Tag Archives: housing

Ben Carson’s qualifications to be housing chief questioned

While Ben Carson’s celebrated career as a neurosurgeon leaves no doubt about his medical credentials, his lack of experience in government and public policy are raising questions about his qualification to serve as housing secretary.

President-elect Donald Trump wants Carson, a former rival for the Republican presidential nomination, to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a sprawling agency with 8,300 employees and a budget of about $48 billion.

Carson, in remarks prepared for his Jan. 12 hearing before the Senate Banking, House and Urban Affairs Committee, talked about growing up in inner-city Detroit with a single mother who had a third-grade education. She worked numerous jobs to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table.

“I understand housing insecurity,” he said in the prepared testimony, and credited his mother with showing him the importance of perseverance and hard work.

Carson said he wants to help heal America’s divisiveness and that the department could play a role. “I see HUD as part of the solution, helping ensure housing security and strong communities,” he said.

Democrats in the GOP-run Senate are questioning his experience and priorities. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told Carson in a letter that the agency needs a strong, capable leader who believes in its mission.

“There is relatively little in the public record that reveals how you would further HUD’s mission to ‘create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all,’” Warren said.

Among the dozens of questions in the letter:

• What does Carson think about the condition of public housing?

• Should ending homelessness among veterans be a priority?

• How would he ensure equal access to HUD programs to same-sex couples and others?

Several former HUD secretaries, Democrats and Republicans, wrote the committee in support of Carson, saying they believe Carson will listen to staff to help fulfill HUD’s mission of affordable homes and inclusive communities.

The letter was signed by Henry Cisneros, secretary under President Bill Clinton, and Mel Martinez, Alphonso Jackson and Steven Preston, who worked for President George W. Bush.

Carson, the only black major-party candidate in 2016 presidential race, grew up poor. He attended Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School, and was the first African-American named as head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.

In 1987, at age 35, Carson pioneered surgery to separate twins joined at the back of the head. In 2013, he entered the national political spotlight when, during the National Prayer Breakfast, he railed against the modern welfare state. President Barack Obama was sitting just feet away.

Carson had said little publicly about affordable housing, homelessness and other HUD-related issues. Last summer, he criticized an Obama administration fair housing rule as government overreach.

Proposed interstate expansion prompts federal civil rights investigation

The U.S. Department of Transportation will initiate an investigation of alleged civil rights violations related to the Colorado Department of Transportation’s proposal to expand I-70.

The state DOT wants to expand the interstate through the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods in North Denver.

The federal decision is a response to a complaint filed Nov. 15 by Earthjustice on behalf of the Colorado Latino Forum, Cross Community Coalition and Elyria and Swansea Neighborhood Association. The complaint alleges the plan to triple I-70’s width would result in “disparate and severe environmental and economic impacts” on the predominantly Latino communities.

CDOT committed to moving forward with the expansion plan in May, but has yet to issue its formal record of its decision.

The agency, which receives federal funding for the I-70 and other projects, is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 from taking actions that have even an unintentional discriminatory impact on citizens on the basis of their race, color, or national origin.

“We are looking forward to making the case that CDOT’s proposal magnifies the already discriminatory impact that I-70 has had on these neighborhoods for decades, leading to reduced life expectancies and the highest rates of pollution-related illnesses in the city,” said Heidi McIntosh, an attorney at Earthjustice who represents the neighborhood advocates.

Interstate 70 was built through the area in the 1960s over the objections of neighborhood organizations and business owners.

Fifty years later, the neighborhood is the most polluted in Colorado.

Residents have significantly higher rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma and asthma-related emergency room visits than the rest of Denver, according to EarthJustice.

The expansion of I-70, adding toll lanes and eliminating access to the highway from the neighborhood, would worsen environmental and health consequences for this community, the EarthJustice complaint states.

It would result in:

• Increased exposure to freeway-related air pollution and expose residents to airborne dust from existing Superfund sites that are contaminated by lead and arsenic.

• Disruption to the social fabric of the neighborhood and its economic vitality by destroying at least 56 homes, 13 commercial buildings and the Swansea Elementary School playground. About 200 people would be displaced by the expansion.

Trump’s nominee for Housing and Urban Development opposed anti-poverty programs

Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of Housing and Urban Development has voiced little empathy for those who depend on the social welfare programs that aided his own climb out of poverty.

A retired neurosurgeon, Ben Carson has often recounted his childhood as the son of a single mother in inner-city Detroit. In his 1996 autobiography “Gifted Hands,” Carson wrote of the humiliation he felt using food stamps from his mom to pay for bread and milk and said he began to excel at school only after receiving a free pair of glasses that allowed him to see the lessons written on chalkboards.

After Carson’s mother and father divorced, she received a small house in the settlement. But as her financial situation deteriorated, Carson and his siblings were forced to move into a succession of tenements and apartment buildings, some of which he described as having “hordes of rats” and “armies of roaches.”

Carson, 65, has not said publicly whether his family ever lived in federally funded housing or received Section 8 subsidies to help pay rent, but as a conservative political figure he has criticized such public assistance programs for creating “dependency” on the government among low-income blacks.

“I’m interested in getting rid of dependency, and I want us to find a way to allow people to excel in our society, and as more and more people hear that message, they will recognize who is truly on their side and who is trying to keep them suppressed and cultivate their votes,” Carson said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2015.

Carson has been married for more than 40 years to Candy Carson and the couple has three children. Financial disclosure reports show Carson has earned millions in book royalties and speaking fees in recent years, with an estimated net worth of more than $20 million.

The former Republican presidential candidate has never before held elected or appointed government office. He also has no experience managing an organization with a multibillion-dollar budget and thousands of employees.

If confirmed as HUD secretary, Carson would oversee a federal bureaucracy that provides Americans with mortgage and loan insurance, distributes housing grants to state and local governments, and offers rental assistance and public housing to low-income families, the elderly and disabled. The agency is also charged with enforcing federal fair housing laws.

Carson has not detailed what policy changes he might seek to make at the agency. But in a 2015 opinion piece in The Washington Times he compared an Obama administration effort to racially integrate majority-white neighborhoods to past federal efforts to desegregate schools through busing students, which he derided as a “failed socialist experiment.”

With the help of financial aid and scholarships, Carson attended Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School before being the first African-American named as the head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. There, he garnered national acclaim for directing the first surgery to separate twins connected at the back of the head.

Carson’s rise to political prominence began with a 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, where he gave a withering critique of the modern welfare state and the nation’s overall direction while President Barack Obama was seated just feet away. During the 2016 Republican presidential primary, Carson’s inspirational life story, Christian faith and anti-establishment message briefly catapulted him last year ahead of Trump and other rivals in opinion polls.

But his success on the campaign trail quickly crumbled amid questions about whether elements of his rags-to-riches autobiography were exaggerated or fabricated – including a purported childhood fit of rage that compelled him to try to stab his best friend in the belly only to be foiled by a belt buckle. Carson’s business dealings also faced scrutiny, including his ties to a wealthy Pittsburgh dentist whom he helped avoid prison time for felony health-care fraud.

The Associated Press first reported last year that Carson invested millions of dollars in real estate deals with Alfonso A. Costa, whose dentistry license was revoked following a felony conviction. According to required financial disclosure forms he filed in 2015, Carson and his wife made between $200,000 and $2 million a year from those real estate investments. Costa also served on the board of Carson’s charity, the Carson Scholars Fund, which provides college scholarships to children in need.

Records show Carson appeared as a character witness at his friend’s 2008 sentencing hearing, pleading with the judge for leniency. Though he faced up to 10 years in prison, Costa received a greatly reduced sentence of one year of house arrest served in a suburban mansion. Yet in his 2013 book “America the Beautiful,” Carson called for severe penalties for those convicted of health care fraud, including at least a decade in prison and “the loss of all of one’s personal possessions.”

Milwaukee ranks No. 4 among best cities for trick-or-treating

Milwaukee came in at No. 4 on the Trick-or-Treat Index for 2016, which identified the best cities and neighborhoods for trick-or-treating on Halloween.

The list, published by Zillow, put Philadelphia in the No. 1 spot.

How were the ratings compiled?

 

Zillow, in a news release, said it “set out to find the cities where kids can get the best and most candy in the shortest amount of time and have other kids to trick-or-treat with.”

Zillow assigned a team of economists to look at home values, single-family home density, crime rate and the share of the population under 10 years old to determine the list.

Single-family homes are especially dense in Philadelphia, pushing the city to the top of the list, up 12 spots from 2015. San Jose, California, San Francisco, Milwaukee and Los Angeles round out the top five.

“The national ranking is a fun way for trick-or-treaters and their parents across the country to assess how their city compares to others this Halloween season,” said Zillow chief economist Svenja Gudell. “But what’s really important are the local hot spots, which is why we also identified the five best neighborhoods for trick-or-treating in each of the top cities. For candy hunters in cities not on the list, look for areas with lots of decorated homes and neighborhoods with other kids running around in the holiday spirit.”

Other cities that made big jumps were Seattle, up nine spots, and Portland, up eight. Austin makes its first appearance on the list, while Baltimore and Washington, D.C., return after missing the list in 2015.

To see the complete rankings, including the best neighborhoods to trick-or-treat in each city, go to http://www.zillow.com/blog/trick-or-treat/.

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Best Cities for Trick-or-Treating in 2016:

  1. Philadelphia
  2. San Jose, Calif.
  3. San Francisco
  4. Milwaukee
  5. Los Angeles
  6. Phoenix
  7. Denver
  8. Portland, Ore.
  9. Seattle
  10. Columbus, Ohio
  11. Las Vegas
  12. Baltimore
  13. Dallas
  14. San Diego
  15. Charlotte, N.C.
  16. Austin, Texas
  17. Albuquerque, N.M.
  18. Chicago
  19. Nashville, Tenn.
  20. Washington, DC

Ask Brianna: Will I ever be able to afford a house?

“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college.

ask-briannaa

Q: Affording a house seems out of reach. Will I ever be able to buy a home of my own?

A: I’ve asked myself this question too many times to count, maybe because I know homeownership wasn’t always so hard to achieve. My parents bought their three-bedroom house on Long Island in 1978 for $46,000, or $169,782 in today’s dollars. My dad was a truck driver, and my mom was an artist, both in their late 20s.

Now, nearly 40 years later, I’m also in my late 20s, but I drop off a rent check each month instead of making a mortgage payment. First-time homebuyers are four years older than they were in the late 1970s and rent longer before buying, according to research by real estate website Zillow . Median incomes for first-time buyers didn’t change much between 1978 and 2013, but the median home price for that group went up more than $40,000.

So here we are, fellow 20- and 30-somethings, eager to buy homes but unable to afford them.

It’s not your imagination. The most recent data for median existing home prices shows they reached a new high of $244,100 in July, according to the National Association of Realtors. Low interest rates have kept monthly mortgage payments affordable by historical standards, says Jonathan Spader, senior research associate at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, but higher home prices make it tougher to cobble together a down payment.

That’s especially true when student loan payments and high rents drain our bank accounts. A record 21.3 million renter households allocated more than 30 percent of their pretax incomes toward housing in 2014, reports the Joint Center for Housing Studies, a 44 percent increase from 2001.

While you don’t need to own a house to be happy, many of us still want a place we can be proud of. It’ll take some creativity, but it is possible to buy a house someday. Here’s how.

SAVE LONGER

If you want to settle in an expensive area long term, you’ll have to save diligently and feel comfortable waiting longer to buy, which is what I’m doing. A down payment averages 24 percent of the home’s purchase price in high-priced locations, according to real estate data firm RealtyTrac. That makes the down payment one of the biggest hurdles to overcome if you’re angling to live in a competitive market, where mortgage lenders look for more money down as an indication that you’re an attractive buyer.

Sock away a portion of your annual bonus from work, or increase the amount you save whenever you get a raise or quit subscription services you don’t use. Set up an automatic transfer into a savings account designated for your down payment so it grows without much effort.

LOOK INTO FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYER PROGRAMS

Those strategies might not be enough to reach your down payment goal. If you’re eager to buy a house soon, government-sanctioned companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will let you make a down payment of just 3 percent of the home’s price. The Federal Housing Administration also offers mortgages that require down payments of 3.5 percent. Local housing counseling agencies can tell you what programs you qualify for and whether down payment assistance is available in your area, Spader says.

You’ll need to weigh the trade-offs of a smaller down payment. You’ll pay mortgage insurance if you put less than 20 percent down, for instance, which increases your monthly mortgage payment. A mortgage calculator can help you figure out what monthly payment you can afford.

SEARCH IN AFFORDABLE LOCATIONS

You might be able to have your long-awaited housewarming party sooner than us coastal dwellers – without stretching your budget to its limit – if you live in or move to a region known for its affordability.

A September 2015 report by real estate website Trulia found that eight of the 10 most affordable cities for homeowners were in the Midwest, for instance, while seven of the 10 least affordable cities were in California. The median home price in the Midwest was $194,000 in July, according to the National Association of Realtors, about $50,000 less than the national median.

Lower prices mean lower down payments and a mortgage that won’t take a huge chunk of your income. Living in a lower-cost area isn’t the right choice for everyone, but it’s an option if you’re ready to put down roots sooner than a higher-priced city will allow.

On the Web

NerdWallet: Mortgage calculator

https://nerd.me/3-nerdwallet-mortgages

Zillow: The Evolving First-Time Homebuyer

http://www.zillow.com/research/first-time-homebuyer-profile-11188/

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: Approved Housing Counseling Agencies

http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hcs.cfm

This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet. Email: . Twitter: @briannamcscribe.

Driven out: Housing crisis looms in flood-stricken Louisiana

With an estimated 40,000 homes damaged by deadly flooding, Louisiana could be looking at its biggest housing crunch since the miserable, bumbling aftermath of Hurricane Katrina a decade ago.

People whose homes were swamped by some of the heaviest rains Louisiana has ever seen are staying in shelters, bunking with friends or relatives, or sleeping in trailers on their front lawns. Others unable or unwilling to leave their homes are living amid mud and the ever-present risk of mold in the steamy August heat.

Many victims will need an extended place to stay while they rebuild. Countless others didn’t have flood insurance and may not have the means to repair their homes. They may have to find new places altogether.

“I got nowhere else to go,” said Thomas Lee, 56, who ekes out a living as a drywall hanger — a skill that will come in handy. His sodden furniture is piled at the curb and the drywall in his rented house is puckering, but Thomas still plans to keep living there, sleeping on an air mattress.

Exactly how many will need temporary housing is unclear, but state officials are urging landlords to allow short-term leases and encouraging people to rent out any empty space.

“If you have a unit that’s an old mother-in-law suite and you can rent it out, let us know,” said Keith Cunningham, who heads the Louisiana Housing Corporation, the state housing agency.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose very name became a punchline during Katrina, said it will look into lining up rental properties for those left homeless and also consider temporary housing units.

But FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate gave assurances that the temporary units won’t be the old FEMA travel trailers — a reference to the ones brought in after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that were found to have toxic levels of formaldehyde.

The flooding that has struck the Baton Rouge and Lafayette areas has left at least 13 people dead.

More than 30,000 have been rescued, and at least 70,000 have registered for federal disaster assistance.

At the height, 11,000 people were staying in shelters, though that had dropped to 6,000 by Wednesday.

For the foreseeable future, home for Carolyn Smith, her husband, two grown sons and a family friend will be a 30-foot travel trailer supplied by a relative. It has one bedroom, a sofa-sleeper, four bunks and one bathroom.

It sits in the driveway of the home she and her husband lived in for 48 years in Denham Springs. Nearby lies a pile of stinking debris pulled from the flooded, one-story wood-frame home.

Smith and her husband are both in their 70s and on fixed incomes. She said she’s not sure how they will make it in coming months as they try to rebuild the house, which took on more than 4 feet of water.

“We’re starting over again. From rock bottom,” she said. “At our age that’s kind of rough.”
In a sign of the housing crunch, Livingston Parish officials are talking with FEMA about getting temporary housing for emergency and rescue workers. An estimated 75 percent of the homes in the parish of 138,000 residents were a total loss.

Those with flood insurance will be in a much better place to begin rebuilding — but there won’t be many of them.

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said that only 12 percent of the homes in hard-hit Baton Rouge were covered by flood insurance, and only 14 percent in Lafayette.

Across the flood-stricken area, many residents said they weren’t required to have flood insurance and didn’t have it, since nothing remotely like this had ever happened before.

“My father’s owned this place for 70 years. Never seen it like this. We never thought we needed it,” said Chris Bankston, owner of an auto parts place in the Livingston Parish town of Albany where workers were shoveling debris.

Water crept into his parking lot Friday night, and by Sunday his gasoline pumps were covered. Floodwaters had never come within 200 yards of the place before, he said.

FEMA said more than 9,000 flood claims have been filed with the agency.

Anyone with flood damage is eligible for FEMA aid of close to $33,000 — far less than many people without flood insurance will need to repair and replace their damaged property. The maximum payout under a home flood insurance policy is $250,000.

Joseph Bruno, a New Orleans lawyer who is a veteran of the Katrina insurance wars, fears the greatest needs could be borne by elderly residents who paid off their homes and weren’t required by their bank to carry flood insurance.

Ronald Robillard, 57, and his 65-year-old brother, William Robillard, have been living next door to each other in Baton Rouge homes owned by the older brother. Since both places flooded, they have been sleeping at a shelter at night and cleaning up the homes by day.

William owns the homes free and clear. He doesn’t have flood insurance to pay for the repairs but isn’t waiting for any government aid.

“I figure by fixing it up one room at a time, we’ll be fine,” William said.

“If they give us help, fine,” Ronald added. “We ain’t looking for a handout. Just a hand. That’s a true statement.”

On the web

Updates from the White House.

NFIP-infographic-print-01_medium

Conservationists aiming to protect river sue to stop homes

Conservation groups are suing to block the development of a massive master-planned community in southern Arizona in the hopes of protecting the last major free-flowing river in the Southwest.

The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity and five other groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against a pair of federal agencies for allowing El Dorado Holdings Inc. to fill in desert washes without adequately studying the development’s effect on the environment.

Their attorney said his clients want to ensure the San Pedro River and the wildlife it supports are protected.

“They can’t just plow ahead and allow this to go through without considering the effect it’s going to have,” said Chris Eaton, attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm.

The river, which flows north from Mexico through southeastern Arizona until its confluence with the Gila River, supports a cottonwood-willow forest and is an important corridor for migratory birds. It also is home to endangered species including the ocelot, the yellow-billed cuckoo and the northern Mexican garter snake.

El Dorado Holdings Inc. has proposed a 28,000-home master-planned community called the Villages at Vigneto near Benson, with an 18-hole golf course, parks and hiking trails. The development would be about 2 miles from the San Pedro River.

El Dorado Holdings Inc. — founded by Diamondbacks co-owner Mike Ingram — is not a party to the lawsuit and plans to move forward with the development, but it has not yet set a date to break ground, said Mike Reinbold, a partner at the company.

“We are in compliance with all local, state and federal laws,” he said.

The lawsuit says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Fish and Wildlife Service failed to look at how the community would affect the environment under the Clean Water and Endangered Species acts. Both agencies declined to comment.

The Army Corps of Engineers previously issued a permit in the same spot to a different master-planned community called Whetstone Ranch in 2006. El Dorado bought the land in 2014, and the permit along with it.

Eaton, the Earthjustice lawyer, said the environmental groups have a responsibility to ensure the development does not adversely affect the river’s endangered species, vegetation and watershed.

“We’re going after both agencies, and the duty to consult is put on both agencies. But it’s up to the Army Corps to make the first effort,” he said. “But it’s also up to the Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure the consultation is meaningful.”

Sandy Bahr, director of Arizona’s Sierra Club chapter, said the development could destroy vital habitat for many imperiled species dependent upon the river.

“We’ve dried up a number of other rivers in our state, and the San Pedro is already a threatened river,” Bahr said. “We don’t want the next development. That will be the nail of the coffin in the San Pedro.”

A second lawsuit is underway in Cochise County, along a different section of the San Pedro, over a developer’s access to groundwater rights that could affect the river near the city of Sierra Vista.

HUD seeks to snuff out smoking in housing

Public housing across the United States may go smoke-free in two years if a rule proposed by U.S. Housing and Urban Development takes effect.

The rule would require more than 3,100 public housing agencies to carry out policies prohibiting lighted tobacco products — including pipes, cigars and cigarettes — in living units, common areas, offices and outdoor areas within 25 feet of office buildings or housing.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy announced the proposal earlier this year, opening a 60-day public comment period that ends this spring. “We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke,” Castro stated. “This proposed rule will help improve the health of more than 760,000 children and help public housing agencies save $153 million every year in health care, repairs and preventable fires.”

Cigarette smoking kills 480,000 people each year and is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke and cleaning the air, ventilating buildings and separating smokers from non-smokers cannot eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.

The only way to protect nonsmokers is to stop indoor smoking. A web of federal, state and local laws has extinguished indoor smoking in many places. Yet, 58 million Americans — including an estimated 15 million children — remain exposed to secondhand smoke, mostly at home.

HUD’s rule would impact more than 940,000 housing units, expanding on a voluntary campaign initiated by HUD in 2009. Over seven years, more than 600 public housing agencies — including at least 51 of the 123 housing authorities in Wisconsin — have adopted smoke-free policies for buildings and common areas. HUD estimates that more than 228,000 housing units already are smoke-free.

With a caution, the National Association of Community Health Centers supports the goals of the proposed rule. The association’s chief concern, said Colleen P. Meiman, director of regulatory affairs, is whether the rule would lead to increased homelessness.

“Smoking is an addiction,” Meiman said in her public comment to HUD. If the ban is implemented, she said any violations “should result in progressive action, starting with referrals to smoking cessation service” and “violations should never result in fines or eviction.”

In Wisconsin, advocates for the rule include fire chiefs, the Wisconsin Asthma Coalition in West Allis, American Lung Association in Brookfield, Westlawn Partnership for a Healthier Environment in northwest Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention.

The UW center cited a CDC study estimating that banning smoking in public and subsidized housing would save $310.48 million annually in health care costs associated with secondhand smoke, $133.77 million in costs for renovating and maintaining smoky apartments and buildings and $52.57 million in avoided fire damages.

The center encouraged HUD to expand the proposed rule to include e-cigarettes and other “electronic nicotine delivery systems,” with a reference to “growing evidence of carcinogenic and other harmful chemicals in e-cigarette liquid and vapor.

Many advocating a ban observed that secondhand smoke cannot be contained — that it travels through air leaks in ceilings, floors and walls.

The rule “has the potential to reduce health care costs, save lives and improve the quality of life for so many Americans,” according to Anne Dressel, project director for Westlawn Partnership for a Healthier Environment.

The partnership is a group of community stakeholders that has met regularly since 2008 to address health and environmental concerns at Westlawn, Wisconsin’s largest publicly subsidized housing development.

Dressel, in her comment on the proposed rule, said Milwaukee County ranks as the worst county in the state for asthma-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits. And the rate of asthma-related hospitalizations for children residing in the Westlawn community is about twice the county rate. The rate of emergency room visits for Westlawn is 1.5 times higher than the county rate.

 

Welcome to the ‘agrihood’: residential developments built around working farms

Gated communities with houses clustered around golf courses, swimming pools, party rooms and fitness centers are common in many suburban areas. But homes built adjacent to functioning farms?

Welcome to “agrihoods” — pastoral ventures with healthier foods as their focus.

This farm-to-table residential model has been sprouting up everywhere from Atlanta to Shanghai. It involves homes built within strolling distance of small working farms, where produce matures under the hungry gaze of residents, where people can venture out and pick greens for their salads.

“Real estate developers are looking for the next big thing to set them apart,” said Ed McMahon, senior resident fellow with the Urban Land Institute in Washington. “That gives them a competitive advantage.”

There are many variations of the agrihood, McMahon said. “Some developers rent acreage to farmers,” he said. “Some set up non-profit C.S.A. (community-supported agriculture) programs. Some have the residents doing it (the growing) themselves.”

Agrihoods frequently include farmer’s markets, inns and restaurants sited in communal hubs where the edibles are processed or sold.

A lot of things are driving the trend, McMahon said. “There’s more interest in fresh foods. There’s interest in good health. There’s interest in local everything. It’s also about enjoying the many conveniences that help you meet your neighbors.”

Many purchasers are second-home buyers, retirees or parents of young children, McMahon said.

“They tend to be what I call the ‘barbell generation,’” he said. “The millennial generation that wants fresh everything, that wants to know where their food is coming from. Also the senior generation, the baby boomers. They don’t want big yards to take care of anymore.”

Prices tend to be a lot cheaper for agriculture-centered dwellings than for homes facing golf courses.

Along with their higher operating costs, many golf course developments face concerns about water shortages; some are being pushed toward becoming food-based operations, said Matthew “Quint” Redmond, owner of Agriburbia LLB, a Boulder, Colorado-based business that designs, builds and operates farms.

“The issue is making more calories out of the water we have,” Redmond said. “Growing things that are better for you. And fewer people are playing golf these days. We’ll be seeing a lot of golf course conversions in the next 10 to 15 years.”

Clay and Roz Johnson moved to a farm-centered community called Serenbe near Atlanta when their second child arrived and they wanted more space. About 70 percent of the 1,000-plus-acre property is green space, and their home abuts the barn.

“I’m looking at it out my back window,” Clay Johnson said in a phone interview. “I’m watching some free-range chickens.”

Most of Serenbe’s landscape consists of edible, medicinal or native plants, said spokeswoman Monica Olsen. “We have blueberry bushes at all of the crosswalks, three on-site restaurants and a seasonal farmer’s market. We just had our 10-year anniversary from when our first residents moved in.”

Johnson said moving to Serenbe made financial sense for his family. “We sold our three-bedroom (house) in Atlanta for more than we bought our five-bedroom here. We both work from home, and have room available if needed for our aging parents.”

And living close to the farm gives them a more personal relationship with their food, he said. “Our kids recognize the farmers and know who they are. The farm is operated like a business, so you can’t just hop the fence and pull some vegetables. That’s stealing. But my son has asked for and been given a handful of cherry tomatoes for the walk home,” Johnson said.

“When we had our second child, I didn’t cook for several weeks because neighbors kept bringing over food,” he said. “It’s not just a farm but it creates a sense of community just like a church does. We all meet at the farmer’s market on Saturdays.”

White House to hold LGBT housing, homeless conference

The White House will continue a series on LGBT issues with a housing and homelessness conference in Detroit on March 9.

The event will include a speech by Housing & Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

The White House Office of Public Engagement is organizing the event in partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Ruth Ellis Center.

The first White House LGBT conference took place in Philadelphia on Feb. 16 with a focus on health issues.

About 300 people from 22 states attended the event at Jefferson University, where Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius delivered a keynote address.

John Berry, OPM director and the highest-ranking openly gay official in the federal government, opened the conference.

Sebelius spoke about efforts to guarantee hospital visitation and medical decision-making protections for LGBT families and emphasized the impact of the Affordable Care Act and health reform on the LGBT community.

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