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Rural towns offer cash, land incentives to attract new folks – I’m skeptical…

(REAL ESTATE) Many rural areas are rolling out the red carpet to attract new residents, but ignoring some basic truths…

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Late last year Tulsa made news by announcing a program designed to attract people who had full-time online jobs to the city.

The incentives included up to $10k and perks like help with housing and cultivated coworking space. This wasn’t the first such “innovative” program; Vermont offers a similar package to people they imagine might be tempted to escape high cost of living areas for a more scenic residence.

A handful of other states have lower-stakes incentives that offer assistance with student loans, purchasing houses – one, in Kansas, will literally give people land.

These sorts of programs seem like a novel approach to dealing with the plight of rural America in an increasingly technology-dependent age.

As someone from the middle of nowhere, I can tell you that most small towns have a narrative arc: after kids graduate high school, they may go to college or directly begin working at whatever blue color industry still exists in the area, hoping that it won’t shut down and, thus, force your town to take bizarre measures to ensure its livelihood.

Remote work programs like these, with their singular focus on essentially seducing people with paychecks to live in “cheap” areas so that the states/towns can capitalize on their outsourced salaries for tax revenue and whatnot, are also missing deeper layers to the rural brain drain story.

First and foremost, they gloss over the fact that for many minorities, rural America is not a safe place. Tulsa, for wanting to appear innovative and forward thinking, needs to also reassure tech-workers, a diverse workforce often populated by multi-national employees, that the neighbors they find in Oklahoma aren’t a danger to them.

Even Vermont, long thought of as a bastion of tolerance, has seen reported hates crimes increase in recent years. Although these trends are not specific to rural areas (hate crimes across the US rose for the third consecutive year in 2018), minority populations in smaller areas lack resources that metropolitan areas offer, such as community centers and, well, community.

(Dating is tough anywhere, but can you imagine if you were the only kind of person like you?)

Let’s say that you felt safe and you’ve been lucky enough to find your life partner.

Would this kind of program then work?

Another shiny component of these remote recruitment programs is their use of housing and other long-term property as enticement. The implication here is that the remote workers who would relocate to these areas can afford these “affordable” new markets, perhaps even assuming that they have the savings necessary to be able to put a down payment on a house.

If someone has resided in an area with elevated costs of living, they likely haven’t been able to amass great savings. They might not even have the thousands of dollars in savings necessary to move from one state to another.

Although I can appreciate the cleverness of taking care of the state’s economic needs through these sorts of proposals, I am wary of what the experience might truly be like for those who have to live it. Of course, these transplants could try out Tulsa or Burlington for a year or two, take their couple thousand program dollars, and theoretically head back to the next opportunity, whether that be in Upstate New York or New York City. Even then, there’s no guarantee they’d break even financially or have had a pleasant experience out on the prairie.

But then again, maybe these sorts of “outsiders” moving to these places might inject the sort of social progress that can help address some of the issues that force local youth to seek out more open-minded locale. Their skills and resources could help inspire the next generation of small-town engineers or information workers, providing a glimpse of a possible future outside of the paper mill.

Either way, it will be interesting to see the long-term effects of these programs, and to see if they remain viable.

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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.

Politics

Equality Bill seeks to protect LGBTQIA+ community (with Realtor support)

(POLITICS) Congress considers the Equality Bill to protect the LGBTQIA+ community, and although it has widespread real estate support, it is nowhere near a done deal.

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The Equality Bill – which aims to expand the Civil Rights Bill of 1964 to include discrimination against sexual orientation, sex, and gender identity, was first introduced in 2015. Unfortunately, it never left committee.

However, it is now back before Congress with some massive corporate support – over 161 companies are supporting the Human Rights Campaign coalition.

Although federal protections are most needed, and the federal government has lagged – it’s important to remember the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and members have come out in droves to support this legislation, continuing its great track record on LGBT equality. Nearly a decade ago made it against the code of ethics (see Article 10) for any realtor to discriminate against an LGBT person. NAR has long been on the side of LGBT equality, and as a fun piece of trivia: when it came to the historic marriage ruling – the lead plaintiff Obergefell was a Realtor.

But there is some direct action happening as well.

Recently, John Smaby, President of NAR, sent a formal letter to Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) a letter of support for the Equality Act, including its assertion for fair access to housing regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Smaby reminds Representative Cicilline that access to fair housing is essential to improve access for employment, education, and even health opportunities. NAR revised its Code of Ethics (meaning members who violate the Code lose their license) in both 2010 and 2014 and encourages congress to follow its lead and extend the necessary protections for fair housing to the LGBTQ community.

A lack of legal LGBT protections is a continued vulnerability in the fight for fair and equal access to housing, and even before this bill was reintroduced, 2019 was promising to be a big year with the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) and NAR making a renewed push to end housing discrimination for LGBT populations. Things are happening!

What can you do? Write your senator or congressional representative, sign up to help push the law into action and stay in the know.

#EQUALHOUSINGFORALL

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New Yorkers protest Amazon moving into their neighborhood

(BUSINESS) Amazon has announced where their split headquarters will be, and it’s not going over well with locals.

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With Black Friday and Cyber Monday still cluttering our brains, not everyone is participating in the mass-hysterical shopping frenzy. Instead, protesters in New York are taking to the streets to voice their discontent with Amazon’s decision to move their second headquarters to Queens.

The new headquarters will cost Amazon around $3.6 billion to build, but the project will be heavily subsidized by $2.8 million in city and state tax grants, as well as other governmental incentives.

Those who oppose Amazon’s decision include disgruntled residents who don’t like their tax dollars being used to sweeten the deal for Amazon and it’s trillionaire CEO.

Many contend that the decision was undemocratic, the result of a backdoor deal between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo that bypassed public comment and the City Council. Others fear that the influx of workers into Queens will compound the problem of overcrowded subways and overflowing sewers.

While many of the complaints are concerned with the negative impact that the Amazon headquarters might have on the city’s infrastructure and rent prices, some take issue with the company’s practices. A new report shows that Amazon is deeply implicated in the tech infrastructure that provides crucial data and surveillance that ICE uses to deport immigrants. At the same time that Queens residents are protesting the new headquarters, Amazon warehouse workers in the UK walked out on Black Friday to protest poor working conditions.

The city’s street artists have also made their sentiments known. Graffiti with anti-Amazon messaging is starting to pop up on buildings, sidewalks, and bus stops. One of the most common tags reads “Amazno” with the classic red circle and slash over the “no.” Ingenious taggers have even pried open the ad displays on the sides of a few bike shelters, covering over ads with large “Amazno” posters.

There are also reports of anti-Amazon graffiti at train platforms in Manhattan, reading “Alexa, refund me $1.2 billion.”

While some residents resent the graffiti and don’t think it’ll have much impact, others, like long-time Queens resident Raymond Normandeau “support a little mischief that voices opposition.”

Said another resident, Chris Borodin, “Compared to the damage Amazon will do to our neighborhood – making rents go up and congesting the streets and everything else – a little graffiti on the sidewalk is nothing. I think these acts of protest are a great way to show what the little guy thinks of Amazon coming here, and I hope to see more of it.”

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NAR takes HUD to task for removing anti-discrimination language

(POLITICS) It turns out that HUD is altering their mission statement – although it is more concise, it removes any reference to Fair Housing protections. The real estate industry’s not on board.

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The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has long advocated for Fair Housing, in fact, has been extremely far ahead of federal government organizations by being more inclusive. Seven years ago, NAR amended the Code of Ethics to include sexual orientation as a protected class that cannot be discriminated against (Realtors in violation can lose their license). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) still has not caught up to the real estate industry, making no amendments.

Now, according to a March 5 memo to HUD political staff, HUD is altering their current mission statement “in an effort to align HUD’s mission with the Secretary’s priorities and that of the Administration.”

The current mission statement reads as follows:

HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination, and transform the way HUD does business.

It will now become:

HUD’s mission is to ensure Americans have access to fair, affordable housing and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, thereby strengthening our communities and nation.

Brilliantly more concise, but wildly lacking.

President Elizabeth Mendenhall, a sixth-generation Realtor® from Columbia, Missouri and CEO of RE/MAX Boone Realty said, “we believe that fair housing for all should remain a core part of HUD’s mission. The Fair Housing Act provides that HUD will enforce the Act and administer its programs and activities in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing. When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law, he exclaimed that fair housing for all – all human beings who live in this country – is now a part of the American way of life.”

Mendenhall added, “Not only is Fair Housing integral to the ethical commitment of our members, as outlined in the REALTOR® Code of Ethics, it is critical to our ability to serve our customers, clients and the community. We look forward to continuing our work with HUD to advocate for inclusive sustainable communities free from discrimination.”

Dr. Ben Carson heads HUD, and prior to his confirmation said that the Fair Housing Act is “one of the best pieces of legislation we’ve ever had in this country,” promising to issue a “world-class plan” for housing upon his confirmation. Stripping it from the mission statement is not a world-class plan, it’s a failure.

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