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These 7 Charts Show Why the Rent Is Too Damn High

Mother Jones

More Americans than ever before are unable to afford rent. Here’s a look at why the rent is too damn high and what can be done about it.

Part of the problem has to do with simple supply and demand. Millions of Americans lost their homes during the foreclosure crisis, and many of those folks flooded into the rental market. In 2004, 31 percent of US households were renters, according to HUD. Today that number is 35 percent. “With more people trying to get into same number of units you get an incredible pressure on prices,” says Shaun Donavan, the former secretary of housing and urban development for the Obama administration.

It’s not just working-class folks who have been pushed into the rental market. More middle-class Americans are renting too.

Alongside the foreclosure crisis, the financial collapse and ensuing recession jacked up unemployment and squeezed incomes. Check out how rental costs compare to renter incomes over the past quarter century:

Republicans, in an effort to shore up what they say is a dangerous budget deficit (it’s not, really), have pushed to cut spending on federal programs, including housing assistance. Nearly all government housing aid programs have taken funding cuts in recent years.

In 2013, about 125,000 families lost access to housing vouchers—which make up the largest share of rental assistance—due to across-the-board budget cuts. “Budget cuts were doing exactly the wrong thing,” Donovan says.

Those cuts come on top of years of stagnating rental voucher aid. Even though the government increased funding for housing vouchers between 2007 and 2012, the program was not able to reach more households because that extra money was eaten up by higher rents and lower incomes.

Because federal housing assistance was not able to keep up with the growing population of low-income people created by the recession, the number of very low-income renter households that received some form of housing assistance dropped from 27.4 percent in 2007 to less than a quarter in 2011.

What happens when you combine a shortage of rental units with lower incomes and less federal support? You get the “worst rental affordability crisis in history,” and a lot of people finding it harder to get by.

The share of households spending more than a third of their income on rent has grown by 12 percent since 2000. Today, half of all renters pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income in rent. For 28 percent of Americans, more than half of their salaries go toward rent.

The rental crisis is worse in certain areas of the country:

And the crisis has hit people of color harder than whites.

The stimulus act Congress passed in the wake of the recession directed $1 billion into rental housing. And HUD is not sitting on its hands while the rental market goes to shambles. The department has launched several programs aimed at bolstering the number of low-income and public housing units.

But these initiatives aren’t enough to stem the unfolding rental crisis, Donovan says. Legislation in Congress aimed at reducing the government’s role in housing finance would take a bigger bite out of the problem. It would direct nearly $4 billion a year to affordable rental housing. The bill was recently approved by a key Senate committee. And as far as its chances in the obstructionist, GOP-dominated House? “I think better than most people might think,” Donovan says. “I say that because I do think there’s a confluence of more and more people understanding that the status quo is unacceptable.”


These 7 Charts Show Why the Rent Is Too Damn High

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Weakened fracking law signed in California

Weakened fracking law signed in California


California’s Capitol.

Fracking will finally be regulated in California after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill that annoyed drillers but also left environmentalists despondent over its mediocrity.

At issue is a nascent effort to frack the Monterey Shale, believed to hold the nation’s largest on-shore oil deposit. (Frackers in the Northeast normally target natural gas; in California, fracking is for oil extraction.) One of 10 fracking-related bills introduced in the state legislature this year called for a five-year moratorium, which was watered down to a one-year stoppage, and then the bill died. It wasn’t alone: Eight other bills fell by the wayside until there was just one left standing: SB4, sponsored by state Sen. Fran Pavley (D).

Some environmentalists cautiously supported the bill until it was gutted at the last minute amid an oil-industry lobbying frenzy; language was dropped that would have effectively put all fracking on hold until environmental reviews were completed. That change led to a collapse in green support.

Al Jazeera explains the amended legislation:

The bill from Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, requires drillers to disclose the chemicals used and acquire permits before they use hydraulic fracturing. The process involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into deep rock formations to release oil or natural gas. …

Other provisions of the legislation, which will take effect in January, will require oil companies to test ground water and notify neighboring landowners before drilling. State officials will have to complete a study by January 2015 evaluating risks of fracking and other well-stimulation techniques, such as using acid to break apart oil-rich rocks.

And here is the L.A. Times with a rundown of reactions:

Oil industry reaction was muted. Companies complained that the regulations go further than they thought necessary for safe drilling.

But Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Assn., a trade group, welcomed the chance to continue exploring oil-rich areas in the central and southern San Joaquin Valley. …

Most environmental groups wanted a veto. The governor’s action “is disappointing,” said Kathryn Phillips, California director of the Sierra Club. “This bill does not provide the kind of protection or approach to fracking that we need.”

Brown signed the bill on Friday, noting in his signing statement that it “needs some clarifying amendments,” which he will “work with the author in making” next year. What amendments does he think are needed? He didn’t say.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: this article interesting? Donate now to support our work.Read more: Business & Technology


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Weakened fracking law signed in California

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What If Your High School History Teacher Had Been Totally Wasted?

Mother Jones

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“History is written by the victors—but told best by the shit-faced.”

So reads a title card in an episode of Drunk History, the incredibly funny new Comedy Central show adapted from the eponymous web series. The premise is simple: Comedians, writers, and barflies are fed copious amounts of booze and then asked to narrate key scenes from American history, as costumed actors such as Jack Black and Zooey Deschanel fill in with lip-synched reenactments. The TV version—whose eight-episode first season premieres Tuesday, July 9, at 10 p.m. on both coasts—includes comedian Bob Odenkirk as Richard Nixon. And one of the web episodes is a fantastic account of the friendship between Abraham Lincoln (Will Ferrell) and Frederick Douglass (Oscar-nominated actor Don Cheadle). Watch:

So can we trust these sodden accounts of our national heritage?

“All stories are 100 percent fact-checked in advance,” promises Derek Waters, the show’s creator, executive producer, and featured actor. Each narrator is given notes to ensure a loosely tethered historical accuracy. Once the person has internalized these morsels of the past, he or she is bar-tended to in excess, and then they’re off. “We let them say whatever they want, but we don’t want anything that’s wrong,” Waters continues. “After all, we’re learning history here.” Actually, the casual flubs provide some of the show’s most amusing moments. One soused narrator substitutes soul icon James Brown for abolitionist John Brown. And in the clip above, the narrator briefly misidentifies Frederick Douglass as actor Richard Dreyfuss, and Abe Lincoln as Bill Clinton.

The whole idea for Drunk History was born of—what else?—liberal alcohol consumption. Out on the town one night, Waters and his friend Jake Johnson (Nick on the Fox comedy New Girl) began riffing about the singer Otis Redding and the circumstances of his 1967 death in a plane crash. Johnson started drunkenly reciting an urban legend about how Redding knew he was going to die before he boarded his doomed flight.

“He kept insisting that Otis said to his girlfriend, ‘No, I’m serious, you take care of yourself!’ before he got on the plane, and I was thinking ‘Oh, this is such bullshit,'” Waters recalls. “He was having so much trouble telling a story he truly believed was true, and I just started picturing this reenactment in which Otis Redding is staring at the camera being all like, ‘Shut the fuck up, this never happened.'”

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What If Your High School History Teacher Had Been Totally Wasted?

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Bloomberg unveils ambitious plan to protect NYC from climate change

Bloomberg unveils ambitious plan to protect NYC from climate change


Michael Bloomberg.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid out an ambitious plan today to fortify the city against the extreme weather and storms we can expect thanks to a changing climate. “This is a defining challenge of our future,” Bloomberg said in a speech at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The plan, estimated to cost $20 billion, includes 250 recommendations in all, covering everything from erecting bulkheads and levees to retrofitting old buildings to protecting the city’s power infrastructure. (Fifty-three percent of NYC’s power plants currently sit within the 100-year floodplain, and by the 2050s, 90 percent could be in that danger zone.)

The New York Times reports:

The plan covers so many different parts of the city and calls for such a wide array of proposals that the estimated price tag could change – and given the history of large infrastructure projects, that means the cost is likely to grow.

The price estimate also does not include some of the more ambitious projects envisioned in the report that require further study, like the construction of a so-called Seaport City, just south of the Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, modeled after Battery Park City, which would protect Lower Manhattan but cost billions.

The administration said that roughly half of the currently estimated $20 billion cost of the next decade would be covered by federal and city money that had already been allocated in the capital budget and that an additional $5 billion would be covered by expected aid that Congress had already appropriated. Most of that money was allocated, through a variety of programs, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, according to the report.

While a $20 billion price tag sounds staggering, Bloomberg pointed out that Hurricane Sandy alone did $19 billion in damage to the city, and that a future storm could cause as much as $90 billion worth of destruction.

Bloomberg presented the plan a day after the New York City Panel on Climate Change — formed in 2008 to address climate change as part of PlaNYC, the mayor’s long-term sustainability vision — released an updated set of data [PDF] about how the Big Apple can expect to fare in a hotter and more volatile climate. The new findings, the AP reports, “echo 2009 estimates from the scientists’ group … but move up the time frame for some upper-end possibilities from the 2080s to mid-century.” And those upper-end possibilities — even the mid- and low-range predictions, for that matter — are certainly scary enough to justify an ambitious big-picture solution. From another New York Times article:

Administration officials estimated that more than 800,000 city residents will live in the 100-year flood plain by the 2050s. That figure is more than double the 398,000 currently estimated to be at risk, based on new maps the Federal Emergency Management Agency released Monday.

Administration officials said that between 1971 and 2000, New Yorkers had an average of 18 days a year with temperatures at or above 90 degrees. By the 2020s, that figure could be as high as 33 days, and by the 2050s, it could reach 57 …

In 2009, [the panel] projected that sea levels would rise by two to five inches by the 2020s. Now, the panel estimates that the sea levels will rise four to eight inches by that time, with a high-end figure of 11 inches.

New York is already trying to do its part to slow climate change; the city is halfway to its goal of a 30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. But, given the latest projections of what climate change will look like for the rest of this century, Bloomberg and co. recognize that they need to start preparing for climate change as well as fighting it.

Funding and implementing Bloomberg’s plan will largely fall to his successor; he can’t run again, so a new mayor will take the helm in January. But he hastened the plan’s development after Hurricane Sandy. “We refused to pass the responsibility for creating a plan onto the next administration,” he said in his speech.

Ironically, the Bloomberg administration has spent hundreds of millions of public dollars to revitalize waterfront districts and lure upscale condo developers, while at the same time warning of the risks of such development given rapidly rising sea levels. More people living along the city’s shoreline complicated evacuation efforts before Hurricane Sandy.

Bloomberg’s speech today at the Brooklyn Navy Yard was preceded by introductory speakers and videos that struck a resolutely uplifting theme of resilience, suggesting that a changing climate should not force anyone to leave the greatest city in the world. But some homeowners are already grappling with the cost of staying, forced to choose between paying a small fortune to have their houses raised up on stilts or paying soaring flood insurance costs. AP reports that many of them don’t believe more big storms are coming: “They think” — or perhaps hope against hope — “Sandy was a fluke, a storm to end all storms, the kind they won’t ever see again.”

The climate-change panel’s report makes painfully clear how wrong they are.

Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.

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Bloomberg unveils ambitious plan to protect NYC from climate change

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Destroying a Planet Without Really Trying

Mother Jones

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This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

What is the future likely to bring? A reasonable stance might be to try to look at the human species from the outside. So imagine that you’re an extraterrestrial observer who is trying to figure out what’s happening here or, for that matter, imagine you’re an historian 100 years from now—assuming there are any historians 100 years from now, which is not obvious—and you’re looking back at what’s happening today. You’d see something quite remarkable.

For the first time in the history of the human species, we have clearly developed the capacity to destroy ourselves. That’s been true since 1945. It’s now being finally recognized that there are more long-term processes like environmental destruction leading in the same direction, maybe not to total destruction, but at least to the destruction of the capacity for a decent existence.

And there are other dangers like pandemics, which have to do with globalization and interaction. So there are processes underway and institutions right in place, like nuclear weapons systems, which could lead to a serious blow to, or maybe the termination of, an organized existence.

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Destroying a Planet Without Really Trying

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