Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Big families squeezed out of DC rental market; NYTimes article explores how past segregation sill affects wealthy black families

“Big families squeezed out?: the headline in the Tuesday Washington Post reads.  The subtext is “Affordable large apartments are vanishing as D.C. gentrifies”.  Online, Paul Duggan’s article reads “In gentrifying D.C., apartments for large families are quickly disappearing.”

The article concerned the loss of multi-bedroom apartments in older duplexes and low rise buildings around Brookland and Catholic University, but this is pretty much happening through northeast DC.  New condos go up, and the area becomes more appealing to singles and professionals.  Along Benning Road, a gay disco opens, with new condos and apartments nearby.  Along New York Avenue, old warehouses become SoHo-style condos with high ceilings.  But the crime in the area is still a problem, as poor people have no place to go (Prince Georges County).

Also, minorities have more children (helping keep the birth rate in the US near replacement level, unlike Europe), and are more likely to elder family members living at home.  When they own homes, they can build additions (like is common in Arlington).  Rental houses may have enough rooms, but new apartments will not.

The loss of affordable housing will certainly affect the ability to place immigrants or refugees (or asylees).  It also can exacerbate tensions among classes of people, more along income than just race.
Another important article is a booklet-length presentation in the Sunday New York Times, Aug. 28, “Affluent and Black, and Still Trapped by Segregation: Why well-off black families end up living in poorer areas than white families with similar or even lower incomes”, by John Eligon and Robert Gebeloff. with a lot of detail about Milwaukee. The writers say that this is about race, not just class.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Donald Trump's racial behavior in running his dad's real estate deals probably reflected the social values of the times

Did Donald Trump discriminate against blacks in renting real estate early in his career?

It looks like he did when working for his father, although he was behaving as many did at the time. A New York Times story Aug. 28 by Jonathan Mahler and Steve Eder talks about the systemic denial of apartments to blacks in the 60s, when they would be told there were no vacancies while still advertising. The younger Trump apparently learned he was being sued on a car radio in 1973.

But these attitudes were common.  When I rented a garden apartment in south Arlington, VA in the spring of 1971, the female rental agent was quite blatant in her bias.  Single professional gay men, by comparison, who acted “normal” and “hid” had no problems.  When moving to New Jersey in 1972 and New York City in 1974, I saw no such bias any longer.  Even in 1979, when moving to Dallas, however, I encountered a rental agent who was rather biased.  Pro football was seen as a sport for rich team owners to place their “blacks” as if token toys. But during the 1980s, even under Reagan, social attitudes in Texas with regard to race steadily if gradually improved.

Singles social clubs (for straights) were common everywhere when I started my adult working life in 1970.  And they were all quite forthright about being white-only even in New Jersey and later Arlington VA.

So Donald Trump’s behavior as a younger man reflected the times he had grown up in.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Yes, EMT workers are supposed to risk their lives (op-ed in Washington Post)

Here’s a provocative article leading off the Outlook section of the Sunday August 28, 2016 Washington Post, by Ex-EMT Kevin Hazzard, “Paramedics are taught to not risk their lives; they should”   Yup, the risk to his own life is justified by working on a victim in an area with an active shooter.

Hazzard does discuss the handling of the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando in June 2016.

On a trip this week, I randomly met a young volunteer fire fighter in a restaurant in the little town of Cumberland Gap (TN side).  He seemed to look for role models.  Nats outfielder Bryce Harper had considered volunteer firefighting at one time, as well as Mormon mission, but baseball was too valuable.  Self-sacrifice and duty are controversial.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Handiness with tools and physical self-reliance seems to tide over West Virginia home owners after summer floods

I finally visited the flood area along Rt 39 (and some areas to the north) in southern West Virginia Friday (I had already visited White Sulphur Springs on July 12).

Most of the town of Richwood was in decent shape, “functionable”.  Much of the city is high enough to have escaped the floods, but businesses and homes near the creek had been inundated.  The local Dairy Queen is on the flood area but was closed only three days.  I disagree with the “nosiness” idea that I encountered before;  visitors can help small business owners just by stopping and spending money, at least on meals. Normal capitalism.

North toward Birch River, Cown and Camden there was some more obvious damage.  I mistook a country road for SR 82 and drove into an abyss.  People live, apparently off the grid, along the streams of these roads, which had lots of damage, washed out shoulders, and brush.  It appeared that the people living in this area are much handier with tools and fixing homes themselves than city people – they have to be – and some people were still working on their homes, perhaps with no flood insurance but able to do all the work themselves without contractors.   Pickup trucks filled with tools, sheetrock, insulation were common.  Truckloads of city volunteers would simply have gotten in the way.  These folk don’t need Hillary Clinton to save them.

I did notice that two homes had been demolished, and one slid off its foundation, on a steep bank above Richwood.  This appeared to be due to landslide, not flood.   I understand that standard homeowner’s insurance usually doesn’t cover mudslide or landslides or earth movement (source ).  This can affect mountainous areas.  People can be at risk from mudslides from rain events without living in flood areas.  There have been major incidents on the West Coast.

No question, a warming world is going to make us ponder how we will pay for additional disasters, often befalling lower income people in rural areas, although often these people are much handier than the rest of us.

After the 2011 earthquake in Virginia, I think I spent about $900 out of pocket on minor damage (northern Virginia)– chimney and a couple of electrical problems.

I understand Ellicott City, MD, will not open to the public until Sept. 12 at the earliest.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Blue Cut Fire in California compares to Louisiana floods in numbers of households displaced

Just as much of Louisiana is imperiled by floods, much of southern California, east of Los Angeles and around I-10, San Bernadino and other areas that I have often visited or driven rental cars through in the past (most recently in 2012) is severely affected by a huge wildfire (the Blue Cut Fire), involving 30000 acres, and leading to evacuation of over 80000 people (which must mean 25000 or more homes and households).

NBC News has a story here.

At the same time a man was arrested for multiple counts of arson in setting wildfires in northern California, ABC story here. Given the tender dry conditions in some area, even visitors could accidentally set wildfires with cigarette butts or matches or campfires.  The NPS has a link on visitor responsibility.

But some of the fires seem to be set by dry lightning, and in dry conditions fires tend to “jump”.  And people have been allowed to build in interface areas or “fire plains”.

Standard homeowner’s insurance does seem to cover wildfires, so in that sense homeowners in the West may be better off than many homeowners in Louisiana, who did not have adequate flood insurance.

Policy makers have not discussed housing of those displaced by really large disasters very openly, as we know from the experience with Katrina.  Do they want other homeowners to participate in housing them?  It hasn’t been really said yet that this should be expected.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How does Louisiana flooding in 2016 compare to Katrina in terms of lives disrupted?

ABC News is reporting that about 40000 homes have been damaged, 20000 people rescued, and 8000 people housed in shelters in southeastern Louisiana, with the greatest damage more or less around Livingston, SE of Baton Rouge.   The most recent story and video is here


It’s not clear how people will be housed, as FEMA trailers did not work out too well after Hurricane Katrina (which displaced273000 people ).  Many people were put up in apartment complexes in Texas, especially around Houston.  A few hundred were housed as far to the NE as the DC area.  The death toll this time will be much lower. Oprah Winfrey visited the Superdome when it was set up as a shelter, and said she almost vomited from the stench.  
The storm system seems tropical in character and really deserves to be a named tropical storm. 

There is some surprise that most homeowners in some areas (above 40 feet elevation) did not have flood insurance (NBC video).  Above certain elevations, it is not required.  This complicates the moral issues for people who could personally assist them. Is flood insurance unaffordable? 
Louisiana is a big center for filmmaking by major studios now, and its unclear how they are affected. Later, some media reports indicated that a studio facility in Baton Rouge had been converted to a temporary shelter.  
Picture: Bay St. Louis, MS, my trip, Feb. 2006  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Facts about police shooting of armed suspect don't seem to matter enough yet in Milwaukee

Here’s a surprising interpretation by Vox of the Milwaukee police shooting incident, by German Lopez.  Vox acknowledges that the police report that the suspect was armed and fleeing from committing a crime, but says we cannot always trust police at their word, at least at first.  That’s a troubling claim.

The Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal has an account here.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (Democrat) has said he had seen the police shooting and claims the video shows that the suspect Sylville Smith was armed, typical story,   Furthermore, it appears that the officer who shot the suspect is black.  Governor Scott Walker (Republican, himself controversial with workers and on unions) has called out the National Guard for standby but not deployed it.

Demonstrators say they don’t care what the police say, they are tired of being treated badly by white businesses in the area.

I most recently visited Milwaukee in 2000, and had been downtown also in May 1992.
By Dori - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 us.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Silver Spring apartment explosion already said to pose object lessons for homeowners and other apartment landlords with gas service

Following catastrophic flooding in Ellicott City, MD, near Baltimore, July 30 (and the town is in a Piedmont canyon), there was a catastrophic apartment building explosion in Silver Spring MD August 11, 2016 at the Flower Branch Apartments.

There is no official cause, but reputable news stories indicate tenants had complained about the smell of gas (methyl mercaptan) some time before and that management had not addressed it adequately.

 There are also reports of an ATF investigation.

Smaller apartment fires old older properties are quite common, and it's no secret that low and moderate income people (including many immigrants) live in housing that is somewhat unsafe and inadequately maintained.  It is also true that tenant behavior can endanger others (link about renters insurance; blog posting about liability in another Maryland case).

WJLA today aired a story on home safety with gas lines, and suggested that homeowners turn off gas before they go out of town.

I’ve never heard this before.  A reputable gas company plumber says that should not be done, and that appliances cannot be turned back on by the homeowner without plumbing help.  Recently, I had a gas meter replaced outdoors by an upgrade, and the gas company did have to turn it off to install it, and retest the stove and furnace.  However, homeowners should know where the gas shiutoff valve is.  (It is considered good advice to turn off water before a home will be empty for more than a couple days.)

Many small businesses and rowhouses in Washington DC and other older cities have gas meters outside, where they are probably safer with respect to any leaks, but could present a target for vandalism.


Saturday night near the apartments, public access largely closed by police, but area of destruction visible from University Blvd at sight,

Access to Ellicott City from US-40 closed by police near Howard County government center.

Nearby Patapsco Valley State Park on US 40 open for visitors and hikers.  Note the "Peaceful Pond" hike (like the 1981 movie "On Golden Pond").  This area is only about three miles from downtown Ellicott City but did not get nearly as much rain or flooding, for whatever reason.

Update:  Aug. 18

The National Transportation Safety Board (as well as ATF) is looking into the possibility of issues with the Washington Gas infrastructure leading up to the meters for the building, rather than with the maintenance of the Flower Branch apts. or any possibility of deliberate acts.  Gas pressure is "stepped down" at meters.  Outdoor meters might not be as secure as indoor.  Washington Gas says its own inspection has found no problems.  The story by Dan Morse and Luz Lazo in the Washington Post Metro section today, Thursday. Recovery continues and much of the area is still off limits for the public,

Ellicott City will allow 4 days for residents to inspect the property, and then close much of Main Street for three weeks for major repairs (until at least Monday Sept. 12).

Update: Aug. 19

The official cause, according to NTSB and others, is a gas leak into an indoor meter room.  Why wasn't this detected? Somebody was grossly negligent.  The lawyers are going to get active on this. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

DC Metro has more setbacks, as SafeTrack falls short of fixing what FTA calls critical safety problems; more shutdowns possible

Washington DC’s Metro have have to keep its SafeTrack going even longer, as the FTA has issued another critical report after the derailment on July 29 in a section at East Falls Church where trains change tracks.

The possibility that some single tracking could lead to closures, and weekend closers could last longer, and eventual restoration of late night service seems even more unlikely. The Post story is here.

The FTA has made more demands of Metro, as in this August 8 Metro directive.

It does seem that, from what I can tell, Uber is working pretty well, and especially if you share rides, it’s usually cheaper than taxis, using than driving and paying to park, and may be getting in the ballpark of several Metro rides in the same day.  But I don’t know how much this helps employees of bars and restaurants.

In the meantime, Metro management has shown little interest in replacing the lost Metro service with busses, maybe because of reports that private transit is working (libertarian solutions).  But Washington DC’s political climate makes it hostile to the idea of world-class entertainment 24x7.

 High rollers who want this go to New York, LA, San Francisco, Las Vegas, etc.  At least that’s the attitude.

In New York City, riders face an 18-month shutdown of the 14th St L train (which used to have some of the oldest cars), the Canarsie line, in 2019, for repairs from Hurricane Sandy, link. This could affect riders who live in some areas of Brooklyn and Queens.  It won’t affect the Mets, who are on the #7 line.

Update: Aug. 14:

More Pix:

And a globe over the Mount Vernon station at the Convention Center.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Is the "fluoridation v. African Americans" a canard (like the vaccine debate)?

Is the new “fluoridation crisis” real, or another example of identity politics?  KPBS asks the question here. Is this another vaccine debate?

It’s hard to say so far.  I can remember the issue of public water fluoridation when I was growing up, and even having my teeth painted with fluoride.  I don’t think it was particularly effective.

Does fluoridated water hurt blacks more?  Is there something we’re missing, or is it an indirect consequence of more diabetes and kidney disease (especially ESRD) among African Americans?

Monday, August 01, 2016

Can prospective homeowners buy smart and reduce wildfire and flood risks?; video of Ellicott City, MD flood

Can prospective owners evaluate the risk of a potential wildfire before purchasing a home?
The general rule is that wildfire risk doesn’t have a big impact on the cost of a mortgage, but it will increase a homeowner’s premium, and usually several monthly payments of premiums must be placed in escrow at closing.
The areas of greatest risk in western states are usually near wild-land, urban interfaces.  Mortgage calculator has an article here which points to a USDA study PDF which isn’t directly linkable here but which will download the PDF to your harddrive when you navigate.  The document does appear to have a lot of detailed suggestions of what to look for in a property. 

Flood risk is different because normal homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover it.  You have to buy flood insurance separately.  I think as a rule of thumb, in mountainous or hilly terrain, you want to be at least 40 feet above the water if possible.. The government evaluates “floodplains” – so a 100 year floodplain has a 25% chance of flooding in 25 years.  Burglary in most homes is 1% a year (it can normally be reduced with better security practices and alarms) and residential fire is 1 in 2500 (see discussion above).  Flood Safety is described here

The Ellicott City Maryland flooding report is available in pictures from WJLA .  This was said to be a 1 in 1000 year event, because of the short time in which the 6 inches of rain fell.  At this point, it is not reported how many feet about the river at the underpass the water rose.  The downtown area is open only to residents and business owners until further notice.

The video above was taken by guests at  restaurant, from the 2nd floor, and shows the suddenness of the rising waters over a 5 minute period.

Update: Aug, 4

Here's a picture article on the Las Vegas housing market in the New York Times by Jack Healy, "Underwater in Las Vegas", more about the hardships after 2008 -- but there is still a question about building on urban-wild interfaces.  I've driven Red Rock Canyon;  is it vulnerable?