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Money’s Available to Buy But Many Renters Don’t Know It

Posted in Financing & Credit, Working with Clients, by Robert Freedman on March 16, 2017 Millions of households are mortgage-ready but don’t try to buy because they can’t come up with a downpayment. And yet, hundreds of downpayment assistance programs around the country are available and go largely untapped. Small To be sure, many households won’t qualify for downpayment assistance. They simply earn too much money. But more people than you might realize would qualify if they would only apply. Because in many markets, the allowable income level is pretty high, and we’re not just talking about high-cost markets like San Francisco, where the median home price is about $1 million. There are more than a thousand downpayment assistance programs around the country. Each one is unique, with its own eligibility requirements, home-price limits, and resale restrictions. But these programs also share many features. The disconnect between the millions of households who could buy if they only had downpayment money and the availability of so many programs to help them creates an opportunity for you as a real estate professional. No one is in a better position to connect households with assistance programs than you are. It’s because of this opportunity to expand your market that REALTOR® Magazine hosted a live webcast on April 20. The goal was to let you know how you can find out instantly what programs are available for households in your area. Chrane Program experts were Rob Chrane, CEO of Down Payment Resource in Atlanta, and Brenda Small, GRI, associate broker with Keller Williams Capital Properties in Washington, D.C. They walked real estate professionals through the programs available, what they have in common with one another, and how you and your customers can tap into resources in your market instantly. They debunked myths about the programs, too. And they answered questions in real time. Watch the recorded version of the webcast now.

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Solar Boosts Home Values But Selling Can Be a Trial

Posted in sustainable energy, by Robert Freedman on May 15, 2017 Homes with solar panels tend to sell for higher prices than comparable homes with conventional energy, studies show. One study, released two years ago by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, found solar homes selling for a 15 percent premium. But selling these homes can require extra preparation if you’re an agent in the transaction. The biggest issue is how the panels were financed. If the owner simply bought the panels and the accompanying inverter, there shouldn’t be any problem for buyers. But if the panels and inverter were financed or leased, some hurdles can arise and you can provide the greatest value by understanding these hurdles so you can help your clients avoid getting snagged. If the panels were leased, then you will need to make sure the lease contract is in order and transfers properly to the buyer. That shouldn’t pose too much problem if the seller has the contract in order. But if the panels were financed using public assistance, the hurdles can be higher. There are different forms of public assistance for solar panels but the one you need to be the most aware of is PACE, a federally funded state and local program that stands for Property Assessed Clean Energy. The challenge with PACE is the lien that’s placed on the home. Homeowners use the assistance to finance the purchase and installation of the panels and pay the assistance back over time, typically through their property tax bill. If the borrower defaults on the PACE loan, the lien that’s placed on the home is in a super-priority position, which means it must get paid back first, just liked a tax lien. That can pose a problem for homebuyers trying to obtain mortgage financing to buy the home. Loan programs differ, but under some programs, including some that rely on federal backing, lenders aren’t able to make loans as long as that lien is in place. This is where you can help, because knowing what loan programs allow funding to go forward when with PACE funding attached is a time- and money-saver. The possibility of financing hurdles in some loan programs shouldn’t obscure what’s good about homes with solar panels. First, the home’s energy bills can be lower, because each kilowatt of power the panels generate is one less that has to be paid to the utility company. Second, homeowners can get a federal credit each year on their taxes. The state might offer its own credit as well. Currently, about 1.2 million homes have solar panels and the trend is pointing steeply up. According to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association, the cost of solar panels and their installation has dropped 70 percent over the last decade or so and the growth of solar panels has risen by a similar percentage during that same period. Bottom line: More homes will have solar panels in the years ahead and that means the chance of you having to list or sell a solar home is increasing every year. The panels pose a challenge but they are also a big business opportunity. Homes are more valuable with them and many people want them because they like the idea of using renewable energy.

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What to Know About Selling a Home With a Reverse Mortgage

Posted in Consumers, Financing & Credit, Mortgage Financing, Sellers, Selling, Working with Clients, by Blog Contributor on June 5, 2017 By Greg Geilman Photo credit: Morguefile.com/jonathan11 It’s difficult to understand how a reverse mortgage works and how selling a home with one differs from the standard procedure. The truth is that it’s very similar; the major difference is the way the lender manages the loan amount if it exceeds the home price. If you’re working with a client who has a reverse mortgage, here are four questions to help you better understand the process. What Is a Reverse Mortgage? It’s much like a regular mortgage, but the way in which the money is paid out is a little different. With a reverse mortgage, your client is leveraging the home equity they’ve built up, and the loan is paid out in a lump sum, line of credit, or set monthly payment. Your client can use this money to pay medical expenses, finance home improvements, or even subsidize their monthly income. The amount your client can get from a reverse mortgage depends largely on their age and the equity they have in their home. As the bank pays out the reverse mortgage to your client, the interest on that principal grows. How Is a Reverse Mortgage Paid Back? Unlike a traditional mortgage, a reverse mortgage may not have a set maturity date, or the date the loan must be repaid in full. The standards are set in the loan and may define maturity as the date that: The borrower dies. The borrower sells the property. The borrower moves out of the home. The borrower fails to provide reasonable upkeep or pay property taxes. Once your client sells their home, the lender has first right to the proceeds to recoup any outstanding balance on the reverse mortgage (unless there is also a lien on the home for unpaid property taxes). If the outstanding loan amount is less than the sale price, your client or their next-of-kin will receive the difference. Are There Limits on Selling a Home With a Reverse Mortgage? The maturity date of a reverse mortgage is most often when the borrower sells their home. So the sale of the home is the most common part of the reverse mortgage process. With a traditional mortgage, you expect your client’s home value to exceed the remaining balance of their mortgage at resale. But because the borrower of a reverse mortgage is typically being paid in installments, the mortgage principal increases rather than decreases. That makes it quite possible that the loan amount could eventually exceed the resale value of the borrower’s home. Therefore, when working with a seller who has a reverse mortgage, you should focus on factors that can impact their home value the most, such as renovations, property condition and maintenance, and the status of property taxes. What If the Home Has Lost Value? For a client whose property value has fallen below the amount they borrowed on a reverse mortgage, you may need to conduct a short sale. Fortunately, reverse mortgages are known as “nonrecourse loans,” which means the lender cannot go after your client or their heirs for the difference between the outstanding loan amount and the final sale price of the home. But short sales require the lender’s buy-in before you can list the home at a lower value. So the lender may require an appraisal to confirm the value before agreeing to the listing. Greg Geilman, e-PRO, is managing partner of the Freedman Geilman Group at RE/MAX Estate Properties in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

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Field Guide to Smart Homes

(Updated May 2017) Smart home devices, which allow the remote monitor and control of home features, are a booming industry with major players and mass adopters. Automation technologies have been around for decades (recall The Clapper (link is external)), and consumers can still purchase separate technologies to control thermostats, sprinkler appliances, or door locks. These days, Smart Home Hub systems are available to manage disparate functions through one centralized interface that can be accessed on a user’s smart phone or tablet. Homeowners and renters alike have taken notice. They want smart home devices for lots of different reasons, but security and energy management are among the most significant. Read on, and learn why some (link is external) say the global home automation market will be worth over $121.73 billion by 2020. (A. Creitz, Information & Web Content Specialist) Get to Know the Lingo There are several keywords used for this evolving industry: Internet of Things (IoT) Domotics Home automation Smart homes Intelligent homes Automated homes Wired homes Reasons for the Home Automation Boom, in a Nutshell “…the [home automation] market, experts agree, is growing, and rapidly. This growth is driven, in part, by the rising tablet market. Smart home DIYers have increasingly found the tablet as an effective remote control to manage all of the systems commonly found in a smart home. Additional drivers include the decreasing costs of smart technologies; increased government regulation regarding energy consumption; increased energy costs; increased consumer awareness of, and concern about, the environment; and consumer security concerns.” Source: The Smart Home: Intelligent Home Automation (link is external), (Entrepreneurial Insights, Aug. 22, 2014). The Basics When It Comes to Smart Homes, the Future Is Already Here: Why Creating a Connected Home Is Easier Than Ever (link is external), (Medium, Apr. 2017). How IoT & Smart Home Automation Will Change the Way We Live (link is external) (Business Insider, Dec. 2016). Six Benefits to Home Automation (link is external), (SenSi, July 2015). 2015 State of the Smart Home (link is external), (iControl, 2015). Home Automation Comes of Age (link is external), (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 17, 2015). Testing the Benefits of Smart Home Technology (link is external), (Property Management Insider, Jan. 10, 2015) House of the Future: How Automation Tech Is Transforming the Home (link is external), (Forbes, Oct. 10, 2013). The Advantages of a Smart House (link is external), (SFGate, n.d.) How to Get Started Best Smart Home Devices (link is external), (CNET, May 2017). Home Automation Buying Guide (link is external), (CNET, Apr. 2017). Smart Home Guides (link is external), (Amazon, 2017). How to Automate Your Home with These 8 Devices (link is external), (Inc., 2016). Quick Guide (link is external) (Choose Simple or Advanced Playbook for information about upgrading to a Smart Home, and get links to related products, companies, apps, reviews, and more.), (SmartHomeDB, 2015). Benefits: Energy Efficiency & Security Smart buildings: Energy Efficiency at What Price? (link is external), (Youris.com, Feb. 2017). Smart Home Technology: 6 Gadgets That Will Increase Home Efficiency (link is external), (RealtyTimes, Sept. 2016). How Smart Homes Help Energy Efficiency (link is external), (CTA Blog, Dec. 2015). Smart Homes: Focus on Security and Efficiency, (REALTOR® Mag, July 2015). Nest Thermostat Pays for Itself in 2 Years, Studies Find (link is external), (Greentech, Feb. 2, 2015). Smart homes aim for consumers’ wallets as energy costs soar (link is external), (CNBC, Mar. 22, 2014). Home Automation for Seniors or Disabled For the Disabled, Smart Homes are Home Sweet Home (link is external), (Fortune, Feb. 1, 2015). Smart Home Sensors Could Help Aging Population Stay Independent (link is external), (Scientific American, Feb. 1, 2014). Smart-Home Technologies to Assist Older People to Live Well at Home (link is external), (Journal of Aging Science, 2013). Consumer Perspective on Home Automation Systems (link is external), (AARP, Dec. 2012). Security Issues With Home Automation Systems Amazon’s Camera-equipped Echo Look Raises New Questions About Smart Home Privacy (link is external), (TechCrunch, Apr. 2017). Consumers Are Wary of Smart Homes That Know Too Much (link is external), (NetworkWorld, Mar. 2017). Can Your Smart Home be Used Against You in Court? (link is external), (TechCrunch, Mar. 2017). Study Highlights Security Vulnerabilities in the Smart Home (link is external), (CNET, Apr. 2015). Keeping “Smart Homes” Safe From Hackers (link is external), (CBS News, Sep. 9, 2014). The Problem With Home Automation’s Internet of Things (IoT) (link is external), (Forbes, Sep. 26, 2013). When ‘Smart Homes’ Get Hacked: I Haunted A Complete Stranger’s House Via The Internet (link is external), (Forbes, Jul. 26, 2013). Market Players Here’s a sampling of companies that have entered the home automation space: Apple – HomeKit (link is external) (not yet available) ARCOS – Smart Home (link is external) AT&T – Digital Life® (link is external) Comcast  – XFINITY® Home (link is external) Google – Nest (link is external) Microsoft / Insteon® (link is external) (partnership) Samsung Electronics – SmartThings  (link is external) Siemens – Synco™ living (link is external) Remotely (link is external) and IOTAS (link is external) create home automation systems for the rental market, and focus on developers and property management companies, rather than on individual consumers. Automation Standards & Protocols IEEE Standards Association (IEEESA) (link is external) IEEESA is a “consensus building organization that nurtures, develops & advances global technologies” (Source: IEEE.org). IEEESA approves and publishes standards for IoT applications. ZigBee (link is external) “ZigBee is the only open, global wireless standard to provide the foundation for the Internet of Things by enabling simple and smart objects to work together, improving comfort and efficiency in everyday life. The ZigBee Alliance is an open, non-profit association of approximately 400 members driving development of innovative, reliable and easy-to-use ZigBee standards” (Source: ZigBee.org). For a great primer on home automation protocols, see Home Automation Technologies (link is external) from PC World.

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Field Guide to Smart Device Safety

Smart devices are fun to use, make our lives easier, and run the gamut from cell phones to home appliances to children’s toys. However, with this technology come security risks. A rule of thumb to keep in mind is that a smart device not only has the ability to relay information to you, it also has the ability to relay information about you. (C. Dodge, Information Specialist) What You Should Know About Smart Technology (IoT) “…At its core, IoT is simple: it’s about connecting devices over the internet, letting them talk to us, applications, and each other”… Everything new and shiny has downsides, and security and privacy are the biggest challenges for IoT. All these devices and systems collect a lot of personal data about people – that smart meter knows when you’re home and what electronics you use when you’re there – and it’s shared with other devices and held in databases by companies.” Source: What is The Internet of Things? (link is external), The Guardian, May 6, 2016). How Secure is Your Smartphone? Businesses beware: Smartphone malware rises 400% in 2016, Nokia reports (link is external), (TechRepublic, Mar. 27, 2017). With WikiLeaks Claims of C.I.A. Hacking, How Vulnerable Is Your Smartphone? (link is external), (The New York Times, Mar. 7, 2017). Local Police Departments Invest In Cell Phone Spy Tools (link is external), (NPR, Feb. 17, 2017). Is your smartphone listening to you? (link is external), (BBC News, Mar. 2016). Yes, your smartphone camera can be used to spy on you… (link is external), (Naked Security, May, 28, 2014). Your Apps May Be Selling Your Personal Information Apps are disrupting traditional industries — and your privacy (link is external), (CNBC, Aug. 1, 2016). Is the Facebook Messenger App Recording Your Conversations and Ignoring Privacy Settings? (link is external), (Inquisitr, Jun. 4, 2016). When Apps Act Like Gods: Your Apps Could Compromise Your Privacy (link is external), (Trend Micro, Jan. 15, 2016). Key takeaways on mobile apps and privacy (link is external), (Pew Research Center, Nov. 10, 2015). Are Smartphone Apps Making It Easier To Racially Profile? (link is external), (NPR, Oct. 15, 2015). Privacy Issues and the Smart Devices in Your Home Your browsing history may be up for sale soon. Here’s what you need to know (link is external), (The Guardian, Mar. 28, 2017). Banned In Germany: Kids’ Doll Is Labeled An Espionage Device (link is external), (NPR, Feb. 17, 2017). Privacy & surveillance concerns over voice-recognition devices, Google Home & Amazon Echo (link is external), (AirTalk, Oct. 11, 2016). Is Your Smart Security Camera Protecting Your Home Or Spying On You? (link is external), (Forbes, Aug. 22, 2016). Virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Echo break US child privacy law, experts say (link is external), (The Guardian, May 26, 2016). Samsung changes Smart TV privacy policy in wake of spying fears (link is external), (CNET, Feb. 10, 2015). Protect Your Privacy How Not to Protect Your Privacy Online (link is external), (Gizmodo, Mar. 31, 2017). How to Hide Your Browsing History From Your Snooping ISP, (link is external) (Gizmodo, Mar. 29, 2017). VPNs Won’t Save You from Congress’ Internet Privacy Giveaway (link is external), (Wired, Mar. 28, 2017). How to Remove Geotags From Pictures Taken With Your iPhone (link is external), (Lifewire, Mar. 10, 2017). How Can I Protect My Smartphone and Smart TV From Getting Hacked? (link is external), (NBC, Mar. 8, 2017). 66 Ways to Protect Your Privacy Right Now (link is external), (Consumer Reports, Feb. 21, 2017). Cryptoparties Teach Attendees How To Stay Anonymous Online (link is external), (NPR, Feb. 6, 2017). 7 ways to keep your smart home from being hacked (link is external), (MarketWatch, Oct. 20, 2016). About privacy and Location Services in iOS 8 and later (link is external), (Apple, Inc., Sep. 15, 2016). Firms Are Buying, Sharing Your Online Info. What Can You Do About It? (link is external), (NPR, July 11, 2016). Mark Zuckerberg tapes over his webcam. Should you? (link is external), (The Guardian, Jun. 22, 2016). Why You Should Not Use The New Smartphone Fingerprint Readers (link is external), (Forbes, Mar. 5, 2015). Six ways your tech is spying on you – and how to turn it off (link is external), (The Guardian, Feb. 10, 2015).     Field Guide to Choosing & Using a Smartphone Field Guide to Smart Homes Field Guide to Using Privacy & Security Features in Social Media Information Services Blog

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Reconnect Kids and Families with Nature

November 19, 2015 By Brian E. Clark When author Richard Louv was growing up on the outskirts of Kansas City in the 1950s and early 1960s, he spent his free time organizing pick-up games in neighbors’ yards and in parks, scrambling around in the woods near his home — collecting snakes, sometimes poisonous ones — and building forts and treehouses. He was also something of a rebel, too, pulling up surveyors’ stakes of subdivisions proposed for his beloved woods. And when he tried to sit down and watch TV, his parents told him, in an oft-repeated phrase that echoes in the brains of most baby boomers, “Go outside and play!” Fast forward three-plus decades. Louv, then a syndicated columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune, began to wonder where all the kids had gone. Turns out, he said, that they were inside playing early versions of computer games. And many parents, worried by stories about the relative handful of terrible crimes that were repeated over and over again on cable TV, were happy to keep them at home and “safe,” Louv said in a recent interview. “Fear of crime was at the top of the list as a culprit, and traffic,” said Louv, who coined the term “nature deficit.” He is the author of “Last Child in the Woods” and “The Nature Principle.” His much-lauded writings have spawned efforts in this country and around the globe to reconnect children and families with the outdoors. “High crime rates are real in some neighborhoods, but not most,” he said. “Though there has been a recent uptick, the actual rate of violent crime has been declining for the past 35 years. But we pulled indoors.” The results for the health of children raised under what he calls “protective childhood arrest” have not been good. So while there is some risk of falling out of trees when kids play outdoors — which remains part of its attraction, Louv mused — staying inside to watch TV or play often violent computer games has given us a generation of inactive kids. The result has been rising rates of childhood obesity with all the problems of diabetes and heart disease that come even during childhood or later. So Louv railed against poorly designed neighborhoods with few parks, fear of boogeymen and seductive technology. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, he said American kids now spend a whopping 54 hours a week plugged into some kind of electronic medium. Their parents are probably as bad or worse, he said, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for other activities. “Not only are there risks to kids’ health by keeping them inside, but it also hurts their ability to socialize outside the home,” he said. “Ultimately, I believe, there is even a risk to democracy. In order to care about nature, the environment and your neighbors, you need to step outdoors. Too often, people just get in their cars in their garages and drive off down the street, never even getting to know who lives next to them.” Even team sports have come in for criticism by Louv, who notes that the greatest increase in childhood obesity occurred during the same two decades as the largest increase in organized sports for children in our history. While that doesn’t mean that organized sports are causing obesity, he said exercising for only a few hours isn’t helping to the extent that we think it is. Many Americans (Europeans, Chinese and Brazilians, too) have gotten the message and created programs to get kids outside again. They have names like “Every Child Outdoors” in Tennessee and “Taking Children Outdoors” in Texas. Even developers have gotten on the bandwagon, he said, creating new neighborhoods with open spaces, hiking trails and nature centers that many families — as well as baby boomers — find more attractive than subdivisions built around golf courses. The author said he was shocked, shocked, when he was warmly received at his first builders’ conference. Nancy Dorman, who runs the Every Child Outdoors coalition in Tennessee, said the Volunteer State’s effort was launched within several years after Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods” was published. “He came out to Nashville to do a presentation and as a result, we organized a broad coalition of organizations that were interested in this issue,” she said. “I’m an environmental educator and a Tennessee State Parks person, but our goal is to get people together from a wide variety of constituency areas, including health, education and even the built environment, to talk about issues and see what barriers we can remove to get kids into the outdoors.” She said they developed the Tennessee Environmental Literacy Plan. For its part, her agency created a statewide Junior Ranger program that is partially funded by a Project Diabetes grant from the Tennessee Health Department. State parks offer Junior Ranger camps and other programs, including after-school activities at elementary schools, she said. “We also have a middle school and family running program that is kind of a park-based running club to encourage families and kids to come out to the state parks and run,” she said. “We have cross-country running events several times a year. And we do seasonal summer programs for families because kids don’t function in a vacuum. We want to encourage families and kids to get out and enjoy nature and the outdoors.” In Texas, Jennifer Bristol said that the state’s Children in Nature program started about five years ago and has grown into a network of about 300 government agencies, nonprofits, businesses and individuals whose goal is to get kids and families outdoors. It was sparked, in part, by surveys that said that typical park users in Texas were in their 40s. “Our tag line is that kids and families who spend time outdoors are happier, healthier and smarter,” said Bristol, who coordinates the program. “This all grew out of the movement Richard Louv started and took off when the project was endorsed by our state Legislature. They recognized that this is important for our kids. “About 80 of the legislators said ‘We want to do something about this, so go for it!’ So we work with schools, healthcare providers and others, helping families who want to get out in nature. We also work with educators to help them

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Millennials’ Transportation and Housing Choices Will Shape the Nation

November 19, 2015 By Joan Mooney Businesses across America are watching the millennial market closely. They should: The 87 million millennials eclipse even the 76 million baby boomers in their numbers. Because they came of age during the Great Recession and many are saddled with enormous college debt, they have not yet made their full market force known. But millennials have already exerted their influence in many ways. Their transportation preferences could point to a long-term shift in the way Americans commute to work, do errands and socialize. And their mode of travel is already influencing their choice of where to live. The stereotype is that millennials are living in their parents’ basement because they’re still paying off college loans and can’t get a professional job. They travel by bus and bicycle and on foot because they can’t afford a car and don’t like to drive anyway. Of course it’s not so simple. A new Community and Transportation Preferences Survey covering the 50 largest metro areas teases out the nuances of travel and housing preferences of millennials and other groups. The survey, by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR) and Portland State University, sampled 3,000 adults. Use transit more than other groups The study found that millennials (defined here as those born after 1980) use transit much more than older groups. They are “much more likely than other groups to place a high priority on providing convenient alternatives to driving, expanding public transportation and developing communities where more people don’t have to drive long distances,” the study says. Millennials are much more likely to have used transit in the past 30 days than any other group. Forty percent did so, compared with just 28 percent for the next highest group, Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980). But it’s their least favorite way of getting around, with only 44 percent saying they like transit. It turns out millennials do like driving — 71 percent said so — but they like it less than any other group. A whopping 83 percent of the “silent” generation — born before 1946 — said they like driving. Millennials also like bicycling much more than those born after 1946. (Their liking of bicycling is even with that of Generation X.) Millennials are the most likely to bicycle for transportation, not just exercise. All groups said they like walking, including 83 percent of millennials. But as with bicycling, millennials and Generation X stand out in their preference to walk for transportation. That matches their preference for walkable communities, as noted by many REALTORS® and others who study millennials. Mackenzie Davis Luke is a REALTOR® in Athens, Ga., a town of 120,000 that is home to the University of Georgia. There’s little public transportation, and it’s not a very bicycle-friendly community, Luke said. “Walkable areas for us are not near transit,” she said. “They’re walkable to local restaurants and bars. People like having that sense of community.” A millennial herself, Luke has found that her generation likes to live closer to town, even if it’s not a big city. Luke’s experience matches what Joseph Kane, researcher for the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, found in the latest American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. “Some markets have a big emphasis on walking and bicycling,” Kane said. “In Columbia, S.C., almost one-quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds walk or bike to work.” Younger workers are leading that trend. But the NAR study found that 19 percent of millennials walk mainly to save money, so that preference could change as their income rises. According to the NAR survey, 26 percent of millennials used a bike in the last 30 days — similar to the 25 percent of all survey respondents. However, millennials were more likely to use a bike for transportation purposes rather than just for recreation. The top five reasons why people don’t bike more: they need a vehicle for work, school or other reasons; the places they need to go are too far to bike; they don’t have a bike; they don’t feel safe in traffic, and there are too few bike lanes or trails. Prefer walkable neighborhoods The NAR survey also looked at housing preferences and neighborhood design. Millennials are more interested in being within easy walking distance of places and having public transit nearby. In particular, 51 percent of millennials want to live within a short commute to work, and 40 percent want easy access to the highway. And, both millennials and Gen X are more interested in sidewalks and bike lanes and paths. But millennials have hardly abandoned cars. Even the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found in its survey of millennials’ transportation preferences that “driving a car is their number one preference,” said Darnell Grisby, APTA director of policy development and research. APTA also found that a variety of transportation options makes a community particularly attractive to millennials. The NAR survey found a similar preference — millennials put more importance on living within an easy walk of places and having public transportation nearby. Overall, they prefer an attached home (apartment or townhouse) where they have an easy walk to shops and restaurants and a shorter commute. Still, most millennials, like other age groups, live in detached, single family homes. Most of those homes have sidewalks available, but fewer have lots of places to walk to, such as shops, cafes and restaurants. The NAR survey also found that people of all ages with places to walk to are more satisfied with the quality of life in their community. As Athens, Ga., REALTOR® Luke found, walkability is not found only in cities. That’s just as well, because in many cities, millennials just starting their careers are being priced out of city housing. APTA’s Grisby sees promise in some of the older inner ring suburbs that have seen some wear but are near transit and offer yards that millennials may want as they start families. Some of those areas have seen recent investment by developers but are still less expensive than housing in the city or more fashionable suburbs. “The distinction between urban and suburban is increasingly not very important,” as long as the area is walkable to destinations, said Grisby. Will millennials grow out of their transportation preferences? How are millennials’ preferences in transportation and housing likely to change as

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Food Hubs: Connecting Farmers with Consumers

November 19, 2015 By Tracey C. Velt When most people think of locally sourced, healthy, organic food, they think of young, urban professionals and trendy restaurants or expensive grocery stores. Think again. Regional food hubs are making this type of food — organic and non-organic — available to everyone by connecting local farmers to eaters through farmers’ markets, grocery stores and more. Defined by the USDA, a food hub is as an organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail and institutional demand. There are about 350 food hubs in the United States, and that number is rising. “Food hubs solve the problem that a lot of businesses, retailers and institutions have,” says Jeff Farbman, senior program associate of Wallace Center at Winrock International and the National Good Food Network (link is external). “There is increasing demand for healthy, local food, but many of the small to mid-sized farmers don’t have the capacity to organize deliveries to a bunch of different companies. Food hubs are the third part that levels out the process for the buyer and seller.” The National Good Food Network (NGFN) started work “helping to get the Farmers Market Coalition up and running. That part is booming now,” says Farbman. “But, that’s not where most people get their food. They get it from restaurants, supermarkets, schools, hospitals, colleges and other institutions, so that’s the focus of the NGFN, aggregating, distributing and marketing the local, value-based food.” According to Nick Mabe, food hub coordinator for the Iowa Food Hub in West Union, Iowa, “It’s easy to sell grain, corn, soybeans and hogs on the commodities market. But, it’s more difficult to have a mid-sized operation in dairy, produce or custom meats. The Iowa Food Hub helps to increase food access and help smaller beginning and established farmers run a sustainable business,” he says. Economic I​mpact More than just serving as a connection between farms and eaters, food hubs “provide opportunities for more local food procurement at a larger scale, which can create jobs, generate business taxes, and increase earnings throughout the region as production increases locally,” according to the USDA’s Regional Food Hub Resource Guide (link is external). Various studies have examined the local economic impacts of shifting food purchases to local food. A study conducted in Northeast Ohio found that if the 16-county Northeast Ohio Region were to meet 25 percent of its need for food with local production, it would result in 27,664 new jobs, providing jobs for 1 in 8 unemployed residents, as well as increase annual regional output by $4.2 billion and increase state and local tax collections by $126 million. And, according to the USDA guide, “food hubs demonstrate innovative business models that can be financially viable and also make a difference in their respective communities. Economically, they are showing impressive sales performance and helping to retain and create new jobs in the food and agricultural sectors. Socially, food hubs are providing significant production-related, marketing, and enterprise development support to new and existing producers in an effort to build the next generation of farmers and ranchers. In addition, many food hubs make a concerted effort to expand their market reach into underserved areas where there is lack of healthy, fresh food.” No one knows that better than Jesse Rye, co-executive director of Farm Fresh Rhode Island in Pawtucket, R.I. “Farm Fresh started 10 years ago, born from a student project at Brown University,” he says. Now, Farm Fresh’s Market Mobile Program handles aggregation and distribution for over 60 farms and producers and connects them with more than 200 consumers every week. “Last year, we moved about $2.1 million worth of food on behalf of farmers.” The group also raises funds and secured a grant that incentivizes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) users so they can buy fruit and vegetables at the local market. “SNAP users get an additional $2 on top of every $5 they spend. That means lower income consumers get the benefits of fresh produce, and the community gets more money invested into the local economy and small, local business rather than the national chain stories,” says Rye. In addition, Farm Fresh has a culinary education apprenticeship program, called Harvest Kitchen, where local, at-risk youth in the criminal justice system can learn culinary and life skills. “They create product lines, including applesauce, pickled products, frozen soups and more,” says Rye. The products are sold at the local farmers’ market and are available wholesale. For the Iowa Food Hub, farmers are able to increase production because they are accessing new, larger markets without the cost burden of marketing and distribution. “On the consumer side, we’re focused on increasing the consumption of local food in underserved communities. That is done by getting the food to schools in poorer areas,” says Mabe. Unlike many other food hubs, the Iowa Food Hub is located in a rural area of the state. West Union has a population of about 3,000. “We’re bringing jobs and opportunities back into the rural downtowns.” Mabe finds that much of the local food is exported to large, urban areas; however, one goal of the Iowa Food Hub is to increase the rural sales in Northeast Iowa. “In theory, we can sell everything here, but we need to create the systems and interest to get to that point.” Caroline Heine, co-founder and project director of Seed Capital KY in Louisville, Ky., agrees. She’s working on getting the West Louisville FoodPort up and running. “We’re trying to increase the volume of distribution. Research published in 2012 identified a significant demand in Jefferson County for local food. What the West Louisville FoodPort can do is complement the other efforts already underway, such as farmers’ markets and locally-sourced food restaurants. We have significant unmet demand,” she says. “We’re a public-private partnership. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if not for the leadership of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.” For Farm Fresh Rhode Island, its winter farmers’ market brings in 2,000 to 3,000 people every week between November and May. “It’s the biggest in New England and those visitors bring money into our local economy,” says Rye. Revitalizing Blighted Areas Heine sees food hubs as a way to revitalize communities in not just

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Schools Savoring the Effects of Healthier Food

November 19, 2015 By G.M. Filisko It was the underappreciated radish’s turn to be vegetable of the month at the Broward County public schools, and Darlene Moppert proudly tells the story of a teacher calling her to pass on a delicious nugget of information. “One of the activities was for students to describe their feelings when they ate the radish,” recalls the program manager of nutrition education and training at the approximately 230 Broward County, Fla., schools (in the Ft. Lauderdale area). “One first-grader said it was like ants dancing on her tongue. We try to do things to make fruits and vegetables seem fun.” Moppert is among a growing crowd mixing up school food choices to get students to eat healthier. It’s happening not just through school menus and education but also by creating farm-to-school food programs through which local schools purchase the harvests of local farmers. “Farm-to-school means three things,” explains Anupama Joshi, executive director and co-founder of the National Farm to School Network in Cary, N.C. “It means local and regional food procurement in food cafeterias. It also means gardening activities in school, and third, it’s food and farming education in the classroom. The trifecta of these elements is important in changing the health of children and providing benefits to farmers.” Efforts have begun to bear fruit. “Overall in the nation, figures show that childhood obesity, which has continued to climb over a 20-year period, is now leveling off,” notes Moppert; she’s referring to studies, including one from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing that obesity has stabilized at about 17 percent for 2- to 19-year-olds. “We still have a way to go to get it to be declining. But that’s a more positive trend.” It’s not just kids who reap the rewards. The effects are rippling throughout communities, especially from farm-to-school programs. “Schools are the hubs, and kids take information from school into the community,” contends Joshi. “Farmers are benefiting from these initiatives as well. And communities benefit because there’s a multiplier effect. Each dollar invested in farm-to-school programs creates an additional $2.16 of local economic activity. For every job created by school districts purchasing local foods, an additional 1.67 jobs are created.” The best news? These programs are just getting cooking. Proponents expect an even bigger bounty when more schools get a taste of the benefits. Lunch program grows up Today’s healthier school menus have been brewing for a long time. The story begins with a federal mandate way back in 1946. “The federal government signed into law the National School Lunch Act in part as a national defense program because when the Americans went into World War II, a lot of young men were rejected for service because of nutritional deficiencies,” explains Moppert. “Then when we won, we began producing more food than we needed as a nation. The national school lunch program made lunch available to students based on need.” The program has been updated in the decades since, including in 2004, when it required each school district to have a wellness policy and committee to address issues resulting from childhood obesity. “It was due to a recognition that children might not have the same life expectancy as their parents,” says Moppert. Broward schools — where last year, 64 percent of students were eligible for free or reduced-price meals — have jumped in. “We’ve been in the forefront of developing healthy lunches,” says Moppert. “In the 1990s, the school system eliminated fryers and started with salad bars to get kids to eat more salads. But salad bars have some challenges, especially in the lower grades. We realized kids did better with grab-and-go salads. In 2006 and 2007, we began offering more of those. One might be a chef ’s salad with the meat of the day. Another might be a vegan salad with legumes like kidney or navy beans and seed kernels. Our salad numbers went up tremendously.” Grant grows community Another community transforming school food is Burke County, about 30 miles south of Augusta, Ga., largely through the “fruit and vegetable grant.” That’s the shorthand name used by Donna S. Martin, director of the schools’ nutrition program, for the federal program launched in 2002 as a pilot program in four states and the Zuni, N.M., tribal organization. Its goal: To determine best practices for increasing fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in schools. In 2008, the program became permanent nationwide. Martin says the program is one of the best she has. For five years, she’s used it to improve her schools’ food and to shape lives in her community. “We’re trying to teach children how to eat healthy in the hopes they’ll go home and teach their family how to eat healthy,” she says. “We have a high predominance of low socioeconomic statuses. Our students don’t have the same opportunities other children have. So we expose them to new foods they won’t get at home.” The grant provides about 50 cents per day per child for fruits and vegetables. Every afternoon, schools offer all children a fresh fruit or vegetable snack. Martin has served everything from pomegranate and jicama to sugar snap peas, star fruit and mangoes. “Our children get so excited,” she says. “When they walk in the school, one of the first things they do is look at the table to see what the fresh fruit or vegetable will be that afternoon. We put it there in the morning, and then during the day, we tell them where it comes from — whether it’s grown underground, on a plant, in a bush, or on a tree — and the nutritional value. We’re trying to get them the basics and show we need farmers because food doesn’t come from Walmart. We also want them to go home and say to their parents, ‘Today, I ate a mango, and I liked it. Will you buy me one?’ We think we’re having a huge impact on future generations in trying to develop healthy eaters.” Martin says very few kids refuse to sample the day’s snack. “Each student gets a baggie with it,” she says. “If the teachers will model the good behavior, the children will try it. Recently, we had figs. About a third of the students liked them, and two-thirds didn’t. But at least that

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A Healthy Food Store Movement

November 19, 2015 By John Van Gieson Where liquor bottles and advertisements once occupied prime space by the front door of the Daldas Grocery in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, customers now shop for lettuce and carrots. The Tenderloin is one of many inner city and rural areas lacking healthy food options. There are no supermarkets or grocery stores in those areas. The closest ones are a long walk or several bus rides away. The closest supermarket to the Tenderloin is a mile away. But there are more than 70 corner stores serving an area of less than half a square mile. Corner stores typically make their money selling alcohol, tobacco, lottery tickets and junk food. They may offer customers a handful of bananas or apples, but not much else in the way of healthy foods. The Daldas Grocery, owned by Indian immigrant Satwinder “Bill” Multani, was one of them until public health specialists from the city of San Francisco introduced Multani to a program promoting healthy food options in corner stores. If owners agree to display fresh fruits and vegetables prominently in their stores, San Francisco’s Healthy Retail SF program provides display cases, shelving and refrigerators at no cost and teaches customers how to prepare healthy meals. “It is a very good idea,” Multani said. “I know it’s actually a positive response because I see more families now and they started shopping for produce.” “It used to be we were just like the image of a liquor store, now we’re like the image of a grocery store,” he said. From San Francisco’s immigrant-packed Tenderloin to the streets of Baltimore to the rocky coast of eastern Maine, programs encouraging healthy food conversions in corner and rural stores are spreading all over the country. The task is daunting. Karen Shore, director of consulting for The Food Trust, said millions of low-income Americans buy a lot of the food they and their families eat at “hundreds of thousands” of corner and rural stores lacking healthy food options. In large part, those stores serve African-Americans, Hispanics, immigrant groups and the rural poor. Based in Philadelphia, The Food Trust is a nonprofit dedicated to providing healthy food to all Americans. It consults with healthy corner store and inner city supermarket initiatives in 34 states, including Healthy Retail SF. Joel Gittelson, a medical anthropologist at Johns Hopkins University, has studied healthy corner store and bodega initiatives and concluded some have been quite successful, but there is a long way to go. “We’re five percent of the way,” he said. In a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gittelson studied 16 corner store initiatives in locations ranging from Apache reservations in Arizona to inner city Philadelphia and Baltimore. “Our findings indicate consistent improvement across most of the trials in availability and sale of healthy foods, the purchase and consumption of those foods and consumer knowledge,” he said. Underlying the healthy corner store movement are concerns about the impact of unhealthy diets on the health of poor Americans. Advocates say both the urban and rural poor, many of whom live below the federal poverty line, suffer high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease attributed in large part to unhealthy diets. Results from older healthy corner store initiatives are encouraging. The Food Trust reported that the Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Initiative, the first of its kind in the nation, resulted in a 6.3 percent decline in the obesity rate among inner city children. Successful healthy corner store initiatives are built on three pillars: persuading store owners to participate in the program; providing them with the equipment they need to handle fresh produce; and teaching residents of targeted neighborhoods how to prepare healthy meals. Healthy Retail SF also works with store owners to improve their ability to run a successful business. Healthy Retail SF has set a goal of reducing the amount of space occupied by alcohol products to not more than 20 percent. Multani said alcohol takes up about 40 percent of the space in his store, but he will reduce that to 20 percent over time. “We’re not telling the owners ‘Hey you need to stop selling tobacco, you need to stop selling alcohol,'” said Jorge Rivas, program manager for Healthy Retail SF. Added Ryan Thayer, who works with the diverse residents of the Tenderloin for Healthy Retail SF, “Our theory is that over time by increasing the healthy products, there’s going to be less demand for alcohol and tobacco.” Thayer and Jessica Estrada work with a group of neighborhood residents they call “food justice leaders.” Those residents promote healthy food to their neighbors, encourage them to attend nutrition classes and demonstrations and provide community feedback to program leaders. “When we do outreach, we have to do it in seven different languages usually,” Thayer said. The Tenderloin is a tasty stew of ethnicities, including Chinese, Filipinos, Mexicans, Hondurans, Vietnamese, Yemenis, Russians, African Americans and others. Diversity means corner stores must respond to the tastes of their customers. Bok choy goes over big in one store; collard greens in another. Promoting development of supermarkets in the many urban neighborhoods that lack them is a primary goal of the healthy food movement, but for a number of reasons it’s slow going. Small healthy food stores opened in inner city neighborhoods in Philadelphia and Baltimore in recent years but quickly went out of business. Advocates say the owners meant well but failed to connect with members of the community. “Putting a new store in isn’t enough,” said Anne Palmer, a food policy advocate at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s much more complicated. It’s very hard to get all these things working in concert.” The nonprofit Fare & Square market in Chester, Pa., is a new urban supermarket that has succeeded since it opened two years ago. Chester is a struggling city of about 34,000 south of Philadelphia. Fare & Square is located in an old supermarket that closed 11 year ago. The 14,500-square-foot store, the first nonprofit of its kind, was built by Philabundance, a large hunger relief organization in Philadelphia. As a nonprofit, Fare & Square is not supposed to make money and it’s not. Mike Basher, vice president of retail operations, said revenue increased by 25 percent from year one to year two, but the store is generating only 75

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