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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

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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