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New Minimum Wage 2019: What does it mean for an Average Nigerian?

Almost every Nigerian can attest to the fact that the cost of living is currently higher than it was in previous years. Similarly, they express worry over the recently approved minimum wage. While public education from the government about this aspect of the economy is lacking, Nigerians can have their fears resolved by seeking information.

 

Understanding the implications of the new wage bill is necessary for every Nigerian citizen and resident regardless of their social status.

What does minimum wage mean?

Minimum wage refers to the least amount of monthly remuneration that a person should receive for their labour. The amount is set after the government and the union of labour hold talks and agrees on the final figure. It applies to every worker regardless of whether they are in the private or public sector. Typically, the national min wage is reviewed and adjusted periodically. When was the minimum wage in Nigeria implemented? Hassan Sunmonu was the president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) when the debate regarding minimum wage began.

 

Following his election into this position in 1978, he fought for the implementation of a minimum wage in Nigeria. In 1981, the minimum wage was set at N300. In the same year, the federal government declined to pay this amount leading to a nationwide strike of workers which stalled the economy.

 

This led to negotiations between the government and the NLC. The two parties settled on an N125 minimum wage. It was not until 1989 that the labour union demanded new wage limits. The demand followed the realisation that the prevailing rates could not afford an average Nigerian a decent life. After negotiations, there was an increase to N250 from the initial N125. With the growing economy, the minimum amount of remuneration became too low to allow an average Nigerian a good-quality life.

 

The labour union thus fought for the improvement of this amount. Between 1989 and 2001, several negotiations were held and the amount shot from N250 to N3,000; N5,000 and finally N7,500. During the reign of President Goodluck Jonathan, the amount as guided by the Nigerian Labour Law increased to N18,000. The current minimum wage is N30,000.

 

Exploring the meaning of the current situation

After nationwide campaigns, the new minimum wage of N30,000 was approved by the legislature on the 19th of March 2019. According to the law, this amount should be evaluated every half a decade. In Nigeria, the labour union has been championing for increased minimum wages to help the people deal with the ever-escalating rate of inflation. Periodic appraisal of the law also mitigates unnecessary strikes by workers.

 

With the harsh economic realities, will the government meet the new law requirements? For the government to comfortably meet the N30,000 minimum wage for each worker, specific measures ought to be taken:

Financial actions and implications

Many Nigerians are worried about the consequences of such changes. The following financial actions and implications are likely to happen.

The likelihood of expanding Nigeria’s non-capital spending

The government has no option but to abide by the current minimum wage bill. Late salaries for the workers must not be tolerated. Instead, the government should seek creative means of meeting the laws. Increased expenditure on compensation packages means that the country’s budget should be equally high.

 

As of 2016, about 59% of the federal government’s expenditure was spent on workers’ compensation. Following the new 2019 law, this amount is set to increase to an all-time high of about N2.29 trillion. The government needs a supplementary budget to meet this need. The non-capital budget can be increased by borrowing from developed countries. Alternatively, the Value Added Tax may be increased. Increased taxation rates are inevitably a source of worry for most Nigerians.

 

The likelihood of an increased tax rate

Does a potential increase in tax rate give me a reason to go on strike? While low rates of taxation would make life blissful for an ordinary Nigerian, they are just a dream! The new minimum wage requirements mean that increased taxation is inevitable. After all, the government requires more revenues.

The relevant authorities have considered increasing the Value Added Tax from the current 5% to 7.5%. So far, empirical data relating to this new suggestion is yet to be availed for a regular Nigerian to assess the impact of this move. If implemented, the cost of ordinary consumer goods will increase. Be ready!

Economic actions and implications

Concerning the economic sphere of life, most likely the following actions and implications will take place.

Likelihood of losing jobs

While improved minimum wages are aimed at improving the quality of life for people who are not affluent, it has its negative implications. The increased need for more money by the government to facilitate the new compensation packages may mean that the government has to downsize some operations. Means of reducing the gross overhead costs may be required. Consequently, internal labour resources may require reshuffling.

 

The reorganisation of human labour translates to a section of the workforce undergoing retrenchment and layoffs. In Nigeria where most of the workforce is informal, numerous people may lose their jobs. This translates to an increased burden of unemployment, especially among young people. Usually, the presence of many idle young people leads to increased social ills such as theft and drug use.

 

Likelihood of continued inflation

A present-day ordinary Nigerian is struggling to meet their needs and wants due to the high rate of inflation. This burden is unlikely to be lifted. Instead, it may be aggravated by the new minimum wage requirements. Most businesses may be forced to hike their prices to afford revenues that allow the minimum wages to be paid without strain and to have a reasonable margin of profit. The consumers, as is the norm, have to bear the costs through increased retail prices. Nigerians can anticipate an increased inflation rate henceforth. This will reduce their purchasing power. The cycle of the minimum wage remaining inadequate and its respective bill requiring an upward adjustment will continue.

What is the way forward?

Nigerians must first appreciate the fact that the labour union has been transparent in its operations and has fought for the rights of workers. Regardless of the possible adverse effects of the new wage bill requirements, each Nigerian has to pay their taxes faithfully. At the same time, an average Nigerian must be mentally and emotionally ready to budget for their minimum wage appropriately. One can afford a decent life with this amount using specific survival skills such as looking for cheaper housing. There is no allowance to squander the money on unnecessary things.

 

At the executive level, systems, measures, and machinery should be put in place to facilitate the proper collection of tax. Increased transparency and accountability of the tax officials to the public should be encouraged. This will mitigate theft scandals within the government.

 

The minimum wage in Nigeria was first implemented in 1981. Over the years, the terms have been updated accordingly to match the changing economic situations. Today, the minimum wage is N30,000. While this amount is seemingly impressive, it may mean that harsher financial conditions await an average Nigerian. Regardless of these changes, every Nigerian should retain their patriotism, honesty, and love for their homeland.

By Carol Karen

Opinion: Home-Alone Trend is Adding Fuel to Housing Crisis

The number of Canadians living all alone has more than doubled in a generation and is now the most common and least affordable form of habitation

In Metro Vancouver, the most expensive rental housing market in Canada and one of the least affordable for homebuyers on the planet, about one-third of the homes have just one resident.

The same economics apply whether it is a car or a home: one person travelling alone in a vehicle represents a much costlier per capita commute than 30 people sharing a bus.

When it comes to housing, the affordability factor is simply much more pronounced. A single person attempting to rent a home will have a harder time affording it than if he or she is sharing the cost with at least one other person.

 

For homebuyers, it means coming up with the entire down payment, qualifying for the mortgage payments, plus paying condo fees or maintenance costs, all from one pocket.

While Vancouver is exceptional due to its home prices, the home-alone trend is hampering housing affordability right across the country.

 

The number of Canadians living alone has more than doubled in the past 35 years, making single-person households the most common type, a new report by Statistics Canada confirms.

 

This group is now larger than the one composed of couples with kids, as well as the category of couples living alone – and the trend toward solo living is accelerating.

 

Vancouver, with an estimated 31 per cent of home-alone households, has one of the highest rates in Canada.

 

Young adults are the hardest hit by social isolation in Metro Vancouver, according to the Vancouver Foundation’s Connections and Engagement report, released in December 2017.

 

This April, Joyce Murray, MP for Vancouver Quadra, hosted an event on how to reduce loneliness in Vancouver and make the city a friendlier place.

 

It is no longer your elderly widowed aunt who is living solo, poor dear. It is just as likely to be your buddy or your niece. The fastest-growing age group living alone is those aged 35 to 64, according to Statistics Canada’s demography division.

It also reports that one-third of those aged 20to 34 were in a relationship, but each partner lived in his or her own place. Among those in the middle-adulthood years of 35 to 64, the proportion of those living alone but attached is 20 per cent.

No surprise that StatsCan also discovered that a substantial number of single adults were paying more than 30 per cent of their income for shelter, considered unaffordable.

So what’s the solution?

Buddy up. Find a lover. Make amends with your family. Swap your social media network for real people in real life. Learn to share your life and your roof. We suspect housing affordability, and Canadian society, would be the better for it.

By Frank O’Brien

Poor Housing Conditions Contribute to Spreading of TB Among Inuit

Improving housing conditions among Inuit in Canada may reduce the occurrences of tuberculosis in the population.

The fact that Inuit in Canada run a significantly higher risk for contracting tuberculosis than does the rest of the Canadian population has been known for a long time. In 2016, the occurrence of tuberculosis was 300 times higher amongst the Inuit than among the Canadian non-indigenous population.

Trudeau apologized in March

Canada’s authorities have promised to work to eradicate tuberculosis among Inuit in the Canadian north and as recently as in March, PM Justin Trudeau apologized to the Inuit for the treatment this groups has been subject to during the tuberculosis epidemics in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized to the Inut for the treatment they were subject to in the mid-1900s. Here the PM is embracing one of the participants at a meeting in Iqaluit, the Nunavut capital. (Copyright: Justin Trudeau)

Poor housing standards spread disease

Improving housing standard may significantly improve the situation, the scientists argue.

The new study concludes that even minor and stepwise improvements of housing standards, as well as a reduction of the number of residents per room, may prove a significant contribution to improving the situation and preventing the spreading of TB in the population.

Scientists point out e.g. the fact that climatic conditions prevent someone from living outdoors, like some do in city areas further south in the country. Among the Inuit, this leads people to coach curving – living temporarily – with friends, acquaintances and/or relatives for shorter or longer periods of time.

This contributes to increased spreading of tuberculosis.

Half the houses should be upgraded

In the Nunavut capital Iqaluit, one of the communities in which the study was conducted, five percent of the population did not have permanent housing and were living temporarily in other people’s homes. The scientists conclude that half of the houses in Nunavut were too crowded or in dire need of an upgrade – or both – during the year the studies were conducted.

The group of scientists stresses in its Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health article that other social conditions also influence the rather high occurrence of TB amongst the Inuit in Canada and on Greenland, where former studies have established that the occurrence of tuberculosis is very high also among Greenland’s Inuit population.

Diet, smoking, alcohol and low-level education

Both this study as well as former studies point at poor diet, smoking of tobacco and marihuana, high use of alcohol, low education level and ethnic affiliation as key factors for the frequency of tuberculosis amongst Inuit.

Reference is for instance made to the fact that while 16 percent of the Canadian population over the age of 12 smoke on a daily basis, that number is a staggering 63 percent among Inuit in Nunavut.

Introduced by European people

The heightened occurrence of tuberculosis among ethnic Inuit is also explained by the fact that the indigenous people was not introduced to European people groups until the past century, and they have thus not had sufficient time to build up genetical resistance against the disease.

The researchers’ conclusion in the new study is nevertheless clear: Improving housing conditions for Inuit in Nunavut will contribute significantly to reducing the spreading of tuberculosis in the population.

Why Buy-to-Let Housing is Dying

Buying a rental flat or two may have been the go-to investment for many South Africans with a little cash to spare 12 to 15 years ago.

Back then, you typically only needed a 10% deposit to buy a property; the bank would fund the balance.

Rental yields (annual rental income as a percentage of market value) were fairly attractive, at 7%-10%, and most landlords were assured of a standard annual rental increase of 10%. Vacancies were low, so it was easy to find a new tenant if yours left. It all meant that your investment often started paying for itself in three to five years.

Not any more. Today, buy-to-let owners are lucky to get a 5% annual rental increase when leases come up for renewal. And, for the first time in more than a decade, there is an oversupply of rental stock. As a result, many landlords — most notably those in the oversaturated Cape Town market — have had to drop rentals or risk losing tenants.

The latest flat rental data from property economists Rode & Associates shows that vacancies for rental apartments across SA hit a historical high of 7% in the first quarter of 2019, up from 5.5% a year earlier and substantially ahead of the 1%-3% average of a decade ago.

Kobus Lamprecht, head of research at Rode & Associates, says the percentage of flats standing empty in Cape Town, for instance, surged from 1.8% to 8.1% over the past 10 years (to the first quarter of 2019).

Joburg has recorded a similar, though less pronounced, increase over the same time — from 2.8% to 7%.

“This is a worrying structural adjustment in the market and bodes ill for flat rental growth prospects,” says Lamprecht.

He says rental growth has already slowed for four consecutive quarters — from an estimated 5.7% in the first quarter of 2018 to 4.5% in the first quarter of 2019.

FNB property sector strategist John Loos says the latest consumer price index (CPI) for housing and utilities underscores just how weak the housing rental market is. Loos says rental inflation decelerated from 5.39% year on year in September 2017 to 3.84% in February.

The latest figures from residential letting processor PayProp show average rentals actually fell in two of the nine provinces last year: Limpopo (-4%) and the North West (-0.09%). That compares with a monthly average of 3.9% for SA as a whole, down from 6.4% in 2017.

In fact, the North West is the cheapest province in which to rent a place, at an average R4,986 a month, against the national average of R7,610.

Despite a slowdown in rental growth in the Western Cape last year, the province’s rental market remains the most expensive, at a monthly average of R9,124, says PayProp.

Industry players blame the structural change in the rental market on the deteriorating financial position of local consumers, coupled with a strong increase in new stock.

Johette Smuts, head of data and analytics at PayProp, says the company’s research shows that net income levels among residential tenants have stagnated, rising by only 1.56% on average last year.

“With rent and inflation increasing at higher rates, consumers are struggling to keep up,” she says.

Debt-to-income levels have simultaneously increased from 42.3% to 45.5%, which Smuts says has further eroded tenants’ ability to absorb annual rental increases.

Seeff Property Group chair Samuel Seeff says there is no doubt that consumer budgets are under growing pressure from rising living costs — most notably fuel and electricity costs — against weak income growth.

“It is becoming harder for consumers to service their debt,” he says. “It also means they have less to spend on property.”

Seeff notes that landlords have to face the reality of no longer being able to push through the same annual rental increases as they did in the past.

“In this climate, landlords need to look after good tenants and stop looking for quick wins with high rentals.”

WHAT IT MEANS

Developers have battled struggled to sell newly built units, and so have had to rent them out instead

The sentiment is echoed by Lamprecht. He says it’s not only financial pressure that is negatively affecting rental demand: “New rental housing stock has also increased notably, thereby pushing the rental market into oversupply.”

Lamprecht refers to the latest Stats SA figures, which show that the number of newly built flats and townhouses — square metres completed year on year — increased by a substantial 58% in the 12 months to end-January. Given the softer housing sales market, he says, developers have struggled to sell many of these newly built units, and have had to rent them out instead.

Rapidly rising property ownership costs are, of course, further eroding buy-to-let returns. Loos refers to key housing-related CPI items, including municipal rates and water (costs normally carried by landlords) that were still rising at an average 10.99% year on year in February, as recorded by Stats SA – more than double the rental inflation of 3.84%.

As Lamprecht puts it: “Investing in the flat market has become risky.”

BY JOAN MULLER

 

Is Kenya’s Housing levy the Right Thing Done Wrong?

The Kenyan government is set to start collecting a 1.5% housing levy from salaried employees – the most recent indication that President Kenyatta’s government is set on working on his legacy projects.

The housing levy would amount to a substantial estimated KSh50bn ($492.7m) annually from Kenya’s 3.94 million taxpayers.

But only if it can navigate several court cases filed by the umbrella workers’ union and a consumer lobby group. The Federation of Kenya Employers executive director Jacqueline Mugo calls calls implementing the levy “unlawful”.

The revenue authority and the government announced the onset of the levy in a press release which tasked employers to start deducting it by 9 May.

The unpopular levy was announced in June last year, and although it has increased from a 0.5% proposed rate at the time, retains many of the initial aspects of the proposal:

  • employees will contribute 1.5% of their basic salary;
  • employers will contribute an equal amount;
  • both will be capped at KSh2500.

The government’s plan is to build 500,000 affordable houses in the next five years and then sell them to its citizens through mortgages or a tenant purchase scheme.

On the project website, the government says that 213,068 people have already registered for the affordable housing plan.

The houses will be built by private companies and then sold to qualified applicants determined by a lottery.

  • In the press release, it also said that those who do not get a house will be allowed to transfer their money to a pension scheme or withdraw it.
  • Curiously, the cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure, housing and urban development, James Macharia, also said that the employer’s contribution was non-refundable.

Such details are only a small part of why the levy is unpopular with both employees and employers.

  • Kenyans already feel over-taxed, especially as the pinch of increased taxes on basic goods begins to bite: witness the deluge on the popular hashtag #ResistHousingFundLevy.
  • Last year, Kenyatta’s government introduced an 8% levy on petroleum and a 15% presumptive tax on business owners, amidst a wide range of tax increases on goods and services.
  • The principal secretary for housing and urban development, Charles Mwaura, called the levy “a very small sacrifice”.

Critics point out the advantageous timing for the administration, which needs to shore up government finances in the short-term as it struggles to meet a budget deficit and debt repayments.

  • The revenue collections will increase significantly as the tax man widens the fiscal net, with its targets set at a tax base of 7 million by 2021.

In the past few years, the tax net has grown to include landlords and small-business owners.

The Kenya Revenue Authority has also tabled plans to build an intelligence-gathering scheme that will include third-party data from mobile-money services, and punitive measures such as listing on credit-reference bureaux for tax dodgers.

Although the government has been involved in the housing market before, the affordable housing scheme is its most ambitious plan yet.

  • Its target is, on paper, a solution to a market that has mainly catered for high-income and middle-class segments.
  • It would also grow Kenya’s mortgage industry, which has stagnated at below 30,000 despite the fast growth in the overall housing sector.

Bank woes

The problem for commercial lenders is that the plan will cap mortgage rates.

  • Central Bank released draft regulations for the World Bank-funded Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company (KMRC) in February.
  • The refinance company will be restricted to long-term funding and capital-market access to mortgage lenders.

Another problem is Kenya’s rampant corruption which has led to eroded trust in public institutions.

  • There are already multiple ongoing graft cases involving the health insurance and pension funds, the two other mandatory deductions.

While the housing levy might not take effect next week because of two court orders issued in December 2018 and April 2019, it is most likely that the government will proceed to deduct the levy from its employees as a first step.

  • The levy’s most vocal opponents so far have been the Federation of Kenya Employers and the Consumers Federation of Kenya.

Bottom line: Though there are clear advantages to boosting housing for poorer households, the suspicion that elites will capture the benefits will provoke a pitched battle in the weeks to come.

Morris Kiruga

 

View from India: Technology for housing, highways and road networks

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared April 2019-March 2020 as the ‘Construction-Technology’ year.

Close on the heels of this announcement, a high-rise building has been in the news recently. Kolkata, once the seat of the British Raj, is now home to ‘The 42,’ a 268-metre tall ultra-premium residential project.

As the demand for rapid urbanisation is increasing, Modi has stressed the need for eco-friendly, disaster-resilient and energy-efficient construction.

To boost the housing sector, the Government of India (GoI) has implemented national programmes such as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana; Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana; National Urban Livelihoods Mission; HRIDAY; AMRUT and Smart Cities. These programmes can be implemented only if there’s a skill-ready workforce to take it forward. Clearly, this means that the local talent needs to be nurtured. This explains why the government is working on systematic reforms to fine-tune the engineering and technology curriculum in colleges.

The thrust is on innovative technology and high-tech engineering in order to meet the growing requirement. Low-cost mass housing projects are being planned as per the government policy which envisions ‘House for all by 2020.’

From a technology standpoint, prefab technology is a good option for low-cost housing. Besides being earthquake resistant, it doesn’t require foundations. The houses, which take a few hours to build, can be built on locations. Alternatively, they can be built in factories or workshops and transported to the location. Of course, this can become a reality only when incentive schemes are rolled out to prefab makers to lower operational costs.

Besides dwelling homes, highways and road networks are other dimensions of the Construction-Technology vision.

As indicated in the 2019 Interim Budget, India is the world’s fastest highway developer with 27km of highways built each day. In December 2018, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) worked on 31.87km of national highway construction. This is an average record per day.

Moving on, one wishes that technological innovation will bring about a sea change in highway and road journeys. Highways, it is hoped, will package automated computerised traffic systems. These intelligent highways should leverage advanced communication systems to manage traffic in real time. Besides transport management, highways need to be lined with detection points to determine the speed of vehicles. Sensors will help provide weather alerts.

The setting up of electronic tolls will serve a dual purpose. Vehicles need not queue up at toll centres, so the air pollution from idling engines can be avoided. Simply put, highways need to be smart and green.

In 2018, the Eastern Peripheral Expressway (EPE) became the country’s first smart and green highway. The 135km six-lane highway that passes through the states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh is lit by solar power and has provision for rainwater harvesting. Around 2.5 lakh trees line the periphery of the highway. Intelligent highway traffic management system (HTMS) and video incident detection system (VIDS) are other highlights.

All this aligns with the 2015 National Green Highways Policy. The initiative is towards the fulfillment of India’s commitment of voluntary carbon emissions reduction of up to 35 per cent by 2030. This is as per the United Nations Conference of Parties on Climate Change 21 (CoP 21 Summit). Though national highways are the lifeline of road infrastructure, it’s important to keep them green. National Green Highway projects are being encouraged to synergise road development and environment protection.

It would be nice if there will be eco-friendly roads made with recycled materials. While we do require roads for connectivity, it’s also important to keep the ecology intact. As the usage of plastic has been banned at the national level, this is the time when plastic waste needs to be put to good use. Rather than have them contaminating our oceans, it’s practical to recycle plastic waste and use it with asphalt for road construction.

A move has been made in this direction. JUSCO (Jamshedpur Utility and Services Company Limited), a 100 per cent subsidiary company of Tata Steel has combined plastic waste with bitumen technology to make 12-15km of road in the steel city of Jamshedpur, located in the state of Jharkhand. Let’s hope there are more green roads in the country. Large-scale commercialisation of green roads will generate employment and open out newer engineering innovations in road construction.

We continue on the eco-friendly trail, with a departure from road construction. One upcoming trend is that of self-sustaining Industrial Parks whose energy management extends to rainwater harvesting and solar panels. Many of them are poised to be manufacturing hubs and hence attract foreign direct investments.

Logistics parks are beginning to spring up in various states led by government-aid, private-public partnerships and national consortiums. What is important is that these parks are positioned as sustainable and green units that improve the transportation and warehousing industry activities. These parks are expected to handle various manufacturing aspects like the final assembly and labeling, along with packaging, distribution and disposal. Electric and emission-free vehicles, solar and renewable sources of energy are among the norms that will be followed by these upcoming logistics parks.

Source: By  Kavitha Srinivasa

Where ‘Returning Citizens’ Find Housing After Prison

For those who’ve been locked up in prison for years, finding a home on the outside can be rough. Parole restrictions may limit where former inmates can live. Public housing and housing vouchers may be off-limits, and many landlords are reluctant to rent to former offenders.

The result, criminal justice experts say, is a housing crisis among the formerly incarcerated, particularly among those recently released from prison. The lack of affordable housing in many cities, and the resulting spike in overall homelessness, are exacerbating the problem.

Former prison inmates are almost 10 times more likely to become homeless than the general population, according to an August report by the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

In New York City, for example, more than 54% of people released from prison moved straight into the city’s shelter system in 2017, according to a 2018 report by the Coalition for the Homeless.

“If people don’t have stable housing when they get out, they’re much more likely to go back,” said Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a research and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. “Housing is the key to understanding the recidivism puzzle.”

A handful of states, cities and counties are experimenting with ways to house former inmates while protecting the public.

Prisoner advocates in Alameda County, California, launched a program in August that takes the Airbnb approach, pairing recently released offenders with homeowners willing to rent to them.

In December, Delaware Gov. John Carney, a Democrat, created a commission to make it easier for state inmates to find housing and employment.

In Washington state, the Tacoma Housing Authority provides rental assistance to formerly incarcerated college students at risk of homelessness.

The Housing Authority of New Orleans is updating its screening process to make it easier for ex-offenders to get housing, while Seattle and Washington, D.C., have barred landlords from asking about felony convictions on rental applications.

The Georgia Department of Corrections may be taking the most innovative approach. In August, it opened the Metro Reentry Facility in Atlanta, believed to be the first transitional state prison for offenders slated for release within 18 months. “Returning citizens” receive intensive counseling, vocational training and housing support so they will leave with two things: a job and a home.

“One of our goals is: Nobody is released to homelessness,” said Jay Sanders, assistant commissioner of inmate services at the Georgia agency.

Before, many former inmates became homeless as soon as they walked out of prison, said Doug Ammar, executive director of the Georgia Justice Project. The group is providing free legal services for those enrolled in the Metro Reentry Facility program.

“They didn’t have anywhere to go,” Ammar said. “And the state system was like, ‘Good luck, we don’t have anything to do with it.’”

Now government officials are increasingly aware of the problem, Ammar said, and willing to take steps to ameliorate it. The shift comes amid a bipartisan push to change the criminal justice system and reduce recidivism rates by, among other things, updating sentencing guidelines, decriminalizing some minor offenses and raising the age of criminal responsibility.

In the long term, those changes will lead to fewer people going to prison. In the short term, however, they are causing a flood of recently released inmates that is straining homeless assistance programs, according to Stephen Eide, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank in New York City.

Cities faced a surge of homelessness when people with mental illnesses were moved out of institutions in the 1970s and ’80s. Now they are facing a similar situation as more people are released from prison.

“They’ve been in prison, and now they fall into the shelter system,” Eide said. “And shelters are very expensive.”

For their part, landlords say they are faced with a difficult choice.

“There’s a lot of fear when people hear there are criminal records,” said Alexandra Alvarado, director of marketing and education for the American Apartment Owners Association, a membership organization of professional property managers based in Calabasas, California. “They’re afraid they’re going to have a violent offender who’s a safety risk.”

At the same time, Alvarado said, landlords are reluctant to run background checks for fear of being sued for housing discrimination. She said her organization advises property owners to consider the type of crime the former offender committed and its relevance to renting a home.

Precariously Housed

“There’s really no reason to expect that someone leaving prison would be able to find housing on their own,” said Wanda Bertram, spokeswoman for the Prison Policy Initiative.

It should be incumbent on cities, counties and states to find housing for people who’ve been incarcerated, Bertram said, particularly when some local ordinances can make it all but impossible for former inmates to find housing.

For example, in August, the Clayton (California) City Council banned homes for two or more people on probation or parole in all but two locations in the city.

“I don’t want parolee housing landing anywhere in Clayton,” Councilwoman Julie Pierce saidat the Aug. 21 board meeting, according to the East Bay Times. “I want to make it as ugly a process as it can possibly be, so they go anywhere but Clayton.”

Matching Ex-Offenders With Hard-To-Fill Health Care Jobs

Federal law only prohibits two types of former offenders from living in public housing: people convicted of manufacturing methamphetamines and those who must register as sex offenders. But individual authorities have broad discretion to bar other kinds of offenders.

In 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued guidelines advising public housing authorities and private landlords that refusing to rent to someone with a criminal history could violate the Fair Housing Act because “racial and ethnic minorities face disproportionately high rates of arrest and incarceration.”

But critics argue the HUD guidelines are vague and rarely enforced.

“It’s so loosey-goosey out there,” Ammar said. “It leaves a lot of room for people not to get housing.”

Reestablishing Connections

Being in prison cuts people off from friends, family and other sources of support. And sometimes parole conditions bar former inmates from moving back home if other family members also have criminal records — a common situation in poor neighborhoods.

The reentry facility in Atlanta was created because so many state prisoners were from the area but were locked up in facilities far from home, according to Sanders from the Georgia Department of Corrections. Most of the prisons are in rural Georgia, Sanders said, which made it difficult for Atlanta-area inmates to reconnect with family and local services.

So far, 350 inmates, all men, have been enrolled in the program. Plans are in the works that would build additional dorms for men who are about to be released and who have jobs outside the prison.

Prison officials work with the soon-to-be released inmates to help them reconnect with family members, find housing, get a driver’s license and open a bank account.

The goal is to introduce a strange new world to people who may have been incarcerated for decades.

More States Lift Welfare Restrictions for Drug Felons

“They have so much they have to catch up on,” from technology advancements to resume-building to getting a driver’s license, said Terah Lawyer, project coordinator for the Homecoming Project at Impact Justice, a California-based nonprofit.

Lawyer has experienced that struggle herself: In 2017, she was released from prison after serving 15 years of a lifetime sentence. (She doesn’t want to say what her crime was, out of respect for her victim.)

“My criminal record could definitely lead to me [living] in my car,” Lawyer said.

Now, she matches people recently released from prison with homeowners who are willing to give them a place to live and coach them on living life on the outside.

The homeowners are paid a $25 daily subsidy. So far, 10 people have enrolled in the two-year pilot program, which is believed to be the first of its kind.

Five former inmates have successfully completed the program. Two have moved on to their own apartments and three have opted to become permanent roommates with their benefactors. She hopes to expand the program with state and county funding.

“Once they’re not worried where they’re going to lay their head, they’re able to focus on the things that matter,” Lawyer said.

Teresa Wiltz

Could your Spare Room be the Answer to the Broken Housing Market?

Another financial statement from chancellor Philip Hammond this week came with yet another pledge to fix the housing market with yet more affordable housing.

In his Spring Statement, horribly scheduled though it was between a flurry of desperate Brexit-based votes in parliament, the man in charge of the nation’s finances announced an extra 37,000 new homes on top of the promise to deliver 300,000 a year by the end of this parliament.

The plan would mean “unlocking” another £717m from the grant introduced in 2017 to invest in new homes – the Housing Infrastructure Fund – with a total of £3bn invested in this latest plan to doggedly pursue a policy of simply adding to the existing stock of homes in a bid to rebalance the supply/demand ratio.

But with precious little action to deal with the causes rather than symptoms, the frustration among property experts is now almost palpable.

“Anything which improves the supply of affordable housing is to be welcomed but we have heard it all before,” says Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman.

“We want to see a timetable for delivery, which will keep prices in check and meet demand irrespective of political and economic uncertainty, rather than just empty promises.”

In fact, the chancellor is already missing his target of 300,000 homes a year. Meanwhile, other schemes designed to rebuild an equilibrium between wages and property prices seem to have either had no effect, little uptake or done more harm than good.

So what now?

Same ideas, new approach

At the same time that homebuilders are rubbing their hands together with glee at the chancellor’s latest pronouncements, new figures out this week suggest the number of properties that are standing empty is rising rapidly.

Up by more than 5 percentage points in the last year alone, the number of empty homes in England stood at 216,186 in the 12 months to October 2018. That’s worth more than £53bn, according to an analysis of official data from the Ministry of Housing by modular homes provider Project Etopia.

Though the biggest rise was in Portsmouth, with the number of empty properties doubling in more than a year, Birmingham remains the worst offender with 4,283 long-term empty properties.

And that’s just the housing stock that is completely empty.

Sharing economy

There are more than 30 million dwellings in the UK and that equates to more than 84 million bedrooms, according to data by room-share platform ideal flatmate.

According to the ONS, the current UK population is 65.7 million and that means, as a nation, we already have a surplus of 28 per cent or 18.6 million spare rooms.

That’s assuming that on a very top level, one person occupied one bedroom although the reality is that this surplus is likely to be much higher.

With space at a premium, it is somewhat surprising that this surplus is highest in the capital, where there’s an oversupply of 67 per cent between the number of bedrooms compared with the population.

The second largest oversupply is in Wales, where there’s a 38 per cent difference in the number of rooms available to the local population.

The lowest ratio is in the southeast, but with an additional 1,384,293 spare rooms, the oversupply ratio is still 15 per cent.

Many of these are owned by the over 55s, 30 per cent of whom never reclaim them after grown-up children move out. When they do – usually waiting more than a year before taking action – the space is used for hobbies, a guest room, even turned over to just house “junk”, according to research from equity release business SunLife.

Though some will take years to even redecorate, almost two-thirds of those with spare rooms over the age of 55 wouldn’t consider downsizing.

“The lack of housing stock being delivered by the government to meet home buyer demand has not only pushed up house prices but has also put further strain on a rentals market that was already buckling under the pressure,” says Tom Gatzen, co-founder of ideal flatmate.

“But while we struggle to find suitable methods to build more homes, it would seem that there is already an abundance of housing stock under our noses in the form of millions of spare rooms across the UK.

“Not only is there technically a room for everyone, but with an oversupply of over 18.6 million homes, we have far more than we need. With this considered you could be forgiven for thinking housing crisis, what housing crisis?

“While more homes are needed, we need to think about utilising what we already have.”

Kate Hughes

America’s Banks are Big. China’s are Massive

1. Big banks: New York might be the financial capital of the world, but China is home to the planet’s mightiest banks.

The top four banks in the world are from China, according to the latest annual rankings by S&P Global Market Intelligence.
Despite the trade war and currency troubles, China’s “Big Four” banks grew their total assets by 1% in 2018 to $13.8 trillion, S&P said.
The list is led by Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, which retained its title as the world’s biggest bank. ICBC is the only lender that has amassed more than $4 trillion in assets — or roughly the size of Citigroup (C) and Wells Fargo (WFC) combined.
The next three biggest Chinese banks are each north of $3 trillion: China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China and Bank of China. All four banks are state-owned.
American banks have only gotten bigger since the financial crisis, but they’ve still got some growing to do to catch up to their peers in China.
Just two US banks — JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Bank of America (BAC) — crack the top 10 in S&P’s rankings of the world’s largest banks. JPMorgan, which sports $2.6 trillion in assets, cemented its role as the king of American banks Friday by posting record profit and revenue.
Wells Fargo, on the other hand, continues to struggle to move past two-and-a-half years of scandal. Citigroup (C) has surpassed Wells Fargo to become the No. 3 bank in the United States by assets.
Big banks will be in the spotlight again this week as earnings season continues.
Goldman Sachs (GS) and Morgan Stanley (MS) are under pressure to show their trading arms withstood the tranquility in global financial markets that started 2019.
While excess volatility like the storms that struck Wall Street in late 2018 can punish investment banks, a lack of turbulence can hurt as well. Stock trading often dries up when volatility vanishes, sapping Wall Street firms of lucrative trading fees.
Consumer banks, on the other hand, are navigating two other forces.
The big positive is the health of American households. JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon credited “robust” consumer spending with driving his bank’s record quarter. Loans and deposits grew at JPMorgan and Dimon cheered rising employment and wages.
Spending by consumers should pad the results of Citi, Bank of America, US Bancorp (USB), BB&T (BBT) and M&T Bank (MTB), all of which are set to report earnings this week.
But investors will be listening nervously for signs that banks are getting hurt by the gyrations of interest rates.
Wells Fargo spooked Wall Street on Friday by warning of a drop in net interest income — how much banks make from lending minus what they pay on interest. That key source of profitability falls when the yield curve flattens.
The yield curve, the gap between long and short-term rates, evaporated in recent months because of global growth worries and bets that the Federal Reserve will have to cut interest rates.
2. Boeing’s 737 Max crisis: United Continental Holdings (UAL) reports earnings Tuesday. Investors may be looking to see whether the airline has anything to say about how issues with Boeing’s (BA) 737 Max have affected United’s business. United doesn’t have any Max 8s — the type of plane involved in two fatal crashes since October. But it does have more than a dozen Max 9s, which are a larger version of the Max 8.
Delta (DAL), the only major US airline that doesn’t fly any 737 Max jets, reported solid earnings last week. But executives said that factor had little impact on the airline’s market share. Boeing, meanwhile, recently released data that showed airlines are holding off on orders for the 737 Max.
3. Netflix has new competition: Wall Street loved Disney’s new streaming service, which debuts in November and will cost roughly half as much as a standard Netflix subscription. This week, Netflix (NFLX) will have a chance to respond when it reports earnings Tuesday. Last quarter, the company announced that it would raise its monthly fees.
4. PepsiCo’s new CEO hits his stride: When PepsiCo (PEP) reports its first quarter earnings Wednesday, investors will have a chance to see how CEO Ramon Laguarta is executing his vision for the company.
Laguarta stepped into the role in October, and was able to share good news during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call: “We met or exceeded each of the financial targets we outlined at the beginning of the year.” Laguarta also said that he’d spent his first four months as chief executive figuring out ways to improve the business. His plan? To accelerate revenue growth by strengthening and expanding PepsiCo’s portfolio and packaging. Investors seem to be pleased so far. Shares of the company have popped more than 10% so far in 2019.
5. US Retail sales: The Census Bureau reports retail sales for March on Thursday. Wall Street will look to the data to see how consumers are feeling about the economy and which retailers stand to benefit.
 Matt Egan

Should Married Women Buy Property in Husband’s Name or theirs?

In India, if a man buys property in the name of his mother or wife, it could be because of some financial gains says a 2015 report on ‘The Economic Times’.

The report ‘Why you should buy property in your wife’s name’ which was originally written for a real estate media house -Mega Bricks, states that “Property buying has mostly been dominated by the males in the society. However, due to mighty tax benefits and rebates, the male home buyers are not shying away from registering the property in a female’s name; be it their wife or mother.”

In Nigeria, property buying is also dominated by the males; however there are no extra financial gains to be made by registering it in a woman’s name.

Recently, a post in a social media forum generated reactions when it called out married women who didn’t register property in their husband’s name as irresponsible.

Against these backdrops, and streamlining it to married women, LifeXtra sought people’s opinion on the question: when buying property, should married women register it in their name or in the name of their husbands?

Stanley Ebosie, an Abuja-based data analyst, pointed out that different conditions would warrant different responses.

He said, “In an ideal situation, for people that are matured and take their marriage seriously, it should be co-ownership of property. But when things are bought in the name Mr. and Mrs., this decision is largely up to the woman.”

He however stated that “She shouldn’t buy things in the name of the man though” unless she is giving it to him as a gift.

He also added that she can buy the properties “in the name of her kids.”

Buchi Onyegbule, an On-Air-Personality, is emphatically against buying the property in the husband’s name. He however has no issue if she is gifting him such property.

He said “It’s fine if she does, as a gift, but not a property she intends to own. Then, even if it’s a car, it should be in her name or as a joint unit.”

A medical doctor, who simply identified himself as Hillary, said “It depends on the peculiar situation of the family. If the family has a single treasury, it will be poor judgment for her to buy in her name especially if other properties are bought in another name which, most likely in Nigeria, will be in the husband’s name.”

“However, if there are separate purses for the spouses, buying in her name is most expedient especially with our current rising quest for material things,” he added.

“But in all, if there are no threats of forfeiture like with a loving mate, court wedding, and monogamy etc, buying in the man’s name will strengthen conjugal trust and promote harmony in no small measure.”

He also added that “When the husband does in her name, it has similar effect” of promoting harmony.

Clarifying further, Hillary said “When your wife knows she is your next of kin or you know you are her next of kin it’s more relaxing than when her father, or your brother is your next of kin.”

A literary enthusiast, who wanted to be simply known as Ulo, told LifeXtra that “everybody should buy in their father’s name or in their children’s names, referring to both husbands and wives.

A lawyer, Saidu Muhammad Lawal, in a brief response said “She should buy in her name; the husband could be her preferred next of kin.”

A young Abuja resident doctor, who pleaded anonymity, had a contrary view. She said a woman shouldn’t buy properties in her husband’s name.

Narrating an incident where a man married the house help and threw the wife out of her own house with a suckling baby, she added “He left her with nothing and took all her property which were in his name.”

The young doctor said “Before we are spouses, we are humans, competitive, smart, malicious, good and evil. We fall in love, we fall out of love and not even marriage vows can help us.”

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