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Kesiena Omamogho

Knowing what Leads to Building Collapses can help make African Cities Safer

(MENAFN – The Conversation) It’s a sadly familiar image in several developing countries’ media reports: people frantically searching the rubble of a collapsed building for survivors.

The data is disparate and scattered. But what is known confirms what the images tell us: building collapses are a common, tragic occurrence in developing countries’ cities.

In Kampala, Uganda,one study counted 54 building collapse deaths and 122 injuries between 2004 and 2008.Another study identified 112 cases in Lagos, Nigeria from December 1978 to April 2008. Between February and May 2019, 29 deaths and 76 injuries were recorded from 13 building collapse incidents across Nigeria.

Ghana and Kenya , too, have recorded a number of fatal incidents in recent years.

This isn’t a uniquely African problem, though. It Occurs In the rapidly urbanising parts of Asia as well.

I set out to understand this rather under-researched phenomenon of building collapse in developing countries’ cities. I wanted to know the range of agencies, motivations and causes that propel the widespread creation of unsafe buildings in cities in developing countries. I also wanted to know why so many of these buildings collapse.

This is important because of how quickly cities in the developing world are filling up. Today around 40%of those in Africa live in cities – that’s around 500 million people. This is projected to rise to more than 1.4 billion people in the next few decades.

Urbanisation is here to stay . It’s up to authorities to make sure that the people arriving in their cities don’t end up suffering such incidents.

The ‘pathology’ of cities

Studies suggest that the social problems experienced in cities usually have a uniquely’urban’ dimension . In this way of thinking, urbanisation processes – the concentration of people and socioeconomic activities in cities – affect the extent to which problems occur and the particular forms they take in those places. Studies of this nature are classified under the broad term’urban pathology literature’ .

I drew on the ideas and methods of urban pathology literature to explore the phenomenon of building collapse in cities in developing countries. To do this, I reviewed contemporary and historic documents on housing and construction, media, scholarly and investigative reports on building collapses and other cognate materials on the growth and development of cities.

Here’s what I found.

The more people come to a city, the more demand for buildings is amplified. People need accommodation, offices, or both. This demand creates pressure from which a range of agencies, motivations and causes arise. And that often encourages shoddy construction and building use practices. Buildings are hastily built. Those which already exist are hastily converted for uses that weren’t built into the original design. Extra floors are added atop old buildings.

Usually, city authorities would step in to enforce safe building regulations and guard against these practices. But too often in the developing world, institutional cultures like corruption and political interference undermine authorities’ responsibilities. Add to that a dearth of building inspectors or other resources, and unsafe building practices multiply.

In the end, huge stocks of unsafe buildings are created, sometimes in hazard-prone locations. This, then, can lead to disaster.


Understanding context

All of this means that building collapses in cities are a pathological feature of urbanisation.

One insidious dimension of the problem relates to how socioeconomic inequalities associated with urbanisation processes impede poorer people from finding safe, sturdy accommodation. This exposes them to tremendous risk , forcing them to either rely on or undertake construction practices that are inherently unsafe. Two issues could be addressed to ease this problem: the high cost of urban land and unfavourable mortgage and credit schemes that lock people out of accessing building or accommodation finance.

Essentially, unless conscious efforts are made to address the building needs of Africa’s urban poor, the creation of unsafe (illegal) buildings in hazard-prone areas cannot be prevented.

Source: menafn

 

Massive Infrastructure Boom for Maputo

A tarred road, culminating in Africa’s longest suspension bridge, now connects northern KwaZulu-Natal and Maputo — the latest in a line of infrastructure upgrades centered on the Mozambican port city

Southern African, European, Middle Eastern and Chinese companies have come together to transform the primary Mozambican port of Maputo into a facility capable of handling the largest cargo ships afloat. Even more critically, the new suspension bridge over the bay is the final stretch of a roads project that for the first time directly links Durban to Maputo.

Travelling time between Maputo and Durban will be shortened dramatically, from 9½ hours to just five — equivalent to the Durban-Johannesburg trip. But it’s still unclear to what extent the development is expected to grow trade and tourism along the region’s coast. Bongani Tembe, spokesperson for KwaZulu-Natal economic development MEC Sihle Zikalala, said that trade and tourism impact projections for the new corridor have not yet been done.

The port rehabilitation project and its associated link roads and urban renewal together form Mozambique’s biggest public works project.

Dredging of the harbour channels and quayside berths to allow for deeper-draught vessels started in 2011. In 2012, two new tugs were purchased at a combined cost of $15m; Emirati firm P&O Maritime was contracted to provide pilotage, mooring services, and the crewing and maintenance of the tugs, pilot boats and mooring craft.

Then, under an $86m contract awarded to Jan de Nul Dredging Middle East FZE, the harbour’s access channel was dredged from a depth of 11m to 14.4m. The project, started in May 2016, was completed in December that year.

The dredging alone resulted in an immediate rise in traffic, and a 40% increase in cargo capacity in Maputo, says Maputo Port Development Company (MPDC) executive director Osório Lucas.

The MPDC is a partnership between state-owned railway company Caminhos de Ferro de Moçambique, with a 49% shareholding, and Portus Indico — comprising SA’s Grindrod freight logistics firm, Emirati port management company DP World and transport company Mozambique Gestores — with 51%. It was granted a 15-year concession for the port in April 2003, extended in 2010 for another 15 years, with an option for another decade of operation after 2033.

The port’s capacity is now being expanded again, with the dredging of quayside berths to a depth of 15m; the upgrading of the container depot; the extension of the current car, ferry, coal and container terminals; the extension of quays and rail sidings; and the refurbishment of old warehouses and construction of new ones.

The quay rehabilitation should be complete by December 2019. At $2bn, these improvements will put Maputo in the same league as Durban and Richards Bay.

Shipping magazine Port Strategy reports that DP World’s container terminal will increase its capacity from 150,000 to 250,000 containers — with potential to expand to 450,000 if the market grows as expected. It says chrome ore and ferrochrome volumes railed to the port “almost doubled from 411,000t in 2016 to nearly 1Mt in 2017”.

On June 5, the Port of Maputo saw off its first ship loaded with more than 100,000t of cargo — the chrome ore carrier MV Magali, bound for China. Such vessels are classified as capesize — they are too large to traverse the Suez Canal and have to round the Cape of Good Hope instead.

Exiting the port, the Magali passed under the 680m suspended centre of the new 3km, $275m Maputo-Catembe bridge.

Soaring 60m above the waves, the bridge — which opened this month — is Africa’s longest suspension bridge and connects the “City of Acacias” to its southern district of Catembe, across Maputo Bay.

The bridge was built by China Road & Bridge Corp, the engineering and construction contractor.

But with 95% of the funding for the bridge and road links loaned from China, there are concerns that Mozambique will be unable to repay its loans, after revealing $1.4bn in hidden debt in 2016 and $710m in repayment arrears.

In April, Bloomberg reported that total debt to China stood at $2.2bn at 2% interest by the end of 2017; in a debt restructuring agreement, China wrote off $34m and extended its repayment deadline to 2028.

Mozambique hopes rising port tariffs will enable it to repay the debt.

As part of the project, a 120km road now links Catembe to the tourist village of Ponta do Ouro and the Kosi Bay border post in KZN — reducing a traverse of southern Mozambique from six hours on sandy roads to 90 minutes.

Gauff Engineering project director Jörn Seitz says the traffic on the $450m corridor is expected to rise from a new capacity of 2,000 vehicles a day to 6,000 a day within a few years.

Source: africapropertynews

State Calls Suppliers for Affordable Homes

Construction and building material suppliers have been invited to bid in the multi-billion-shilling affordable housing scheme set for national roll-out.

A State Department of Public Works notice said bidders must quote prices based on locally procured construction and building materials that will be delivered to government construction sites for the next two years.

“Interested candidates for the supply of building and construction materials must forward their sealed bids via Supplies Branch Tenders where winning bidders will sign framework agreements for a period of two years from the date of signing the contracts,” it read.

The notice, published last week, comes hardly a week after Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich allocated Sh10.5 billion towards the government fronted projects that will see Sh1 billion spent on affordable housing.

A further Sh1 billion is planned for low-cost social housing schemes and Sh2.3 billion will be spent on public servants’ mortgage scheme while police and prison housing projects have received Sh1 billion.

Mr Rotich said Sh5 billion would go to the National Housing Development Fund with all projects set for implementation across all major towns in Kenya.

The notice said interested contractors must submit bids by July 10.

Earlier, State Department of Housing PS Charles Hinga said he intended to change the norm in government where payments for made deliveries were delayed by ensuring prompt payment.

This, he said would help reduce costs of the housing units to be built on part of the 7,000 acres of government land identified and set aside in all the 47 counties.

Contractors, however, remain averse to participating in government tenders as they are still owed about Sh400 billion by both county and the national governments, which President Uhuru Kenyatta promised will be cleared by month-end.

Source: businessdailyafrica

Our performance was crippled by Ambode’s government, LWC laments

The Lagos Water Corporation, LWC, has continued to lament the crippling of its activities and performance by the immediate past Government of Akinwunmi Ambode due to extreme starvation of funds.

Findings have revealed that in the last four years, there had been several complains from the public of epileptic water supply to teeming homes in the metropolis, as staff of the agency battled tooth and nail to meet the demands of the people.

The Corporation headed by Engr. Muminu Badmus as Managing Director, since 2015 had struggled to bridge the water supply gap of Lagosians, but to no avail due to paucity of fund.

It was learnt that the production capacity in 2015 even with the Independent Power Project, IPP was 52MGD per month, which represented less than 26% capacity utilization, this was improved to over 70% capacity utilization under the watch of the current Managing Director, As at this period Adiyan and Iju Waterworks have been permanently disconnected from the National grid with an outstanding debt of N53 million which was supposed to be paid by the State.

It was gathered that throughout 2018, the Corporation could not access its budget at all, while in 2016 and 2017 only two-quarters of chemical subvention was released, coupled with the issues of power supply, which had made it impossible to continue to produce water constantly.

Our investigation revealed that in an attempt to persuade Ambode to release funds for the Corporation operations, several letters were written to him, through the then Commissioner for the Environment appealing to him to come to the rescue of the Corporation, to which there was no response.

“This has shown that the water sector is not given the due recognition it deserves and that the provision of water supply is not a priority,” a source disclosed.

Findings also revealed that the Independent power provider had to ration power supply due to non-payments of its monthly power charges for over one year which was handled at the state level by the Ministry of Energy, after several letters were written to the then Commissioner for Energy and the Commissioner for the Environment for their intervention.

It was learnt that when there was no response, the LWC had to take urgent steps to reconnect to IKEDC to secure regular power supply, which entailed having a payment plan to repay the outstanding N53 million owed them.

Further dig revealed that the corporation had been faced with delay in payment of workers salary, as the workers were owed several arrears, with lots of unremitted pension deductions, and retirees owed gratuities and pensions.

It was also learnt that since then the corporation had made pragmatic efforts to ensure that salaries were paid latest by the 28th of each month until in the last five months to the end of Ambode’s administration.

The reason for this, it was gathered, was largely due to the decline in the revenue base of the corporation as a result of intermittent water supply due to unavailability of reliable power supply and chemical to sustain production.

Also, sources revealed that the corporation had made efforts towards the payment of pension deductions until in the last few months, which was as a result of the payment plan it had with IKEDC where it paid close to N17 million monthly just to ensure sustenance of power for water production.

To compound the misery in water sector, it was disclosed that the past administration of Ambode stopped the ongoing construction of 70Million Gallons per Day (MGD) Adiyan II to supply water to western part of Lagos, largely by stopping the funding of the massive project. It is worthy of note that the 70MGD Adiyan II commenced during the Fashola administration.

The source also unveiled that throughout the four (4) years administration of Ambode, there was no single waterworks constructed as part of his efforts to tackle water challenge in the State, this is against the meaningful efforts put in place by his predecessors. “The two (2) waterworks (2MGD Mosan Okunola and 4MGD Otta-Ikosi) commissioned during his tenure (2016) were constructed by Raji Fashola administration”.

“The Corporation was in a big mess under Ambode, we battle to get funds for common water treatment chemicals, and other meaningful water projects that is suppose to get his attention and transform Lagos to a State of abundance got killed by his administration; and this resulted to inability of the Corporation to provide water to all in the State”, source said.

However, the LWC has four Major Water Works with an installed capacity of 123 Million Gallons per day (MGD); 48 Mini and Micro water Works of an installed capacity of 91 MGD. In total the corporation has a capacity of 214 MGD. This combined capacity if fully utilized can serve about 30% of the population living in the state.

To address the water demand gap of 65%, the LWC in its commitment and efforts developed the Lagos State Water Supply Master Plan and the Lagos State Water Corporation five-year strategic plan as a roadmap to tackling the challenge of water production and supply, but never yielded any positive or meaningful impact due to nonchalant attitude of Ambode.

The corporation, in the last five years, has made several efforts to close the water demand gap through PPP (Public Private Participation). This has however been slowed in coming to realization as a result of delay in approvals from the state government.

Honestly, we cannot continue to run away from our shadows, Lagos, a resilient state and the commercial hub of Africa, with the population of over 22 million people withLagos Water Corporation as the Water utility agency of the State Government can only bridge water demand gap and sustain its operations with the adoption of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) as research has shown this clearly.

It has been realized by governments world-wide that funding of government programmes and projects can no longer be sustained by government alone.The State government is busy with other capital-intensive infrastructural development projects such as Security, Roads, Transportation, Waste management, among others. Provision of Water to citizens and residents of Lagos State will require over $10Billions USD which cannot be funded alone with tax payers money. Water supply in the state should be private sector-driven projects, as this is the only way forward.

Considered that annual population growth rate in Europe is only about 0.22% compared to 3% of Sub-Saharan Africa, it is quite imperative that African states urgently seek alternative means of funding infrastructure development in the water sector.In Ghana, the private sector is equally involved in urban and small-town water provision as government strives to improve access to water supply services for its citizens in line with sustainable development goals.In Nigeria, many state governments have equally opted for the PPP model in water supply.

To ensure Lagos residents have un-hindered access to safe water, Mr. Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu led administration, must focus on PPP and should also come to the immediate aid of Lagos Water Corporation to avert total collapse.

Source: pmnewsnigeria

N12.9bn debt: AMCON takes over Victory Park Estate, Lekki Luxury Homes

The Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) Tuesday took over several multi-billion naira properties in Victory Park Estate, Lekki, Lagos, following a N12, 966,510,191 judgment debt it won at the Court of Appeal in Lagos.

The properties included assets of Knight Rook Ltd situated within Victory Park Estate, among other assets.

AMCON’s move followed the dismissal of an appeal filed by Rev Olajide Awosedo against an October 3, 2017 judgment of the Federal High Court in a suit marked FHC/L/CS/744/17 – Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria v. Knight Rook Limited & Ors.

The appellate court also awarded a cumulative sum of N12, 966,510,191 in favour of AMCON against Knight Rook Ltd, Grant Properties Ltd, Rev Olajide Awosedo, Olawunmi Olajide-Awosedo, Abimbola Olajide-Awosedo and Fibigboye Estates Ltd.

AMCON officials and Sheriffs of the Federal High Court, Lagos, were protected by a detachment of Police officers as they enforced the June 3, 2019 judgment.

The Sheriffs told residents of the estate that they were on lawful duty to execute the Federal High Court judgment against the assets of certain entities, who were allegedly indebted to a consortium of banks, but which debt was taken over by AMCON.

Some residents, who spoke to The Nation on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the development.

They noted that they were aware of a series of court actions regarding the alleged debt and the collateral land, as well as the judgment, adding that many of the residents who had earlier acquired titles from the alleged debtors were affected by the judgment.

Others stated that they were in receipt of an official statement by AMCON to residents, notifying them of the appellate court judgments, upholding the lower court judgment.

The statement, seen by The Nation, reads in part: “AMCON hereby notifies all Occupiers, Residents and all persons laying claim to any portion of land comprised within the Victory Park Estate, Lekki, Lagos that on 3rd June 2019, the Court of Appeal (Lagos Division) in the Appeal No: CA/L/146/18 dismissed the Appeal filed by Rev Olajide Awosedo against the Judgment of the Federal High Court delivered on 3rd October 2017 in the Suit No: FHC/L/CS/744/17 – Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria v. Knight Rook Ltd & Ors, by which a Judgment sum of N12,966,510,191 was cumulatively awarded in favour of AMCON against Knight Rook Ltd, Grant Properties Limited, Rev Olajide Awosedo, Olawunmi Olajide-Awosedo, Abimbola Olajide-Awosedo and Fibigboye Estates Ltd .

“Which judgment also specifically foreclosed the Defendants’ right to the assets of Knight Rook Limited comprised within Victory Park Estate, Lekki, Lagos, among other assets, in satisfaction of the Judgment, which Judgment has been executed by AMCON.”

The statement further directed all persons affected by the judgment and enforcement to contact AMCON through its Solicitors or its Receiver/Manager.

It was gathered that Sosome of the affected residents had since resolved with AMCON by ratification, while others were about taking steps to do same.

In furtherance of that, they last week, engaged a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and gave him their mandate to approach AMCON for negotiation in a bid to secure their interests and find an amicable solution.

Source: thenationonlineng

Africa’s Free Trade Zone to Ease the Cost of Doing Business

Last month, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) finally came into being, opening the way for a continent-wide market of 1.2 billion people worth $2.5 trillion.

Fifty-two of the African Union’s (AU) 55 member states signed the deal, which is expected to boost regional and international trade. It will be the largest free trade agreement by population that the world has seen since the 1995 creation of the World Trade Organization.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, has been hailed as a game-changer for intra-African trade.

If properly implemented, it could provide a framework to ease the cost of doing business in Africa, but until the continent addresses nontariff barriers, such as infrastructure backlogs and border corruption, it is likely to fall far short of expectations.

This hasn’t stopped African countries from hyping up the agreement as a significant milestone on the road to creating a single African market and a single-currency union.

Various reports suggest that as a large, unified market of up to 1.2-billion people, the AfCFTA could attract up to $4-trillion in consumer spending and business investment; boost intra-African trade by 33%-52%, depending on the degree of tariff liberalisation; and generate a cumulative $3.4-trillion gain in GDP over the long term.

Intra-African trade is dismal at present, hamstrung by border delays and infrastructural constraints that account for the high logistics costs associated with doing business on the continent. The upshot is that intra-African trade accounts for only about 16% of Africa’s trade with the rest of the world, compared with 25% for Latin America and almost 50% for Asia.

The AfCFTA is supposed to forge a single continental legal regime for trade matters. It should include substantially lower tariffs, simplified rules of origin and customs procedures, and regulations for trade in services, as well as the remedies to use when these trade rules are broken.

However, the enforcement of a rules-based trading regime will depend on effective monitoring as well as African trading partners pursuing dispute settlement cases against one another, something they’ve traditionally shied away from.

SA — with its relatively diversified industrial export base on a continent where most countries still export primary commodities — should be one of the biggest winners from a continent-wide free-trade agreement, if implemented properly.

So should Nigeria, for the same reason. But its government appears concerned that the country’s nascent manufacturing base could be badly affected by competitively priced imports, and is undertaking further impact studies before it signs the agreement.

“With proper implementation, this agreement brings immense investment potential to Africa. By driving down the cost of trading across borders it can boost trade and open new markets on the continent,” says Tim Harris, CEO of Wesgro, the Western Cape government’s investment promotion agency.

“The liberalisation of services trade under the AfCFTA is especially significant, not only because it brings opportunities for [Western] Cape services exports, but also because improvements in, for instance, transport, communications and financial services further facilitate effective cross-border trade and investment,” he adds.

However, though the AfCFTA agreement came into force on May 30 for SA and the other 23 early adopters, there are as yet no tariff schedules, no rules of origin and no rules for specific services sectors to regulate trade between the signatories.

“These are sensitive and technically complicated matters and it may take quite some time before they are finalised,” says Gerhard Erasmus, professor emeritus at the University of Stellenbosch and an associate at the Trade Law Centre.

So though Africa is moving towards a more open way of doing things, and any progress in this direction should be welcomed, the agreement is unlikely to fulfil its ambitions any time soon.

Source: africapropertynews

Property Market in Uganda More Stable

The property market in Uganda has not recovered to its past glory but it is more stable and less volatile than it was two years ago, according to a market update by Knight Frank Uganda, a real estate consultancy firm.

It adds that many of the factors which led to the slowdown of the sector leaving property investors exposed have been reigned in.

“For example, prime lending rates have reduced significantly, the shilling though still weak has remained stable, speculative development of commercial property has reduced significantly and rental levels are stabilising as office occupancy rates steadily increase,” it reads the update in part.

Knight Frank, however, cautions government on being quick to regulate the property market by offering knee jerk reactions to complex and structural issues like the dollar versus shilling rental regime.

Despite the upbeat projection, the consultancy says the landscape in Kampala faced a dramatic change in the second quarter of 2017 when Nakumatt stores closed, causing a dip in business and consumer confidence.

Source: africapropertynews

Namibia Expects to Attract $1 Billion Worth of Investments

Namibia is to host a two-day economic summit which is expected to attract at least $1 billion worth of investments over the next two years, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology said on Wednesday last week.

Namibia’s economy has contracted for the last two years, and the southwest African nation has been ravaged by a drought which the meteorological services estimate to be the deadliest in 90 years.

The economic summit, which will take place from July 31 to Aug. 1 in the capital Windhoek, is aimed at reviving and growing the Namibian economy, creating job opportunities and attracting investment opportunities, the ministry said in a statement.

It will also seek to promote Namibia as an investment and tourist destination as well as identifying and removing bottlenecks that are slowing the growth of the local economy.

The International Monetary Fund projects that Namibia’s economy, which contracted by 0.8% and 0.1% in 2017 and 2018 respectively, will mildly contract again this year due to poor rains and reduced diamond production.

About 600 delegates from across the country, Africa and the world are expected to attend the summit, which is the first of its kind.

“The summit will provide a platform to showcase growth and investment prospects in the local economy as well as present local and international investors with a portfolio of investment projects in several sectors,” the ministry said.

Source: africapropertynews

America’s Housing Market is Competitive, Unequal, and Often Just getting by. Just like us.

The American housing market mirrors our society, the decisions we make, and the problems they leave us with, according to a report out Tuesday.

Inequality is widening as competition remains fierce for scant resources. Finding housing is getting harder for those of lesser means – and people of color – and maybe a tiny bit better for everyone else. And homeownership provides a bit of an economic edge – for those who can grab it.

Those are the takeaways from the annual report known as The State of the Nation’s Housing, produced every year by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.

The report lives up to its weighty title, with 44 pages, dozens of charts and tables, and details on everything from the cost of land to the country of origin of recent immigrants. But the report’s most important data points are the ones that remind us, once again, that the way we create housing isn’t working for many Americans.

There aren’t enough homes to go around

Housing is tight. In 2018, the vacancy rate for owner-occupied homes was the lowest since 1995. The vacancy rate for renters matched 2016 for the lowest since 1985. (The combined rate was 4.4%, the lowest since 1994.)

 

More higher-income people are renting – the Harvard researchers say there were 311,000 more tenant households earning more than $75,000 in 2018 than the year before. That’s great for developers and landlords, but not so hot for households that need lower-cost rents.

As the researchers note, “The focus of new construction on higher-cost units has thus shifted the overall distribution of rents upward.” Over just one year, 2016-2017, the supply of newly-built homes renting for less than $800 fell by 1 million. And those units aren’t being replenished. In the first quarter of 2018, the researchers say, only 9% of apartments completed had asking rents below $1,050.

Of course, there haven’t been enough homes for renters or for owners in most income segments for several years. “The duration of today’s tight conditions is unprecedented,” the researchers said. It’s not just that there’s not building enough to keep up with population and household growth: there’s not even building enough to keep up with homes becoming obsolete. The Joint Center estimates that there was a shortfall of about 260,000 units in 2018, and that construction has barely kept pace with household growth for eight years. That tracks with other estimates of a housing shortfall in the millions.

The rent hasn’t gotten any damn cheaper

With those conditions in mind, it’s no wonder that more American renters are “cost-burdened.” As the chart below shows, one-fifth of households that rent are paying between 30% and 50% of their income on housing costs, while one-quarter are paying more than 50%.

But the burden is falling disproportionately on the poor: nearly three-quarters of renters with incomes of $15,000 or less are spending more than half their income on housing.

There are consequences for high rents

When rent is too high, it keeps younger people from becoming independent. Only 31% of 25-29-year-olds in the highest-cost metro areas formed their own households, compared to 41% in the lowest-cost areas.

It also leaves less money for other essentials. Severely cost-burdened renters were able to spend about one-fourth of the amount of non-burdened renters on health care, according to Joint Center estimates. Unburdened renters spent nearly three times as much on transportation, which also signals access to jobs.

Even worse, after a multi-year decline, homelessness rose in 2018 for the second year in a row. And the number of “unsheltered” homeless was up for the third straight year.

Homeowners have it made?

Homeowners have it a little easier than renters, the Harvard researchers conclude, at least in one sense. The share of owners who are cost-burdened keeps falling, and in 2018 hit its lowest level of the century. Also, the amount of equity Americans hold in their homes just keeps rising, along with home prices, providing nest eggs for children’s higher education, small business formation, retirement, and more.

That’s nice work if you can get it, but not everyone can. More areas of the country are increasingly unaffordable. Higher-cost homes mean bigger down payments must be saved – no easy feat when rents are so expensive – or a greater debt burden for those who choose to make small down payments.

Getting a mortgage and closing on a home remains a slog, although credit conditions have eased slightly from the post-crisis period. Some 68% of renters thought that it would be somewhat or very difficult to obtain a mortgage last year, the researchers report.

Among those who closed on a home in 2016, “significant numbers of respondents reported issues with the closing process. Fully 15% said that they faced an “unpleasant surprise” such as having the closing rescheduled, needing more cash than expected, having mortgage terms change, or being asked to sign blank documents.”

That’s an observation that’s uncomfortably reminiscent of the naughtiness that helped precipitate the housing crisis in the first place. One group of Americans probably doesn’t need that reminder. After taking a small step forward in 2017, the black homeownership rate fell again in 2018, and now stands at the lowest since 1995. Every other ethnic group gained in the past year.

Source: marketwatch

Google Sibling Sidewalk Labs Unveils ‘Smart City’ Plans For Toronto Waterfront

After a year and a half of public hearings and criticism, Google sibling company Sidewalk Labs just unveiled its master plan to redevelop a stretch of Toronto’s waterfront with “smart” features like snow-melting roadways, an underground delivery system and a slew of data-collecting sensors.

The 1,500-plus-page planning document, viewable in segments below, will go through a lengthy evaluation and public review process as the city decides whether to move forward.

Although Sidewalk Labs announced its ambitions to bid for Toronto’s redevelopment in 2017, this is the first document that fully lays out its ultimate vision, which includes proposals for two neighborhoods—Quayside and Villiers West—as well as a larger Innovative Development and Economic Acceleration (IDEA) district.

Dan Doctoroff, the CEO of the Alphabet subsidiary and a former deputy mayor of New York City, touted the plan as a “groundbreaking blueprint for the neighborhood of the future” that is environmentally friendly and built for people of all income levels.

Residential units make up 67% of the planned development in the main Quayside district, for example, with 40% at below-market prices, and Sidewalk promises 1,700 affordable housing units in all.

“We think it’s the first true articulation of what’s really possible when you combine cutting-edge innovation and forward-looking urban design to produce an inclusive community,” Doctoroff said during a briefing with reporters on Monday.

Meanwhile, concerns about privacy and data collection have been rife within the planning process. Several advisers from Waterfront Toronto, a government-appointed agency working with Sidewalk, resigned in the past year because of privacy concerns, and Toronto citizens have formed advocacy groups like the #BlockSidewalk campaign.

 

Sidewalk has stipulated the creation of an independent Civic Data Trust to handle digital governance issues and has also committed not to sell personal information, not to use personal information for advertising and not to disclose information to third parties without explicit consent.

Waterfront Toronto said in a statement that based on a read-through of the plans, it will require additional information to establish whether the initial proposals are in compliance with applicable laws and its own data principles.

Doctoroff said that Sidewalk would continue to work closely with the government and community groups to move its plan forward and described the process as “like a 50-sided Rubik’s cube.”

The master plan outlines a capital-intensive investment for Sidewalk, though also one that could potentially be incredibly lucrative. At this point, Alphabet’s subsidiary companies like Sidewalk, called its “Other Bets,” have generated very little revenue. In the company’s most recent quarterly earnings, the “Other Bets” reported losses of $868 million and $170 million in revenue.

Source: forbes

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