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Midtown’s empty offices could be turned into affordable housing

(REAL ESTATE MARKETING) With remote work quieting Midtown, there are plans to create affordable housing in Manhattan’s high-income business neighborhood.

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New York Midtown, where office buildings may turn into affordable housing

Since the start of the pandemic, Manhattan’s business districts have become something of a ghost town. With almost no one going to work at the office — or going out to eat or drink after work — entire blocks that were once busy and bustling have become empty. With so many New Yorkers currently struggling to pay the city’s famously high rent prices, this begs the question of whether or not Midtown should be rezoned – should some of the city’s (now obsolete) high-end office buildings be converted into affordable housing?

As someone who has always wanted to move to New York (but also values having affordable rent!), this potential rezoning plan sounds utopic. Imagine: A live-work-play neighborhood with fantastic transit, top-notch restaurants that cater to locals, and all the amenities you’d imagine for a residential area in NYC. I’m packing my bags as you read this.

And yes, it may seem far-fetched to reimage Midtown as a place to raise your family if you aren’t multi-millionaires, but, at this point, the city is trying to be creative.

Since September, only 10% of New York’s workforce has returned to their Manhattan offices. Essentially, office and hotel buildings (the former being notoriously easier to convert into affordable housing than the latter) have been collecting dust – and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, as work from home has proved itself to be a viable, economically sustainable option.

Historically, there have been major tax breaks for commercial-to-resident conversions, as was seen in the mid-1990s 421-g program, which revitalized Lower Manhattan. This is part of the incentive for developers, who would ultimately be rewarded for taking a risk during the economic uncertainty COVID-19; building permits in NYC during the first half of 2020 have hit historic lows.

And that’s not the only incentive. Did you know that many of the city’s older buildings still run on steam heat, which is extremely inefficient? Converting these buildings into residential units would result in a massive environmental win for the city, as they would need to abide by the city’s strict new building code. Cheap rent for me and lower emissions for the city? Sign me up!

It will be interesting to see how the city ultimately decides to react to the COVID-induced ghost-townification of Midtown. I do believe, however, that the vain in which they decide to rebuild will be defining of the next decade of NYC. The city will never die, that’s for sure. How it continues to live is the question.

Anaïs DerSimonian is a writer, filmmaker, and educator interested in media, culture and the arts. She is Clark University Alumni with a degree in Culture Studies and Screen Studies. She has produced various documentary and narrative projects, including a profile on an NGO in Yerevan, Armenia that provides micro-loans to cottage industries and entrepreneurs based in rural regions to help create jobs, self-sufficiency, and to stimulate the post-Soviet economy. She is currently based in Boston. Besides filmmaking, Anaïs enjoys reading good fiction and watching sketch and stand-up comedy.

Real Estate Marketing

This new “no-fuss” customer support tool focuses on privacy

(MARKETING) Letterbase’s website widget lets customers send a quick email to businesses without worrying about who’s looking at or selling their info.

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Letterbase is a contact form widget to help customer support

Giving your website users a timely, low-friction way to talk to your business is essential, yes? Live chat can be cool for customer support, but do you really need it? If it feels like overkill, check out Letterbase’s email-based tool.

The website widget for facilitating customer feedback was designed to be “simple, fast, and privacy-friendly.”

Through a branding-friendly, customizable box that can appear on each page, customers can quickly send an email initiating a conversation. They don’t have to wait around for a chat reply before clicking off the site; they get a response in their inbox. Businesses don’t have to use a separate tool to respond and log conversations; the person monitoring email does that. Hence, the “simple.”

The “fast” comes with what they promise is lightweight script installed with a quick copy and paste.

It’s that “privacy-friendly” part that maker Richard Chu says prompted the idea for the product. After combing through messaging apps’ privacy policies, Chu says, he found the “spying” and data sharing to be intrusive.

You might not be aware of how much data collecting some website messaging and chat apps do – and that they sell that data to third parties. Capturing users’ IP addresses, monitoring their browser history, setting cookies, collecting personal information such as drivers license numbers, even tracking users’ location, can all come with a site’s chat or messaging platform – unbeknownst to users.

Having a chat or messenger widget prominently on a website shows that a company cares about customer support and service, but there are things to consider with Letterbase and similar apps.

Some good points:

  • Privacy friendly: Letterbase’s privacy guarantee should allow website owners to assure users that their data is not being collected or sold – a potentially huge trust-builder with customers.
  • Data ownership: Website owners own the data and Letterbase doesn’t store any user conversations.
  • Easy to use: Letterbase should be an affordable customer support tool for small businesses and groups who don’t have dedicated IT people or a high knowledge of tech.
  • Simplicity over analytics: There are no frustrating chat bots that don’t really understand customer questions, and no paying for complicated analytics bells and whistles like sentiment analysis, which requires a team of people just to understand.
  • Trust: Sending an email directly feels better than contact forms, which are often perceived as a communication “black hole.” Users need to trust that they will get a quick reply.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Data collection: If users are being tracked, website owners can assume at least some of their own data is being tracked, too. Read any tool’s privacy policy and contract carefully.
  • Privacy policies: Do you need to alert users that you have an app that is collecting, sharing and/or selling their data? It’s not clear, but being transparent about privacy assures users that their data is safe is a huge potential trust builder. If a company is selling their data, it could quickly become obvious when a user starts to see targeted ads based on your conversation – a potentially huge trust-buster.
  • Security: If conversations might contain any sensitive information, like phone or credit card numbers, make sure your email client offers end-to-end encryption. This also can protect your company network from malware.
  • Response time: You need a crack email monitoring person who will be conscientious about timely responses and categorizing, analyzing and storing conversations. Consider auto-generated responses if that person can’t monitor all the time.

Currently, Letterbase has a 14-day free trial, then an early adopter price of $9 per month.

According to their public roadmap, they plan to eventually integrate with Slack.

It’s clear Letterbase could work for small businesses or groups that care about privacy and want a simple, no frills way for customers to ask questions or request support. Privacy is a the top of mind now, so lack of tracking could be a real benefit.

Sure, understanding and targeting customers through tracking what they do online is pretty much the foundation of digital marketing. For many businesses, though, simple email conversations could be all they need. Plus, it shows they care about privacy by not adding another layer of data surveillance in messaging, which could be the nudge that pushes a prospect to the next step in the customer journey.

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Real Estate Marketing

Old SEO myth busted: Google dev confirms there is no max length on title tag

(REAL ESTATE MARKETING) The title tag has been a hard and fast rule for a long time according to many SEO experts, but this Google dev recently busted this hard-n-fast rule.

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Picture of a screen with HTML code written on it, showing the title tag and a sign up button.

The SEO industry and SEO websites have long recommended your title tag length be approximately 50 to 70 characters long. But during a Google Off the Record podcast, Google’s Gary Illyes says there’s no limit on a title tag length and those numbers are “externally made-up metrics.”

The 50 to 70 character limit is something the SEO community created as a standard because it’s the length of text that a search engine results pages (SERPs) on Google will display. Also, the character limits are based on how the titles appear on desktop and mobile devices. By keeping the title within that range, it prevents the full title tag from being cut off.

But, Illyes says a title’s tag length doesn’t have anything to do with indexing purposes. And when asked if there is value in having longer title tags than what can be displayed, Illyes’ response was “Yes”.

“The reason why I try to steer people away from thinking about concrete numbers is it’s not even about how we display titles, but rather, how we construct our serving index and how we tokenize the page itself,” said Illyes. As with anything, he says there is a limit, but it isn’t a small number.

Illyes’ advice to people is to “try to keep [the title tag] precise to the page.”

“I would not think too much about how long it is and whether it’s long enough or way too long,” he said. “If it fills up your screen, then probably it’s too long, but if it just one sentence that fits on one line or two lines, you’re not going to get a manual action for it.”

While, according to Illyes, Google has no title tag length, Google does have some guidelines to help you create good titles. According to the company’s tag developer support page, titles should be descriptive and give users a “quick insight into the content of a result and why it’s relevant to their query.”

If you’re worried about creating the “right” title for your page, you can visit Google’s tag developer support page for more information. And, remember, there is no need to worry about the title tag length.

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Real Estate Marketing

Houston company pays out $50K+ to settle age discrimination lawsuit

(REAL ESTATE MARKETING) This latest age discrimination lawsuit offers an important lesson for businesses to consider in their employee management and care

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A diverse range of employees sit at a table, with learning about how to avoid age discrimination.

Burrow Global Services, LLC, a Houston based company specializing in engineering, construction and plant safety, will pay a former employee $50,960 to resolve an age discrimination claim. In addition, Burrow Global will be required to update its policies regarding the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, provide training to its employees and regularly report to the EEOC concerning discrimination.

The EEOC’s suit against Burrow Global

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, in 2017, a new manager was hired over a division of Burrow employees who were working in Baytown, Texas. The new manager was in his 30s. Within a few weeks of starting, this manager began making comments about retirement to a design coordinator who was in his 60s. The design coordinator had no plans to retire and had worked with Burrow since 2014.

The manager made the decision to terminate the employee, stating a “lack of work,” but not long after the employee was fired, a significantly younger person was hired. This person had no formal education beyond high school, while the original employee had a 4-year college degree. With all these pieces together, it’s understandable that the employee in question would be frustrated and upset and the EEOC had to follow up.

The ADEA prohibits age discrimination against employees older than 40

The EEOC attempted to resolve the situation through its administrative conciliation process, but filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas in 2020. “The ADEA protects workers age 40 and over from adverse actions taken by employers on the basis of age,” stated Rudy Sustaita, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Houston District Office. “We will continue to bring lawsuits to enforce the law in instances where age was a cause of an adverse employment action.”

The lesson for businesses: Train your management staff about age discrimination and don’t make decisions based on age. The EEOC will hold your business accountable.

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