WBEZ | Economy http://www.wbez.org/news/economy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en When will Chicago get its next supertall skyscraper? http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/when-will-chicago-get-its-next-supertall-skyscraper-108531 <p><div><p>In 2013 Curious City took on a high-minded question from Minneapolis resident Andrew Wambach.</p><p>Wambach, now 30, had just moved to Minnesota and already missed the Chicago skyline. He wanted to know:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>When will Chicago get its next supertall skyscraper?</em></p><p>The last supertall skyscraper in Chicago was the Trump Tower, built in 2009. Before that the city hadn&rsquo;t reached such heights since 1990&rsquo;s Two Prudential Plaza, 16 years after the Willis (Sears) Tower became the world&rsquo;s tallest building. While the U.S. may be the birthplace of the form, for a while skyscraper construction had slowed at home &mdash; and soared abroad.</p><p>But that may be changing. In December 2014 Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel touted plans for a new tower in the Lakeshore East neighborhood that &mdash; if all goes according to plan &mdash; could reach 1,150 feet into the air by 2018. In 2013, New York City&rsquo;s One World Trade Center became the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, at 1,776 feet. Even Wambach&rsquo;s Minneapolis <a href="http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/286630151.html" target="_blank">is considering a proposal to build an 80-story skyscraper</a> that would be the state&rsquo;s new tallest building, though not officially a supertall.</p><p>Wherever they are, massive developments are difficult to design and build. But when they do happen, it&rsquo;s generally because two important factors came together to make building up pay off: egos and economics.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">But first, just how tall is that?</span></p><p>Andrew didn&rsquo;t know this when he asked the question, but &ldquo;supertall&rdquo; is an objective term. Chicago&rsquo;s own Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat is the authority on such matters. They deem any building over 300 meters, or 984 feet, &ldquo;supertall.&rdquo; (<a href="http://www.ctbuh.org/HighRiseInfo/TallestDatabase/Criteria/HeightCalculator/tabid/1007/language/en-GB/Default.aspx" target="_blank">For a rough measurement</a>, that&rsquo;s about 75 stories.) Six buildings in Chicago qualify: The Trump Tower, Willis Tower, Aon Center, John Hancock Center, AT&amp;T Corporate Center, and Two Prudential Plaza.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/curiouscity/FutureTallest20+(2).pdf" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/FutureTallest20-2.jpg" style="height: 417px; width: 620px;" title="For context, here's a diagram of the predicted world's 20 tallest buildings in the year 2014. Click to enlarge. (Courtesy of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat)" /></a></div><p>Walk into any major architectural office and you&rsquo;ll see plenty of renderings pinned to the wall, showing buildings reaching great heights. It&rsquo;s just that they&rsquo;re in Jeddah, Seoul, Abu Dhabi, Beijing &mdash; not Chicago.</p><p>In 2011 CTBUH even had to add a new category of tall building to reflect the explosive growth of tall buildings in recent years; so-called &ldquo;megatall&rdquo; buildings stand at least 600 meters (1,968 feet) tall. There are only two complete megatall buildings: the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the Royal Hotel Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. When the Shanghai Tower opens in April of 2015, it will be the third, at 632 meters (2,074 feet) tall.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Chicago&rsquo;s latest contender</span></p><p>&ldquo;If there was a great location, a great site, a developer that really had the willpower to pull something off, it certainly could happen,&rdquo; said Rafael Carreira, a principal with <a href="http://tjbc.com/" target="_blank">The John Buck Company</a>. &ldquo;But the larger a project gets, the harder it is to finance, the harder it is to pre-sell or premarket ... and those are factors that make these supertalls hard to do.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/wanda%20courtesy%20city%20of%20chicago.jpg" style="float: right;" title="A rendering of the proposed Wanda Vista development. (Courtesy City of Chicago)" />Supertalls can be risky investments. (<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/skyscrapers-that-predicted-financial-crises-2014-4#!GoEAm" target="_blank">Some economists even think bombastic skyscraper booms are an omen of economic collapse</a>.) But as one developer put it, the profession attracts risk-takers.</p><p>&ldquo;Where a normal person might be apprehensive,&rdquo; said Sean Linnane, &nbsp;a senior vice president for Magellan Development Group, &ldquo;developers are excited.&rdquo;</p><p>At the moment the most likely candidate for Chicago&rsquo;s next supertall is an 88-story, $900 million development proposed for<a href="https://www.google.com/maps/place/375+E+Upper+Wacker+Dr,+Chicago,+IL+60601/@41.8878616,-87.6209235,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x880e2ca900a2e77d:0x32e4f52fba2475d3" target="_blank"> 375 E. Wacker Dr., in the city&rsquo;s Lakeshore East neighborhood</a>. It would be 1,150 feet (350 meters) tall, and its developers &mdash; Beijing-based Dalian Wanda Group and local firm Magellan &mdash; hope to have it open in 2018. They&rsquo;ve hired two local design firms to sculpt the structure, which would become the city&rsquo;s third tallest building: Studio Gang Architects and bKL Architecture.</p><p>Lead designer Jeanne Gang&rsquo;s other <a href="http://www.studiogang.net/work/2004/aqua-tower" target="_blank">notable projects include the Aqua Tower</a> &mdash; a high-rise with undulating balconies that mimic wave patterns when viewed from an angle &mdash; and the lyrical WMS Boathouses at Clark Park. bKL designed the first tower in the Wolf Point development and a 45-story tower at 200 N. Michigan Ave., both of which are currently under construction.</p><p>Their preliminary designs for what&rsquo;s being called Wanda Vista show a cluster of three towers stepping down in height as they go east, each terminating in a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/green-roofs-check-101677">green roof</a>. The glassy high-rises, which are expected to house a five-star hotel, for-sale residential units and retail space, look like stacks of frustums, or cut-off pyramid shapes. The middle tower would meet the ground with a soaring glass atrium looking north over the Chicago River, while the structure itself would straddle North Field Boulevard running to the south.</p><p>So what are its prospect? Although Mayor Rahm Emanuel says there won&rsquo;t be any public funding involved, the project still needs city approval because its proposed height would exceed the maximum allowed in in the area&rsquo;s master plan.</p><p>Arguably more important is the economic challenge. Downtown Chicago is in the middle of a residential and hotel boom that signals high demand, but could mean the market is nearing saturation. Still, Sean Linnane of Magellan Development Group is confident they&rsquo;ll deliver on this supertall order.</p><p>&ldquo;The timing is right for this project. We&rsquo;re coming out of the doldrums we&#39;ve been in since arguably 2007,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&#39;s not like our Chinese partners said, &lsquo;Let&#39;s come to the U.S. and do a supertall.&rsquo; They were just trying to find a great investment opportunity to make their splash in the United States. And it&#39;s a credit to Chicago that they chose our development.&rdquo;</p><p>Chicago&rsquo;s market is warming up, but China&rsquo;s is burning across its borders. Wanda is owned by Wang Jianlin, the richest man in mainland China. Like many Chinese developers, he&rsquo;s looking for new markets overseas.</p><p>&ldquo;It&#39;s crazy what&#39;s going on in China right now. There&#39;s just been explosive growth,&rdquo; Linnane says. &ldquo;They&#39;re looking all over the place, not just the U.S. It&#39;s a way to sustain their growth. They look at the U.S. as a very mature market.&rdquo;</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="true" frameborder="0" height="377" mozallowfullscreen="true" src="https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1zOBXrWDC28PlZhqn_-F8bid5QLCQrKVDN2cKc47P9lw/embed?start=false&amp;loop=false&amp;delayms=3000" webkitallowfullscreen="true" width="620"></iframe></p><p><em><span style="font-size:10px;"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;">Above: Renderings of the proposed Wanda Vista development. (Courtesy City of Chicago)</span></span></em></p><p>That explosive growth has gone on for a long time, but lately <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/24/china-property-prices-idUSL3N0SJ1DE20141024" target="_blank">Chinese home prices have slipped</a>. Tom Kerwin, principal of bKL Architecture, says the U.S. real estate market is a relatively stable place for global developers to invest.</p><p>&ldquo;I think there&#39;s a shift because, for one, the Chinese property market is down significantly. So these companies that develop as their core business are looking for other places to export their expertise in addition to their capital. You&#39;re seeing many Chinese developers coming to the U.S., and the biggest of the biggest are coming,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Not just Wanda.&rdquo;</p><p>Other major Chinese developers such as Greenland Group and ECADI have made their first U.S. moves in New York City and Los Angeles, but Wanda&rsquo;s debut is in Chicago. That&rsquo;s a vote of confidence in the city&rsquo;s real estate market, and it mirrors a larger trend: <a href="http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/January-2015/The-New-China-Pipeline/" target="_blank">Between March 2013 and March 2014, the Chinese purchased $22 billion of U.S. residential property &mdash; the highest volume for any non-domestic group</a>.</p><p>Wanda&rsquo;s not the only Chinese developer interested in Chicago. In 2014 Beijing&rsquo;s Cinda International Holdings Limited <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelcole/2014/03/16/chinese-investors-discover-chicago-real-estate/" target="_blank">teamed up with Chicago-based Zeller Realty Group to buy the 65-story tower at 311 S. Wacker Dr. for $304 million</a>. That&rsquo;s the seventh tallest building in Chicago to date, a mere seven meters (23 feet) short of supertall status.</p><p>If it comes to fruition, the Wanda project could signal a new era of tall building investment in Chicago, says CTBUH Executive Director Antony Wood.</p><p>&ldquo;Whilst New York is awash with foreign investment, especially from China, this is one of the first major skyscraper investments from overseas we have seen in Chicago during the current wave, which is sweeping the world,&rdquo; Wood said. &ldquo;Chicago will likely never accommodate the World&rsquo;s tallest building again, but it is a proud skyscraper city, as well as a major economic hub, and it is likely that we will see other supertall buildings proposed and built in the coming years &ndash; especially residential supertalls.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">What about other recent contenders to be Chicago&rsquo;s next supertall?</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/old%20post%20office%20wikimedia%20commons%20brianbobcat.jpg" title="The Old Main Post Office in downtown Chicago has been in redevelopment limbo since it closed in 1996. Previous plans included the construction of a 120-story building in its place. (Wikimedia Commons/Brianbobcat)" /></p><p>In 2013 Chicago City Council approved the first part of an audacious redevelopment plan for the massive Old Main Post Office downtown, which has loomed vacant over the Eisenhower Expressway since 1996. The plans came from British developer Bill Davies&rsquo; International Property Developers and local architects Antunovich Associates. They called first for a rehab of the existing 2.7 million square foot post office and the construction of a 1,000-foot tower, to be followed in a later phase by a 2,000-foot tower that would be the tallest in the Western Hemisphere.</p><p>The first phase would take eight to 10 years, Joe Antunovich said, while the rest might take 20 years. But first they need to secure financing. The entire project could cost $3.5 billion. It would be an impressive feat, to be sure. But in that amount of time, Shanghai&rsquo;s Pudong district<a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6600367" target="_blank"> went from mainly farmland to a part of a metropolis with more skyscrapers than New York City</a>.</p><p>In 2014, however, the project&rsquo;s developers <a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/realestate/20141008/CRED03/141009835/old-post-office-owner-plots-next-move-after-breakup-with-sterling-bay" target="_blank">announced they were exploring alternative plans for the property</a>, possibly nixing the 120-story tower.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/spire%20hole%20flickr%20Marcin%20Wichary.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="The ill-fated Chicago Spire was supposed to be the tallest building in the western hemisphere. (Flickr/Marcin Wichary)" /></div><p>If you want to see evidence of the recession&rsquo;s impact on skyscraper construction, you don&rsquo;t need to pore over spreadsheets or the architectural billings index: You just need to go to 400 N. Lake Shore Dr., where you&rsquo;ll find a pit about 100 ft. wide and 80 ft. deep. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/lee-bey/2012-08/what-might-have-been-ill-fated-chicago-spire-101922" target="_blank">The ill-fated Chicago Spire</a> was supposed to be the tallest building in the western hemisphere. But the twisting 2,000-foot tower failed to attract enough financing and was hit with foreclosure lawsuits. Now it&rsquo;s the most-watched hole in the ground in Chicago real estate.</p><p>In 2013 real estate developer<a href="http://blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2013/06/24/related-in-deal-to-buy-distressed-debt-on-stalled-chicago-spire-project/" target="_blank"> Related Cos. of New York reportedly entered talks to buy the Spire&#39;s discounted debt</a>, but in November 2014 a U.S. Bankruptcy Court forced the project&rsquo;s original developer, Garrett Kelleher, to hand the 2.2-acre site over. Related <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-spire-1105-biz-20141104-story.html">now controls the real estate</a> and has not yet announced plans for development.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Why the action has been outside Chicago</span></p><p>There are a few factors behind Asia&rsquo;s building boom that don&rsquo;t quite apply to Chicago. For one thing, said Wood, Chicago just doesn&rsquo;t need to make a statement with its skyline like Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia did when its Petronas Towers unseated Willis Tower as the world&rsquo;s tallest in 1998.</p><p>&ldquo;What&rsquo;s driving these tall buildings around the world is attention in a global market and population growth,&rdquo; Wood said. &ldquo;And, on the face of it, we&rsquo;re not seeing any of that in Chicago.&rdquo;</p><p><a href="http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTABOUTUS/0,,contentMDK:23272497~pagePK:51123644~piPK:329829~theSitePK:29708,00.html?argument=value" target="_blank">The world gains more than 5 million city dwellers every month</a>, and the U.S. accounts for very little of that urbanization. It&rsquo;s happening in places like China, where<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/world/asia/chinas-great-uprooting-moving-250-million-into-cities.html?pagewanted=all&amp;_r=0" target="_blank"> a government plan to move 250 million people into cities by 2025</a> helps generate huge demand for high-density, supertall buildings.</p><p>But even if Chicago isn&rsquo;t home to many new supertalls, it&rsquo;s still a nerve center of sorts for tall building architecture and engineering.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s not many really significant tall buildings that are not happening with some Chicago expertise anywhere in the world &mdash; architectural, engineering, geotechnical, façade &mdash; but some Chicago input,&rdquo; Wood said. &ldquo;However it is fair to say that there has been a major shift in almost all aspects of tall buildings.&rdquo;</p><p>If they pull it off, the Wanda Tower will change the Chicago skyline. But in China huge developments happen all the time. One of the tower&rsquo;s architects, bKL Principal Tom Kerwin, says China&rsquo;s economic and demographic booms have made massive projects part of the new urban culture.</p><p>&ldquo;Supertall buildings or large mixed-use complexes are kind of the norm in China,&rdquo; said Kerwin, who has worked on dozens of projects in the U.S. and Asia. &ldquo;The Chinese are very accustomed to these large-scale, multi-use buildings. So for them, it sounds kind of silly to say, but it&#39;s almost commonplace.&rdquo;</p><p>In addition to moving to Asia, supertall towers have changed since Chicago&rsquo;s skyline rose decades ago. Tall towers today tend to have more retail and residential space than their counterparts from previous generations. They are often mixed-use &mdash; combining hotel, retail, office and/or residential space in one building &mdash; and use different structural systems, like concrete-steel composites as opposed to just steel. And rather than bearing corporate names such as Chrysler, Sears and Petronas, they&rsquo;re increasingly named to inspire civic pride: say, the Russia Tower or Chicago Spire. Burj Khalifa was originally called Burj Dubai.</p><p>Brian Lee, a design partner at Skidmore, Owings &amp; Merrill &mdash; the architectural offices behind thousands of skyscrapers around the world, including four of Chicago&rsquo;s six supertalls &mdash; has seen the effect of these projects first-hand.</p><p>&ldquo;We think that the tall building is not the only kind of building type that should be built, obviously. It has limitations,&rdquo; Lee said, &ldquo;but there&rsquo;s something exhilarating about a tall structure that makes a mark for a city and a region.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">A supertall with a Chicago character?</span></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/riverpoint-courtesy-hines-and-pickard-chilton.jpg" style="height: 470px; width: 620px;" title="A park plan for the base of the River Point building, connects the property to the Chicago Riverwalk. (Courtesy of Hines and Pickard Chilton)" /></div><p>Our Curious Citizen, Andrew Wambach, raised another interesting question: If skyscrapers are a statement of their city&rsquo;s character, what should influence the design of Chicago&rsquo;s next supertall if it actually comes to be?</p><p>New skyscrapers at Wolf Point, River Point and 150 N. Riverside &mdash; three sites abutting the Chicago River at its confluence downtown &mdash; feature riverwalk connections and landscaped parks at their bases. Two of them actually have broader shoulders, as it were, than footprints. Landscape architect Ted Wolff said the Wolf Point project was the first where he&rsquo;d actually heard an architect tell him to expand his landscaping so far it would hem in the lobby.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/andrew wambach photo.jpeg" style="float: right; height: 303px; width: 200px;" title="Our question-asker, Andrew Wambach, is from Minneapolis but moved to Chicago for work between 2011-2013." />They may not be supertalls by the Council on Tall Buildings&rsquo; definition, but projects like these suggest Chicago&rsquo;s architectural legacy may be as much about Millennium Park as it is about Willis Tower.</p><p>Wanda&rsquo;s plans for a new supertall in Chicago are still preliminary, but its designers and developers have hinted at connections to neighborhood parks and the Chicago Riverwalk.</p><p>&ldquo;It&#39;s no secret that the project site is on an important axis for connectivity to the river, the lake, the Lakeshore East park and other internal features of our development,&rdquo; said Magellan&rsquo;s Sean Linnane. &ldquo;Because of its location, by its nature it will have to address those.&rdquo;</p><p>After all, says architect Tom Kerwin, that&rsquo;s the critical challenge a design team faces with any new project &mdash; no matter its size or location.</p><p>&ldquo;In cities around the world, how do you create a prototype where something&#39;s so technically driven and make it of its place, make it part of the city where you&#39;re building it?&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It definitely is a challenge. You want buildings to respond to their context, not just in a functional way but in an inspirational or an aesthetic way.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, to bring the skyscraper down to earth.</p><p><em>Chris Bentley is a writer with WBEZ and Midwest Editor for <a href="http://archpaper.com/" target="_blank">The Architect&rsquo;s Newspaper</a>. Follow him on Twitter at <a href="https://twitter.com/Cementley" target="_blank">@cementley</a>.</em></p></div><p>Correction: This story misstated the reporting year used for the&nbsp;CTBUH graphic that compares supertalls. The graphic represents data gathered up to November 2014.&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 28 Jan 2015 18:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/when-will-chicago-get-its-next-supertall-skyscraper-108531 Obama administration won't seek to end 529 college tax break http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-administration-wont-seek-end-529-college-tax-break-111466 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/flickr bradley gorden backpacks.PNG" alt="" /><p><div class="storytext storylocation linkLocation" id="storytext"><p>Reversing what had been an unpopular approach, the White House says it is dropping the idea of ending a tax break for 529 college savings plans. Critics had called the proposal a tax hike. All 50 states and the District of Columbia sponsor 529 plans.</p><p>Money in 529 accounts is meant to grow along with future college students, and then be distributed to pay for education expenses without being taxed.</p><p>As <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/27/381783199/obama-takes-heat-for-proposing-to-end-college-savings-break">NPR&#39;s Tamara Keith reported</a> this morning, &quot;It&#39;s a pretty good deal, and one that&#39;s been around since 2001. But the White House says fewer than 3 percent of families use these accounts &mdash; and 70 percent of the money in them comes from families earning more than $200,000 a year.&quot;</p><p>Obama&#39;s plan had been to end the tax benefit for future contributions, replacing it with other education and tax proposals. But the idea drew bipartisan criticism, and the White House said today that it will now ask Congress to focus on &quot;a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support,&quot; along with proposals the president mentioned in his State of the Union speech.</p><p>NPR&#39;s Keith confirmed the reversal Tuesday. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/28/us/politics/obama-will-drop-proposal-to-end-529-college-savings-plans.html">The New York Times</a> reported the news today, saying that the president was &quot;facing angry reprisals from parents and from lawmakers of both parties.&quot;</p><p>The move comes a day after Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., <a href="http://lynnjenkins.house.gov/press-releases/reps-jenkins-kind-introduce-legislation-to-expand-strengthen-529-college-savings-plans1/">introduced a bill</a> that would expand college savings plans instead of limiting them.</p><p>Today, Jenkins said her bill would &quot;further promote college access and eliminate barriers for middle class families to save and plan ahead. It would also modernize the program by allowing students to purchase a computer using their 529 funds.&quot;</p><p>House Speaker John Boehner, who had urged Obama to keep the 529 plans intact, says he&#39;s glad the president &quot;listened to the American people and withdrew his proposed tax hike on college savings.&quot; He added, &quot;This tax would have hurt middle-class families already struggling to get ahead.&quot;</p><p>Aides familiar with the conversations tell NPR&#39;s Keith that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged preserving the 529 provisions today, as she traveled with the president on Air Force One from India to Saudi Arabia.</p><p>You can read about 529 plans at the <a href="http://www.sec.gov/investor/pubs/intro529.htm">SEC website</a>, as well as at the <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/529-Plans:-Questions-and-Answers">IRS site</a>.</p><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/27/381967958/obama-administration-won-t-seek-to-end-529-college-tax-break" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 27 Jan 2015 18:40:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/obama-administration-wont-seek-end-529-college-tax-break-111466 Cheap gas and innovation bring optimism to Detroit Auto Show http://www.wbez.org/news/cheap-gas-and-innovation-bring-optimism-detroit-auto-show-111415 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/0116_autoshow-624x415.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Saturday marks the public opening of the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan.</p><p>Following a particularly good year for automakers and the continued drop in gas prices, the mood is optimistic for automakers like Ford, GM, Chrysler and foreign brands across the board. Innovation, both on fuel economy and in tech are also making a splash.</p><p><em>Here &amp; Now</em>&rsquo;s Jeremy Hobson spoke with NPR business reporter, <a href="http://www.npr.org/people/130330851/sonari-glinton" target="_blank">Sonari Glinton</a>, and the director of automotive relations at AutoTrader Group, <a href="http://press.autotrader.com/2014-05-27-Industry-Veteran-Analyst-Michelle-Krebs-joins-AutoTrader-com" target="_blank">Michelle Krebs</a>, about the new innovations on display at the Detroit Auto Show.</p></p> Fri, 16 Jan 2015 13:18:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cheap-gas-and-innovation-bring-optimism-detroit-auto-show-111415 Rauner puts Illiana Expressway on hold http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-puts-illiana-expressway-hold-111394 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Illiana 3 (2).JPG" alt="" /><p><p>SPRINGFIELD, Ill. &mdash; A planned 47-mile expressway between Illinois and Indiana is on hold after new Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an executive order aimed at addressing the state&#39;s deep budget problems.</p><p>In his first act after taking office Monday, the Republican suspended planning and development of any major interstate construction projects pending a &quot;careful review&quot; of costs and benefits. Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said Tuesday the planned Illiana Expressway is among the projects that fall under the executive order, adding that it&#39;s part of &quot;a broader review to maximize taxpayer investment in infrastructure.&quot;</p><p>It was unclear Tuesday how long that review may take.</p><p>The $1.5 billion project would provide an east-west link between Interstate 65 in Indiana and Interstate 55 in Illinois.</p><p>Supporters, including Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, say the expressway would relieve traffic congestion on Interstate 80 south of Chicago and create much-needed jobs.</p><p>&quot;We&#39;re ready to build the Illiana whenever Illinois is,&quot; Christy Denault, communications director for Pence, said Tuesday.</p><p>Opponents have called the project unnecessary and say it could become a boondoggle, leaving taxpayers on the hook if toll revenue falls short. Among those who have been critical is Randy Blankenhorn, Rauner&#39;s pick to lead the Illinois Department of Transportation.</p><p>Blankenhorn, who currently leads the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, couldn&#39;t be reached for comment Tuesday. But he&#39;s said publicly he wasn&#39;t sure Illiana was a good deal for Illinois and could expose taxpayers to undue risk.</p><p>Environmentalists also oppose the project, saying it will spoil rural areas in Illinois&#39; Will County.</p><p>Former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, supported the expressway. Last month, the Federal Highway Administration approved plans for the project, giving officials the green light to begin looking for public-private partnerships to construct, maintain and operate it.</p><p>Opponents have vowed to continue a fight against it, and a lawsuit is pending.</p></p> Tue, 13 Jan 2015 18:02:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/rauner-puts-illiana-expressway-hold-111394 How a too-strong dollar might lead to a too-weak world http://www.wbez.org/news/how-too-strong-dollar-might-lead-too-weak-world-111346 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/ap851119269057_wide-c3b91a4ad0260c6a4fdac02dae45ec8b89c83482-s600-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It&#39;s flattering to be King of the Hill.</p><p>And these days, the U.S. dollar is wearing the crown. It has climbed to its highest point in 11 years, with global investors pushing it ahead of the euro and other major currencies.</p><p>But while it&#39;s a compliment to have a strong dollar, the honor is not without its downsides. When the dollar rises against other currencies, it increases risks to U.S. manufacturers.</p><p>So economists are looking for signs that a good thing may be starting to go too far. These questions and answers may help explain what&#39;s happening.</p><p><strong>First, has the dollar really moved that much?</strong></p><p>Yes, the WSJ Dollar Index, which tracks the dollar&#39;s performance against 16 other currencies, had a 12 percent rally in 2014. In these early days of the new year, the dollar has been continuing to rise.</p><p><strong>Why is this happening?</strong></p><p>Currency traders are betting the U.S. economy will be growing so quickly in 2015 that the Federal Reserve will nudge up interest rates from recent historic lows.</p><p>The opposite is likely to happen in Europe. There, growth is weak and Greece&#39;s political troubles are creating uncertainties.</p><p>So if you were a saver, where would you put your money &mdash; in a strong, stable country offering rising interest payouts, or in a region with a shaky economic outlook and falling interest rates? Common sense says more people will turn to the United States as a safe haven.</p><p>&quot;As dollar assets become more attractive, more money comes into the U.S., pushing up the value of the dollar,&quot; said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist for IHS Global Insight. &quot;And as more money leaves Europe, it pushes down the value of the euro.&quot;</p><p><strong>So what&#39;s wrong with having people love the United States?</strong></p><p>It is good to have everyone wanting to stash their savings in the United States. But investors&#39; embrace of the dollar can start to feel like a death grip if it goes too far. Here&#39;s why:</p><p>U.S. companies that make goods and equipment want to compete on a global stage. If the dollar gets too expensive, U.S. exports can get priced out of the market. For example, if a customer in Brazil wants to purchase an earth mover, it could buy one from Caterpillar, or it could turn to companies in Germany or Japan.</p><p>If the dollar&#39;s value is very high, then it could tip the Brazilian&#39;s decision in favor of the Germans or Japanese.</p><p>It&#39;s not just U.S. manufacturers who worry about the rising dollar. The U.S. tourist industry also could take a hit if Germans, Brits and others can no longer afford to visit Florida this winter.</p><p>&quot;A strong dollar is a double-edged sword that could hurt a lot of U.S. companies,&quot; said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist for Sterne Agee.</p><p><strong>How is this likely to play out over time?</strong></p><p>It could turn out just fine over the next year or two. In this good scenario, the European Central Bank would lower interest rates just enough to encourage European companies to borrow money and expand. With energy being so cheap now, this could indeed be the perfect time to take a chance on expanding a plant.</p><p>That would lead to more hiring, which would help consumer spending in Europe. Once growth picked up, the euro&#39;s value would rise. In the end, the United States would have a healthy trading partner again and a more reasonably priced currency, allowing for fair global competition.</p><p>But there could be a bad scenario: Europe&#39;s economy could keep shrinking, with the euro becoming unstable and the dollar getting way overpriced. The bottom line would be less business for U.S. manufacturing and tourism, and the U.S. economy would start to sink too.</p><p><em>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/01/06/375201124/how-a-too-strong-dollar-might-lead-to-a-too-weak-world" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></p> Tue, 06 Jan 2015 15:08:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/how-too-strong-dollar-might-lead-too-weak-world-111346 How driver's license suspensions unfairly target the poor http://www.wbez.org/news/how-drivers-license-suspensions-unfairly-target-poor-111332 <p><p><em>This is the second of two stories. Read the first story,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cant-pay-your-fines-your-license-could-be-taken-111309">here</a>.</em></p><p>If you get caught drinking and driving in Wisconsin, and it&#39;s your first offense, you lose your license for nine months. For a hit and run, the punishment is suspension for one year.</p><p>But if you don&#39;t pay a ticket for a minor driving offense, such as driving with a broken tail light, you can lose your license for two years.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s an incredible policy,&quot; says John Pawasarat of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. It&#39;s &quot;a policy of punishing people who can&#39;t pay their fines.&quot;</p><p>The practice &ndash; repeated in states across the country &ndash; is mostly impacting the poor and creating a spiral of bad consequences.</p><p>NPR&#39;s recent&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/series/313986316/guilty-and-charged">&quot;Guilty and Charged&quot; investigation</a>&nbsp;found that rising court fines and fees &mdash; reaching hundreds or even thousands of dollars per person &mdash; often hurt poor people the most.</p><p>Pawasarat, who runs the university&#39;s Employment and Training Institute and studies Milwaukee&#39;s poor neighborhoods, says one of the biggest barriers to getting a job is not having a driver&#39;s license.</p><p>&quot;Two out of three African-American men in this neighborhood, of working age, don&#39;t have a driver&#39;s license,&quot; he says while walking down Martin Luther King Avenue in Milwaukee. &quot;And are consequently unable to access the jobs that are beyond the bus lines.&quot;</p><p>But among the typical barriers to employment &mdash; such as having a prison record, or a poor education &mdash; a suspended license is the easiest to solve, says Pawasarat.</p><p>McArthur Edwards, who lives nearby, knows from personal experience.</p><p>&quot;It hinders you because most jobs are not in the inner city nowadays. And they get pushed far back. And the buses don&#39;t go out there. So the inner-city jobs that we have are not able to provide for our families that we have and to provide for ourselves,&quot; he says.</p><p>In 2013, Edwards was stopped by police and ticketed for driving with a broken light over his back license plate. State department of transportation records show that when he didn&#39;t pay the $64 fine, his driver&#39;s license was suspended for two years.</p><p>He kept driving and got more tickets. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 75 percent of Americans who get their licenses suspended, continue driving.</p><p>Edwards, who&#39;s 29, has come to the Center for Driver&#39;s License Recovery and Employability, where lawyers and case workers help people with low income get suspensions lifted.</p><p>His reason for wanting his license is simple: He wants a better job.</p><p>From time to time, Edwards is hired to work in warehouses around the city. But those are temporary jobs, often at around minimum wage.</p><p>That makes it difficult for him to pay both the landlord and the electric bill.</p><p>Edwards, who lived in foster care or state homes from the time he was 2, wants to be a good father to his four children, who are 4- to 11-years old.</p><p>&quot;I want my kids to look up to me. I want my kids to be like, &#39;Me and my father did that,&#39; or, &#39;I need these,&#39; or &#39;I want these,&#39; or &#39;the school said I needed this,&#39;&quot; he says. &quot;And I can&#39;t afford to buy it. Or I can&#39;t provide for my children. I don&#39;t want that to be that way.&quot;</p><p>Recently, Edwards responded to ads for long-distance truck drivers. Two companies promised to train him, but not until he has a valid driver&#39;s license.</p><p>It&#39;s a potential job that he speaks of wistfully. &quot;I like traveling. And trucking is a good way to travel. Just see the sights of America, man. It&#39;s a beautiful country,&quot; he says. &quot;I just want to see everything. I love the road.&quot;</p><p>To lift his suspension, staff at the center helped Edwards reset the original unpaid ticket.</p><p>For six other tickets &mdash; most of them for driving while suspended &mdash; he paid $600 on the $1,800 he owed. He then cleared the rest by doing community service.</p><p>The most common way that people lose their driver&#39;s license in Wisconsin is not for drunk driving or other unsafe driving. It&#39;s for failure to pay the fine on a ticket for a non-moving traffic offense. Those make up 56 percent of all license suspensions in the state, according to statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.</p><p>Nationwide, the numbers are similar: about 40 percent of suspensions are for unpaid traffic tickets, and for things like not paying child support, or getting caught with drugs &mdash; things that have nothing to do with unsafe driving, according to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.</p><p>People with money pay off their tickets and are done with the courts. When people don&#39;t pay, a minor ticket can set off a chain of problems.</p><p>Like for Angel Hinton, who also came to the center for help.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/hinton-img_0480-edit_custom-245e81c52238a85d88a7ad54b3619443cde2b637-s400-c85.jpg" style="float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="Angel Hinton with her daughter, Cameisha, 8. Hinton's business suffered after her license was suspended. (Joseph Shapiro/NPR)" />Hinton had a small janitorial business, but money was tight. So she challenged a parking ticket she received outside of the suburban office building she cleaned on Sunday mornings.</p><p>But the unpaid ticket meant she couldn&#39;t renew her car registration. She then got more tickets for expired tags. She missed a court date. She says she wasn&#39;t notified. That triggered an arrest warrant. And one day, she was stopped by police, pulled out of her car and handcuffed in front of her young daughter.</p><p>Without a license, she could no longer drive to the places she cleaned.</p><p>&quot;This basically ruined my life,&quot; she says. &quot;I mean, I was to the point that I&#39;m building my business. I&#39;m growing. And now I&#39;m back to depending on public assistance.&quot;</p><p>When Jim Gramling was a judge on Milwaukee&#39;s Municipal Court, he saw the problems that license suspensions created for poor people. He worked with lawyers, court officials and community activists to help start the Center for Driver&#39;s License Recovery and Employability, a public-private partnership between Wisconsin Community Services, a non-profit community agency; Legal Action of Wisconsin, which provides legal services to the poor; Milwaukee Area Technical College and the city&#39;s Municipal Court.</p><p>After retiring from the bench, Gramling immediately started working at the center as a volunteer lawyer.</p><p>&quot;What we see constantly here at the center are drivers who have accumulated a series of tickets that are directly related to their lack of income,&quot; he says.</p><p>Since the program started in 2007, it has worked with about 10,000 clients, helping nearly 3,000 get their license.</p><p>&quot;People should pay their tickets. No doubt about it,&quot; says Gramling. &quot;They should be held accountable for what they&#39;ve done that violated the traffic laws. But at some point, a balance has to be introduced into this. And the balance is, if people don&#39;t pay because they&#39;re low income and can&#39;t budget that expense, what&#39;s an appropriate penalty?&quot;</p><p>Gramling says most judges never ask people if they have the money to pay traffic tickets. So he argues for alternative penalties. For example, to let people pay in small monthly amounts, or arrange for community service instead.</p><p>The retired judge is also lobbying state lawmakers to end the two-year suspension on failure to pay a ticket.</p><p>Municipal Court officials declined to speak about the policy of giving two-year suspensions, but the threat of losing a license does push people who can pay, to pay. Then there&#39;s the issue of fairness: If there&#39;s no punishment for people who can afford to pay, but don&#39;t.</p><p>Still, a new analysis of city records by the non-profit Justice Initiatives Institute, says there&#39;s no evidence that the long suspensions stop people from driving and getting more tickets. Sometimes, people then get arrested and put in jail &mdash; which is expensive for the city. Mostly, the report says, the two-year suspensions just put poor people more in debt.</p></p> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 08:54:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/how-drivers-license-suspensions-unfairly-target-poor-111332 Can't pay your fines? Your license could be taken http://www.wbez.org/news/cant-pay-your-fines-your-license-could-be-taken-111309 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/desiree-seats_custom-53edb94a443a5c9d7ba9c3b6e5118097e0f8c447-s800-c85.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Drive drunk, drive recklessly, and the state can suspend your driver&#39;s license. But many police and motor vehicle administrators worry about a recent trend: A large number of suspensions are for reasons that have nothing to do with unsafe driving.</p><p>These reasons include unpaid traffic tickets, falling behind on child support, getting caught with drugs, bouncing checks; or minor juvenile offenses like missing school, using false identification to buy alcohol, or shoplifting.</p><p>Increasingly, people who study driver safety say this makes little sense.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.aamva.org/WorkArea/linkit.aspx?LinkIdentifier=id&amp;ItemID=3723&amp;libID=3709" target="_blank">A study in 2013</a>&nbsp;from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators raised concerns that police and state and local motor vehicle officials find too much of their time and budget tied up going after people with suspensions for minor lawbreaking that has nothing to do with safe driving.</p><p>&quot;They want to focus on the people who pose a risk to the general population that&#39;s driving on the roadway. And those are usually the people who are suspended for ... things like hit-and-run crashes, DUIs, unsafe speed, reckless driving &mdash; those actions that we as a society consider severe and dangerous on the roadway,&quot; says Robert Eger, who wrote a study for the motor vehicle administrators.</p><p>In Milwaukee, Desiree Seats, 23, knows how a suspended license can be limiting, and how having a valid license can open opportunities: She lost her license before she even got it.</p><p>This summer, Seats went for her first driver&#39;s license and passed the road test. But instead of being given the license, she was told it already was suspended.</p><p>About six years ago, when she was 16, Seats had been caught shoplifting jeans and a shirt at a suburban department store. She went to court and was fined on a juvenile charge, but the fine never was paid. Seats says she didn&#39;t know about the fine and that neither she nor her mother would have had the money back then to pay it.</p><p>She still owed $315, and that kicked in a license suspension for two years from the day she was eligible to receive one.</p><p>Eger, a retired police officer who is now a professor at the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, Calif., found that nationwide about 40 percent of people whose licenses are suspended lose them for reasons other than bad driving.</p><p>It all started with laws passed by Congress in the late 1980s. First, a law took away the driver&#39;s license of men who didn&#39;t pay child support. Then came one for people caught with drugs.</p><p>Next, state lawmakers added hundreds of reasons that had nothing to do with unsafe driving. Eger found that at least 18 states will suspend someone&#39;s driver&#39;s license for failure to pay the fines on nondriving traffic violations. And four states will suspend it for not paying parking tickets. Among the other reasons: school truancy, bouncing a check, not paying college loans, graffiti and littering.</p><p>Eger says that no research shows that suspending a license will make someone likely to change his behavior.</p><p>But Colleen Eubanks of the National Child Support Enforcement Association says just the threat of losing a license makes a difference. &quot;It&#39;s an effective tool for motivating people to pay their child support,&quot; she says. Billions of dollars of child support are collected each year using this tactic.</p><p>&quot;Driving is a privilege, and if you&#39;re not willing to support your children and [you] expect society to do it,&quot; she says, &quot;then you should lose the privilege of driving.&quot;</p><p>But there&#39;s also evidence that when people lose a license for reasons unrelated to safety, they take suspensions less seriously. At least 75 percent of people who have had their licenses revoked just keep driving, according to the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.</p><p>&quot;You don&#39;t need a license to drive; you just need a car,&quot; says Jim Gramling, a former Municipal Court judge in Milwaukee. After Gramling retired from the court, he went to work as a volunteer lawyer at the Center for Driver&#39;s License Recovery and Employability, an organization he helped start. It&#39;s a place where those with low income can get legal help.</p><p>Courts will order arrest warrants when people don&#39;t pay court fines and fees. At the end of his time as a judge, Gramling dropped those arrest warrants for impoverished defendants. But they still had to pay off their fines. Similar ticket amnesties have been tried around the country &mdash; including this month in Ferguson, Mo. Those programs have had limited success.</p><p>In Florida, the American Civil Liberties Union took a different approach and argued in a 2013 lawsuit that the state discriminated against poor people when it took away their driver&#39;s licenses for failure to pay court fines and fees. About 200,000 drivers had their licenses suspended that year for not paying the fines. But a court has largely rejected the argument.</p><p>Gramling says people with money just pay off their fines &mdash; and avoid court. But people with little money often struggle when they get tickets.</p><p>&quot;Often they&#39;re living lives where they can&#39;t afford to leave a job early, or at all, to go to court. They can&#39;t hire a lawyer, can&#39;t afford a lawyer. So they often let the cases go by default and don&#39;t challenge tickets that maybe should be challenged,&quot; he says. &quot;It&#39;s tough.&quot;</p><p>In Milwaukee, Seats went to the Center for Driver&#39;s License Recovery; lawyers and case managers there helped her negotiate paying off her fine in small amounts over several months and get the suspension lifted.</p><p>She had already bought a car &mdash; a used, nine-year-old Hyundai Elantra. With a dependable car and a valid license, she figured she had everything she needed to start making money.</p><p>Seats, the mother of a 4-year-old boy, now works as a personal care assistant, helping a woman with a disability fix meals, bathe and get dressed.</p><p>A few days after getting her license, she also started a second job delivering newspapers, and she has also applied for a job delivering pizza. And the freedom of being able to drive helps her attend a technical college as well, where she&#39;s studying to become a pharmacy assistant.</p><p>&quot;I&#39;m very goal-oriented,&quot; she explains as she drives to the house of the woman she helps with chores. &quot;I have a lot of goals that I want to accomplish, in a set amount of time. And that&#39;s what I&#39;m working on now.&quot;</p><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/2014/12/29/372691960/cant-pay-your-fines-your-license-could-be-taken" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></p> Tue, 30 Dec 2014 10:19:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cant-pay-your-fines-your-license-could-be-taken-111309 Obama says Sony should not have pulled film over hacking http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/obama-says-sony-should-not-have-pulled-film-over-hacking-111277 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP809914660283_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>President Obama called Sony&#39;s decision to pull its film&nbsp;The Interview&nbsp;over a hacking by North Korea a &quot;mistake.&quot;</p><p>&quot;We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,&quot; the president&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/19/371881952/live-obamas-year-end-news-conference">said in his year-end news conference</a>.</p><p>He added that he was &quot;sympathetic&quot; about their concerns, but, &quot;I wish they would have spoken to me first.&quot;</p><p>Earlier Friday, the FBI said it has enough information to confirm that North Korea was behind the hacking of Sony Pictures.</p><p>The agency tied the attack to North Korea because the malware used in the attack had the hallmarks of software written by the country in the past.</p><p>&quot;For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks,&quot; the FBI said in a statement.</p><p>The tools used, the agency said, also had similarities to a cyberattack that took place in March of last year against banks in South Korea.</p><p>The hack has caused serious repercussions for Sony. The stolen data have made public some embarrassing emails written by its executives. Hackers also leaked unreleased movies and scripts.</p><p>The group that took responsibility for the attack, &quot;Guardians of Peace,&quot; said it was responding to Sony Pictures&#39; comedy about an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.</p><p>After the group issued threats to attack movie theaters that show the film, major movie chains pulled&nbsp;The Interview&nbsp;and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/17/371477960/major-theater-chains-wont-screen-the-interview-amid-threats">Sony decided against a Christmas Day release</a>.</p><p>&quot;We are deeply concerned about the destructive nature of this attack on a private-sector entity and the ordinary citizens who worked there,&quot; the FBI said. &quot;Further, North Korea&#39;s attack on [Sony] reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States.&quot;</p><p>In a separate statement, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the hack &quot;underscores the importance of good cybersecurity practices to rapidly detect cyber intrusions and promote resilience throughout all of our networks.</p><p>&quot;Every CEO should take this opportunity to assess their company&#39;s cybersecurity,&quot; he added.</p><p>Immediately following the FBI announcement, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., criticized the White House for not imposing tough financial sanctions on North Korea.</p><p>&quot;North Korea is attacking our infrastructure,&quot; Royce said in a statement. &quot;It is also attacking our values. The decision to pull &#39;The Interview&#39; from theatres unfortunately is a North Korean victory in its attack on our freedom. We better quickly respond comprehensively to defend freedom of speech in the face of terrorist threats and cyber attacks.&quot;</p><p>Options, though, are limited. The U.S. could impose new financial sanctions on Pyongyang and boost military support to South Korea. Yet these moves have had little impact on the heavily sanctioned country in the past.</p><p><a href="http://money.cnn.com/2014/12/19/media/insde-sony-hack-interview/index.html?hpt=hp_t1">CNN reported earlier today</a>&nbsp;that the hackers behind the attack issued another statement today, praising Sony for pulling the movie. Removing it from screens, the hackers said in an email to Sony executives, was a &quot;very wise&quot; decision.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/19/371894427/fbi-formally-accuses-north-korea-in-sony-hacking"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 14:14:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/culture/obama-says-sony-should-not-have-pulled-film-over-hacking-111277 What Christmas does (or doesn’t do) for the economy http://www.wbez.org/news/what-christmas-does-or-doesn%E2%80%99t-do-economy-111275 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/1128_holiday-shopping-624x415.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Is Christmas good for the economy? That&rsquo;s the conventional thinking, but some economists believe that if Christmas didn&rsquo;t exist, all of the shopping we do would actually be distributed more evenly throughout the year, and there might not be so much &ldquo;deadweight loss,&rdquo; i.e., that ugly sweater from your aunt that gets put in the back of the closet.</p><p><a href="http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/12/is-christmas-bad-for-the-economy/249618/">Derek Thompson</a>&nbsp;has looked at some of the research and joins&nbsp;<a href="http://hereandnow.wbur.org/" target="_blank">Here &amp; Now&rsquo;</a>s Jeremy Hobson to explain.</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/12/19/christmas-retail-economics"><em>via Here and Now</em></a></p></p> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 14:08:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what-christmas-does-or-doesn%E2%80%99t-do-economy-111275 Rents may be going up, but residents say they're not going anywhere http://www.wbez.org/news/rents-may-be-going-residents-say-theyre-not-going-anywhere-111269 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Land-trust-2.png" style="height: 240px; width: 320px; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px; float: left;" title="(from right) Arturo Chavez and his roommate, Jorge Herrera, share an apartment for $700 a month in Albany Park. A new building owner is evicting them to convert the units into upscale rentals." />There&rsquo;s a fight brewing in Albany Park over who gets to live there.</p><p>Arturo Chavez would like to stay in the North Side neighborhood, where he&rsquo;s lived for roughly three years &mdash; but that seems increasingly unlikely.</p><p>&ldquo;I go around in a car, looking for places,&rdquo; he says, speaking in Spanish. &ldquo;I see ads, and I call the numbers. Some places were being remodeled. I was told they were going to rent it, but later they told me they had already leased it to family members.&rdquo;</p><p>Chavez is one of the few remaining tenants of 3001 W Lawrence Avenue, a courtyard apartment building with 32 units. In August, new owners bought the building and notified its tenants that they were all to be evicted. The plan is to gut rehab the units and turn them into upscale rentals.</p><p>Inside, ceiling pipes have started to leak and parts of the walls are falling off. Chavez, a car mechanic who has been fighting for workers compensation since he was injured last year on the job, knows he&rsquo;ll have to leave soon. But he says he hasn&rsquo;t been able to find another place nearby that comes close to the $700 monthly rent he pays now.</p><p>&ldquo;The rents are too high and that means people are being separated and they&rsquo;re moving to areas farther away,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Antonio Gutierrez, an organizer with the community group Centro Autonomo in Albany Park, says scores of low-income Albany Park residents have been pushed out in recent years. Just like Chavez, they&rsquo;ve been unable to keep up with the rising rents and property values in some areas.</p><p>&ldquo;I would say about 40 percent of them, they ended up having to leave Albany Park and having to move outside the city to suburbs,&rdquo; said Gutierrez.</p><p>Between 2011 and 2013, the median home price in Albany Park rose almost 40 percent. Gutierrez says after the recession, speculators flocked back to the neighborhood, buying foreclosed homes and driving up property values.</p><p>So last year, Centro Autonomo decided to try a creative idea to bolster affordable properties in the neighborhood: it created a &ldquo;community land trust&rdquo; called Casas del Pueblo. The land trust is a non-profit entity that will acquire properties in the neighborhood, then rent them out.</p><p>&ldquo;(The rent) would just be the taxes for the property, the insurance for the property and a maintenance fee,&rdquo; Gutierrez explained. &ldquo;And they can stay there for as long as they want.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Albany-Park-Median-Home-Sales-Price-Median-Sales-Price_chartbuilder.png" style="height: 349px; width: 620px;" title="" /></div><p>The concept of community land trusts is not new to the Chicago area. Gutierrez&rsquo;s variety is a slight twist on something that&rsquo;s been tried before, just a few miles south, in West Humboldt Park.</p><p>There, three, red brick single family homes sit on a residential street next to the noisy Union Pacific rail line.</p><p>&ldquo;The homeowners say the walls were built in a way it&rsquo;s not really bothersome,&rdquo; said William Howard, former Executive Director of the West Humboldt Park Development Council.</p><p>Under Howard, the Council created the First Community Land Trust of Chicago, also a non-profit, in 2003. He said residents at that time were worried their neighborhood might become unaffordable. With the alderman&rsquo;s support, the land trust bought city property for $1 and built the 3-bedroom homes.</p><p>&ldquo;Were it not for these spots, the gentrification would have just swamped everybody,&rdquo; said Howard. &ldquo;A lot of people would have moved out.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Land-trust.png" title="William Howard led the establishment of the first community land trust in Chicago in 2003. It built three, single-family homes that remain affordable, though the recession halted its expansion. (WBEZ/Odette Yousef)" /></div><p>Howard&rsquo;s land trust follows a more conventional model than the one in Albany Park.</p><p>Instead of renting the homes, it offered them for sale.</p><p>&ldquo;The land trust owns this land in perpetuity,&rdquo; he explained. &ldquo;And then we get the homeowners, and the homeowners own the house.&rdquo;</p><p>Howard said three things keep land trust homes affordable. First, homeowners don&rsquo;t buy the land; they only buy the house itself. That means the house sells for much less than its market value.</p><p>Second, homeowners have to agree to resale restrictions.</p><p>&ldquo;Even if the homeowners decides later on they want to sell the home, they must sell it to someone of a like economic profile,&rdquo; said Howard. &ldquo;Otherwise the land trust goes bust.&rdquo;</p><p>In other words, homeowners have to sell the home to someone that qualifies as low-income. That keeps the resale price of the house low.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="320" scrolling="no" src="http://interactive.wbez.org/gentrification/widget/14/" style="float: right; clear: right;" width="400"></iframe></p><p>Finally, homeowners only pay property taxes on the value of the house, not including the land.</p><p>Howard originally wanted to build ten homes, but the timing didn&rsquo;t work out.</p><p>&ldquo;We only got three up,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t think anyone at that point had any idea that the recession would last as long as it did or be as deep as it was.&rdquo;</p><p>During the recession concerns about gentrification in West Humboldt Park fizzled out.</p><p>The First Community Land Trust of Chicago still exists, but only to collect the nominal monthly ground lease from the three homeowners in those homes. Property values in the neighborhood dropped so much after the housing bubble burst that it doesn&rsquo;t make sense for the land trust to build additional homes.</p><p>But there is another Chicago-area land trust that&rsquo;s flourishing. It&rsquo;s north of the city, in Highland Park. Luisa Espinosa-Lara and her family once struggled just to rent in this wealthy suburb.</p><p>&ldquo;We thought OK, one day (when) we are able to buy a house, it&rsquo;s not going to be here,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Houses here are so expensive.&rdquo;</p><p>But thanks to Community Partners for Affordable Housing, Illinois&rsquo;s oldest and largest community land trust, Espinosa-Lara and her husband were able to buy a three-bedroom house in Highland Park. They paid $175,000 for it, roughly half of its market value.</p><p>&ldquo;It was like when you feel that you win the lottery, but like you get millions,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;because you don&rsquo;t have to go. And I think it&rsquo;s so painful when you have to leave.&rdquo;</p><p>In Highland Park, the community land trust isn&rsquo;t really about gentrification. Instead, it&rsquo;s about creating inclusive, mixed-income neighborhoods.</p><p>That&rsquo;s what Antonio Gutierrez hopes to do back in Chicago&rsquo;s Albany Park neighborhood. But he&rsquo;s taking on a big challenge. Community land trusts typically need hundreds of thousands of dollars in startup costs, to buy, renovate or build homes. Most of them rely on a mix of public grants and private donations.</p><p>Casas del Pueblo doesn&rsquo;t have that kind of money, so Gutierrez hopes to persuade banks to donate foreclosed homes to the community land trust. So far, this strategy has yet to bear fruit.</p><p>&ldquo;Every single time I get to a meeting with a bank, the first thing they ask is how many houses do you have now? How many houses are you managing? And when we say zero, they close the door,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Still, Gutierrez remains undeterred.</p><p>He believes once they have a couple of homes, others will look to his community land trust as a model for how gentrification can benefit even those it would normally displace.</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her </em><a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef"><em>@oyousef</em></a><em> and </em><a href="https://twitter.com/wbezoutloud"><em>@WBEZoutloud</em></a><em>.</em></p></p> Fri, 19 Dec 2014 08:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/rents-may-be-going-residents-say-theyre-not-going-anywhere-111269