Recessions Impact on CA Schools

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Widespread teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and increased economic hardship for children are among the impacts California’s budget crisis and the recession have had on public schools and students, according to a report released Thursday.

Researchers at UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access interviewed 87 elementary, middle and high principals across California to gauge the impact of the recession and budget cuts on student welfare and school learning environments.

Before the recession began, California K-12 public schools, which were among the nation’s best in the 1960s, already ranked near the bottom nationally in many measures of academic achievement and school quality.

The economic downturn and state budget crisis has undermined recent academic gains and widened the disparity between schools in rich and poor communities, said John Rogers, the institute’s director.

“It’s taken California several steps backward on the road to improvement,” Rogers said. “It’s also harmed the long-term prospects for California to rebuild a quality education system.”

The report, called “Educational Opportunities in Hard Times,” found that:

— 62 percent of principals reported that teachers in their schools had been laid off, threatened with layoffs or reassigned to other schools. The number of actual layoffs was four times greater at schools in poorer communities than wealthier communities.

— 67 percent reported that class sizes had increased, with 74 percent of elementary school principals reporting larger class sizes.

— 75 percent reported that summer school had been reduced or eliminated.

— 75 percent reported reductions in instructional materials and supplies.

— 70 percent reported cuts to professional development programs.

— 67 percent reported growing housing insecurity, which includes homelessness, families moving in together and families moving away for economic reasons.

— 51 percent reported an increase in the health, psychological or social service needs of their students.

Many principals are seeing the impact on rising unemployment and poverty on their students as parents lose their jobs and homes, according to the report. About two-thirds said their schools have referred students and families to health and social service providers.

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Retirement Homes Trends Are Changing

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If your idea of a dream retirement home is a luxury contemporary overlooking a championship golf course in the desert, you better be prepared for some mighty small block parties: When it comes to retirement living, golf courses are out.

And Arizona and Florida aren’t the only retirement-relocation hot spots these days. In fact, North and South Carolina now top the preferences of baby boomers who will be retiring in the next decade, according to a survey to be released from home builder Del Webb. “How times have changed when it comes to the golf course,” said Paul Cardis, chief executive of AVID Ratings Co., a survey research firm. His recommendation to builders: Eliminate it. Bike paths and walking trails are the new greens and fairways.

Blame it all on the economy. The recession has taken its toll not only on nest eggs but also on the traditional concept of a retirement home. That’s the message that attendees at the International Builders Show received in a number of presentations and seminars.

Downsizing is a trend that is taking hold among all housing consumers, but it is particularly evident among the 55-plus crowd that includes the older baby boomers. And that downsizing includes housing aspirations in retirement. While “warmer climate” was the reigning factor in choosing where to retire in the first boomer survey Del Webb conducted in 1996, today “cost of living” is the most important consideration on where to locate. Although Florida, Arizona and California remain Top 10 retirement destinations, the trend is giving other states a chance to draw even more retirees.

Despite the broadening of potential destinations, baby boomers’ desire to move in retirement has remained relatively stable over the years. Between 30-40% plan to move to a new home in retirement, about the same as in 1996, and half of those plan on moving to a new state.

What older buyers want in homes
What kind of houses will be in demand among those 55 and older? According to a consumer survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders, the most important design features that 55-plus buyers want in their homes center on the practical:

-Washers and dryers in their units
-Storage space
-Windows that open easily
-Garage-door openers
-Easy-to-use thermostats
-First-floor master bedrooms
-Private patios
-Porches
-Attached garages
-Bigger bathrooms

A lot of the more popular features in new homes these days don’t appeal all that much to older buyers:
-Island work areas
-Separate showers
-Private toilet compartments
-Sun rooms
-Woodburning fireplaces
-Exercise rooms

But a number of items that home buyers don’t find to be of much interest are much more popular with older buyers:
-Bathroom aids such as grab bars
-Kitchen aids
-Light home-repair services
-Outdoor maintenance services
-An entrance without steps
-Accessible public transportation
-Wider doorways
-Nonslip flooring

Among technology features, older home buyers tend to act like younger buyers when it comes to the basics: Both groups have a preference for security systems, energy management, structured wiring and lighting controls. But older buyers had little use for home theaters, distributed audio or home automation, more-expensive items that younger buyers do like. “These older buyers are frugal, probably on a fixed income and so expensive tech items are not that big on their lists,” said Rose Quint, the NAHB assistant vice president for survey research.

The emphasis on services related to home and community is an important one that cuts across many age groups, said John Migliaccio, director of research at MetLife’s Mature Market Institute, which surveys consumers and builders on retirement issues. “Very telling is that the younger group of mature consumers reported enthusiastically that they want services like home maintenance and repair as part of their next home purchase, along with services usually connected to older householders, such as housekeeping, onsite health care and transportation,” he said.

According to Migliaccio, all of those items were ranked higher than the desire for social activities by this group—a surprise given that social activities and amenities have been thought to be valued highly by this group. He said the data support an emerging trend among builders to look for ways to partner with providers of such services to the residents of their active adult/lifestyle communities.

Migliaccio also predicted that universal design—which includes features such as wider hallways, lever-handled doors, roll-in showers and no-stair entries—will catch on as baby boomers watch their own parents age. “The boomers are going to see their own parents age without it and they won’t like what they see,” he said.

The 55-plus age group represents 38% of all U.S. households and is projected to rise every year to be almost 45% of households by 2019. And that group has high homeownership rates: while the U.S. as a whole has about a 67% ownership rate, those 55 to 74 own homes at an 80% clip. “Most buyers in this market are looking for an easy-living lifestyle. They would like easy access to services that will free up their time from maintenance both inside and outside their homes,” said Mike McGowan, a 50-plus builder from Binghamton, N.Y. and chairman of the National Association of Home Builder’s 50-Plus Housing Council. “This data tells builders that the homes they build for older active adults will remain attractive to the consumers who will be entering that market for the foreseeable future.”

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Changes For Credit Card Users

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After more than a year of talking about it, actual change has finally arrived for the tens of millions of Americans who rely on credit cards.

Come February 22, 2010, card lenders will be barred from raising interest rates on most borrowers’ existing balances—a practice that increasingly irked consumers over the last decade and one of several that federal regulators and lawmakers finally barred as unfair and deceptive.

But the new law already requires banks to give cardholders 45 days’ notice of any change in terms. So if your bank didn’t mail you a rate-change notice by January 7, 2010, you no longer face a doubling or tripling of your interest rate on your current balance—as long as you keep paying and don’t fall 60 days late. The Federal Reserve recently issued more than 1,100 pages of rules telling card issuers how to implement that new prohibition and other elements of the nation’s new credit card law, whose main terms take effect February 22.

If you’re a “convenience user” of credit cards—one of the four in 10 cardholders who pay off your bill each month—you’ll be less affected than those who carry a balance. But pay attention, anyway, because the new rules are forcing the card industry to reevaluate business models that for too long relied on tricks and traps to generate revenue. It isn’t yet clear how the card market will evolve, especially since this is playing out during the middle of a deep and painful recession.

Still, many of last year’s dire warnings don’t seem to be coming true. “Rewards” programs haven’t vanished, nor have annual fees suddenly become the norm. Average rates even dipped in November 2009, which the bankers called evidence that “issuers are working to keep rates down even in these tough times.”

In short, good customers still seem able to enjoy the benefits of paying with plastic without shouldering much more of the costs. And that’s unlikely to change, because of competition and also because of one of the basic dynamics of the credit card business: Since they also get lucrative fees from the companies that accept plastic payments, the last thing card issuers want is to steer you to start paying with cash or checks.

Highlights of the new rules include
-No rate increases on existing balances. The dirty little secret of what card issuers called “risk-based pricing” was that some of the best prices were offered to some of the riskiest customers. The trick was that they knew they could profit by offering lucrative deals to these customers because they could predict that some portion would soon be paying much more—often “default” or “penalty” rates topping 30%—on big balances.

Sometimes the new rate was triggered by a late payment of a few hours. Sometimes it was triggered by a late payment to another creditor. Sometimes it was caused by nothing more than a dip in a consumer’s credit score and contract terms allowing rates to be changed “at any time for any reason.”

What’s changed: Except for introductory rates, which must last at least six months, interest rates cannot be raised on existing balances except in rare situations, such as if a cardholder falls 60 days late.

-Faster payoffs for some borrowers. The new law also ends a trap sprung on cardholders who were lured by low-interest or no-interest balance-transfer offers but didn’t read the fine print. If they subsequently used the card for purchases carrying a higher rate, they soon found that they were accumulating interest no matter how much they paid each month. Card issuers would not allow them to pay off the purchases until the low-rate or interest-free balances had been fully paid. What’s changed: Starting February 22, any payment over the monthly minimum must go toward paying down the portion of the balance carrying the highest interest rate.

-No increases for the first 12 months. When it comes to new purchases, less has changed. You may still face an interest-rate increase based on triggers in your card contract- even for tardiness paying another creditor, the trap that came to be known as the “universal default.” But there are two key differences. The first is that since August 2009, you’ve been entitled to 45 days’ notice and the right to say “no, thanks” to new terms. The second is that, as of February 22, a card issuer cannot raise your rate during the first year an account is open, unless an “introductory rate” is expiring and the “go to” rate was plainly disclosed at the start. Of course, since card issuers can no longer apply new rates to old balances, opting out may no longer be the best solution, in part because the law allows the issuer to double your monthly minimum. You’d be better off if you simply quit using the card. But if the issuer imposes a new annual fee, opting out may be your only alternative.

-New billing and payment terms. Starting in February, your card company must mail or deliver your bill at least three weeks before your payment is due, and give you a consistent monthly due date. Payments must be credited if they arrive by 5 p.m. on the due date. And if that day falls on a Sunday or holiday, you’ll be entitled to an extra day.

-Over-limit charges. As of February 22, a card company has to ask whether you want it to approve charges that push you over your credit limit. If you say yes, the issuer can only charge you one over-limit fee per month. And if you opt out, it can’t charge you a fee if it allows such a purchase.

-Young borrowers. If you’re under 21 and want a credit card, you’ll now need to show that you have the financial resources to make payments, or obtain a cosigner.

-Big changes still ahead. This isn’t the last of the new credit card rules. By August 2010, the Federal Reserve has to decide how to implement two of the trickiest parts of the new law: its requirements that penalty fees be “reasonable and proportional,” and that card issuers who have raised customers’ rates since Jan. 1, 2009, reevaluate those rates to see if they should be reduced, and to do so at least every six months.

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Unique Tahoe Keys Property With 2 Boat Slips

Speed Boat
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I have a unique Tahoe Keys duplex condo for sale.  It is in the middle of a remodel so it would have to be a cash offer- although the seller is open to any creative solution.  It has a 2 bedroom 1.5 bath unit that is currently rented and a studio with full bath and kitchen.  The studio is in the remodel stage.  The owner has the new kitchen cabinets, stove/oven, 40k BTU gas fireplace, and dishwasher uninstalled on site.  He is tired of the project and just wants out.  Not in the MLS yet-

It has one garage space, outside parking, keys amenities (pools, hot tubs, tennis courts, boat launching, private beach), a nice mountain and marina view, and 2 boat slips…… A legal duplex with one APN number….

Offered in the very low $300’s

When you finished with this project you could flip for a nice profit or keep it and rent one unit and keep one for yourself.

Call or email  me for more information.

Joel Dameral
530-545-8827
info@JoelDameral.com

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HUD To Speed Resale of Foreclosed Properties

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In an effort to stabilize home values and improve conditions in communities where foreclosure activity is high, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan recently announced a temporary policy that will expand access to FHA mortgage insurance and allow for the quick resale of foreclosed properties. The announcement is part of the Obama administration’s commitment to addressing foreclosure. Secretary Donovan recently announced $2 billion in Neighborhood Stabilization Program grants to local communities and nonprofit housing developers to combat the effects of vacant and abandoned homes.

“As a result of the tightened credit market, FHA-insured mortgage financing is often the only means of financing available to potential home buyers,” said Donovan. “FHA has an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill its mission by helping many home buyers find affordable housing while contributing to neighborhood stabilization.”

With certain exceptions, FHA currently prohibits insuring a mortgage on a home owned by the seller for less than 90 days. This temporary waiver will give FHA borrowers access to a broader array of recently foreclosed properties.

“This change in policy is temporary and will have very strict conditions and guidelines to assure that predatory practices are not allowed,” Donovan said.

In today’s market, FHA research finds that acquiring, rehabilitating and reselling these properties to prospective homeowners often takes less than 90 days. Prohibiting the use of FHA mortgage insurance for a subsequent resale within 90 days of acquisition adversely impacts the willingness of sellers to allow contracts from potential FHA buyers because they must consider holding costs and the risk of vandalism associated with allowing a property to sit vacant over a 90-day period of time.

The policy change will permit buyers to use FHA-insured financing to purchase HUD-owned properties, bank-owned properties, or properties resold through private sales. This will allow homes to resell as quickly as possible, helping to stabilize real estate prices and to revitalize neighborhoods and communities.

“FHA borrowers, because of the restrictions we are now lifting, have often been shut out from buying affordable properties,” said FHA Commissioner David H. Stevens. “This action will enable our borrowers, especially first-time buyers, to take advantage of this opportunity.”

The waiver will take effect on February 1, 2010 and is effective for one year, unless otherwise extended or withdrawn by the FHA Commissioner. To protect FHA borrowers against predatory practices of “flipping,” where properties are quickly resold at inflated prices to unsuspecting borrowers, this waiver is limited to those sales meeting the following general conditions:

-All transactions must be arms-length, with no identity of interest between the buyer and seller or other parties participating in the sales transaction.
-In cases in which the sales price of the property is 20% or more above the seller’s acquisition cost, the waiver will only apply if the lender meets specific conditions.
-The waiver is limited to forward mortgages, and does not apply to the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) for purchase program.

For more information, visit www.hud.gov.

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Repeat Buyers Must Act Fast For Tax Credit

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By now it is well documented that today’s affordable housing prices, historically low interest rates and federal home buyer tax credit have combined to create one of the most attractive first-time buyer markets in recent memory. What many Americans might not realize is that a recent expansion of the buyer tax credit has created an equally desirable opportunity for existing homeowners.

This past November, Congress elected to expand the home buyer tax credit to repeat buyers after seeing the success the temporary financial incentive had on the housing market and overall economy. As a result, current homeowners who will have lived in their home for 5 consecutive years out of the last 8 may now be eligible to receive a $6,500 tax credit.

“The expanded tax credit offers a great financial opportunity for existing homeowners, particularly those looking to trade up,” said James M. Weichert, president and founder of Weichert, Realtors, one of the nation’s largest independent real estate companies. “Not only can you receive a large sum of money from the government, you’ll also likely purchase your next home for less money and at a lower interest rate than you could have in years past or years to come.”

To qualify for the tax credit, the repeat buyer must have signed a binding contract by April 30, 2010 and close on the home by June 30, 2010. Tax credit eligibility is subject to income limits, $125,000 for single buyers and $225,000 for couples. In addition, the sale price of the home being purchased can not exceed $800,000.

There is no requirement that existing homeowners must have sold their home to be eligible for the $6,500 tax credit. However, Weichert encourages existing homeowners who want to benefit from this incentive to move quickly, particularly those who prefer to first sell their current home before purchasing a new one.

“Typically, it takes three months or longer to sell a home. That’s why it is critical repeat buyers put their home on the market right away. Otherwise they might not leave themselves enough time to both secure a buyer for their current house and find a new home by the April 30 deadline,” added Weichert.

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2022 Winter Games in Tahoe???

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The Lake Tahoe basin remains a potential host for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

While local organizations have spearheaded efforts to bring the games to Lake Tahoe in recent years, there is reason for renewed optimism, according to Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki, chairman of Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition (RTWGC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to having Reno/Tahoe selected as the next North American region to host an Olympic Winter Games.

“The latest comments from the USOC are an absolute shot in the arm for the Lake Tahoe region’s latest bid to host the games,” he said. “This will allow us the necessary momentum to create a network and a partnership between Nevada and California that can focus on putting a package in place that makes it compelling for the USOC.”

A shakeup in the United States Olympic Committee leadership has led to a reprioritization of how the committee will approach the bidding process.

USOC Chairman Larry Probst and newly appointed Chief Executive Officer Scott Blackmun indicated they may want to pursue a 2022 Winter Games bid.

“Nothing’s off the table at this point,” chairman Larry Probst said during an interview at Associated Press headquarters Tuesday, when asked about a possible 2022 bid.

In the past, the USOC has focused on bringing the Summer Games to a bid city, as the games are typically viewed as a stronger economic engine for the host city.

However, in wake of Chicago’s last place finish in the bidding process for the 2016 Summer Games, the USOC indicated that bringing the Winter Games to the United States could be a positive step in repairing their relationship with the International Olympic Committee.

“The idea is to face in the right direction and start walking,” Blackmun said, “and we’ll know when we get there.”

According to reports from the Associated Press, the two strongest candidates to host the 2022 Winter Games are Denver and Reno-Tahoe.

“We’re really supportive of the USOC and the Olympic movement,” KieAnn Brownell, president of the Denver Sports Commission, told the Associated Press. “We have aspirations from the standpoint of wanting to host international events of all types. We’re going to follow the USOC’s lead and see where that goes.”

Local Impact

Bringing the 2022 Winter Games to Lake Tahoe would give the region an opportunity to dramatically improve its infrastructure, said Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Spokesman Dennis Oliver.

“Lake Tahoe could be the first Olympic site to deliver a Green Olympics with an underlying theme of sustainability,” he said.

Oliver said preparations for hosting the games should include installing a public transportation system capable of serving residents long after the event has concluded.

Oliver also envisions the creation of new more energy efficient hotel accommodations, athletic facilities with minimal impact on the local environment, and a system of feeding the athletes with locally grown agricultural products.

“It would be an event with an underlying theme of carbon neutral and I know a lot of local leaders would be interested in pulling it off,” Oliver said.

Krolicki agreed.

“The 2022 Winter Games would be a spectacle and a delight for several weeks,” he said. “But the improvements made to the infrastructure of the Lake Tahoe Basin in lead-up to the games would benefit residents for decades.”

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Free Radon Test Kits To El Dorado County Residents

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Residents of El Dorado County can receive a free radon test kit until supplies run out.

The Tahoe Division of the El Dorado County Environmental Management Department has several hundred test kits available, said Virginia Huber, Tahoe Division Manager.

The kits can be picked up from 8 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays at 3368 Lake Tahoe Blvd. Suite 303.

“We recommend everyone in the South Lake Tahoe area test their home for radon,” Huber said.

Radon is an odorless, colorless, radioactive case that arises from the decay of naturally occurring uranium and thorium in soil. The gas is linked to 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year, second only to cigarette smoking, according to the EPA.

A report from the California Geological Survey in June 2009 estimated that 23,400 people in the Lake Tahoe area live in buildings where radon is likely to equal or exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended action level of 4 picocuries per liter.

The report was based on geological data, as well as results from a survey of 443 homes in South Lake Tahoe between 2006 and 2007.

According to the survey, about 40 percent of homes in the Lake Tahoe area are at or above the EPA’s recommended action level, while approximately 55 percent of homes in the El Dorado County portion of the basin who participated in the survey are at or above the recommended action level.

Winter is a good time to test a home for radon, Huber said.

“It’s the best time to test because your house is closed up,” she said.

For more information call (530) 573-3450.

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California State Parks Need Our Help

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California State Parks narrowly escaped major closures during last year’s state budget crisis, and supporters are going to the voters for help to ensure the worst doesn’t happen in 2010.

The California State Parks Foundation and other organizations have created the State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010, needing more than 430,000 signatures to get it in the November 2010 ballot.

If successful, the act would add $18 to California’s annual vehicle licensing fees, said Pam Armas, California State Park Ranger Association President, raising about $500 million each year for state parks, wildlife, land conservation and ocean conservation projects.

“That may seem like a lot, but we’ve been so horribly under-funded; this will get us to where we need to be,” Armas said, adding that state parks have an approximately $1 billion backlog in un-funded work.

The $500 million would be split 85 percent to state parks and 15 percent to the other conservation efforts, Armas said, likely finding its way to groups like the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and California Tahoe Conservancy, among others.

In return, California residents who paid licensing fees would get free day admission to all state parks, year-round, Armas said.

“If you go two or three times it pays for itself — state park day use now ranges from $8 to $15,” Armas said.

The effort comes in response to the threat in 2009 to pull $70 million from state parks to help balance California’s eroding budget, which would have closed up to 220 of the state’s 279 parks.

That cut was later reduced to $14.2 million, meaning no full-time closures, but reductions of services and partial closures.

A similar addition to vehicle licensing fees was discussed by lawmakers over the summer, but never gained traction in the capital, so groups like the California State Parks Foundation, Audubon Society of California and the Sierra Club are taking it to the voters, Armas said.

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No E-File For First-Time Home Buyer Credit

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While the Internal Revenue Service is encouraging taxpayers to file their returns electronically, taxpayers who used the first-time home-buyer tax credit will have to send in their tax return by paper this year.

First-time home buyers who used the credit will have to go to the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov, to download a form claiming the tax credit. Taxpayers can still use tax filing programs to prepare their return, but will have to print it out and mail it in.

The IRS said paper filing will help prevent fraud and catch people who may have taken advantage of the $8,000 tax credit but didn’t use it to buy a home.

The IRS said it plans to start processing returns by mid-February, adding it may take an extra two to three weeks for taxpayers who used the home buyer tax credit to see refunds.

Among other documentation required for taxpayers who used the home buyer tax credit:

• A copy of the settlement statement showing all parties’ names and signatures, property address, sales price, and date of purchase.

• For mobile home purchasers who are unable to get a settlement statement, a copy of the executed retail sales contract showing all parties’ names and signatures, property address, purchase price and date of purchase.

• For a newly constructed home where a settlement statement is not available, a copy of the certificate of occupancy showing the owner’s name, property address and date of the certificate.

In November, Congress extended the federal home buyer tax credit program to June 30 for buyers to settle on a property.

Homeowners who have lived in their home for five of the last eight years can also qualify for a $6,500 tax credit if they close on a home.

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