Category Archives: Things You Should Know

Addressing Homelessness

At the day job I work for a trade association that represents the apartment industry, thus the companies I work with are on the front lines of our nation’s housing situation. You may not be aware of it, but we do indeed have a housing situation that can be best summed up as this: we have too many people who don’t make enough money to pay for the housing that’s available, and/or we don’t have enough housing units that are affordable for people at the bottom of the income scale. Even worse, we have a LOT of people who, thanks to any number of life events, lose their housing and thus end up living in flop houses, cars, tents or under a bridge.

Because apartment owners and managers provide over a third of the housing in the U.S, and a majority of the rental housing, they are often looked to for a solution to the problem of affordability and homelessness. It would be great if they could snap their fingers and solve the problem, but due to the complexity of the issue (static income, increases in the costs of everything from health care to food, lack of housing inventory in general, etc.) this is not something housing providers can solve on their own. That’s not to say that people in the industry aren’t trying, and a perfect example is a woman named Lori Trainer who has been working for years down in Florida to address homelessness in her community. (Here’s a link to a video about some of her work, and I’ll embed it below as well). She just wrote an article for Multifamily Insiders titled The Story Behind the Sign that helps put homelessness in perspective. Here’s an excerpt:

We’ve all seen the homeless person with the sign on the side of the road and when we do, many people think these thoughts.    What the people offering these judgments don’t realize is that the overwhelming majority of people don’t “choose” to be homeless.  In fact, nearly 50% of the homeless in America are working.  Why are they homeless then?  Well, that is the “564,788 person question” (the number of homeless on the street each night according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness).

The causes of homelessness range from sad to tragic.  Job loss, foreclosures, divorce and natural disasters such as the tragedies we are seeing in the Midwest and in Canada are a few examples.  These storm victims certainly didn’t choose to be homeless or do anything wrong but they are indeed homeless now.  If their insurance isn’t perfect, takes a year to work out the details or worse yet, doesn’t pay, what do those families do?  They have lost everything; their homes, belongings and jobs.  They are now homeless…

Another very prevalent and sad demographic in the homeless arena are families.  Approximately 206,268 were identified in the last count. Divorce, domestic violence, death, single parents and low wage workers are all in this category.  Children are resilient but often suffer irreparable damage when forced to live in vehicles, shelters or motels for weeks or months on end.  60 Minutes did a great job highlighting this epidemic:   (Be sure to have tissues handy!)

Then Lori goes on to point out that there are many, many more people who are just a misstep away from becoming homeless themselves.

Many people think it could never happen to them.  But the truth is that one out of three people are two paychecks away from being homeless.  There are 12 million renters pay more than 50% of their annual income for housing and 37 million people living in poverty in America.  Simple fact, a minimum wage worker cannot support a household and pay rent.  There is a critical shortage of affordable housing in the US and, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition; approximately 200,000 units are destroyed annually.  That combined with the “aging out” tax credit population and the mile long waiting lists for section 8 vouchers, we have the perfect storm.

One of the initiatives we are working on at the national level in the industry is to identify the programs that industry groups are participating in at the local level around the country. For instance, my employer is working with Partners Ending Homelessness to help match their clients with available apartment units in Guilford County. What we’ve found is that like many things in life, the concept is simple but the implementation is complex. Still, we’ve seen progress and we will continue working because this is an issue that will be with us for the foreseeable future.

That’s just one initiative in one community, but that’s the kind of effort we’re going to need in every community around the country to address homelessness, because quite frankly this is not an issue that can be solved from Washington. What our national leadership CAN do is address the big picture issues that underlie homelessness, including:

  • An economy that is not providing adequate income for average workers
  • A health care “system” that bankrupts some, and financially cripples many
  • A crumbling infrastructure that threatens all of us
  • A byzantine regulatory structure (think HUD & EPA) that makes affordable housing development a challenge

Another chief culprit is an under-performing, and some would say under-valued, education system, but that’s not just a Washington issue so let’s not throw it entirely on them. The point is that homelessness is the most severe symptom of an ailing nation. If we are truly measured by how we treat the least of us, then as a nation and a community we have a lot we need to do to heal ourselves.

Here’s the video about the effort in Florida that Lori’s been a big part of:

PIPA/SOPA Explained

As you might have guessed I love staying on top of current events, especially as it relates to politics, the economy and just about anything not related to Justin Bieber or Dancing with the Stars. So you can imagine my frustration when I just don't have the time to get up to speed on an issue that I'm pretty sure is important.  That's what has happened with the current PIPA/SOPA issue in Congress which is why I was so pleased to come across this explanation of the issue by Clay Shirky:

Too Many Folks Don’t Get the Money Thing

James Surowiecki writes that our financial illiteracy is a huge problem.  As someone who didn't care to learn about money until much too late in life and who, by the by, still has much to learn, I couldn't agree more. I also think his call for a financial equivalent to driver's ed is spot on. From the article:

The depth of our financial ignorance is startling. In recent years, Annamaria Lusardi, an economist at Dartmouth and the head of the Financial Literacy Center, has conducted extensive studies of what Americans know about finance. It’s depressing work. Almost half of those surveyed couldn’t answer two questions about inflation and interest rates correctly, and slightly more sophisticated topics baffle a majority of people. Many people don’t know the terms of their mortgage or the interest rate they’re paying. And, at a time when we’re borrowing more than ever, most Americans can’t explain what compound interest is.

Read more:

Then There’s the Bear Thing

Continuing with the theme from my last post I must point out that you really should be careful with the use of "bear" vs. "bare."  I just read a Tweet that ended with "Please bare with me."  My reaction?  Uh, I really don't know you that well, and considering that you're at least 20 years younger than me and much better looking, I'm thinking that you'd be getting the crappy side of the deal if I did indeed decide to bare with you.

Letting Loose on Lose

Now that just about every online news source allows commenting on articles and everyone with a pulse is on Facebook I've noticed a disturbing trait in most peoples' online rantings: they don't know the difference between "lose" and "loose."

I bring this up because I've read one too many status posts that say, "I'm gonna loose 25 pounds this year!"  Really?  Once you set them free where do you plan on sending them?  I hope you keep them the hell away from me since I have 25 too many of my own.

See what I mean?  Here's a quick primer on the difference between "lose" and "loose."

Your mind: it's something you lose when your children reach the age of 13.  I'm sure there are ways to loose your mind, but I can't think of any at the moment.

Your belt: If you lose it your pants will be on the ground.  If you eat too much you'll likely loosen it.

Next time we'll explore the difference between to, too and two.  I'm too tired to even try and deal with the proper usage of there, their and they're, but I've seen those mangled a time or two as well.

Ikea Tricks

Today Ikea opened their first store here in North Carolina, home of the furniture mart.  It's probably a sign of the times that the Lego of the furniture industry is opening a store here in the capital of the US furniture industry to great fanfare.

We had an Ikea just down the road from us in Northern Virginia and we frequented it quite a bit.  Given that we've lived here for five years you might want to take the following advice with a grain of salt, but I figure things haven't changed that much so what I'm about to advise is still fairly accurate.  That is:
  • The food in the cafeteria is pretty good and pretty cheap.  We used to pig out on the meatballs and they had some kind of crazy fruit soft drink that we all loved.  I think it was something like pomegranate, but whatever it was it was very light and un-syrupy.
  • If the store in Charlotte has a children's play area that allows you to sign your kids in for a 1/2 hour of supervised play time while you shop then you should definitely take advantage of it.  But be forewarned that within a week you're definitely going to be dealing with some strange illness that involves a lot of snot flowing from your child's nose.  Personally I always found it to be a fair trade.
  • If you buy any furniture that requires assembly, and I think that is all the furniture that Ikea sells, then you need to familiarize yourself with the metric system and odd looking tools that look like something out of a toddlers play tool set.  You also need to set aside triple the time you think it should take to assemble the furniture. 
  • Don't go if you don't like primary colors.  Ikea's big on primary colors. 
  • Finally, just because it's Ikea doesn't mean the other customers will behave any better than they do in other stores.  In fact in Ikea most people tend to get lost which means they act even worse than usual, so paste on the happy face and just roll with it.  If it helps just imagine yourself at the DMV before you enter which should get you in just about the right state of mind. 

Enjoy your shopping experience!