Monday, June 26, 2017

American Cities and Towns

You can own one if you wi$h:

"Could artists revive a fading Maine town?" by Megan Woolhouse Globe Staff  June 25, 2017

MONSON, Maine — A foundation that is buying up vast swaths of real estate in the fading Central Maine town that has shrunk to the point that it doesn’t have a school. Or a stoplight.

Abandoned storefronts, run-down single-family homes, even a 70-acre farm have been snatched up in a buying spree by the wealthy Libra Foundation, which plans to turn Monson into a hub for artists by offering affordable studios, lofts, apartments, and exhibition space.

But will the artists come?

Monson, population 666, surely has seen better days.

There is that number again.

Another deal with the devil?

The hilly landscape is dotted with slate quarries that once employed immigrants from Sweden and Finland, but they have been shuttered for decades. In 2007, the town’s largest employer, furniture maker Moosehead Manufacturing Co., went out of business, a blow to an area where jobs already were scarce.

Piscataquis, Maine’s least populous county, is also one of its poorest. Seventy-five percent of residents have incomes at or below the poverty level, and according to local officials, Monson is the poorest of the 16 towns in the county.

Today most visitors are hikers along the Appalachian Trail, where Monson is the last stop before the “100-Mile Wilderness,” an isolated trek through some of the most inhospitable and rugged terrain in the East.

The wilderness?

To many in Monson, the artists can’t come soon enough. Construction workers have been busy at several locations along the town’s main drag, building a general store and apartments, razing others. Libra has bought 13 properties and intends to spend as much as $10 million on the project. It expects more purchases, including the farm, a few miles from the town center.

The busiest spot is the town’s gas station and convenience store — which Libra has not purchased — where all the changes are fodder for locals, but drawing artists to this remote landscape, with its long, bone-chilling winters, is a tricky proposition. Successful creative hubs tend to be driven by artists and grow organically in a desirable location with affordable rents.

Janet Brown, president of Grantmakers in the Arts, a national network of donors, said foundations often fund the creation of arts communities, but this effort is unique.

The Libra Foundation was started by the late philanthropist Elizabeth “Betty” Noyce in 1989 with proceeds from her divorce settlement from microchip millionaire Robert Noyce, an Intel Corp. founder later known as the “mayor of Silicon Valley.” The foundation was named after her astrological sign.....

I don't know what happened with them.


At least there is always retail:

"In towns already hit by factory closings, a new casualty: retail jobs" by Rachel Abrams and Robert Gebeloff New York Times  June 25, 2017

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Local retail jobs are now vanishing.

“I need my income,” said Dawn Nasewicz, who was told that her store will close as early as August. “I’m 53. I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

Nasewicz is another retail casualty, one of tens of thousands of workers facing unemployment nationwide as the industry struggles to adapt to online shopping.

Better off quitting.

Looks like a viciou$ circle to me.

Small cities in the Midwest and Northeast are particularly vulnerable. When major industries left town, retail accounted for a growing share of the job market in places like Johnstown, Decatur, Ill., and Saginaw Mich.. Now, the workforce is getting hit a second time, and there is little to fall back on.

I heard the military was looking for a few good men, women, whatever.

Moreover, while stores in these places are shedding jobs because of e-commerce, e-commerce isn’t absorbing these workers. Growth in e-commerce jobs like marketing and engineering, while strong, is clustered around larger cities far away. E-commerce has also fostered a boom in other industries, including warehouses, but most of those jobs are being created in larger metropolitan areas, an analysis of Census Bureau business data shows.

Almost all customer fulfillment centers run by the online shopping behemoth Amazon are in metropolitan areas with more than 250,000 people — close to the bulk of its customers — according to a list of locations compiled by MWPVL International, a logistics consulting firm. An Amazon spokeswoman noted, however, that the company had recently opened warehouses in two distressed cities in larger metropolitan areas, Fall River, Mass., and Joliet, Ill.

The Johnstown metropolitan area, in western Pennsylvania, has lost 19 percent of its retail jobs since 2001, and the future is uncertain. At least a dozen of Ooh La La’s neighbors at the mall have closed, and a “Going out of business” banner hangs across the front of the sporting goods store Gander Mountain. “Every time you lose a corner store, every time you lose a restaurant, every time you lose a small clothing store, it detracts from the quality of life, as well as the job loss,” said John McGrath, a professor of management at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown.

This city is perhaps still best known for a flood that ravaged it nearly 130 years ago.....

My attention to the turn-in must have washed away with it.


"Mayors say Trump immigration orders meddle with cities" by Adriana Gomez Licon Associated Press  June 25, 2017

MIAMI BEACH — Mayors are warning President Trump that his tougher stand on immigration enforcement meddles with the affairs of US cities.

No, you are meddling in his affairs. The courts have consistently ruled that it is the federal government in charge of immigration. One such ruling came down during the last presidency.

More than 250 mayors are attending the annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors in Miami Beach, including Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston. They are drafting a resolution that strongly opposes Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

During the meeting, which ends Monday, the mayors are also expected to take a stand on issues such as health care, climate change, and the federal budget.

What was the carbon footprint getting to Miami beach?

Mayors were struck a blow in January, when Trump ordered to cut funding to jurisdictions that deny cooperation with immigration agents. Most cities have defied the order, and a federal judge blocked it in April, at least temporarily.

‘‘Some of us are proud to be places of sanctuary, to protect immigrants, but this idea that we’re in violation of something, I think is a big charade,’’ said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Garcetti argued that all he wants from immigration officials is that they conduct enforcement in a ‘‘lawful, constitutional, court-ordered way,’’ referring to policies where sanctuary cities demand warrants to turn over suspects to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Care more about illegals than they do their own citizens.

Mayors from big cities say they fear the increased enforcement will push immigrant communities into the shadows, deterring them to report crimes or cooperate as witnesses. The police chief of Los Angeles, Charlie Beck, said in March that sexual assaults and domestic violence reports by Latinos had dropped.

Miami-Dade County, which houses 34 municipalities including the conference host of Miami Beach, heeded Trump’s January order and changed its policy to allow the correction department to honor all requests by ICE. Authorities have turned over 124 people to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement since Jan. 27.

But GOP-identified mayors from states such as Indiana and Florida disagreed this weekend on targeting noncriminal immigrants solely for being in the country illegally.

Kent Guinn, mayor of Ocala, Fla., said that although he is against offering a pathway to citizenship to the 11.5 million immigrants who are in the country illegally, most immigrants he sees are ‘‘good.’’

‘‘I don’t think people realize there are some bad people that are here that need to leave,’’ Guinn said. He referred to the 2015 shooting death of a San Francisco woman often highlighted by Trump when attacking sanctuary policies because the man charged with her death was in the country illegally and had been released by local law enforcement.

‘‘But the ones that we encounter on a day-to-day basis, they’re very hard-working individuals that do the things that they need to do and participate in the economy,’’ Guinn said. “They work on horse farms, in restaurants. We see them. They’re good people. We’re not going around looking for them.’’

Meaning the mayors are for the cheap labor and nothing but corporate puppets.

Besides opposing the order on sanctuary cities, several mayors propose extending a deportation reprieve granted by former President Barack Obama to young immigrants who arrived illegally. Trump had vowed to end the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, calling it ‘‘illegal executive amnesty’’ but has not yet decided whether he will revoke it.

Walsh, who chairs the conference’s Children, Health, and Human Services Committee and its Substance Abuse, Recovery, and Prevention Task Force, spoke at the annual meeting on Sunday about the nation’s opioid crisis.

Walsh presented a tool kit created by Boston’s Office of Recovery Services, according to a statement from the mayor’s office. The kit provides resources and policy recommendations for mayors working to address the opioid crisis.....

Not the Safe Space?


The be$t city of them all:

"Corporate rentals are complicating Boston’s housing market" by Tim Logan Globe Staff  June 25, 2017

The 13-story tower in Jamaica Plain was pitched as one small part of the solution to Boston’s housing crunch, adding 195 apartments to a market that needs all the units it can get.

Yet with one signature last month, 24 of those apartments were taken off the table, snapped up by a corporate-housing giant that will install couches and beds, stock the cabinets with dishes, and rent the spaces — probably for $200 or more a night — to traveling business people and visiting doctors in town for a few weeks or months.

The deal between Churchill Corporate Services and Brookline-based Longwood Group is one of the biggest yet in Boston for a growing — and some say worrisome — niche in the city’s drum-tight rental market: corporate housing.

For property owners, it can be a good deal, especially when they’re seeking to fill large new buildings, which can take a year or more. Third-party operators such as Churchill and the industry giant Oakwood Worldwide will pay full freight for apartments that might otherwise sit empty for months, but some housing advocates worry that could crowd out everyday renters, sidelining much-needed apartments to serve short-timers who can afford far higher rents.

“This is scary,” said Rich Giordano, an organizer at Fenway Community Development Corporation. “These are all units that should be rental apartments, and they’re basically being used as hotels.”

Temporary furnished apartments have long been a piece of Boston’s housing market, catering to relocating executives, doctors, and academics and typically tucked into high-end apartment buildings. Now, amid the demand from growing companies such as General Electric and from international patients at Boston’s hospitals, the market is expanding.

Oh, no kidding?

There are no comprehensive data on the corporate-rental industry, and it’s not clear how many temporary units exist in Boston. The websites of several major players in the industry list units in new, high-end buildings in Downtown Crossing, the Fenway, Kendall Square, and the Seaport, as well as in suburban municipalities like Quincy and Waltham. But there’s no definitive database or registration requirement. 

That's strange. They have databases for just about everything these days, particularly when it comes to bu$ine$$.

Los Angeles-based Oakwood says it runs about 300 apartments in Boston, including an entire 94-unit building on India Street downtown. Northeast Suites, a local firm, has grown from about 25 apartments five years ago to 250 today, said chief executive Patrick Flynn, and it now has long-term contracts to manage short-term rentals in several large buildings in and around Boston.

Demand is strong, both from companies that are growing in Boston and people here for stints at hospitals and universities, Flynn said. His firm’s clients range from GE and Dell to those doing movie shoots and traveling shows like Cirque du Soleil. And they focus on booking rooms in full-service buildings with all the bells and whistles. Their average tenant, he said, stays 72 days.

I'll bet taxpayers are paying for those rooms.

“You’re giving people really high-end finishes, for lower costs than a hotel,” he said. “And they can cook at home.”

The industry is little-regulated, and, in most cases, no hotel taxes are collected. Corporate rental firms lease units for a year or more and then rent them to relocation firms or individuals — usually for at least one month at a time — at a significant premium. For example, a Kendall Square apartment that rents for $3,048 a month on the open market is listed at $219 a night by Oakwood. That’s $6,570 for 30 days.

Now lawmakers in Boston are trying to figure out how to regulate the industry, as they work on new rules for more tourist-oriented short-term rentals such as the apartments found on Airbnb.

That means they $mell money.

Officials in Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s administration say they see the need for corporate housing, but the mayor has made adding housing a top priority. The city doesn’t want to lose long-term units to the more lucrative corporate market.

He need not worry given the latest poll numbers.

“On one hand, these apartments are being used and providing a place for people to stay. On the other, they could have been set aside for a long-term lease for someone,” said Chris English, a policy analyst for the city who’s working on the issue. “That’s the rub.”

Complicating matters, developers don’t typically share their corporate housing plans when they’re seeking city permits, which often happens two or more years before a building is ready for occupancy. That makes it difficult to know how much of the space will be used as temporary housing.

Giordano, of Fenway Community Development, said that he has tracked buildings in the Fenway neighborhood that were approved as regular apartments but that now dedicate a quarter or more of their space to short-term rentals, targeting visitors to Longwood Medical Area and the neighborhood’s many colleges, but as with Airbnb, the listings come and go, and it’s tough to gauge the extent of temporary rentals, said Tom Callahan, executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, which is lobbying for clearer short-term rental rules.

“You can’t ban this type of business, and no one’s saying you should,” he said. “But it should be transparent from the get-go. As it is, it’s really hard to pin down.”

Always $ome excu$e.

That may be, at least in part, because the arrangements — like the apartments — are often temporary. Longwood Group’s just-signed deal with Churchill, for example, lasts one year, said Longwood principal Anthony Nader; it sets aside a full two floors of the Serenity complex on South Huntington Avenue. If the rest of the 195-unit building fills up quickly, Nader can take those 24 apartments back next year and put them on the market in time for the busy fall leasing season. If not, he can keep cashing checks from Churchill.

Either way, he said, it will help get Serenity off the ground.

“It’s a good deal for both sides,” Nader said. “And it’s a good way to fill a big empty building.”


Anywhere I can find something cheaper?

Meanwhile, just outside:

"Officials are searching for a victim who was assaulted and had his bicycle stolen on the Charles River Esplanade last week. A man was biking on the Esplanade at 8:26 p.m. Tuesday when he was assaulted and his bicycle was stolen by four people, State Police said in a statement. Several witnesses called police to report the incident, but the victim had left the scene by the time officers arrived. State Police said officers arrested two 15-year-old boys from Boston later that night and recovered the bicycle from them. The other two suspects have still not been identified, but State Police said they have “developed strong leads.” State Police are asking for anyone with information about the victim to contact them."

Damn kids.

Now about a good deal for both sides:

"Senate leaders scramble as support for health bill slips" by Robert Pear and Thomas Kaplan New York Times   June 25, 2017

WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill, but the bill’s supporters were battling a dire internal threat: reluctant Republicans. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said Sunday that “there’s no way we should be voting” on the legislation this week. “No way.”

“I have a hard time believing Wisconsin constituents or even myself will have enough time to properly evaluate this for me to vote for a motion to proceed” to the legislation, Johnson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Like him or not, he makes a hell of a point. If they and their staffs don't have time to read it.... just do what leadership says, right? Or else.

Oddly, that is how they got into this mess in the first place. Remember Pelosi saying we need to pass the bill to see what's in it? That's because the pharmaceutical and insurance lobbies wrote the bill.

As more analysis of the bill reached state officials, especially in places that expanded Medicaid access under the Affordable Care Act, misgivings grew. Senator Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican and a doctor who is considered a critical vote, said he remained undecided. Louisiana, with its high levels of poverty, recently expanded Medicaid.

“There are things in this bill which adversely affect my state, that are peculiar to my state,” Cassidy said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine said on ABC’s “This Week”: “It’s hard for me to see the bill passing this week, but that’s up to the majority leader. We could well be in all night a couple of nights.” 

Then you are not thinking clearly at that point and just want to get out of there. Whatever you say, Mitch, uh-huh.

Senate Republican leaders were trying to lock down Republican votes by funneling money to red states, engineering a special deal for Alaska, and arguing that they could insure more people at a lower cost than the House, but the forces arrayed against the Republican push to dismantle former president Obama’s signature domestic achievement are formidable. Much of the nation’s $3 trillion health care industry opposes the bill. And McConnell has done little to woo the health care stakeholders who were assiduously courted by Obama from his first months in office as he fought for his legislation.

If the industry opposes it, it will be defeated. A separate bailout in the tens of billions will be passed instead, to "stabilize insurance markets" before they leave for summer vacation.

As for the attempt to "lock down" votes, that used to be called bribery.

‘‘It would be so great if the Democrats and Republicans could get together, wrap their arms around it and come up with something that everybody’s happy with,’’ Trump said in the interview. ‘‘And I’m open arms; but, I don’t see that happening. They fight each other. The level of hostility.’’

Well, all we wanted was a decent single-payer plan like the rest of the world, but not with this government handling it. We saw what happened to the veterans. Beyond that, let each state decide what system they want at this point.

Trump also took a jab at Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren: ‘‘She’s a hopeless case. I call her Pocahontas and that’s an insult to Pocahontas.’’

What's the point of that personal vituperation, Don?

Warren reiterated her opposition to the Senate bill Sunday, calling it a ‘‘monstrosity.’’

The outside forces against the bill also appear to be growing: Top lieutenants in the conservative Koch brothers’ political network sharply criticized the legislation over the weekend, saying it was insufficiently conservative and did not do enough to rein in the growth of Medicaid, and a number of Republican governors have joined doctors, hospitals, and patient advocacy groups in opposing the bill, in part because of its cuts to Medicaid.

Then it is truly sunk. I predict McConnell will pull it and cancel the vote.

McConnell has only a few days to wheel, deal, and cajole reluctant senators to get behind legislation that has grown less popular with more exposure.

He has considerable firepower to win votes, by guaranteeing amendments that would address the concerns of individual Republican senators and playing on their loyalty to him and their fealty to conservative voters still demanding an end to the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, Democrats say, he has striking liabilities.

Looks like the kind of thing Hoover used to do to blackmail politicians. Just want you to know, the NSA has this information on you and maybe you, you know, want to vote aye next time?

Trump has endorsed the bill, and Democrats say they will take every opportunity to link the legislation to an unpopular president.

Republicans have endlessly cataloged problems with the Affordable Care Act, which they deride as “Obamacare,” but party leaders face a bigger challenge now as they try to convince wavering Republican senators and a skeptical public that they have a better plan. Democrats have met that push with withering criticism, saying “Trumpcare” is far worse.

It's a tough argument because you don't know how "Trumpcare" will turn out yet.

And the Democratic wall of opposition is backed by less partisan voices. Senators are being flooded with appeals like this from the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society: “Cancer is scary enough. Don’t take away our coverage.”

The American Childhood Cancer Organization, a charitable group formed by parents, is mobilizing a small army of grass-roots lobbyists with the message that the Senate Republican bill, with its deep cuts in Medicaid, “will threaten the lives of children battling cancer.”

Pulled a Kimmel on them.


Maybe Bob Kraft could help?