Renters unite to demand affordable housing

The lack of affordable housing across the country has gained increasing attention in recent months. A report released earlier this year by the personal finance website SmartAsset found that in 12 of the top 15 US cities, rents had increased from 2015 to 2016. In some places, rent prices skyrocketed; San Francisco, Seattle and Miami all had increases of over 7 percent. In Los Angeles, average rental rates went up 17 percent.

Activists and renters nationwide are agitating around these issues on Thursday, September 22, to draw attention to what they are calling a “National Renter State of Emergency.” Over 50 protests, marches and other activities are occurring in more than 45 cities for the “Renters Day of Action,” with tenants coming together to put forward a list of national and local demands.

Organized by the housing coalition Homes for All, the national campaign is seeking a broad list of changes, including a national rent freeze, a freeze on all unjust evictions, and community control over land and housing. The campaign’s demands also include the right of tenants to organize and bargain collectively without fear of discrimination, retaliation or eviction.

For some local actions, evictions are the main focus. Antonio Gutierrez, an organizer with the Chicago’s Autonomous Tenants Union, said his group planned their protest at Daley Plaza, where all the city’s eviction cases are heard. In 2012, Chicago had more than 32,000 evictions in the city. (This statistic is from four years ago becauseit can be hard to track eviction numbers; the federal government has not recorded these numbers in past years and court records are incomplete and hard to navigate). “The process itself is very rapid and it’s always siding with the landlord or the landlady,” Gutierrez said. Tenants have very little opportunity to advocate for themselves. Housing advocates have also noted that cases in eviction court are not being properly recorded, making it nearly impossible to make an appeal.

Who Faces Eviction?

In Chicago, as with other cities, Gutierrez finds that women and their children are disproportionately affected by rising eviction rates. “We definitely see a pattern of single mothers and women with their kids being the target of these evictions,” he said. “We see a lot of kind of discriminatory policies that are happening, in terms of new companies coming into neighborhoods that are populated mostly by people of color, evicting them, and then getting new tenants that are of a different class, and sometimes racial background.”

Matthew Desmond, a sociologist whose recent book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, helped bring national attention to the housing crisis, had similar findings. In a 2015 report, Desmond notes that low-income women, in particular Black women, are at high risk of eviction. In Milwaukee, one in five Black women reported being evicted at some point, compared to one in 15 white women, or one in 12 Latina women, according to Desmond’s research.

Eviction doesn’t just impact one’s housing, it destabilizes communities and families, often forcing kids to leave their schools. Desmond found that “workers who involuntarily lost their housing were roughly 20 percent more likely to subsequently lose their jobs.” The study also ties eviction to mental health problems and future difficulty with finding alternate housing and/or employment, as being evicted through the court system leaves a tenant with that judgment on their record.

Knowing Your Rights

Felicia Alston-Singleton, a tenant advocate in Newark, New Jersey, got involved with her work as an organizer after successfully fighting her own eviction with the city’s housing authority. Several years ago, she said the housing authority fixed a problem with backed-up sewage in her unit.

“They fixed it but then my walls started turning green,” she said. “So I stopped paying rent.” She went to court every month for seven months until finally a decision was made in her favor. They dismissed her case and gave her back her rent money.

Alston-Singleton educated herself along the way, oftentimes Googling information she didn’t know. “It was very inspiring… to know that I did have rights,” she said. “So I said, ‘If I can do this for myself, let’s do it for my complex’ … And then other people started calling me.”

For the “Renters Day of Action,” Alston-Singleton is taking part in Newark’s 36-hour demonstration outside of City Hall. She plans to be at City Hall for the duration of the event. Activists and renters are calling on city officials to pass a rent control ordinance and to implement existing protections, like maintaining the city’s affordable housing. Alston-Singleton said the city has been tearing down subsidized housing and replacing it with luxury units. “They are making it unaffordable,” she said.

Indeed, last week the developer Dranoff Properties closed on $116 million in financing to build a high-rise luxury apartment building in downtown Newark.According to The Wall Street Journal, apartments in the building “are expected to rent at $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom and $4,500 a month for a three-bedroom.”

Anthony Romano, a national organizing director with Homes for All’s Right to the City Alliance, noted that one of the campaign’s goals for the September 22 action is getting people familiarized with their rights as tenants. “We needed to unite and have a day where we can really lift up our collective voice,” Romano said, “and to lift up our solutions.”

Gentrification Threatens Tenants

In some cities, gentrification is the most pressing issue tenants are facing. Tenant organizers in Minneapolis are leading people on a tour of the city’s light rail today, pointing out recent areas of gentrification. These activists are part of Defend Glendale, a group working to defend Glendale Townhomes Public Housing, which is under threat of demolition. Ladan Yusuf, who lives in Glendale, said the housing units are in the middle of an affluent neighborhood and property value has gone up since the light rail went in nearby. “We found out through the grapevine,” she said, that the city wanted to demolish Glendale. “We’re fighting to keep our homes.”

She is one of 30 tenant leaders from the housing complex, where she says most residents are people of color and about 60 percent are immigrants. “We are seeing huge amounts of displacement right now,” Yusuf said. A lot of families are finding it hard to find affordable housing in the city.

“Gentrification is really happening here and Betsy Hodges isn’t doing anything about it,” Yusuf said of Minneapolis’ mayor. “A lot of working-class families feel that she is not on our side.”

Growing Population of Renters

Romano pointed out that the number of people affected by rent increases is growing as fewer people are owning homes. “It’s an economic reality,” Romano said. “People just don’t have the money to buy homes.” He believes landlords and the real estate lobby are taking advantage of the increased number of renters by jacking up the cost of rent.

“We don’t lightly use the term ‘state of emergency’,” Romano said. “‘State of emergency’ is used because of the sheer quantity of people suffering and the severity of that suffering.” A 2016 Harvard study found that the number of renters who are “cost burdened” rose by 3.6 million from 2008 to 2014, to a total of 21.3 million households. The Department of Housing and Urban Development considers a family to be cost burdened if they pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing. To put this in perspective, the number of people who rent has increased by 9 million between 2005 and 2015, an earlier Harvard study noted, making it “the largest 10-year gain on record.” In the same period, renters who are severely rent burdened, meaning they pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing, went from 2.1 million to a record 11.4 million.

The organizers of the September 22 actions know that spreading the word about these issues and about tenants’ rights is an important first step and the Renters Day of Action is intended to broaden awareness while bringing impacted people together. “When you are going through something and you meet someone else going through it, you don’t feel so alone,” Alston-Singleton said. “Then you’re ready to fight.”

– See more at: http://www.american-apartment-owners-association.org/property-management/latest-news/renters-unite-demand-affordable-housing/#sthash.rMRlqvGz.dpuf

How to Get Your Residents To Pay Rent Online

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by  –

While many property management companies have been offering an online rental payment option to residents for years, there are just as many who currently do not. While technology savvy individuals often jump at the chance to pay rent online, many management companies that currently do offer this option have found that only a fraction of their residents actually utilize an online rental payment option.

The benefits are clear to property management companies; online payments tend to be more timely, the hassle of locating lost checks, stamping checks, and making bank runs becomes obsolete, and the time spent collecting on NSF checks is reduced to zero.

So if you’re considering offering this service to your residents, or want to increase the number of residents that take advantage of it, consider the following.

Appeal to procrastinators!
Being able to pay rent online allows residents who typically wait until the last minute to pay their rent the opportunity to do so – without incurring a late charge in the process.

Inform residents of the advantages of paying online.
Advantages include the ability to view a comprehensive rent payment history, and the option to schedule the rental payment. Some services offer an automatic debit from your account monthly, so residents can simply set up the amount and the date of the direct debit, and not have to think about it again.

Consider offering an incentive for signing up.

Everyone likes to get things for free, so you may want to consider dangling a $5.00- $10.00 gift card to a neighborhood merchant as an incentive.

Make it a contest.
Enter the names of all those signing up for online rental payments during the month in a drawing. Dinner for two or a $50.00 gas card may persuade reluctant residents to sign up.

Make it required.
If none of these work, consider implementing online rental payment as the required standard in payments. Rather than making it a requirement for all residents, impose the new standard on all new residents and establish a date that current residents must comply. You could also tack on a fee to residents who choose to continue to pay their rent with paper checks. Be sure to check with local and state agencies to determine if your property management company can legally impose this restrictionon residents.

While some residents will always prefer to pay rent by check or money order, others find the ability to pay rent quickly and easily online an added bonus, not a detriment.

Silicon Valley tech firm is lured away to Sacramento

 

SupportPay, which was introduced Thursday as the latest company recruited to the Sacramento region by the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council, is leasing space at a former tomato canning plant in East Sacramento known as The Cannery.

The company, which offers an app for monitoring child-related expenses and transacting child-support payments, relocated to the building from Santa Clara on Aug. 24. SupportPay now has 13 employees and plans to add up to 300 over the next three years, founder and CEO Sheri Atwood said at a press conference Thursday. It was founded in 2011.


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The company is generating annual revenue of about $2 million. It hopes to achieve $300 million in annual revenue in the next three years, Atwood said. She said that company’s cloud-based service will tap into a $6 billion market for services to state governments to process child support.

The states “need a modern approach, something based in the cloud,” Atwood said.

Developer Mark Friedman described the startup as a poster child for the kind of high-tech firms that he hopes will fill the 50,000 square feet of available space at The Cannery, a mixed-use development with a modernized industrial design.

SupportPay is “innovative and rapidly growing,” said Friedman, president ofFulcrum Property, a management company that operates The Cannery.

“It benefits from being in Sacramento because so much of its business involves understanding regulations and understanding the legal system,” he said.

Friedman also is a board member of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council.

Fulcrum is finalizing leases with several other technology firms to occupy the remaining 40,000 square feet of available space at The Cannery.

SupportPay will take 6,000 square feet, with an option to expand to 10,000 square feet.

The company is currently trying to raise $5 million in a series A venture capital round, Atwood said. Investors in the round include San Mateo-based Draper Associates, cloud computing pioneer Salesforce.com Inc. and Sacramento venture capitalist Dave Sanders.

The Cannery is located at Alhambra and Stockton boulevards. Most of the space is occupied by a satellite office of University of California Davis, where it operates a telemedicine unit, Friedman said.

Good Tips on setting HOA Budgets-It’s That Time of Year!

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Good Tips on setting HOA Budgets-It’s  That Time of Year! Boards, you need to be thinking about these things!!

Below is an article from a follower of the Condo Guru site. He offered to write an article or blog and sent it to me. I took a look and it is helpful information. I asked for the 5th grader’s version because that is what readers ask me for, meaning it needs to be uncomplicated and easy to understand, and not an advertisement for a company. That is my criteria for accepting information for blogs. I always want to include the author and something about them but don’t want that to be the main focus of the article. I don’t sell advertising, I offer helpful information, and I believe this is. Not every manager or HOA or accountant will agree with this as we all have our perspectives on the best way to do business, but some boards are starting from scratch and ask for guidance, not knowing where to begin. I think Gary offers a reasonable process.

Also keep in mind that there are two things on my website at www.californiacondoguru.com that can also help an association, and one is written especially for small HOAs who have trouble affording and/or finding services. These publications are PDFs that can be sent out almost immediately and shared among Board Members. They are: THE DAVIS STIRLING ACT IN PLAIN ENGLISH (this second part is the important one – IN PLAIN ENGLISH), and THE SMALL HOA SURVIVAL GUIDE (which has an entire accounting 101 chapter).

My republishing of this Article written by Gary is not specifically an endorsement because I have not worked with Gary, but thank you Gary for taking the time to write down this information for my readers. I KNOW that most will appreciate it. I inserted one comment in [ ] for your information. You can find Gary’s information at the end.

**

“If a homeowner’s association is going to be successful, it needs a strong board of directors. The directors need to understand their roles and pursue their goals with passion.

For a board of directors to be successful, they need to understand the weaknesses and strengths of the association. Board members also need to understand the history of the association and what needs to be accomplished. Homeowner’s associations need to take responsibility for their assets and operations. They must also make sure they’re in compliance with local ordinances, federal law, state law and governing documents.

Homeowner’s associations that have a January through December budget year have a limited amount of time to create a budget for the coming year. Once the budget is created, it must be approved before the year-end mailing event. [Side note here from BG – this usually means board approval, most documents in California do not require owner approval of the budget, but some do, and some HOAs do it  anyway, especially the smaller ones who want to keep the grumbling to a minimum.]

A homeowner’s association must have a budget committee, and the committee can be comprised of members of the community association, HOA board members or a combination of both. For many, it’s a mystery as to how the budget committee actually works. The good news is that it’s not too difficult to understand.

The Roles of the Accountants and Treasurers

The board treasurer chairs the budget committee. As the chair of the budget committee, the treasurer is obligated to make sure everyone stays on track while the budget is being created. Another job that the treasurer is trusted with is presenting the budget to board members for approval.

If a homeowner’s association decides to work with an accountant, the accountant can offer the board consulting services. However, when it comes to deciding the budget, the account doesn’t play a specific role. Depending on the association in question, the creation of the budget could be entrusted to a management company.

Once the management company has devised the budget, the budget committee meets with the management company and reviews the budgets. During this meeting, adjustments might be made to the budget.

Who is supposed to be on the Budget Committee?

It’s not uncommon for owners to serve on the budget committee, but if they do decide to serve on the committee, they should only represent a cross-section of the whole community.

Many of the members who might decide to serve have expertise constructing very specific areas of the budget, and these skills are very useful to the whole community. As a general guideline, the committee shouldn’t be allowed to grow large enough to become unwieldy because this can cause a wide range of management problems.

What Does The Committee Do?

It’s important to understand that the budget is comprised of three major components, and the role of the treasurer is to make sure that every committee member comprehends the components.

The components are:

The Funds Needs for Daily Community Operations

Funds must be set aside for the daily operation of the community. For example, funds are needed for general maintenance, insurance, management, grounds maintenance, water and electricity. These expenses can be estimated based on personal experience, or they can be contractual in nature.

When examining items found in the operating budget, it’s important to consider the community expectations. For example, do members wish to hire a landscaper who blows, mows leaves the property?

It might be assumed that this is the type of landscaper that should be hired, but in reality, members might prefer to hire a landscaper that provides a greater level of service.

The Funds Needed to Maintain a Sufficient Level of Reserves

Another major component of the budget consists of funds needed to keep reserves high. The reserves are important because they provide money for the repair of streets, roofs, pools and other community assets. Without sufficient reserves, it’s impossible to keep assets in good repair or provide money for replacement.

The Funds Required for Enhancements or Additions to Existing Property

This component of the budget is directly tied to what community members want and would be willing to pay money for. For this component, the HOA board has the power to solicit owners and gather approval for adjustments. An HOA accounting company can help with this task.

Once the budget committee has acquired all of the knowledge available to them, they’ll estimate the total amount of expenses for the coming year. Next, the total sum of the expenses will be compared to the total potential revenues from the homeowner’s association.

The committee is responsible for finding ways to reduce expenses while keeping the quality of service as high as possible. If these strategies aren’t capable of properly balancing the budget, then some tough decisions must be made.

When the committee fails to balance the budget, they might have to levy a special assessment or recommend increasing assessments.

Gary Simpson  Marketing Director for Clark Simson Miller , and a link in there for http://www.clarksimsonmiller.com. Their claim to fame: “We service communities nationwide, we are the pioneer of remote management for HOA’s (finance and back office support + accounting).

 

17 ways to have a healthier, safer bathroom

by Lloyd Alter 

The bathroom is proportionately a teensy part of a house, but it’s probably the most important room, the most dangerous room, the most toxic room, the worst designed room of the entire home. Almost everything about it is wrong. Ellen Lupton and J. Albert Miller write in The Bathroom, The Kitchen and the Aesthetics of Waste:

The small size of the standard bathroom reflects the ambivalence which has attended bodily functions and maintenance in American culture. The bathroom is at once the most and least important room in the house; it accounts for a large percentage of building costs and is used by all of a home’s occupants, yet it is granted one of the smallest spaces. It is a private room yet is made very public by its shared status. It is physically clean yet culturally dirty

It is also a terrible, terrible design that we have been living with for over a hundred years. I wrote in the Guardian:

We mix up all our bodily functions in a machine designed by engineers on the basis of the plumbing system, not human needs. The result is a toxic output of contaminated water, questionable air quality and incredible waste. We just can’t afford to do it this way any more.

However there are a few things one can do to fix it, and to help fix the environment it is connected to via pipes and wires.

1. Get a bidet

toto toiletLloyd Alter/ toto toilet with washlet/CC BY 2.0Science has shown that really, toilet paper just doesn’t work very well. Alexander Kira wrote in the definitive Bathroom Book that “we are primarily concerned with the appearance of cleanliness… What we cannot see or directly experience or what others cannot readily see, we ignore.”You can spend six grand on a Kohler Numi like the one in the Case Study house living room, $ 1200 on a Toto toilet seat like I did, or you can spend as little as $ 43 for an add on bidet sprayer like the Brondell. Find them all at Bidet.org

More in TreeHugger: Alexander Kira and Designing For People, Not Plumbing
Why I spent $1200 on a toilet seat and why you should too
No, you don’t have to spend $1200 to get a bidet toilet

2. Squat

Unicorn poopSquatty Potty/Screen captureOur bodies are not designed to sit while we poop; in fact, we should all be squatting.

Quite simply, because squatting is our body’s optimal position for bowel movements. When sitting on a modern toilet as we do a chair, our colon is essentially ‘kinked’ (as designed, so we don’t relieve ourselves accidentally), which can lead to difficulties with constipation, hemorrhoids, and other afflictions to our nether regions. In the squatting position, however, with the knees up higher, the puborectalis muscle (which ‘kinks’ the colon) can fully relax and open, which leads to full evacuation of the colon, much quicker and easier than sitting down.

When we sit and poop we are actually working against nature. But nobody (not even Asians who are used to them) buys squat toilets. The best we can do is get footstools like the Squatty Potty to keep things moving.

More in TreeHugger: Unicorn poop and kinked colons: Squatty Potty aims to help you get things moving

3. Close the toilet seat lid before you flush

brushQuora/viaUnfortunately our bathrooms were designed for the convenience of plumbers, not the health of the users, so many of us have the sink where we brush our teeth in the same room as the toilet. Because when you flush:

There have been found over 3.2 million microbes per square inch in the average toilet bowl. According to germ expert Chuck Gerba, PhD, a professor of environmental microbiology at University of Arizona the aerosolized toilet water is propelled as far as 6 feet, settling on your dental toothbrush inclusively.

Really, if you have the opportunity, always put the toilet in its own water closet and not in the same place as you wash and brush your teeth. But if you can’t, at least always close the lid before you flush. And don’t cover your toothbrush; it has to air out and dry.

More in TreeHugger: The History of the Bathroom Part 3: Putting Plumbing Before People
Why am I building such a weird bathroom?

4. Get a toilet tank tap kit for washing your hands

sinkpositive© SinkpositiveOne should always wash their hands after using the toilet, preferably before handling the doorknobs. That’s why the SinkPositive makes so much sense; it simply takes the water used to fill the tank and runs it through a faucet first so that you can wash your hands and then fill the tank with very slightly grey water. Every toilet should come with this as a standard feature, it is so logical.
More: Sinkpositive: Save Water, Wash Your Hands
You can buy toilets with it designed right in:
Caroma Makes A Toilet With Sink Look Elegant

5. Don’t use chemical toilet cleaners, get a brush

vipp brush© VIPPIn North America it is common to buy special chemical cleaners so that nobody has to touch the toilet. Some even dispense with every flush. All those chemicals stay in the water; they cannot be removed at the sewage treatment plants. They never disappear, they just get diluted.

In Europe, where toilets have been really low flush for a long time, I have noticed that there is a brush beside every toilet, even in hotels. They even sell fancy ones, like this VIPP, that cost two hundred bucks. It’s not such a big deal to use and it pretty much lets you keep your toilet chemical free.

6. Get a dual flush toilet

brondell simple flush dual flushing toilet system photoThe old TreeHugger mantra “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” always was a hard sell. But a dual flush toilet is a no-brainer, flushing our pee with the minimum amount of water necessary. Most new toilets come with it now as standard, but if you have an older one, you can retrofit. More: Dual-Flush Toilet Retrofit, With Adjustable Flush (Video)
Or go hardcore: Resist the urge to flush if you’re serious about water conservation

7. Install grab bars and non-slip finish

 

The standard bathtub and shower combo is probably the worst designed product ever invented. It is a crappy uncomfortable tub for bathing (which very few people do anyway) and really, who ever thought putting shiny sloping metal or plastic, water and slippery soap together in one place? That’s why on average one American dies every day from slipping in the shower. Really, nobody should take a shower in a tub, but since most of us have to, make sure that you have grab bars to hang on to while you step in, and have a non-slip surface to stand on, either a rubber mat or you can buy ugly and horrible non-slip strips.

In my own bathroom, which you can tour in the CBC video above, I separate the shower from the tub and the toilet; even the sink is separate, out in the hall. Every function has its own place, and when I shower, I am standing on non-slip tile instead of a slippery floor.

8. Get a new low flow shower head

Nebia showerhead© NebiaActually, it’s the law, that is all you can even buy now. But many of them are awful, and don’t really give you a very good shower. But others are not so bad at all, and some claim to be even better than a regular shower, like this Nebia that was up on Kickstarter last year and may well give new meaning to the word vaporware, since it a) delivers vapor and b) still has not been delivered. More: Atomizing showerhead claims 70% water savings and ‘significantly superior’ shower

9. Get a hand shower

telephone showerold style telephone shower/Promo imageI once jokingly asked Why Do Showers Point Down Instead of Up? making the point that the dirtiest bits of our bodies, that need showering the most, actually do not really get clean or properly rinsed in a regular shower. That’s why every shower should either be a hand shower or have one as an alternative.

10. Don’t waste water while it warms up

Thermostatic shut off shower valveEvolve Technologies/Promo imageA surprising amount of hot water is lost through “behavioral waste” where people turn on the hot water tap and let it run for a while before they get in. There are a few devices like this one that turn off the water once it is flowing hot; you then just pull the cord and it starts again. Or you could get hardcore and actually gather the warming water in a bucket or jug and then use it instead of letting it go down the drain.

More: A better shower: Save water, energy, and money with a thermostatic shut-off valve

11. Take a Navy Shower (and other techniques to save water)

navy showerU-35, 1917/Public DomainNo, that is not exactly what we mean by a Navy Shower. Sami described it:

The basic idea is to get yourself wet all over, as soon as you turn the shower on, and then turn it off while you soap up before, finally, rinsing off. Apparently, a typical shower takes as much as 230 L (60 US gallons) of water, while taking a navy shower can use as little 11 L (3 US gallons); one person can save 56,000 L (15,000 US gallons) per year!

More: Navy Showers: Water Saving Goes Hardcore

Another version is what I called the Japanese Shower, taken before one gets in the tub.

To clean yourself before you got into the bath water, you did not use a conventional shower, but sit on a stool with a wooden bucket and ladle, soap and a sponge, and in the more modern showers, a hand shower that was is used when needed for rinsing and never left on to run into the drain.

More: Save Water; Shower Japanese Style
Or, Save Water, Stop Showering (Every Morning)
Or, 5 reasons why you should take cold showers

12. Lose the shampoos

freshly washed hair© K Martinko — Hair that’s been freshly washed with baking soda and vinegar and then air-driedThat’s Katherine in the photo, who has given up on shampoo completely after a one-month experiment where she and TreeHugger Margaret both gave it up. She explains how she uses baking soda and cider vinegar and still looks and smells presentable. More: I haven’t used shampoo for 18 months

13. If you can’t, make sure you use a healthy shampoo

My hair now, using Dr. Bronner’s Castile soap© Margaret BadoreMargaret, on the other hand, did not like it at all, and is back on the bottle. However she does not use conventional shampoos, many of which are full of chemicals that we should probably avoid. She writes “No poo” wasn’t for me, here’s what is

14. Don’t pump the soap, use bars instead

Bar soapritual/Public DomainIt’s not just the packaging; a lot of people refill the liquid soap dispensers. In fact, “we use almost 7 times more liquid soap (2.3 grams) than bar soap (0.35 grams). That extra soap means more chemical feedstocks and more processing, and thus more energy and carbon emissions.” More: The sad slippery slope of bar soap

15. Clean out the medicine and cosmetic cabinet

cosmeticsMaria Morri/CC BY 2.0It is fascinating, how the smallest and actually the most poorly ventilated room in the house is full of the most toxic chemicals, many of which we put on our skin. The problem is, the approval system is broken in America:

The whole industry has a “innocent-till-proven-guilty” approach to ingredients. Unless a chemical used in beauty products is proven to cause harm to human health, it is classified as GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe.” This classification is upheld by the U.S. FDA and hardly has the best interests of consumers at heart.

There’s a long list here, in 20 toxic ingredients to avoid when buying body care products and cosmetics

16. Get rid of the chemical cleaners

CLRCLR MSDS/Screen captureThat is from the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of a common cleaner found under the sink in many a bathroom. Like so many cleaning products, it full of volatile organic compounds and other irritants. It’s poison. So are many others; The Environmental Working Group notes that “Cleaning your home can come at a high price – cancer-causing chemicals in the air, an asthma attack from fumes or serious skin burns from an accidental spill.” Use vinegar instead. More: 5 Common Household Cleaners Hazardous to Your Health

17. Check the fan

bathroom fanbathroom exhaust fan needs work/viaBathrooms used to all have windows, that was the in the codes. Then the engineers convinced the authorities that a fan could do the job, which made house and apartment design a lot easier; you no longer had to put the bathroom on the outside wall. The problem is, the fans often don’t work very well, are undersized, noisy and clogged. And this in the room that needs ventilation the most, due to moisture, chemicals, smells, etc.

So check the fan and make sure it is not full of gunk, that there is good air flow and that it is working properly. Also consider putting it on a timer switch.

Lots more to read in TreeHugger; see related links below.

Tags: Bathrooms

It’s starting with elevators, but 3D tech like the Hololens will change the way we look at buildings

by Lloyd Alter

trying headsets

CC BY 2.0 Lloyd Alter/ journalists in Hololens headsets

This site has long been preoccupied with the future of work: how new technology is changing our jobs, and can possibly change our ecological footprint. I saw a bit of that future in New York City, with the demonstration of the use of Microsoft’s Hololens by thyssenkrupp Elevator.

The Hololens is described by Microsoft as “the first fully self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to interact with high‑definition holograms in your world.” It’s not virtual reality, but what they call “Mixed reality”, which blends 3D holographic content into your physical world, “giving your holograms real-world context and scale, allowing you to interact with both digital content and the world around you.” You can see it in action in this video:

Essentially, you look through the goggles and see the object, can walk around it, zoom in and out, rotate and if it was built to do so, explode it into its components. As an architect, I can say right now that this is going to revolutionize the design, construction and maintenance of buildings, perhaps as dramatically as CAD and BIM have.

I believe this because elevators are a big, complex and expensive part of buildings, and thyssenkrupp Elevator is revolutionizing the way they work on them right now. However the technologies that they are demonstrating have broad implications for everyone in the building and many other businesses.

Elevators carry a billion people a day around the world, and are complex mixes of thousands of mechanical and electronic components. When they break down it’s a big deal, whether you are waiting for it or stuck in it. Lives depend on it. Maintenance is critical, both scheduled and emergency; thyssenkrupp alone has 24,000 technicians running around in trucks doing service. Given the different brands of elevators and the 150 years they have been in buildings, there must be millions of different configurations and parts. No wonder it always seems that it takes forever to fix them.

sam and adnreaas SchierenbeckSam George and Andreas Schierenbeck/CC BY 2.0

thyssenkrupp had already stepped into what felt like the science fiction realm with its MAX predictive maintenance system, covered in TreeHugger here. It connected elevators to Microsoft’s Azure IoT, turning elevators into a massive hub of sensors that fed enough information from enough connected elevators that they could start to really figure out what components needed maintenance when. Sam George, Partner Director, Microsoft Azure IoT, noted that “Predictive maintenance, powered by Microsoft Azure IoT, enabled thyssenkrupp to offer time savings to worldwide elevator passengers equivalent to 95 million hours of new availability per year of operation.”

Back in the day when I was in architecture and development, you dreaded the elevator maintenance visits. Residents would complain, it seemed always to take forever, hours or days might be lost while they ordered and waited for parts.

hololens in action© thyssenkrupp/ using hololens to look at elevator

But when you put on the Hololens, you can walk around the elevator machine room before you get there and learn how its put together. You can zoom in and out, explode it so that you can see how the parts go together, figure out what is going on before you even get to the site.

If you are on site, you can look at components and describe the problems to an expert back at home office to get a second opinion. You can order parts by looking at them, seeing them pop up and just hit a virtual button. You are looking through these goggles; they are not like a virtual reality headset that replaces what you see. Instead you see the virtual and the reality together as it augments the view. As they note in the press release:

checking with expert© thyssenkrupp/ using hololens to talk to office

Using HoloLens, service technicians will be able to visualize and identify problems with elevators ahead of a job, and have remote, hands-free access to technical and expert information when on site – all resulting in significant savings in time and stress. Initial field trials have already shown that a service maintenance intervention can be done up to four times faster than before by using the device.

And possibly a lot fewer technician’s trucks on the road. CEO Andreas notes that it will change the way his employees work, introducing…

….processes and training to enable technicians to do a better job with less stress and more fun. Our goal is to dramatically increase efficiency, raise elevator uptimes and speed up service interventions to ensure mobility equipment is always running as it should, providing each passenger with the safest and most comfortable travel experience possible.

service with hololens© thyssenkrupp/ using hololens

Elevators, with their importance, cost, complexity and legally mandated maintenance programs, are particularly well suited to this technology. But one can imagine entire buildings put together like this, where you can walk through the halls and see into walls, see where every valve and every switch is. It’s not just elevator technicians whose jobs are going virtual; this technology will affect every building professional and every trade.

me in headsetMe with a headset on, looking at an elevator machine/CC BY 2.0

I always worry when I go on these press trips and get in the bubble that I am going to lose perspective and perhaps gush too much. But this is seriously impressive technology, being put to work by a company that has taken a big staid industry and made it very exciting. So forgive the gush

Landlords listen up: Find the best rental returns here

A twist in the phenomenon of young urbanites moving to the suburbs is creating new opportunities for real estate investors. Instead of buying starter houses, these young people are looking to rent.

That’s because entry-level homes are scarce and home prices are rising far faster than incomes.

“An increasingly competitive homebuying market bodes well for the single-family rental market relative to both demand and rental rate increases,” said Wally Charnoff, CEO of RentRange Data Services.

Two new reports point to the best markets for investors seeking to profit from the single-family rental market. RentRange, a housing market data analytics firm, ranked the top 25 U.S. markets for rental rate increases on single family homes. It measured the gains between the second quarters of 2015 and 2016.

California and Florida had the most markets in the top 25, as these states are seeing the biggest gains in home values and therefore the biggest gains in rental demand. Low vacancy rates in these states are driving rents higher. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida, topped the list with a 26 percent annual rent gain. New Orleans came in second at nearly 21 percent and Seattle third at almost 17 percent.

As for the best rental returns, which is the income return from an investment prior to operating costs, two markets are new to the ranking: Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Pittsburgh ranked first and third, with average gross yields over 15 percent. This means the properties rent for a lot compared with the home’s value. Syracuse, New York, rounds out the top three.

In another analysis of rental markets, HomeUnion, an online real estate investment management firm based in Irvine, California, looked at the 31 metropolitan areas with NFL football teams and ranked which single family rental markets will perform best through the end of this year. It looked at employment, rent growth and turnover time, as well as rent-to-income ratio, apartment construction and single-family permits.

“Most of the metros near the top of the list have robust job growth, which is the primary driver of renter household formation. As these markets continue to add new jobs, we expect renter demand to remain healthy through the current expansion cycle,” said Steve Hovland, director of research for HomeUnion.

Florida and California also had strong showings in the HomeUnion top 10, with Tampa and Jacksonville, Florida, and San Diego in the top three spots. Dallas and Atlanta followed. At the bottom of the 31 is Milwaukee. That is likely because home prices in Milwaukee are very affordable, making renting less desirable.

“Although home sales are rising, the homeownership rate continues to decline, and first-time buyers are not active enough to reverse that trend,” Hovland said. “As the Fed moves closer to normalizing monetary policy, the ability of first-time homebuyers to enter the market will become more difficult. At the same time, new single-family home construction is targeted at a wealthier cohort.”

Source: cnbc.com

– See more at: http://www.american-apartment-owners-association.org/property-management/latest-news/landlords-listen-find-best-rental-returns/#sthash.AUgxaNRp.dpuf