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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.

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

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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