatedly beat the drum for over six years regarding housing supply, so much so that perhaps real estate practitioners have simply accepted it as the ongoing problem that it is. But in a new report by Rosen Consulting Group, released by NAR, housing supply is officially in crisis across all regions.

NAR Chief Economist, Dr. Lawrence Yun has reiterated in most reports for years that the only relief for increasingly tight inventory levels lies an increase in housing starts, placing industry hopes firmly in the hands of American homebuilders who are strapped with lending standards that shifted after the 2008 housing crash, now paired with labor shortages and astronomically skyrocketing pricing on materials.

NAR reports that after decades of under-building and under-investment, housing is now in more of a “dire” status than previously expected. The report, “Critical Infrastructure: Social and Economic Benefits of Building More Housing” asserts that local and federal policymakers must consider “once-in-a-generation” action and that “no matter the approach,” action must be “immediate.”

For an organization that typically employs very tempered wording, this aggressive language is alarming.

As bloggers scream “housing bubble” and analysts warn the script looks nothing like 2008, the timing of this report and the alarm bells being run by NAR are not to be ignored.

“The state of America’s housing stock… is dire, with a chronic shortage of affordable and available homes [needed to support] the nation’s population,” the report asserts. “A severe lack of new construction and prolonged underinvestment [have led] to an acute shortage of available housing… to the detriment of the health of the public and the economy. The scale of underbuilding and the existing demand-supply gap is enormous… and will require a major national commitment to build more housing of all types.”

Dr. Yun notes “It’s clear from the findings of this report and from the conditions we’ve observed in the market over the past few years that we’ll need to do something dramatic to close this gap” between hopeful homebuyers and tightened supply levels.

The report urges lawmakers to “expand access to resources, remove barriers to and incentivize new development, and make housing construction an integral part of a national infrastructure strategy.”

NAR President Charlie Oppler, says that adequate increases in housing construction this decade would add an estimated 2.8 million American jobs and $50 billion in new, nationwide tax revenue. “Additional public funding and policy incentives for construction will very clearly provide huge benefits to our nation’s economy, and our work to close this gap will be particularly impactful for lower-income households, households of color and millennials.”

Earlier this year, NAR encouraged policymakers to reform zoning and permitting policies, also recommending other policies to address national housing supply shortages.

At that time, it sounded like an urgent request. Today, we hear an alarm bell, a demand.

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Politics

Evictions are mounting, affecting renters and landlords

(POLITICS) Eviction moratoriums both ending and extending are causing ripple effects of economic trouble for renters and landlords.

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The United States continues to struggle to find a balance between public health protections to slow the spread of coronavirus and economic measures to prevent Americans from bankruptcy as a result.

While eviction bans initially provided relief for renters who lost jobs and couldn’t afford rent payments, the effects bounced up to property owners who lost those payments. Though the first coronavirus stimulus package renter protections extended to landlords, property owners say banks are still expecting mortgage payments as the relief expires. Many worry the expiration of the additional $600 added to unemployment will exacerbate the problem.

In Texas, the statewide eviction moratorium ended in May. Unlike other major cities which chose to use funds from the federal coronavirus stimulus package to pay for legal representation for tenants, Houston let local protections for tenants expire with the moratorium.

In Houston, there is little recourse for tenants served with an eviction notice. Tenants only have five days to appeal, and there is no legal defense for a tenant who can’t pay at least one month’s rent to the court registry. As a result, tenants facing eviction often surrender and leave. Unfortunately, the result is tenants moving in temporarily with friends and family while they look for new housing, causing overcrowding and presenting a health risk to everyone involved. The CDC has specifically named “poverty and crowding” as a top risk factor for COVID-19.

However, not all evictions are the result of unpaid rent. Marie Baptiste, a landlord in Randolph, Massachusetts reported to the Boston Globe that she has lost recourse against a tenant who not only stopped paying rent long before the pandemic started, but caused water damage and a rat infestation. The tenant argues the structural problems were her reason for withholding rent.

Consequently, Baptiste says she is now $19,000 in the hole for this property, and can do nothing about it. In July, Governor Charlie Baker extended the eviction moratorium to mid-October. In a survey conducted by MassLandlords, one-fifth of landlords are uncertain how they will keep up with mortgage payments. Many fear they will be forced to sell or face foreclosure without relief.

Without protections for both tenants and individual property owners, the eviction moratoriums could have long-term consequences for housing in large cities. Urban centers, already struggling with rent inflation and lack of affordable units as large developers take over, could see this problem exacerbated for years to come. It is imperative that the next stimulus package consider how relief for both renters and property owners can be leveraged to prevent these challenges.

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