In the center of Boston rises the small neighborhood of Fort Hill, on top of which sits Highland Park, designed in the 1800s by Frederick Olmsted.1 Patriots stored gunpowder here during the Revolutionary War, and a tower fit for Rapunzel commemorates their efforts. The abolitionist writer William Lloyd Garrison fought against slavery from a house on this hill. And now the battle for urban housing affordability rages on these streets. It’s a microcosm of the battle playing out on a neighborhood level in every growing city in America: a battle between those who want to keep property values high, and those who want the chance to live in the cities that have the best economic prospects.
If cities want to retain a middle class, experts say, they will have to make it happen on their own.
The casualties in this war are mostly the middle class. In 2016, rents continued their years-long rise, incomes stratified further, and the average price to buy a home in major US cities rose. The strain pushed the middle class out of cities like Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Austin—the so-called “hot cities.” Some families move to the suburbs. Others flee for less expensive cities. But across the US, the trend holds: cities are increasingly home to high-rollers who can pay the high rents or down payments and lower income people who qualify for subsidized housing.
Macroeconomists say this a good problem to have. These cities are growing. People want to live in them. Stagnating economies in the Rust Belt might envy this kind of trouble. From the perspective of the overall wealth of cities, the middle class being pushed out doesn’t matter. But it matters on the human level, the neighborhood level. In Fort Hill, it means that a teacher at the local elementary school cannot afford to live in the neighborhood where she works. The effects on inequality, mobility, and the demographic composition of cities are very real, their causes multifold, and the solutions difficult.
Experts reading into president-elect Donald Trump’s proposed tax and housing policies—including his appointment of Ben Carson to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development—see little hope that the federal government will help reverse this course next year. If cities want to retain a middle class, experts say, they will have to make it happen on their own.
Out of Reach
The affordability crisis in US cities is not just about buying homes. Rents, too, have been rising since the Great Recession. In the coastal and hot cities like Denver and Austin, those increases have put even rentals out of reach for many in the middle class–defined as those making between $50 to $125,000 depending on household size. In 2016, the capital required to sign a lease on the average-priced $3,500-a-month apartment in San Francisco often topped $12,000, owing to requirements for first and last month’s rent plus security deposits and a broker fee.
The savings that used to be associated with the middle class have dried up in the past few years, as interest rates stayed low and wage growth stagnated. Not only does this make it harder for people to stay in the middle class, but it makes coming up with high sums to rent or buy city apartments impossible.
“It’s very hard to get people to understand that the affordable housing crisis is not for the very poor,” says lawyer Mechele Dickerson of the University of Texas, an expert in housing and the middle class. It’s for people with good jobs who are not poor enough to qualify for subsidized housing, nor rich enough to pay the rising housing prices. “A family that makes $100,000 can’t afford to buy a house in most US cities,” Dickerson says.
The intractability of the middle class’ affordable housing problem stems largely from strict zoning laws that restrict building new housing, and the not-in-my-backyard mindsets of homeowners who oppose affordable housing initiatives.
“Housing issues are a product of economic growth in the city bumping up against strict zoning constraints. That’s what leads to the unaffordability problem,” says David Shulman, Senior Economist at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. “You dont want to stop economic growth.”
The opposition to change drives the price of the existing housing supply up—which homeowners love—and ripples into the rental market. Landlords are able to charge more, and long-time rental residents get displaced when they can’t afford the new prices. That’s what’s happening in Fort Hill, a traditionally African American neighborhood that is whitening every year as black residents who’ve rented there for decades are replaced by high-turnover college students willing to pay the ever-higher market rates for apartments.
“As a landlord, if you can turn it over, youre always at the market, and you want to turn it over faster,” says Lee Lin, data scientist and cofounder of the rental site RentHop.
‘As soon as you call it affordable housing, the existing residents shift into NIMBY.’
This high-turnover rate is even more of a problem when you factor in what economists call “the AirBnB effect,” where homeowners are able to charge exorbitantly high rates for short-term rentals. Lin says 2016 actually saw the first signs of a crackdown against this trend, starting in New York City, which passed strict regulation to make it harder for homeowners to make money on short-term rentals.
In Fort Hill in 2016, meanwhile, initiatives to build new affordable housing to keep those long-time residents in the neighborhood were met with resistance by some homeowners fearing an influx of low-cost housing would negatively affect their home values.
Dickerson says part of the problem is that when homeowners hear the phrase “affordable housing,” they think of public assistance and housing projects like those that went up in cities in the 1970s. “As soon as you call it affordable housing, the existing residents shift into NIMBY,” Dickerson says.
In San Francisco, which has some of the strictest zoning laws in the nation—precluding high-rise buildings in most neighborhoods—this has resulted in the nearly complete white-washing of the Fillmore, a formerly robust black neighborhood. The last predominantly African American neighborhood in the city—Bayview-Hunter’s Point—saw rents rise to an average of $2,715 for a one-bedroom in 2016, with increasing gentrification pushing residents across the bay to Oakland as hip restaurants and condos remake the area in tech-obsessed SOMA’s image.
The States Rights Approach in 2017
The incoming administration has given experts no reason to expect it will prioritize fixing the affordability crises for the middle class. “In terms of the federal government, I see no hope,” Dickerson says. But as with immigration reform and climate change, housing affordability is something that states and cities can tackle on their own. In 2017, this trend toward decentralized power will continuethat is, if cities make retaining middle class residents a priority. That means relaxing the zoning laws to permit more housing stock to enter the market. This is the single most helpful thing the city of San Francisco could do, for example, to counter the tech money forcing prices on the limited housing stock up, says Shulman.
They could also adopt initiatives to require that all new housing developments include a certain amount of below-market-rate affordable units—a program that cities like New York City and Boston already do, Lin says.
Dickerson says cities could go a step further than that by requiring developers to set aside housing for people who actually work in the city in exchange for tax breaks. This would also, she thinks, be less controversial to NIMBY-minded residents.
Lin, meanwhile, predicts more cities will follow New York City’s lead in fighting back against the AirBnB effect in 2017, which would also help ease the pressure on housing supply.
Middle class would-be residents can also look to a few bright spots. Thanks to the Great Recession, many millennials delayed marriage and children until they were more financially stable, and Shulman says they may now be reaching the age where they are ready for those big life milestones. He notes that in 2016, many millennials began to buy homes in the suburbs, seeking better school systems and more space.
Additionally, interest rates are expected to rise and the economic outlook in response to Trump’s presidency is so far relatively optimistic, as evidenced by the surging stock market in December. This bodes well for wage growth, which Shulman and his colleagues at UCLA expect to see over the next two years. All of this could help the middle class grow their savings. But for now, they’ll be doing it from the suburbs.
1Correction on January 1 at 6pm: Highland Park was designed in the 1800s.
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A good job pays the bills, but it’s also meaningful, right? Apparently, it’s tough to finda job that does both.
There’s no better day of the week than Monday to ponder the meaningfulness of your work. It’s something that often gets overlooked while searching for a job, too.
When I first graduated from college, I definitely wasn’t thinking about how rewarding the work would be. I was just focused on getting my foot in the door of the entertainment industry.
But to be honest, the work was pretty soul-sucking.I looked at the lives of my supervisors who had many more years of experience in the entertainment industry than I did. They were all pretty miserable, so I got out.
Money is definitely important to me, as it is to many people. In fact, just about everyone I know cares about making money. Do they care more about making money than making a difference? I don’t know, but it all depends on the job.
This should definitely make you think about what you do all day:
Jobs that involve working with elderly people are of the most meaningful.
Nursing home directors, hospice nurses and assistant directors of nursing homes were in the top 10 meaningful jobs.
For these jobs, the average salary is $69,700. That might sound like a lot if you’re 22 years old, but when you also have to support a family, it’s tight.
People who have jobs helping the elderly get to enjoy the satisfaction of directly making someone’s life much better. Money can’t buy that feeling.
You can get more meaning from a job if you’re helping people be healthy.
Clinical psychologists, volunteer coordinators and clinical supervisors have meaningful work, but their jobs aren’t going togive them the ability to retire early, that’s for sure.
People in these jobs are making $54,000 on average. Seeing the immediacy of how you help people live healthier lives is probably more meaningful compared tothe immediate results from other jobs.
Connecting with others on an emotional level probably makes your job more meaningful.
Pastors, development officers, school counselors and marriage and family therapists help people have better relationships and a better understanding of themselves. Careers in mental health, development and relationship health put you front and center with your clients. These jobs force you to communicate and prevent you from hiding behind a screen all the time.
People in these roles make $48,400 on average. You can’t buy the rewarding feeling of knowing you’ve helpedimprove marriages or guided a high school student through finding the best college. But, that rewarding feeling can’t exactly pay rent, either.
OK, so none of this means you can’t find work that’s both meaningful and allows you to be financially independent. But, you might not be able to find a job that’s both meaningful and makes a lot of money based on the roles that exist.
Having a rewarding job and becoming wealthy might mean adopting an entrepreneurial spirit and creating your own position. It might not be about finding the job, but creating one based on what would be most meaningful to you.
In Starz, Lions Gate now has a way to directly make money from its hits as opposed to going to other distributors, as it does now with Orange is the New Black.
In Lions Gate, Starz gains access to a pipeline of high-quality shows and an existing library that will make its subscription services more enticing.
Jon Feltheimer, CEO of Lions Gate, said on a call with analysts that the combined company would be able to compete better. He didn’t call out Netflix and HBO, but he might as well have.
“This acquisition unites Lions Gate and Starz in a global content power house that invests nearly $2 billion a year in new content with the increased scale to compete even more effectively and capitalize on growth opportunities in a fast changing marketplace,” Feltheimer said.
The combination might seem like a no-brainer as direct-to-consumer streaming platforms have become the hot new thing among consumers and investors, but the combination is far from a sure thing.
Both companies have struggled in the past year, with their respective share prices reflecting such. The combined Lions Gate/Starz also faces stiff and diverse competition from some of the biggest tech and media companies in the world that have a distinct head start.
“As a content ‘arms merchant’ we are unconvinced that Lions Gate will be better owning a lower-tier SVOD network. We think this is a deal that happened because management needed a deal to happen given poor recent financial performance and a declining share price,”Doug Creutz, a media industry analyst for Cowen & Co., said in a note.
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When he realised his life of guns, knives and hustling was getting too dangerous, Fantastic Negrito grew his sideburns long and gatecrashed music school
You wanna hear my robbery tactics? says the rangy 48-year-old sitting opposite me in a Soho ramen house. Id make friends with the kid that was not that popular. Id go to his house. Id find a house key and secretly make a copy. Then Id find out the schedule of the family. Then, when they were gone, Id make my move. I was that kind of robber.
Ask Xavier Dphrepaulezz (its pronounced dee-FREP-ah-lez) about any of his past lives including his teenage years of petty crime while in foster care and he has a way of taking you to the heart of the action. His story is, by any criteria, extraordinary, and the enjoyment he derives from sharing it is infectious.
The singer, who describes himself as a lifelong hustler, landed in London this morning for the first time in a decade. Last time he was here, long before his current incarnation as Fantastic Negrito, he was briefly the blue-haired frontman of Blood Sugar X, a manic Cali-funk-punk collective in the tradition of bands like Bad Brains and Fishbone. Ten years earlier, he was simply Xavier, peddling innocuous MTV funk before a car crash put him in a coma for three weeks and laid his pop star aspirations to waste. Far from distancing himself from all these personas, Dphrepaulezz places his phone on the table and Googles them for you, lest you imagine he has anything to hide.
After half a lifetime spent chasing a break, Dphrepaulezzs luck turned when he stopped trying. To start with, there was the DIY video for his song Lost in a Crowd, which last year saw off more than 7,000 allcomers to win the National Public Radio (NPR) Tiny Desk competition. He was railroaded into submitting the song by the other members of Blackball Universe, the Californian arts cooperative he co-founded to create a structure of mutual support among struggling black artists. Dphrepaulezzs prize was the chance to follow in the footsteps of Adele and Florence and the Machine and record a concert for NPR.
One person who connected with Dphrepaulezzs urgent blues epistles was Bernie Sanders. Its easy to see why a man running for the Democratic presidential nomination on a leftwing ticket might seize on, say, a song called Working Poor. When Sanders heard it, he enlisted Dphrepaulezz to play at events around the primaries in New Hampshire and Nevada. On the day we meet, the singer will be beamed across the US, thanks to a performance in Foxs music industry drama Empire. Thats Fantastic Negrito you can also hear on Ron Perlmans Amazon series Hand of God: the shows theme song is the battle-weary testifying of An Honest Man.
Dphrepaulezz seems as much a bemused onlooker as a participant in the events of his life. The first time he heard any of the blues records that inform Fantastic Negritos debut album, The Last Days of Oakland, their concerns seemed a world away from his own. Aged eight, Dphrepaulezz was visiting relatives in south Virginia. The music playing in their house bore as little relevance to his life as the classical-pop records favoured by his father a half-Somalian, half-Caribbean restaurateur born in 1905. Until the age of 12, home for Dphrepaulezz and his 14 siblings was rural Massachusetts. My dad was a strict Muslim. He had a lot of rules, he recalls. You probably have to be strict, I suggest, if youre raising 15 kids. Well, he shoots back, he wasnt strict when he was making them.
When the family moved to California in 1979, setting up home across the bay from San Francisco in Oakland, they were in effect releasing him into the wild. Gang-controlled drug-dealing had brought the city to the brink of lawlessness. Confronted by this explosion of counterculture hip-hop, thrash metal and punk all meeting in one location Dphrepaulezz made new friends, left home and didnt come back.
We were all selling drugs, man. We all carried pistols. There was a crack epidemic. Mostly, I was small-time. I was the kind of kid who would sell fake weed, shit like that. Sometimes I would use tea. What was it that the Beatles would smoke from a pipe in order to try and get high? Typhoid? Typhoo tea? Thats the shit!
Dphrepaulezzs saving grace was that, even as a teenage drug-dealer, he avoided ingesting anything heavier than weed. This period, spent pinballing between foster families, seems to have hardened his political outlook. As long as we have have predatory capitalism, he says, well have guns, because the gun industry loves to make money out of guns. They dont care if children die. What concerns them is profit.
Dphrepaulezz rarely gets emotional when going over these distant memories. But the death of Prince is another matter. His Dirty Mind album changed everything for me, he says, momentarily faltering. Someone told me he was self-taught and that opened the door for me. I was 18 and getting into trouble. I was thinking, What can I do thats safe? So I started teaching myself how to play.
His method was nothing if not ingenious. He grew long sideburns and pretended to be a student at the University of Berkeley. Taking the 40-minute bus ride north every day, he would head for its music rooms, copying students as they practised their scales. By day, he was not quite a student; by night, he was not quite a gangster. The realisation that he was small-time came when he and his friends bought some firearms from a gang, who returned to their house, held Dphrepaulezz at knifepoint and took the rest of their money. The next day I got out. I hitchhiked to LA with $100 and a keyboard.
There, Dphrepaulezz was surprised to find that a decade of hustling had been the perfect music business apprenticeship. A deal with Princes former manager was followed in 1993 by a $1m deal with Interscope, which he almost instantly regretted. Released in 1996, Xaviers passable debut album The X-Factor pleased neither himself nor his hit-hungry paymasters. Three years of limbo ensued, which were broken one Thanksgiving evening. Dphrepaulezzs car was hit by a drunk driver who ran a red light. I fishtailed and rolled over four lanes of traffic. The first thing he remembers after waking up three weeks later was the sensation of having a beard not that he could lift his arms to feel it. The accident had broken both his arms and his legs, leaving his strumming hand mangled.
Far from sending him into freefall, Dphrepaulezz says the crash released him. Interscope terminated his contract and Dphrepaulezz reverted to the only other thing he knew: the hustle. Noticing that the only nightclubbing opportunities in LA involved $20 for parking, $20 to get in, and at least $20 when youre in, I converted the warehouse where I lived in South Central into an illegal nightclub. I knocked down a few walls and built a bar that looked kind of like a pimps-from-outer-space thing. Velvet movie theatre seats. A hot tub on the roof. Nude body painting.
When Club Bingo wasnt paying host to a clientele that included Alicia Silverstone, Mike Tyson and Eric Bent, its creator was working under a bewildering array of alter egos among them Chocolate Butterfly, Me and This Japanese Guy and the aforementioned Blood Sugar X and licensing material to film and TV shows.
When he and his Japanese partner had a son, he stopped looking for further incarnations, sold all of his equipment except for one guitar, moved back to Oakland and bought himself a smallholding with no greater plan than to supplement his publishing royalties by growing medical marijuana and eating homegrown corn, tomatoes and freshly laid eggs.
Five years had elapsed since he last played his guitar. His fingers were still crooked from the accident, but he had just enough mobility to play a G chord for his son in an attempt to stop him from crying. His entire face changed, recalls the proud father. He learned the Beatles Across the Universe and played it to him every night for a year.
With that came a slew of new songs, informed this time by the blues records that had bewildered him on that childhood vacation in Virginia. In the middle of the conflict between me myself and lies / I saw people die for nothing / I sold coke to hungry eyes, went his first song, Night Turned to Day. Together with Malcolm Spellman, his longtime Oakland friend who would go on to write Empire, Dphrepaulezz threw his publishing royalties into the Oakland art gallery, label and creative space that became their Blackball Universe cooperative. Within strolling distance is the Blues Walk of Fame, which commemorates musicians who passed through the city in its pre-gentrification days. Black roots music is part of our story here, says Dphrepaulezz. Our art comes from their struggle. You think of that and you stay humble.
But to really understand why Dphrepaulezz is now succeeding, you have to see him in action. A few days later, at Londons Rough Trade East, near the end of an electrifying performance, he plays Lost in the Crowd. As his clawed hand plays the last chord, he loosens his neck tie, leans into the mic and revisits its inception. My collective calls me a narcissist, he tells the crowd. They were like, Will you stop writing about yourself? Go look at people! Look around! Arent people interesting to you? So they sent me off to Berkeley, San Francisco, and told me to watch people for a day. Just sit and watch. So thats what I did. And thats what this song is.
Its surely no surprise that Dphrepaulezz sees his own values reflected in those of Sanders. It was the collective power of a wider group that launched Fantastic Negrito on to the world, while the predatory capitalism against which he rails almost claimed him before he reached adulthood. Back at the ramen house, he tries one more time to make sense of the past few years. I thought my story was over. But that was when I realised I finally had a story to tell and it seems to remind people of their own story.
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(CNN)Melissa Nance was born and raised in Tennessee. But the native of Blount County, near Knoxville, says she’ll move if she has to.
“It’s that or die,” said Nance, 45. “So what else would you do?”
Nance has an incurable form of cancer called chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Since her diagnosis in 2015, she has gone through chemotherapy and survives on continual treatment. Her immune system is weak, and she often finds herself in the doctor’s office with an infection. She keeps a basket full of prescriptions in her living room because “there are too many medications to fit in her bathroom cabinet.”
To pay for all of that, Nance is insured by Humana through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace exchange. It’s coverage she says she was grateful to have after years of being denied because of her pre-existing condition.
“It’s a reminder of why I am doing this,” Johnson said.
But in her 21 years running the Justice Center, this year has been like no other. Since President Donald Trump took office, Johnson said, her phones have been “melting down” with people worried about their health care options. More calls flooded the center in the aftermath of the Humana exit.
Everyone is concerned, she says: “These are folks that voted for Trump or didn’t vote at all or voted for Clinton.”
Tennessee is one of 19 states that chose not to expand Medicaid. Critics of that decision argue that’s one reason why residents have few options for health care, and insurers have complained about the struggle to make money in the marketplace.
Humana’s departure follows similar moves by competitors Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Healthcare in recent years.
“No businessperson can plan how to operate in this market. That’s why leaders in Congress and the President need to give people a clear sense of ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ ” Johnson added.
Congress debates new plan
Trump recently used the Humana departure to show that Obamacare isn’t working.
“Obamacare continues to fail. Humana to pull out in 2018. Will repeal, replace and save healthcare for ALL Americans,” he tweeted.
In this conservative state, a majority of voters agree that change is needed.
“We’re paying more in taxes, more in forced type of expenses, and we feel like we’re getting less benefit out of it,” said Kathryn Eaton, who owns a small business in the Knoxville area. “Can you actually ever get everyone to be covered or have health care? It’s unrealistic. It’s just not the real world.”
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The Republican Obamacare repeal bill would get rid of the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires people to buy insurance. It would offer individuals refundable tax credits to purchase health insurance and would largely keep the protections Obamacare put in place for people with pre-existing conditions.
An insurance industry association says it’s monitoring the bill working its way through Congress.
“We are reviewing the bill, with a commitment to a stable market that best ensures affordable, high-quality coverage for all Americans,” said Kristine Grow of America’s Health Insurance Plans.
Nance, who is still in treatment for her leukemia, isn’t content. “Selfishly, I’m glad that pre-existing conditions or life time caps are covered, but I think we need a broader picture and look at what’s best for a community as a whole.”
And if an affordable insurance plan doesn’t come to the marketplace? Nance said a move out of the state she loves could be her only option.