Hey, Google, Weren’t Happy with Congress? Well, Meet ACORN!

New Orleans    Recent years have been abundantly kind for those in big tech, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and the like. Money flowing like water. Arrogance and pomposity unchallenged by empty slogans disguised behind corporate speak claiming interest in the common good. Recently they have had some harder days testifying before Congressional committees and bipartisan approbation over their clueless handling of Russian manipulation during the 2016 election and their tepid and dilatory response to the problems. Heaven forbid, rather than simply collecting contributions and dining with tech lobbyists, they may actually suggest some regulations, nothing too big mind you, but maybe identifying who paid for political ads, similar to the requirements for newspaper and television ads. No holding your breath now, we may need you later, but we’ll see.

If Google representatives thought their shoes were too tight in Washington, DC, they got an even ruder awakening in Toronto recently as they began their charm offensive with their subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, recently winning a big contract to develop a huge piece of prime real estate with promises of creating a so-called “city of the future” with endless geehaws and high-tech bells and whistles. Or as a summary description from the Canadian Broadcast Corporation reported,

Sidewalk’s vision for the site focuses on improving energy use, housing affordability and transportation. A 189-page document detailing some options includes the use of self-driving shuttles, buildings that are cheap to build (potentially even made of timber) and easy to modify, and a “people-centred” streetscape that’s dominated by bike paths and walkways.”

As discussed previously, the Google tone deaf notion of housing “affordability” is using tech tools to reduce the cost of construction. As they used to say on the oil fields when I worked there, “that’s engineers for you,” and the same seems true for the tech types.

But, ACORN gave Google a special Toronto welcome as reported by the CBC:

ACORN calls for plans to address housing ‘crisis’

Before the doors opened, anti-poverty activists with ACORN rallied outside, demanding the project focus on “deep affordability.”

“We are in a crisis in the city, a housing crisis,” said Alejandra Ruiz Vargas.

She says the group hasn’t been consulted on the project so far, and only received an invite to Waterfront Toronto’s sold-out event the day before. She also questions how a Silicon Valley spinoff defines affordable housing.

“What is affordable for rich people?” she said.

Inside the venue, Doctoroff highlighted affordable housing developments built in New York City when he was the deputy mayor (an appointed position under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.) He also praised Ruiz Vargas for taking a stand, telling her: “I just want you to know how much we respect that.”

However, others also questioned Sidewalk’s commitment to affordability, with one noting some of New York’s failings and also another pointing out that Toronto already has housing and poverty reduction plans.

“Welcome to Toronto, the city of many strategies and very little money,” she told Doctoroff.

Google is trying to put sugar in our coffee already, but it will take a lot more than some sugar and respect to satisfy ACORN and its members – and people throughout Toronto. These “consultations” won’t be a quick cup of coffee, but concerted negotiations with real demands. Or as ACORN leader, Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, said, “Welcome to Toronto.”

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Generation Rent Unable to Break the Grip of Unregulated Financing

UK rent signs

New Orleans  A headline in the papers claimed that the level of homeownership inched forward enough to hit the 2014 mark for the highest percentage since the 2008 Great Recession. Funny how a figure like that has so quickly become almost meaningless in this continuing period of housing shortage and soaring home prices in what seems an almost endless credit desert.

In Britain, we worked closely with an organization called Generation Rent. When I first heard the name of the group several years ago, it seemed strange to me, but it didn’t long in organizing all around the United Kingdom for me to get it. The notion of potential homeownership in the United Kingdom was virtually unthinkable for a whole generation of low and moderate income families, so their generation would be renting for sure. The United States seems to be knocking on the same housing door with our own generation rent these days.

A former Ohio-based tenant organizer, Spencer Wells, has come to the same conclusion in a recent column in Non-Profit Quarterly, saying,

There’s an emerging social movement in US cities that’s sometimes characterized as the Renter Nation. This movement brings together young urban renters, childless boomers choosing an urban lifestyle, and former homeowners who have been displaced into single-family rentals by the Great Recession. These “new renters” are adding fuel (and political power) to the struggle of low-income households in inner-city subsidized developments.

Renter Nation, Generation Rent, six of one, half-dozen of another, this speaks to the building housing crisis already holding much of the nation in its grip. The social movement isn’t here yet, as Wells says, but the demand is huge.

Squeezing renters even more is the inability to access conventional mortgage loans to move into homeownership. Admittedly, the housing market in New York City is sui generis, one of a kind, but a recent report by the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD) nails the growing power of non-bank lenders, unregulated by the Community Reinvestment Act:

…non-bank lenders are taking over an increasing portion of lending on 1-4 family homes, particularly to borrowers of color and low- and moderate-income (LMI) borrowers. Lenders in HMDA are categorized as banks, credit unions, and non-bank lenders, which are mortgage companies that do not take deposits from customers or businesses. We define non-bank lenders as non-depository lenders that are not owned by or affiliated with a bank or credit union.

 

  • In 2016, 30% of all home purchase loans were originated by non-bank lenders, up from 23% in 2012. The percentage of non-bank lenders was 50% for refinance loans in 2016, up from 23% in 2012.
  • Non-bank lenders made 30% of home purchase loans to LMI borrowers and 58% of refinance loans to LMI borrowers. They also accounted for 31% of home purchase loans and 61% of refinance loans in LMI neighborhoods.
  • 25% of home purchase loans to White borrowers were made by non-bank lenders versus 59% and 50% of the loans to Black and Hispanic borrows, respectively. Similar disparities appear for refinance loans.

Much of the disparities to LMI borrowers and borrowers of color relates to the higher concentration of Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans to these populations and the decline in FHA lending by the largest banks. There certainly remain questions about qualified borrowers possibly being steered to FHA loans, which are more expensive than conventional loans. But, the overall concern this trend raises is that non-bank lenders are far less regulated than their bank-chartered peers, nor are they covered by the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). In the run up to the 2007 economic crisis, the majority of dangerous sub-prime loans were made by non-bank lenders chasing relatively high rates of return for their investors and basing their businesses on relatively costly sources of capital.

Am I worried? Oh yeah, totally!

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Please enjoy

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s You Got to Run

Remington with Amy Jack’s Dallas till I Die

Wild Belle’s Hurricane

Thanks to KABF.

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