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Pittsburgh launches task force on construction industry fraud

The Pittsburgh City Council recently voted to establish the Joint Task Force on Construction Industry Fraud amid allegations of widespread fraud in the industry.

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The board will identify and combat “unfair trade practices, including tax fraud” committed by the city’s construction businesses. The focus will be on wage violations that result in underpayment or non-payment of taxes, and low, under-the-table pay rates that prevent some workers from being able to support their families.

A carpenters union claims that Pennsylvania has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes as a result of underpayment of taxes by construction firms. Though some workers who are paid off the books may be undocumented immigrants, the bill makes no mention of monitoring undocumented workers.

The task force will include representatives from the city council, mayor’s office, Pittsburgh Regional Building and Construction Trades Council, Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, and the Pittsburgh Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections.

Report reveals record number of homeless people dying on UK streets

Thousands of people are living on the streets in every UK town and city and a record number of roofless people are dying. One encounters homeless people on every major high street—sitting, sleeping, begging, wrapped in a sleeping bag or blankets in an attempt to keep out the winter cold.

Homelessness shot to national prominence again over the holiday period when a man died just feet from Parliament on December 20. Hungarian national Gyula Remes had been homeless for the last three months. According to friends, he had just found a job as a chef’s assistant and was hoping to be off the streets soon.

His death came as the Office for National Statistics revealed figures showing that almost 600 people died in 2017 while sleeping rough on the streets. The grim tally of 597 dead marks a 24 percent increase over the last five years, with the highest numbers in London and the north west of England. Over the last five years, an estimated 2,627 homeless people have perished on the streets.

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There were 50 deaths on the streets of Greater Manchester last year, with homeless people dying at a higher rate, relative to population, than London, where 136 homeless people died.

In the region’s main city, Manchester, on December 26, Tony Lawless, who had been a rough sleeper on and off since the death of his father, was found dead in Rochdale canal. The former market worker had just been released from North Manchester General after collapsing on Christmas Day and was 51 years old.

Homeless people often resort to sleeping in refuse bins, which has led to several deaths. Last January, Russell Lane, 51, died from his injuries after being tipped into the back of a refuse lorry in Rochester, Kent. He had wrapped himself in a disused roll of carpet in the bin.

The number of rough sleepers in England doubled in 2017 to 4,571, from 1,768 in 2010, according to the House of Commons Library, which also reported average life expectancy for a rough sleeper at just 47 for a male and 43 for a woman.

The first published deaths of the homeless on the street coincide with the latest figures released by the Crisis charity, revealing a record 170,000 families and individuals without homes. The number is expected to rise.

Research carried out at Heriot-Watt University on behalf of Crisis found a year-on-year increase in homelessness between 2012 and 2017. Approximately 38,000 under-25s and 4,200 over-65s are homeless.

There are 170,800 homeless households in comparison to 151,600 in 2012. Included in this figure are those who are rough sleeping, sofa-surfing, or staying in hostels.

Crisis lays the blame at the doors of government, including policies which have created an acute shortage of genuinely affordable social housing, reduced Housing Benefit which no longer covers rent and is not available to under 25s, and youth thrust out of the care system aged 18 without provision. John Sparkes, chief executive, said, “This new research echoes what we see every day in our front-line work—that there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ homeless person … this crisis is affecting people who range from young care-leavers to pensioners. … This is a wake-up call to see homelessness as a national emergency.”

These figures are corroborated by housing charity Shelter, which revealed at the end of November that there are 320,000 homeless people living in Britain, an increase of 25,000 since last year. This figure, which includes people in working families, is likely an underestimate. Official figures only include those in contact with local authorities and not the hidden homeless residing with family or friends.

Shelter Chief executive Polly Neate said, “Due to the perfect storm of spiralling rents, welfare cuts and a total lack of social housing, record numbers of people are sleeping out on the streets or stuck in the cramped confines of a hostel room.”

The charity cited one of the causes of rising homelessness as the low level of housing benefit—a means-tested welfare benefit to help meet costs for rented accommodation—which does not cover average rent. The local housing allowance in Manchester, for example, is set at £532 a month for a family needing a three-bedroom house. However, private landlords, apart from student lets, ask for rents of £800 per month and upwards.

The homeless crisis has become so visible and public anger so widespread that Theresa May’s Conservative government has been forced to retract its previous denial of responsibility. Just prior to Christmas, Housing Minister James Brokenshire said the Conservatives “need to ask ourselves some very hard questions” regarding the increase in rough sleepers since the government came to office, and that what was necessary were “changes to policy.”

This was just PR, with the government doing virtually nothing to ameliorate an appalling crisis. After announcing “the end of austerity” in September, May allocated a measly £100 million—a repackaging of money already announced—as part of the government’s “Rough Sleepers Strategy” that is supposedly to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027!

Leading politicians of all parties, whose austerity policies over decades are responsible for the crisis, interrupted their Christmas celebrations for a show of sympathy for the homeless and destitute.

In recent weeks, the public have been forced to endure the obscene spectacle of Conservative MPs visiting food banks and supermarket food bank drop-off points for photo-ops. Among these were Dominic Raab, who infamously said in 2017 that those using foodbanks were people “who had a cashflow problem episodically.” The reality is that huge swathes of the population are going hungry and being forced onto the streets due to more than a decade of brutal anti-social policies, such as the bedroom tax and universal credit.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn visited a homeless hostel run by Crisis in his Islington constituency on Christmas Eve. In his Christmas message he invoked the spirit of the Good Samaritan, while his government-in-waiting has bent over backwards to reassure the rich it will not encroach on their ill-gotten gains to provide essential services.

Labour’s promise of initial funding of £100 million for one year into a rough sleepers’ cold weather fund is derisory and would not end rough sleeping. Corbyn acknowledged as much when he suggested Labour in office would repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act, under which there have been 2,365 prosecutions in 2015-2016. This would make it legal to sleep and beg on the streets but would not eradicate the causes of destitution.

The homeless crisis is an indictment of a failed system, capitalism. Beginning in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher, and pursued enthusiastically by subsequent Labour governments, over 1.5 million council houses were sold off as the building of new stock ground to a halt. Last year only 6,463 homes were built in England for social rent, while 1.25 million families are on the waiting list.

Labour councils throughout the UK have implemented every cut imposed by central government and implemented privatisation of services with zeal. In London, residents have organised in opposition to the regeneration plans of Labour’s mayor Sadiq Khan, which involve the demolition of 8,000 council estate homes so property developers can get their hands on prime real estate to make a killing.

Greater Manchester’s social housing stock has declined by 5 percent in the six years since 2012 and 85,639 households languish on Labour council-run housing waiting lists. This led to 2,000 children spending their Christmas in emergency accommodation.

Gentrification and social cleansing are happening everywhere, with city skylines crowded with cranes and newly built luxury high-rise blocks that are unaffordable to everyone but the richest.

The resources can and must be found to provide safe, decent homes for all. The wealth of the billionaires and super-rich, acquired by exploiting the working class, must be expropriated to meet urgent, life or death, social needs.

Housing Delivery: Ministry of Housing Introduce New Developer Contribution Rules

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published a consultation on funding infrastructure with a view to quickening the pace of housing delivery in England.

The rules centre on developer contributions which help fund new roads, schools play areas and other essential infrastructure.

Financial contributions are required from developers where additional public infrastructure is needed to support the building of new homes, with the government claiming that its Community Infrastructure Levy collected almost £1bn since it was introduced in 2010.

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The government says the move is part of a package of reforms to address the ‘lengthy and complex process of negotiation for councils that slows down the delivery of new homes, precisely at a time when more are needed.’

The consultation also seeks to increase the types of project that can benefit from CIL, ensuring a wider range of community priorities are eligible to receive funding.

Launching the consultation, minister of state for housing Kit Malthouse says: “Communities and developers must know that vital infrastructure needed to support new homes is going to arrive – even before a shovel hits the ground.

“These reforms will make the system simpler, transparent and easy to understand and will accelerate the pace of home-building – it’s now up to house-builders and residents to tell us what they think.”

The draft measures, initially announced at the 2018 Autumn Budget, are part of the government’s ambition to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.

The consultation takes forward new proposals intended to:Introduce a new strategic infrastructure tariff, helping fund large scale projects which benefit multiple communities falling under a combined local authority.

Widen options on how contributions can be used by councils to benefit their residents, ensuring funds are spent on a wider range of local priorities.Increase certainty and transparency by requiring councils to publish details on what has been collected and spent, so communities understand the benefit of development.

Ensure the Community Infrastructure Levy responds to changes in land values, ensuring towns and village get the contributions they deserve when planning permission is granted.

Survey Reveals U.K. Home Prices Growing At Slowest Pace In 5 Years

House prices in the UK are growing at their slowest pace in over five years according to the latest figures released.Sold house prices rose 2.7 per cent over the year to £231,000 but dropped slightly month on month, by 0.2 per cent, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data found.

North West England led the price rise with the average sold price up 4.9 per cent in a year to £165,000, thanks to a strong jobs market in Manchester and the surrounding areas.

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Yorkshire and the Humber had the second strongest year for price growth with house prices rising 4.4 per cent to £164,000. The East Midlands saw 4.3 per cent price growth to £193,000.

But in London, still by far the most expensive place to buy a home, prices dropped by 1.7 per cent year on year, to an average sold price of £474,000.

A real estate expert,Jonathan Hopper attributed this to London’s exposure to the impact of Brexit. The North East was the other region to experience falling prices, down 0.1 per cent in a year to £128,000.

“Two years of gnawing uncertainty about Britain’s post-Brexit future have chilled several regional markets to the bone,” said Mr Hopper.

“In London and North East England – two regions expected to feel the impact of Brexit more than most – average prices are falling as demand wobbles and would-be sellers hunker down and wait for things to improve before putting their home on the market.”

House prices in the City of London and Tower Hamlets, where many of those who work in financial services live, saw double digit drops. More than £55,000 was wiped from the average sold price of a home in Tower Hamlets.

But price drops in the capital were also seen as a potential bonus for buyers. Mr Hopper said: “We’re seeing a steady stream of tactical buyers emerging from the woodwork to snap up homes at large discounts.”

Housing Secretary Rejects Plans To Replace Social Homes With Private

The plans to replace 70 social homes in Kensington and Chelsea with private housing options have been rejected by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government,The Rt Hon.James Brokenshire.

Warren Kenny, General Trade Union(GMB) Regional Secretary, said: “GMB is very pleased with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s decision to reject the Clarion Group’s appeal for planning permission for proposals that would have led to the loss of nearly one third of the social housing units on the William Sutton Estate in Chelsea. GMB had branded this development a blatant case of asset stripping.

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“Clarion must not forget the primary reason of a housing association is to provide low cost housing to those on low incomes or those who need extra support. Nor must it forget that the Sutton Dwellings Trust was founded to provide ‘model low-rented dwellings for occupation by the poor of London and other towns and populous places’.

“GMB has consistently supported residents fighting for their voices to be heard on proposals for demolition of their estates. We salute the residents of the Sutton Estate in their fight to retain social housing in Chelsea. We are supporters of Demolition Watch London in its campaign for all residents on estates facing demolition to be balloted on redevelopment plans with no loopholes or exceptions. This is the only way to stop asset stripping and the loss of social housing.”

Cllr Ian Henderson, Chair of the Chelsea Association of Tenants and Save The Sutton also commented on the news: “I think this is a great day for the residents of Kensington and Chelsea and for all the other housing battles that are taking place across the country.

“London needs homes for Londoners, not investment vehicles for international hedge funds. Social housing tenants across the UK can take heart from this decision. Just because your landlord says it needs to be knocked down, it isn’t necessarily so. We call for a halt to the 10 year managed decline of the estate and for Clarion to meaningfully engage with residents and the council, so we can get people out of temporary accommodation and into a home,” he concluded.

Survey says UK Construction firms already feeling impact of Brexit

One third of UK construction firms are already feeling the effects of Brexit, according to new data, but most companies have not yet taken any action to deal with it.

Research shows that the number of construction employers feeling the impact of Brexit has increased by 9 per cent compared with last year.

Almost half the employers in the sector are concerned that recruitment is going to become more difficult over the next two years, while 4 per cent expect hiring to become easier. Research shows that the number of migrant workers in unskilled, general labouring roles has doubled in the last year, rising from 22 per cent to 40 per cent. Within the sector, Romanians have “risen rapidly” to becoming the largest national group working in construction, up from 27 per cent in 2015 to 64 per cent in 2017.

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However, the data also shows that less than a third of firms have taken action “or plan on doing” so as Brexit approaches.

In a survey of more than 400 firms, respondents said keeping hold of the workers they currently employ is the most important aim to employers in the run-up to Brexit. Steve Radley, policy director at Construction Industry Training Board, said: “With Brexit approaching, construction employers are expecting the recruitment of skilled workers to get harder as they anticipate restrictions on access to migrant workers. However, few employers are making firm plans to address this and instead are focusing on retaining their existing migrant workforce.”

He added that the research highlighted a need for a “twin-track strategy” of investing in the domestic workforce while enabling employers to “continue to secure the vital talent of migrant workers”.

Mr Radley said: “With an estimated 158,000 construction jobs to be created between now and 2022, it is critical that industry works together to deliver its part of this strategy.”

The most recent industry data showed construction activity picked up in June, with the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index showing a figure of 53.1, up from 52.5 in May, indicating the fastest growth in seven months.

However, analysts warned the the industry is still under a “cloud of uncertainty” because of Brexit.

Earlier this year, research carried out by the federation of Master Builders revealed that construction firms were facing more than year-long waits for materials such as bricks due to the devaluation of sterling

Talks over construction of $20b new Egyptian capital stalls

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s dream of a gleaming new capital in the desert east of Cairo has been dealt a blow by the failure of negotiations with a Chinese developer that was going to invest $20bn in the scheme.

Officials in charge of delivering the vast New Administrative Capital said two years of talks with China Fortune Land Development (CFLD) fell through over how to share out revenue from the real estate element of the project.

Egypt wanted 40% but CFLD offered only 33%, said Khaled Elhusseiny, spokesman for the military-controlled company in charge of the scheme, the New Administrative Capital for Urban Development (ACUD).

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“We found that to be unacceptable especially they were going to have a premium plot,” Elhusseiny said.

Talks were deemed at an end after the Egyptian side responded to CFLD’s final proposal on developing 6,070 hectares over 25 years in the new capital, and received no answer.

“We didn’t hear back,” ACUD chairman Ahmed Zaki Abdeen said. “The talks have stopped.”

CFLD signed a memorandum of understanding on the development deal in October 2016.

The apparent failure of the negotiations will fuel doubts over the commercial viability of Sisi’s grand vision, which he announced at an investment conference in March 2015.

Worried by overpopulation and congestion in Cairo, Sisi’s plan is to move the entirety of Egypt’s legendarily huge state apparatus, including 34 ministries and many foreign embassies, to the as-yet unnamed site marked out over 725-sq-km of desert 35km east of Cairo.

Officials imagine 6.5 million people will eventually be drawn out of the capital to inhabit the city, which they hope will be developed through a Dubai-style real estate business model.

However, critics of the plan point out that dozens of new desert cities launched in Egypt over the last 50 years now sit as ghost towns, and that the speculative real estate model creates dysfunctional spaces where ordinary Egyptians cannot afford to live.

Initially, Egypt counted on Gulf property investors to take the new capital plan forward but, when that did not materialise, Chinese builders and developers entered the scene.

In October last year, state-owned contracting giant CSCEC signed a $3bn deal to build a central business district in the new capital, featuring Africa’s tallest building.

Despite doubts in some quarters, the Egyptian military is pressing on with constructing the new capital.

Early this month, ACUD’s Ahmed Zaki Abdeen said 45 local companies and 180,000 workers are building infrastructure there, and that $7.8bn (140 billion Egyptian pounds) is currently allocated for sewerage and other utilities.

Abdeen, a retired general, said the new capital would be ready to receive 34 ministries and 50,000 employees, as well as the presidency and parliament, by the end of 2020.

He added that an electrified railway would be built from Cairo to the new capital within two years, financed by a loan from China.


Survey reveals UK Construction workers cut corners on Fridays

A survey of UK construction workers has found that three quarters of tradespeople admit to doing at least one “Friday job” – in which they cut corners in order to steal a march on the weekend.

The study, which surveyed 500 workers, showed that 76% admitted to rushing work, as opposed to 15% who said they never had.

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One worker commented: “It was Friday afternoon – I knew that light switch was upside down, and shame on me, but it was time to go to the pub.”

Another, who confessed to rushing interior decorating jobs in the run-up to the weekend, said: “It’s almost traditional now. Friday afternoon jobs get done quickly so you can have an early finish for the weekend. Everybody does it.”

A decorator from London commented “I didn’t use masking tape and let’s just say I hope that customer is blind as those lines are not straight.”

Chris Hall, spokesperson for Protecting.co.uk, said: “Not only do these ‘Friday jobs’ tend to result in problems which can cost consumers dearly further down the line, they also open up a can of worms when it comes to health and safety. If the correct precautions aren’t taken due to workers being preoccupied, trade businesses could be liable for much more than just complaints and money spent fixing botched jobs.”

He added that firms could introduce “early finish Fridays” to reduce the temptation to speed through jobs.



Report says China built 88 skyscrapers in 2018

A total of 88 buildings measuring 200 meters (656 feet) or above were completed in cities across China this year,according to a report released by the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH).
The figure sets a new benchmark for annual skyscraper construction in a single country, and is almost seven times higher than the 13 completions recorded in the US, which ranked a distant second.
The country accounted for 61.5% of new buildings recorded in the CTBUH’s 2018 figures. Of those, 14 were built in the southern city of Shenzhen, which topped the city rankings for the third consecutive year ahead of Dubai, Beijing, New York and the northern Chinese city of Shenyang.
Asian cities dominated the rest of the list of the year’s tallest completions, with Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Changsha, China, also finishing structures taller than 400 meters (1312 feet) in the last 12 months.
Elsewhere, the South American capitals of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Bogota, Colombia, finished their biggest towers to date. San Francisco and Miami also completed their tallest ever skyscrapers: the 326-meter (1,070-foot) Salesforce Tower and the 252-meter (827-foot) Panorama Tower, respectively.
The Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia is, at 342 meters (1,121 feet), the tallest building to be completed outside of Asia this year, and the tallest in the city.
The CTBUH estimates that the world could see anywhere from 120 to 150 new skyscrapers measuring 200 meters or above completed in 2019. But its annual report also acknowledges that China’s race to build upwards may soon be hampered by domestic economic conditions.
“Although 2018 was a banner year for skyscraper projects in the country, it is likely that coming years will register the effects of increased financial controls and more conservative debt financing policies,” the report said. “If these policies continue, China’s seemingly limitless dominance of the tall building world may begin to falter.
“It can also be expected that any tariffs imposed against China would lead to disruptions in the global construction industry, particularly concerning steel, as well as in China itself.”
A slowdown would not only affect construction within the country, but also overseas developments that rely on private or state funding from China, the report said.
“The ability of Chinese banks and developers to fund overseas projects could be further reduced,” the report said. “Overseas investment has already been strongly curtailed during 2018, resulting in the cessation, sale, or interruption of Chinese investor-driven projects in Australia, the United States, and elsewhere.”

EX US President Lives In A Modest $167,000 House

Former President Jimmy Carter might have once called the white mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue his home, but now, he lives in a much,more modest abode.

Carter, the nation’s 39th president, lives a fairly normal — and frugal — life, according to The Washington Post.In fact, Carter, 93, still lives in the ranch house he built himself in 1961.

The home, in rural Plains, Georgia (about a 2½-hour drive south of Atlanta) is a two-bedroom ranch assessed at just $167,000, which is “less than the value of the armored Secret Service vehicles parked outside,”. It’s also less than the median home price in Georgia, which is about $175,300,.In addition to his affordable home, Carter’s frugal tendencies include spending weekends dining with neighbors on paper plates with bargain-brand wine,.

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In addition, it says he and wife Rosalynn make their own yogurt. In recent years, Carter has made much of his income from writing books,he has published at least 33, including a children’s book and reflections on his presidency.

Carter also receives a $210,700 annual pension, as do all former presidents, plus the federal government gives all ex-presidents an allowance for things like travel and office space. In 2017, Carter got more than $230,000 in such allowances, according to the National Taxpayers Union Foundation,a conservative advocacy group.

Carter’s modest lifestyle is sharply different from those of other living former presidents.In 2017, former President Barack Obama purchased an $8.1 million mansion  in Washington, and is well known for his family’s tradition of taking a summer vacation to the picturesque (and pricey) Martha’s Vineyard. The secluded property they would rent out for those vacations just sold for $15 million.

And while Bill Clinton said he left the White House $16 million in debt, that was swiftly erased thanks to his lucrative paid speeches and book deals. It’s been reported by NPR that his first year out of office, Clinton gave 57 speeches and raked in a whopping $13.7 million from his “speaking and writing business,” according to a 2001 tax return.

Clinton’s real estate portfolio includes a $1.7 million home in Chappaqua, New York, and a $2.85 million home in D.C.

In 2015,it was reported  that George W. Bush had given at least 200 paid speeches since 2009, typically making around $100,000 to $175,000 per appearance.

But fancy living is not Carter’s style. Instead, the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner says, “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”

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