Sunday, May 29, 2016

The American Affordable Housting Crisis: Solutions for Affordable Housing

Solutions for the US Affordable Housing Crisis

Image Urban Institute
This heat map of the availability of affordable housing comes from City Labs and the Urban Institute. It illustrates the affordable housing crisis in the USA. Sadly, there isn't one county in the country with enough housing for everybody. Of course, this coast-to-coast problem is much worse in some places than in others. Side-by-side maps on the City Labs page illustrates that the problem has only gotten worse since 2000.

In Travis County, TX, for example:

  • The area has about 7,000 units that offer affordable and safe housing for low-income families. 
  • The issue here is that there are almost 50,000 families that need this kind of housing, 
Of course, Austin and Travis County aren't even the worst examples of ares where housing costs too much for many families. Urban areas in California and around New York City tend to top that list. Also, the problems for the very poor are echoed further up the economic ladder when middle income families may have to find housing, but it may not be considered adequate for their needs. 

Increased Rental Rates Aggravates the Problem 

In the past, I discussed some reasons why more Americans were renting instead of buying their homes than every before. The increase in renters crosses all ages and income groups. Both boomers and millennials are turning to renting because of the costs of maintaining a home, trouble getting a mortgage, or an urge to downsize. While more apartments get built and single-family homes get converted to rental units, supply hasn't kept up with demand.

Various government agencies do subsidize housing for the poor, elderly, and disabled. The crisis would be much worse without housing assistance, according to studies by the Urban Institute. Indeed, the country has become a nation or renters, and the owners have become large investment institutions. However, if you looked at the lively discussion on the City Labs site, you would see that many people express some good reasons why subsidies aren't a total solution to the problem.

Alternative Affordable Housing Solutions 

You'll get no argument here about the fact that shelter is NOT a want; it is a need. However, renting an apartment for an individual or family is not the only solution and may not even be the best one for some folks. This is true for people who are truly economically disadvantages or simply don't care to spend a high percentage of their income on housing. That's really the point for most families; they need to come up with a realistic housing solution that works for them. For some people and families, the right choice for a home may be on the road less traveled.

The Frugal Pig touched on this topic with an interesting post called "Alternative Affordable Housing Ideas." Solutions included co-living, portable housing, non-traditional rentals, and more. The article also contains links to resources help with housing subsidies and public housing for those who want to research that route.

Long-Term, Reliable Housing Solutions 

In the long run, the only solution will be finding a way to get the supply to keep up with the demand. Landlords have their own issues to deal with because of increasing property tax, insurance, and maintenance costs, so affordable housing has to include reasonable compensation too.

If you have any thoughts on the problem or more solutions, be sure to let me and other readers know in the comments!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why Are More Americans Renting Homes?

Over the last 10 years, the rental market has boomed. It seems like the old American dream of home ownership has lost its glamour for people across many age groups and incomes. Of course, people with lower incomes have made up the largest part of growth, but even people with incomes over $100,000 are choosing to rent in greater numbers than they used to. 

Who Does the Rental Boom Help? 

The increase in rentals and decline in homeownership has been great news for property owners, of course. All across the country, rental costs are spiking every year. At the same time, the largest property markets have almost all enjoyed average occupancy rates over 95%, a rate that is usually considered full occupancy.

A few different factors are probably contributing to the increase in renting:

  • Baby boomers: As this generates ages, they are choosing to rent in order to downsize and enjoy more access to services.  Of course, boomers downsize homes to save money too.
  • Millennial generation: This generation is finding that wages aren't that high, and it is harder to qualify for a mortgage than it used to be. 
  • Attitudes: After the Great Recession, people may not feel as if real estate is the reliable investment that it used to be thought of. 
  • Mortgages: Another result of the housing bust was much tougher mortgage rules. 
Of course, this trend has increased rental rates so much in some areas that it has impacted affordability. Even though rates have been increasing each year, this issue might begin to cap increases within the next few years. Property investors really need to understand the market and buy or build rental properties that are likely to be priced so that a good population of local people can actually afford them. 

Many investors have been building high-end rentals to serve a high-income market. However, this is not as much of a sure thing as investing in more modest properties that people with lower incomes can afford.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Reality of Climate Change

The Reality of Climate Change: Charts of atmospheric CO2 from 1960 to 2010. 

This is a departure from our usual prepper posts, but if nothing else, the reality of climate change should encourage more people to get prepared for shortages and uncertainty.

Think about this - there is already a huge list of cities past nuisance flooding levels. It is likely that the next decades will be ones of unpredictable weather. That means an increased risk of power outages, flooding, and other hazards. While it's not quite time to build a raft, it is time to stock up.

If Climate Change is Really Happening, Why Are Some Places Really Cold?

You have to understand what scientists mean when they say that average temperatures are increasing. That means an average of temperatures all over the world. Just because one place has abnormally cold weather one winter, it does not mean that is not balanced out by places with unusually hot summers or warm winters.

Also, global warming is causing both poles to lose ice rapidly. As this ice breaks off, it travels into the ocean's global currents and changes the currents. That means that some areas will actually experience colder temperatures than might be expected because of the colder currents in the sea.

Anyway, the reality of climate change should be one more incentive to consider becoming a prepper. If you'd like more, check this out: 4 Good Reasons to Become a Prepper

Sunday, February 2, 2014

How To Get Bitcoins

What are Bitcoins?

How to Get Bitcoins
Technically referred to as Bitcoin (no "s"), this is a form of virtual currency that only exists on the Internet. However, you can actually use this form of online money to pay for things in the real world, and you can exchange it for dollars and many other types of global currencies.

Bitcoins have gotten a lot more attention lately because their value has spiked. In fact, virtual millionaires have appeared overnight. While the reputation of this victual currency got sullied a bit because they were associated with illicit sites like the Silk Road, they can also be used for everything from purchases on to some local computer repair places and other businesses.

How to Get Bitcoins?

There are a few different ways to get Bitcoins. Of course, before you get Bitcoins, you need to have a way to store them. You might read this concise article : How to Get Started With Bitcoins. It describes how to set up a Bitcoin wallet, join a mining pool, get paid with Bitcoins, and how to buy Bitcoins on an exchange.

Set Up Your Wallet

So, the first thing you need to do is set up a wallet. This can either be installed on your own device, or you can use an online wallet from a good third-party service. The choice is up to you, and you might read up on the pros and cons of both choices. For newbies, using a web service can be easier, but there are some advantages to using software you install and backup yourself.

Get Some Bitcoins For Your Wallet 

Now, you have an empty wallet with no Bitcoins. You can buy them on one of the popular exchanges. You may also choose to accept this type of virtual currency in exchange for goods and services. Finally, you can mine for these coins yourself. However, it is tough to mine by yourself, so you may want to join a mining pool to get started. This lets you cooperate with other minor, and you have a better chance of actually getting paid a share.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Cheap Ways To Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

Cheap Ways To Reduce Power Bills

Lots of people dream about alternative systems that can reduce reliance upon grid energy. These are great, but they require an large upfront investment. For example, it might take several years to get home solar energy to pay for itself.

You may eventually free yourself from the power company, but it can take several years to actually recoup your investment in the form of cheaper electric or gas bills and payments from the power company for excess energy produced. Consider some cheap DIY home projects to make your home more energy efficient!

Does your home really have enough insulation? 

You might be able to enjoy a very quick payoff in the form or lower utility bills and a more comfortable house if you simply add to your home. Most U.S. homes are insulated, but most do not have enough. Besides, there are lots of gaps in the walls, around fireplace mantels, in window frames, and even below doors that leak out the air you have spent a lot of money to cool or heat.

DIY Home Energy Efficiency Projects

The best news is that a lot of these energy efficient improvements can be made as a DIY project at home. If you tackle adding more insulation to your attic, for example, you might only need to spend a few hundred dollars, and this money might be recouped within a year or two. If you need to plug up some drafts in your home, you could fix a lot of problems with inexpensive weather stripping, sealant, or even duct tape, and you could get your money back in months.

How To Make Your Home More Energy Efficient 

You could start with any cold or hot spots you already notice in your home. Speak with the helpful salespeople in the store to get ideas for affordable ways to fix these problems. You can also find websites that will help you figure out if you have enough insulation in the attic of a house that's a few years old. Many very new homes have plenty of insulation, but houses that are a decade or more old may not. A simple inspection of your attic should tell you a lot

Your long range goal might be to free yourself from the grid, but you will want a well-insulated house anyway. In the meantime, lower your electric or gas bill today. That might give you the extra funds you need to make more improvements in the future, and that is a very frugal course of action.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Chia Seeds For Survival Snacks

If the thought of chia seeds makes you think of those silly little figures in clay pots called Chia Pets, you are not alone. They were advertised on late night TV with the Chia...Chia...Chia... theme. You can actually still find them for sale sometimes.

Yes, You Can Eat Chia Seeds And Sprouts 

But chia seeds are actually serious stuff. They were treasured by native American civilizations, like the Maya, Aztecs, and Incas, for several unique properties. They could stave off dehydration, provide a filling and healthy snack, and even be used medicinally. In fact, fierce warriors would carry chia seeds with them as they went on campaigns because they were good for endurance and sustenance. These seeds contain just about the perfect balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrates for both quick and sustained energy.

For many years, the production of chia seeds declined because the Spanish thought they were only treasured because of the Mayan's religious practices. This reduced the supply of this vital and versatile food. Eventually their use did spread north of the border in the American Southwest. Now they are back in vogue with athletes and healthy eaters though.

You can find them in both commercially prepared and home made chia seed hydration and energy drinks. They were popularized in a documentary about famous Mexican runners. That movie was called Born to Run, and you should catch it on Netflix some time.

These seeds can also be eaten raw, used in recipes, and they make a great setting agent for pudding and jams. In fact, the use of chia seeds for preppers emergency food is starting to catch on.It is hard to find a lot of other food that is that easy to store and packs as as much essential fatty acid, antioxidants, protein, vitamins, and minerals into a little case.

  • One advantage is that they can be eaten raw. 
  • They can also be mixed with liquid to form a drink or gel that is a great hydration drink. 
  • And again, they can be used to set or thicken other types of food.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Healthier and Possibly Cheaper Recipe Substitutions

Healthier Recipe Substitutions

I was preparing a little lens on cheap grocery shopping and decided to touch on recipe substitutions that might help some folks save a little money. This started me thinking about recipe switches that might do the following:

  1. Be healthier
  2. Save money
  3. Be on hand if the original was not - i.e. be handy
  4. Taste just as good
My main goal was to be healthier, but if the alternative was also healthier that would be good too.  I put taste as no. 4, but it should actually be fighting with number 1.

Substitute Tomato Soup for Oil in Cake

Anyway, this one actually goes back to rationing days during World War II. It calls for using tomato soup in cake instead of oil. It cuts out a lot of the fat, and is an inexpensive substitution. You can see an example recipe here:

Unsweetened Applesauce for Sugar, Oil, or Butter 

This is another surprise that really works.  1 cup of unsweetened applesauce is naturally sweet, and it only has about 70 calories - or about 1/10 as much as a cup of sugar. If you use it to replace sugar, try it in something like oatmeal cookies. You can use it as a replacement for oil in sweet breads and cakes.

Stevia for Sugar 

This is a natural sweetener that is very low in calories and also provides fiber. Stevia is sweeter than sugar so watch the amounts. Also, at first glance it may seem more expensive, but again - you should not have to use as much.

Turnip or Cauliflower Mash for Mashed Potatoes 

Honestly, after I cook and season turnips they seem pretty much like potatoes to me. If you have some really sensitive eaters at your family table, try half and half. You can also grate cauliflower to replace rice. You'll do better on the calorie count either way.

Turnips made my list of easy vegetables to grow yourself.