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    Entries in economy (4)

    Monday
    Nov052018

    Tulsa Struggles to Make Amends for a Massacre it Ignored for Nearly a Century

    BY  NOVEMBER 2018

     

    On weekday mornings, enticing whiffs of bacon and fried potatoes waft from Wanda J’s Next Generation restaurant in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood. The smell of breakfast on the griddle offers a comforting contrast to the sound of big rigs and commuter traffic roaring by on the Interstate 244 overpass that cleaves the neighborhood in two. 

    At first glance, the Greenwood section of Tulsa doesn’t look much different from places in other cities where, in the name of urban renewal, new highways were erected in the 1960s, obliterating or dividing minority neighborhoods. Around the corner from Wanda J’s, there are signs of a revitalization effort -- or of gentrification, depending on whom you ask. A sign on an empty lot promises a future mixed-use development; a two-story historic building nearby has already been renovated with retail on the ground floor that includes a combo coffee shop and yoga studio, a bookstore, and a Vietnamese sandwich shop. 

    But the sidewalks that line the streets of this neighborhood offer a grim reminder of Greenwood’s darker past. Every 20 or 30 feet, a plaque lists the name of a business -- a restaurant, grocer, lawyer, doctor, clothing store -- and below it, the words, “Destroyed in 1921.”

    A hundred years ago, this 35-square-block section of Tulsa was home to one of the largest concentrations of African-American-owned enterprises and wealth in this country. It was so well-known at the time that Booker T. Washington nicknamed the area “Negro Wall Street.” At its peak, Greenwood was home to more than 300 businesses serving roughly 11,000 residents who, thanks to segregation, reinvested whatever they earned back into their community. By 1921, Black Wall Street, as it’s called today, boasted a three-story, chandeliered hotel as well as a public library, two newspapers, 23 churches and a high school that taught Latin, chemistry and physics.

    That all changed on May 31 of that year when a black teenage boy was accused of assaulting a white female elevator operator. Within hours, marauding white residents swept into the district and burned it to the ground.

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    Friday
    Jun012018

    Scott Wiener Thinks He Knows How to Fix California's Housing Crisis

    Other legislators aren't so sure.
    BY  JUNE 2018
    California's go-for-broke legislator failed this year in his bid to spark a revolution in housing policy. He's ready to try again. (AP)

    To California Sen. Scott Wiener, nothing epitomizes his state’s housing failures more than the seemingly endless fight over a five-story condo building at the corner of Valencia and Hill streets in San Francisco’s Mission District. The area is in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which rezoned a third of San Francisco in 2008 to increase density near transit and to make housing more affordable. The lot was formerly home to a fast-food restaurant whose neighbors included several three-story apartment buildings and the historic Marsh theater.

    Shortly after the Neighborhoods Plan took effect, a developer proposed a 16-unit building with two affordable housing units on the site of the restaurant. Although it adhered to the new zoning plan, the 1050 Valencia project was to be the tallest building for many blocks, and Mission District residents moved to stop it. In addition to complaining about the project’s height, they insisted the modern building would damage the historic character of the neighborhood. This was despite the fact that the stucco and wood-shingled restaurant there at the time was neither historic nor aesthetically appealing. In addition, the Marsh theater owner was concerned that construction noise and a proposed first-floor bar would disrupt theater business. It took years for the condos to be approved. The developer agreed to mitigate the noise impact and reduce the number of units from 16 to 12.

    Not satisfied, the opponents turned to the Board of Permit Appeals, which sympathized with them and lopped off the top story of the building. That reduced the number of units from 12 to nine—and eliminated the two affordable units. “Welcome to housing policy in San Francisco,” wrote Wiener, who was then a member of the city’s board of supervisors. “A policy based not so much on our city’s dire housing needs but on who can turn out the most people at a public hearing.”

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    Wednesday
    Mar012017

    The Myth vs. the Truth About Regulating Payday Lenders

    When state laws drive so-called "debt traps" to shut down, the industry moves its business online. Do their low-income customers follow?
    BY  MARCH 2017

    In 2010, Montana voters overwhelmingly approved a 36 percent rate cap on payday loans. The industry -- the folks who run the storefronts where borrowers are charged high interest rates on small loans -- predicted a doomsday of shuttered stores and lost jobs. A little over a year later, the 100 or so payday stores in towns scattered across the state were indeed gone, as were the jobs. But the story doesn’t end there.

    The immediate fallout from the cap on payday loans had a disheartening twist. While brick-and-mortar payday lenders, most of whom had been charging interest upward of 300 percent on their loans, were rendered obsolete, online payday lenders, some of whom were charging rates in excess of 600 percent, saw a big uptick in business. Eventually, complaints began to flood the Attorney General’s office. Where there was one complaint against payday lenders the year before Montana put its cap in place in 2011, by 2013 there were 101. All of these new complaints were against online lenders and many of them could be attributed to borrowers who had taken out multiple loans.

    That is precisely what the payday loan industry had warned Montana officials about. The interest rates they charge are high, the lenders say, because small-dollar, short-term loans -- loans of $100 or $200 -- aren’t profitable otherwise. When these loans are capped or other limits are imposed, store-based lenders shut down and unscrupulous online lenders swoop in.

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    Monday
    Oct102016

    The China Factor in America's State and Local Economies

    As the world's second-largest economy falters, pensions and tax revenues here are feeling the pinch.

    BY  AUGUST 2016

    Earlier this summer, New York state’s pension fund announced a mediocre year. Investment earnings were essentially flat, and as a result the fund lost $5 billion because its other receipts -- contributions from government and from current employees -- didn’t cover retiree payouts.

    The New York pension system was the victim of a global event that began halfway across the world a year ago this month. In August 2015, the world’s second-largest economy officially began to stumble. China’s central bank stunned investors by devaluing the yuan, lending credence to what outsiders had long been suspecting: China’s years of astounding annual economic growth -- at times cresting at double digits -- was slowing down.

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