The Live Wire is an experiment. Think of it as a cross between a book of hours and a web version of the doors of perception. You contributions are welcome, in the comments or by email. The previous edition of the Live Wire is available here.
Today’s Live Wire: Quick Links
- Flagler Home Builders Association Endorses Tax-and-Build Referendum
- Home-Ownership’s Benefits and Drawbacks
- The Graphic Cost of Poverty
- US Senate Kills Dream Road to Citizenship
- Crist’s Disney Trip
- Race to the Top: What Is It?
- Orlando Adds Convention Space and Hotel Rooms
- UF Economics Professor Timothy Taylor Fired Over Sex Comments
Live Wire Rewinds
At its board meeting last night, the Flagler Home Builders Association finally voted to endorse Enterprise Flagler’s tax-and-build referendum appearing on the Nov. 2 ballot. Finally, because it was not a given that the association would endorse the measure, whose backers have had a difficult time convincing private or public entities to sign on. Not a single elected official in office today has publicly lent his or her name to the tax proposal.
While on the Flagler Home Builders’ Association site a moment ago we noticed a piece by Jason DeLorenzo, the association’s government affairs director, on the benefits of home-ownership. “The value of homeownership has been questioned by the media as Americans struggle in the current recession,” he begins, a reference to Time’s Sept. 6 cover story demolishing the standard myths of home-ownership. One example: “In the U.S., homeownership typically goes with living in single-family detached dwellings. Eighty-nine percent of stand-alone houses are owned, while just 17% of apartments are. There is a logic to this: for a landlord, an apartment building provides an economy of scale that a suburban development doesn’t. But that means that a system that glorifies and subsidizes homeownership pushes people to live in suburbs, where they, or developers, can find more-affordable patches of land on which to build. Of course, it’s fine to choose to live miles from a city, but that choice comes with broader consequences. People who live in detached houses use 49% more energy — like electricity and natural gas — than people who live in buildings with five or more apartments, according to data from the Energy Information Administration. Suburban living requires driving a car practically everywhere, which in turn means that U.S. energy policy prioritizes cheap oil — whatever the geopolitical and environmental consequences.”
That’s a recurring debate of course (a debate we hope to fuel here: home-ownership as such is fine; home-ownership as the fulfillment of a dream, American or otherwise, is not). Last year Stephen Livinski had a more searching analysis than Time of the consequences of subsidizing home ownership–the true source of the problem with American-style home-ownership, beginning with the middle class’ fat and entirely unnecessary welfare check known as the mortgage-interest deduction). Time in essence cribbed and re-wrote the piece. At about the same time, Joel Kotkin in Forbes took it up in favor of home owners, and even predicted great times ahead: “Rather than a source of economic weakness, this renewed quest for homeownership could underpin a sustainable recovery. As prices fall to reasonable levels, more people will qualify for reasonable loans. First, the empty houses and somewhat later, the condominiums now on the market will find buyers, in most places in a matter of a few years. This shift will create huge opportunities for a diverse set of geographies.” (That’s the Neoga Lakes and Old Brick Road developers you see in the distance, dancing to that Kotkin tune.)
Here’s DeLorenzo’s take: “Even during tough economic times such as these, many home owners realize that the benefits of homeownership are overwhelming — especially in a time where housing affordability is at its all-time high. According to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Opportunity Index (HOI), 72.3 percent of all new and existing homes sold in the second quarter of 2010 were affordable to families earning the national median income of $64,400. At the end of 2007, only 46.6 percent of homes were affordable to families earning the median income. […] It’s a buyer’s market. Purchasing a home now will allow you to negotiate for more items on your wish list than when the housing market recovers and you may have to compete with others for your dream home.” He then outlines the financial windfalls of the mortgage interest deduction and its twin, the property tax deduction, which local hordes of anti-tax tam-tam beaters never mention when they complain about paying some of the lowest property taxes in the nation.
“Also,” DeLorenzo goes on, “homeownership is the biggest source of net worth for most families. It is the one investment that not only can help you put your kids through college or retire comfortably in the future , it can also be used to house your family and create lifetime memories and a strong, healthy community in the meantime. You can’t get that from a stock or a bond.” The case is somewhat overstated: what was true of home-ownership as an investment some years ago no longer is today in the face of $50,000-a-year college or assisted-living bills. But that’s for another day’s debate. The full DeLorenzo piece.
In Northeast Florida and across the nation, being poor is the result of what sometimes feels like a conspiracy of fees. The Times Union: “Increasing joblessness isn’t the only factor pushing families to the financial breaking point. One of the biggest problems that low-and moderate-income households now face is that fixed costs – everything from driver’s license fees to utility bills – are rising dramatically. […] Even people with jobs are finding themselves coming up short as wages have stayed flat while the cost of living has gone up.”
The paper runs an illustrative graphic:
Regression in the U.S. Senate, one phobia at a time. From the Palm Beach Post: “From the The Dream Act, which would let certain undocumented individuals 16-35 years old earn legal status by completing two years of college or by serving in the military, was shot down in the U.S. Senate. First introduced in 2001, the bill has failed to gain passage several times. This time it was introduced in an election year marked by a highly emotional debate over immigration. A procedural vote Tuesday that would have allowed the legislation to come to Senate floor as part of a military authorization bill, failed to get the 60 votes it needed for passage. The final tally was 56-43, with no Republican senator voting in favor. Also attached to the authorization bill — and voted down — was a provision to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It would have allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.”
The Post’s version: “The failure to repeal the law, despite White House backing and majorities in Congress, marked a low point in the more than decade-long effort to rid a policy begun under President Bill Clinton. Democrats thought this was their best chance to undo the 17-year-old measure after President Obama had won the support of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other military leaders to get rid of it. […] Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who led the charge against repeal, called Reid’s plan a “blatant and cynical” political ploy aimed at galvanizing Democratic voters for the midterm elections.”
From PolitiFacts: A Republican Party of Florida investigation into party finances revealed that former party chairman Jim Greer and Gov. Charlie Crist spent a weekend with their families at Disney World in 2009. The cost: more than $13,400.The tab: picked up by Republican Party of Florida donors.
“PolitiFact Florida reviewed Crist’s weekend Disney getaway seeking answers. What we found is that while the governor tried to pay his own way, it’s difficult to say with certainty that every dollar came from his pocket and not the wallets of party donors. Crist, his wife, Carole, and her two daughters spent less than 48 hours at Walt Disney World, yet racked up at least $3,300 in charges on Carole Crist’s American Express card, records show. That’s on top of $11,228.89 of charges billed to Republican Party of Florida cards.” The full story.
From News Service Florida: “Race to the Top is part of Obama’s $800-billion stimulus plan that passed in 2009. Money is doled out through a competitive two-round grant application process. Florida was widely rumored to be a frontrunner in the first round, but finished fourth and out of contention for federal dollars. Only Delaware and Tennessee took home money when the first round winners were announced in late March. In the second round, Florida, plus the District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island all received education dollars. Federal education officials have also asked Congress for an additional $1.35 billion to continue the program and give money to other states for education reform.”
“Florida already has the promise of $700 million in education dollars from the Obama administration, but now it has to deliver on its plan for that money.[…] Local school districts that choose to participate in Race to the Top must put together outlines unique to their own districts on how they will use the federal dollars in conjunction with the state’s broader goals. This could include a merit pay system for teachers, which was the subject of highly contested debate during the 2010 legislative session.” The full story.
What slow economy? The $450 million Peabody Orlando is opening on Thursday, adding 750 hotel rooms and 250,000 square feet of meeting-and-convention space to the Orlando market (which won’t do much to help other nearby markets, including Palm Coast, pull in convention space). From the Sentinel:
“The meeting space added just in the past 12 months by the 1,641-room Peabody, the 1,400-room Hilton Orlando (another convention-center neighbor), the 1,000-room Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, and the 497-room Waldorf Astoria (also at Bonnet Creek) has boosted the local inventory by more than 13 percent at a time when the meetings-and-conventions business, and the hospitality industry generally, are still struggling to get back on their feet following the longest recession since World War II. Yet local tourism promoters say more options simply make an already popular destination even more attractive to meeting planners. And hoteliers are relying more and more on convention space to put heads in their beds.” The full story.
The Florida Alligator reports on the Friday firing of Timothy Taylor, a professor of food and resource economics at the University of Florida since 1980 who must have had his share of Flagler County students over the decades: “Several of Taylor’s students contacted Lisa House, another professor at The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, in April and said that during case studies on sexual harassment, professor Taylor allegedly “indicated that in some cultures women liked to show their sexuality, dress promiscuously, and wear very revealing clothes,” according to an Investigation Findings report. Students also alleged that Taylor “looks female students up and down” and once asked a girl to dance to her cell phone ringtone after her phone rang during class.”
Taylor doesn’t deny the comment about women in “some cultures,” which doesn’t seem inaccurate if her was referring, say, to the United States (where even the sexualization of children through fashion is embarrassingly pronounced), though he did deny looking women up and down.