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Monday
Nov302015

POLITICS/URBAN AFFAIRS (National, Washington, D.C.): District of Columbia Housing Authority, public housing, "flipping housing for profit"?: "In D.C., some public housing tenants forced out so homes can be flipped, sold -- or sit vacant" ....

* US News & World Report (AP):  "In D.C., some public housing tenants forced out so homes can be flipped, sold -- or sit vacant" - From US News:

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the rapidly gentrifying nation's capital, real estate investors aren't the only ones flipping houses for profit. The city's public housing authority is getting in on the action — moving aging tenants out of homes where they've lived for decades, renovating them and selling them to wealthy buyers. The renovations, at a cost of more than $300,000 per home, are outfitting the houses with luxury amenities, and some of the houses have sold for nearly $900,000. Others, however, have sat vacant for a year or longer after tenants were forced out.

The housing authority plans to use the profits to renovate existing subsidized rental units and build new ones. But most of that work hasn't started, and none of the money has gone to new construction yet, according to the agency. Meanwhile, sales have been slow-moving and haphazard. Some elderly tenants and their children have asked for an opportunity to purchase the homes, only to be rebuffed, even after spending thousands of dollars maintaining the rental properties.

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District of Columbia law gives tenants of rent-controlled or market-rate buildings the first crack at buying them if they're placed on the market. But the law doesn't apply to the housing authority or its tenants because the agency is independent, leaving residents with no legal recourse to argue against being moved.

The housing authority is an independent agency that gets most of its funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The authority took over management of the scattered sites — originally intended as an alternative to conventional public housing — from city government in the mid-1990s when the city's financial struggles prompted a takeover by Congress. Since then, it has been selling them off gradually with HUD approval.

Sunia Zaterman, executive director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, said housing authorities nationwide have been "chronically underfunded" by the federal government and use creative financing strategies to maintain their properties — including selling their scattered sties and using private-sector investment to fund renovations and new construction. But she said she wasn't aware of another agency that's flipping homes the way the District is ......................

Monday
Nov302015

POLITICS/URBAN AFFAIRS (National, New York): Neighborhood gentrification? Affordable housing?: Editorial, "Affordable Housing vs. Gentrification"; also, "Gentrification in a Brooklyn Neighborhood Forces Residents to Move On" .... 

* New York Times (editorial):  "Affordable Housing vs. Gentrification" - From the NYT:

Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan that he says will preserve economically diverse neighborhoods in New York City, significantly and permanently increase the affordable-housing supply and create a more attractive streetscape. In community meetings across the city, New Yorkers are finally having their chance to say whether they agree with him.

The winds of “no” are blowing strong ......................

***ALSO, Related:

* New York Times:  "Gentrification in a Brooklyn Neighborhood Forces Residents to Move On"

Monday
Nov302015

SACRAMENTO: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, cheating: "Widespread cheating by instructors, cadets at California's fire training academy" ....

* Sacramento:  "Widespread cheating by instructors, cadets at California's fire training academy" - From the Bee:

For more than an hour in August 2014, Shannon Browne sat with investigators at CHP’s Valley Division office in Sacramento, at first hesitant, then growing more confident as she laid out her concerns. Instructors were manipulating scores on tests at Cal Fire’s firefighting academy in Ione, she told the officers.

Browne, who writes test materials for academy cadets and records the scores, said that until earlier that year instructors routinely threw out results for questions that some cadets couldn’t answer. She said they repeatedly told her and other staff to add points to the scores of cadets to compensate. Browne estimated the changes probably affected scores on half the tests in recent years. The orders, she told CHP Sgt. Daniel Webb and Lt. Ezery Beauchamp, made her uncomfortable because she believed they were wrong.

“Instead of saying, ‘Hey, we’re not teaching this correctly,’ and keeping (the questions) ... they were just passing students,” Browne said during a 70-minute interview recorded by the investigators. “They were going to pass everyone … and I know that this is a safety issue. This is someone’s safety and life, and other people are depending on them. … They (the cadets) should not be passed if they don’t know the material. I mean, these are critical basic skills.”

For more than a year now, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has been climbing out from a scandal that started with . . . . . . . .

But agency officials have refused to make public the CHP probe that resulted in those actions. Nor have they addressed in any detail another explosive allegation: that cadets and instructors at California’s firefighting academy for several years conspired to cheat on weekly exams.

Concerns about rampant cheating are laid out within 13 hours of audio recordings of witness interviews, leaked to The Sacramento Bee, that CHP investigators made during their probe . . . . . . . .

Among the allegations: ....................

Monday
Nov302015

POLITICS (National): Democratic politics, demographics?: Report/analysis, "For Democrats, it's not just 'demographics as destiny'" ....

* Washington Post:  "For Democrats, it's not just 'demographics as destiny'" - From the WP:

Democrats who happily think Donald Trump is helping to lead the Republican Party over the cliff could be looking at the state of American politics through too narrow a lens. Whatever problems the GOP could be facing in the coming months and beyond, Democrats ought not underestimate their own future challenges.

Demography as destiny underpins much of the Democrats’ optimism these days. That confidence is built on a foundation of census data and other trends that show a country that is becoming increasingly diverse and more culturally tolerant. The more Trump insults one group or another in this new America, the more Democrats assume the future will be theirs.

That ignores, however, the realities and the contradictions of the politics of this divided era — which have left Democrats in control of the White House and big cities and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress and a majority of state governments. These contradictions and the challenges for both parties are well explored in the new book, “America Ascendant,” by Democratic pollster Stanley B. Greenberg.

Not surprisingly, given his partisan leanings, Greenberg is and long has been bearish about a Republican Party that he sees as fighting against irreversible trends in the makeup and attitudes of the future America. But those conclusions do not lead him to offer unabashed enthusiasm for the future of the Democrats at a time of wrenching economic and cultural changes. Greenberg sees his own party as having fallen short in addressing many of the economic and other conditions that have soured so many people on a political system that they feel has ignored their interests in favor of the privileged or the elites. He argues that ....................

Monday
Nov302015

POLITICS (National): EB-5 program (Employment-Based Fifth Preference Immigrant Investor), editorial: "For sale: U.S. citizenship, $500,000 to $1 million" ....

* Los Angeles Times (editorial):  "For sale: U.S. citizenship, $500,000 to $1 million" - From the LAT:

Depending on how you look at it, a federal immigration program that offers foreign investors a shortcut to naturalization is either tantamount to selling American citizenship or a shrewd tactic to draw job-creating investments from overseas. In reality, it's a bit of both, and as a key part of the program comes up for reauthorization in the next few weeks, Congress needs to make some fundamental changes or kill it altogether.

The EB-5 (short for Employment-Based Fifth Preference Immigrant Investor) visa program began a quarter of a century ago as the federal government was looking for ways to spur foreign investment. The Immigration Act of 1990 — the last time Congress overhauled the immigration system — reserves up to 10,000 EB-5 visas each year for immigrants who invest at least $1 million, or $500,000 in high unemployment or rural areas, to create or preserve at least 10 jobs. In return, the investor (plus a spouse and children) receives a two-year conditional green card that, if the job-creation goal is reached, can be converted into permanent resident status with a path to citizenship.

The program bombed at first, with only a few hundred people applying — in part because . . . . .The program floundered until the last recession, after which privately owned regional centers exploded, growing from 74 in 2009 to 697 this year. The government hit its 10,000-visa limit for the first time in 2014, driven in part by regional centers pursuing foreign investors.

Although that sounds like good news, the results have been mixed. That's largely because the government fails to track investments and their impact on communities, its regulations make it too easy to game the system, and the poorly conceived structure of the regional centers lets investors withdraw their money in two years, once they've received their Lawful Permanent Resident status.

The Government Accountability Office and Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General have criticized the program for lack of accountability and oversight, problems rooted in how Congress designed it . . . . . . . .

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has called for ending the regional center program, whose authorization lapses Dec. 11. Others, such as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), have proposed an overhaul they say would address many of these problems and shore up oversight . . . . . . ..

[T]he program clearly needs an overhaul. For instance . . . . . . . .

. . . . .Congress needs to weigh the worth of the individual investments, and the potential for solving the program's structural problems, against the distasteful perception that the rich can buy their way to an American passport.