March 29, 2022
Some Good News
- New York City to offer free doula access in bid to reduce maternal mortality (ABC)
- UK to fund 2 mln pounds of food supplies for encircled Ukrainian cities (Reuters)
“An investment in housing is an investment in family stability, children’s success, and the economic health of our entire state.” – Ned Lamont
A Mobile Cause
House hunters are painfully aware of the ever-tightening U.S. housing market and rising prices. The inventory of new and existing homes for sale is at a historic low. According to government research, by the end of 2020, the nationwide shortage of housing units was estimated at nearly 4 million. Adding rising mortgage interest rates and institutional investors to a tight inventory and higher prices created the perfect storm, squeezing ordinary buyers out of the housing market, and forcing renters out of their homes.
Senator Sherrod Brown, (D-OH), Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs chairman, accuses real estate investors and large asset management firms of cynically exploiting a “captive” housing market to increase the profit of large stakes they’re acquiring in single-family rentals. “Private equity firms, corporate landlords and investors saw a shortage, and they saw a captive market. They see these [single-family houses] as nothing more than annual return on equity,” Brown said at a committee hearing in February entitled “How Institutional Landlords are Changing the Housing Market.” They’re not just buying up single-family houses and apartment complexes for rentals, of course, but also mobile-home parks, one of the few remaining sources of affordable housing. For renters, the introduction of these new corporate landlords has mostly meant 50% rent increases and service cuts.
Stockbridge Capital is a $13 billion private-equity firm that figured out years ago investing in mobile-home parks was a money-maker. They received $1.3 billion in financing through government-sponsored lender Fannie Mae, helping them buy existing mobile-home parks. By 2019, Stockbridge Capital owned over 200 mobile-home parks around the U.S., and as one investor’s report said, the “senior management team has a demonstrated track record of increasing home rental rates.”
Stockbridge Capital officials claim they’re meeting “the affordable housing needs of its residents nationwide.” But surveys say the median income for families living in mobile homes is around $30,000 a year, with about two-thirds of adult residents lacking education beyond high school. Residents may own their manufactured housing, but they still pay rent for the home lot – they’re stuck when rents and other imposed fees rise because moving elsewhere is just too costly. Meanwhile, investment companies continue expanding their mobile-home park portfolios at a breakneck pace. (FreddieMac, GlobeSt, WaPo ($), NYT ($))
- The letter Z has been used as a marking on Russian military vehicles taking part in the war against Ukraine. It’s been adopted by Russians supporting the invasion, and is shown prominently on flags and at pro-Kremlin rallies. On Monday, a German Interior Ministry spokesperson in Berlin said individuals who display the letter “Z” in Germany to symbolize support for Russia’s war could be liable for prosecution.
- “The Russian war of aggression on the Ukraine is a criminal act, and whoever publicly approves of this war of aggression can also make himself liable to prosecution,” the spokesperson told a regular government news conference. Officials in Bavaria and Lower Saxony had previously announced they would punish such acts. (Reuters)
Gang The Gavel
- The government of El Salvador declared a state of emergency Sunday, locking down prisons after a wave of gang violence resulted in 87 killings and 600 arrests over the weekend. Authorities said soldiers and police had raided gang strongholds around the capital of San Salvador.
- The homicides appeared linked to the country’s notorious street gangs, who effectively control many neighborhoods in the capital. The National Police reported they’ve captured five leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), who they claimed ordered the weekend killings.
- President Nayib Bukele tweeted that detainees will not be released and that food for gang members at Salvadoran prisons would be reduced to two meals per day. “And if the international community is worried about their little angels, they should come and bring them food, because I am not going to take budget money away from the schools to feed these terrorists,” the president wrote. (Guardian)
Additional World News
- Analysts investigate possibility of North Korea missile test ‘deception’ (Reuters)
- Thousands rally in Pakistani capital as pressure grows on PM Khan (Al Jazeera)
- Philippines slams Chinese ship’s ‘close distance maneuvering’ in South China Sea (CNN)
- Pakistan’s Imran Khan faces a political showdown — without the army for support (NPR)
- Shanghai to lock down millions for mass testing as China’s Covid cases surge (Guardian)
- Biden says he was ‘expressing my outrage’ but not making a policy change when he said Putin ‘cannot remain in power’ (CNN)
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Obstruct A Blow
- U.S District Judge David Carter has found that former President Trump likely committed felony obstruction in his effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. “Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that [Trump] corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021,” Carter wrote.
- He also ruled that Trump’s former lawyer John Eastman must turn over all but ten documents being withheld from the January 6 House committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. Carter described one document as a draft memo that “pushed a strategy that knowingly violated the Electoral Count Act, and Dr. Eastman’s later memos closely track its analysis and proposal.”
- The judge added, “Because the memo likely furthered the crimes of obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States, it is subject to the crime-fraud exception and the Court ORDERS it to be disclosed.” Eastman’s legal team said Monday their client “intends to comply with the court’s order” and will turn over the requested documents. (ABC)
Falling Through The Tax
- Mississippi is the poorest state in America, with a median household income under $46,000, perpetually underfunded schools, and struggling rural hospitals. So naturally, its Republican-led legislature passed the state’s largest-ever income tax cut on Sunday. Mississippi’s income tax accounts for 34% of state revenue; this bill reduces the tax over four years beginning in 2023.
- Wealthy people would see the biggest financial boost from the tax reduction; the poorest residents would see no benefit because they already earn too little to pay state income tax. The tax cut would reduce state revenue by $185 million in the first year, and $525 million by the final year.
- Supporters say a significant tax cut could spur economic growth and attract new residents to Mississippi, making it “one of the most work-friendly states in the nation.” Opponents of reducing the income tax point to Republican-led Kansas, which enacted big tax cuts in 2012 and 2013, but then had to repeal many of them in 2017 after large and persistent budget shortfalls. (World Population Review, ABC)
Additional USA News
- Ex-UAW official pleads guilty to embezzling $2.2M from union (ABC)
- Republican senator says tax rises in own plan are ‘Democratic talking points’ (Guardian)
- Blinken attends ‘historic’ Israeli, Arab summit amid Iran deal tensions, Palestinian opposition (ABC)
- Will Smith appeared to strike Chris Rock on Oscars telecast (CNN)
- Polymer80’s name has become synonymous with ‘ghost guns.’ Now it’s in the crosshairs. (NBC)
- Teachers across the country are demanding better pay and support (Vox)
- House January 6 committee report recommends Peter Navarro and Dan Scavino be held in contempt of Congress (CBS)
If The Shoe Fits
- Ms. Simone Boutet of Oak Park, Illinois, has been the less-than-pleased recipient of between 15 and 20 pairs of “really, really, really tacky” shoes. Boutet said UPS delivered the first pair of shoes to her home over a year ago, and they just kept coming. “They’re really funny,” Boutet told the local TV station about the shoes. “And they’re really, really, really tacky.”
- Boutet said she returned one box of shoes to a UPS store. “I explained the whole thing to [the store’s employee] and she understood it. And so she took them back and then like four days later they came back in the mail to me,” Boutet said. After another delivery in January, Boutet posted on Facebook that she’d learned the shoes were supposed to have been returned to an Amazon vendor out of China.
- The vendor’s return label showed the words “Simone” and an address on Elm Street in Chicago. The address is not a return center, and somebody at UPS apparently decided to correct the address error by having the returns sent to “Simone” in Oak Park. UPS has promised to work with the vendor to get the return labels corrected. Boutet said the shoes are “just hilariously not my style” and she’s hoping the deliveries will now stop. If not, how about feeding the shoes to the nearest donation receptacle? (upi.com)
- Dollywood closes drop tower ride out of ‘abundance of caution’ after fatal fall at Orlando amusement park (CNN)
- A tornado ruined a Texas teen’s truck while he was still in it. A dealership gifted him a new one. (USA Today)
- Wildlife officials catch 500-pound bear roaming near a Tennessee university (CNN)
- With eye to China investment, Taliban now preserve Buddhas (AP)
- Volcanologists seek answers as island in Portugal’s Azores keeps shaking (Reuters)
- Historians say explorers got it wrong: It’s not Machu Picchu, it’s Huayna Picchu (NPR)
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