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New regulations could benefit homebuyers being priced out of the market

(HOUSING) If new regulations are approved, the willing homebuyers forced onto the sidelines could finally have a buying option previously unavailable to them.

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HUD Acting Deputy Secretary and Federal Housing Commissioner Brian Montgomery spoke at the 2019 Realtors Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo, pouncing on the widespread challenge of affordability in the housing market, as willing buyers continue to be squeezed out.

With over 11,000 National Association of Realtors (NAR) members in Washington D.C. for the annual conference, Montgomery spoke directly to those in the field that witness the phenomenon first hand.

“You all know better than most that affordability is an enormous challenge in many markets around the country,” he affirmed. “Large constraints on the housing market by regulations have exacerbated the shortage for hard-working families who are employed and willing to buy but continue to be priced out.”

Montgomery pointed to job growth, wage gains, and low unemployment rates as “good news” and “an additional shot in the arm,” but pointed out that housing is being restricted by overregulation and zoning laws.

“The combination of regulatory overreach and an aging housing stock has meant not enough affordable units are left – or worse, being built,” he said. In that same vein, NAR’s Chief Economist, Dr. Lawrence Yun has been sounding the alarm about lowered housing starts as restrictive for the entire market for years.

Montgomery stated on stage that “zoning, environmental and sometimes labor restrictions have made it more difficult for areas across the country to meet the growing [housing] demand.” He added, “We will need continued wage and economic growth and regulatory reform to mitigate affordability constraints. This will also require that not just HUD but states and localities ease the regulatory burden and other impediments to development.”

So where is the relief?

The collective hope is that the Federal Housing Administration’s finalization of a new rule surrounding condominium policies will bring some relief. NAR supports the rule revisions, which include allowing owner-occupancy level to be determined on a case by case basis,. This would allow up to 45% commercial space without documentation and implementing a five-year approval period for project certification.

Montgomery points to condos as traditionally being a “mainstay of affordable housing for both first-time homeowners and seniors.”

“We anticipate that the updated regulations will be more flexible, less prescriptive and more reflective of the current market than existing provisions. It may also include single unit approvals for loans that meet HUD standards for unapproved projects, allowing HUD to set the specific percentage,” Montgomery noted, adding that the final rule is under review by the Office of Management and Budget.

The end of the process is in sight, and could bring relief to homebuyers who are ready and willing, but currently left out.

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Politics

New NAR and HUD plan protects home buyers from discrimination

(POLITICS) The NAR and HUD plan to work together to protect the most vulnerable people who want to buy homes. It looks like a pretty solid plan.

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As we all embark on our New Year’s resolutions, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is making its own changes. This week, NAR leadership met in Washington where they unanimously passed a Fair Housing Action Plan, invigorating a commitment to provide Americans with fair housing opportunities. These members then met with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and other senior department officials to discuss the new plan and the issues surrounding fair housing.

The unfairness of fair housing is nothing new. In 2016, twelve percent of the discrimination complaints submitted to the HUD were based on familial status, raising complex issues proxying for racial discrimination and/or LGBTQIA individuals and families. The NAR has taken steps to crack down on discrimination by realtors, however, landlords don’t have the same repercussions at the federal level.

Per the recent meeting, the NAR and the HUD will work together to reinforce the new plan, ACT, to highlight (A)ccountability, (C)ulture Change, and (T)raining for 1.5 million REALTORS® (realtors licensed by the NAR) to uphold fair housing for all Americans. In a NAR press release further commitments in the plan are as follows:

• Ensure that state licensing laws include effective fair-housing training requirements and hold real estate agents accountable to their fair housing obligations;
• Launch a Public-Service Announcement Campaign that reaffirm NAR’s commitment to fair housing, and how consumers can report problems;
• Integrate fair housing into all REALTOR® conferences and engagements
• Explore the creation of a voluntary self-testing program, in partnership with a fair housing organization, as a resource for brokers and others who want confidential reports on agent practices so they can address problems;
• Create more robust fair housing education, including unconscious-bias training, and education on how the actions of REALTORS® shape communities.
• Conduct a national study to determine what factors motivate discrimination in sales market.
• Profile leaders who exemplify the best fair housing practices and workplace diversity.
• Develop materials to help REALTORS® provide consumers with information on schools that avoids fair housing pitfalls.

We can hope that with new energy between both the NAR and the government, Americans will find some relief in the housing market entering into 2020.

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Politics

If the Secure Act passes, your retirement accounts will be SO much better off!

(POLITICS) The Secure Act is the biggest change to the American retirement system in over a decade. Here’s what it means for you and your family.

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The steady stream of impeachment related news has made it difficult to hear about anything else is going on in D.C. these days. Something you may have missed is the passing of the Secure Act, a new bill which aims to get more Americans saving for retirement and increasing the amount they are able to save.

The Secure Act stands for Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act. The Secure Act was introduced as part of the government’s year-end spending bill. The bill has already been approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate. It will now go to the president for the final signing into law.

Experts have been warning Congress for years that Americans are ill equipped for retirement. About a third of U.S. adults have never had a retirement account. The Secure Act is bringing a slate of changes to current retirement contributions that are aimed at changing this trend.

The Secure Act aims to improve retirement in many ways including making it easier for small businesses to provide benefits for their employees. Small businesses will now be able to participate in multiemployer 401(k) plans. Businesses will also enjoy tax credits for participating in these plans and offering automatic enrolment to new employees. The hope is that less people will opt-out of a retirement plans or forget to opt-in altogether.

In order to improve retirement prospects for part-time workers, businesses will now be required to let long-term, part-time workers become eligible for retirement benefits depending on how many hours they’ve worked in a given year.

There are also changes to the way retirees can manage their plans. Previously, retirees needed to begin withdrawing from their retirement accounts immediately, but under the new bill they will be able to wait until age 72 which should ease some of the tax burden.

Smaller but notable changes include:

• The maximum contribution age for retirement accounts has been repealed. This means workers will be allowed to continue contributing to their accounts past the age of 70.5.
• Over 500 types of college savings plans will now allow funds to go toward student-loan debt.
• Workers with a 401(k) plan will now be able to withdraw up to $5,000 from their account, penalty- free to cover the cost of having a child or adopting a child.

The Secure Act is the biggest legislative change to the American retirement system in over a decade.

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Politics

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.

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