Indy Digest: Feb. 7, 2022
I am, more or less, stuck living where I live.
Thankfully, I like where my husband and I live. We’re in the process of signing our 10th one-year lease at our Palm Springs apartment complex. The place is centrally located, maintained fairly well, and comfortable.
In a normal world, we would probably be looking to buy a home. However, in this bonkers pandemic economy, we’re priced out: The average detached home price in Palm Springs is well more than $1 million, and valley wide, it’s more than $600,000.
We can’t really afford anything decent. And even if we could, the housing inventory is incredibly low. In other words, not much is for sale—and what is for sale is too darned expensive.
We could rent … but the rental market has gone even more insane. We have a three-bedroom apartment, and we’re paying $300 less than a renter moving into the same complex right now is paying for a one-bedroom apartment. Thank goodness for California’s rent-increase cap.
So … yeah, we’re staying put.
ProPublica today published a disturbing piece with the this summary: “Amid a national housing crisis, giant private equity firms have been buying up apartment buildings en masse to squeeze them for profit, with the help of government-backed Freddie Mac. Meanwhile, tenants say they’re the ones paying the price.“
Translation: Big business is making the housing crisis even worse. ProPublica explains why this is all so bad:
Private equity firms often act like a corporate version of a house flipper: They seek deals on apartment buildings, slash costs or hike rents to boost income, then unload the buildings at a higher price.
The influx of private equity comes during a national affordable housing crisis and has dire consequences, tenants and their advocates say. Such firms use economies of scale to more aggressively squeeze profits from their buildings than traditional landlords usually do, tenant advocates say. The firms’ tactics can include sharply increasing rent or fees and neglecting upkeep. Sometimes landlords force out existing tenants and replace them with those who can pay more.
The companies’ size allows them to influence market rates and lobby against reforms that could dilute their power. And their goals—quickly hiking a building’s profits so they can sell it at a premium—are often at odds with those of the tenants who need to live in them. In contrast, so-called mom-and-pop landlords usually look for steady streams of rental income over time while their buildings grow in value.
Another difference comes in profits. Private equity firms boast about outsize returns, and the most aggressive funds seek a profit of 20% or more on investors’ contribution, minus management fees. That compares to publicly traded real estate investment trusts, which, on average, pay an annual dividend yield of 4.33% and allow investors to hold the value of the trust’s stock.
One of the biggest companies referred to in the ProPublica piece, Greystar, does have a presence in the Coachella Valley: It owns Canterra in Palm Desert.
Based on this and other recent news stories, it looks like my husband and I may be staying put for quite some time. But I am counting my blessings: At least we have a place we like and can afford now. Many others aren’t so fortunate.
From the Independent
Civic Solutions: Some Public Agencies Have Learned Valuable Lessons About Equitable Communications During the Pandemic
By Melissa Daniels
February 7, 2022
During the pandemic, communicating to people about staying safe became essential—and some public agencies learned valuable lessons as a result.
Stunts Sublime: After a Nearly 12-Year Hiatus, the Jackass Guys Are Back—and as Insane as Ever
By Bob Grimm
February 7, 2022
Jackass Forever features some of the franchise’s best stunts—even though the stars are 50, or approaching 50.
Anonymous Expression: Desert Hot Springs’ Prichard Nixon Blends Genres and Art in the Pursuit of Creativity
By Matt King
February 7, 2022
DHS-based Prichard Nixon released his second album, Animals, on Feb. 1, and the eight-song, 10-minute-total journey sees Nixon hop from a cappella rap and operatic harmony to acoustic-guitar experimentation.
• California’s indoor mask mandate is coming to an end next week—if you’re vaccinated. The Los Angeles Times says: “The lifting of the indoor mask mandate statewide will apply to counties without local mask orders of their own, such as San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, as well as swaths of the San Joaquin Valley. … While this move doesn’t mean face coverings will be a thing of the past—they still will be required indoors for unvaccinated residents and for everyone in select settings, such as nursing homes or while aboard public transit—relaxing the roughly two-month-old order reflects the progress California has made in its battle against Omicron, even as officials say continued vigilance will be vital in keeping the state on the right track.”
• The news coming from Palm Springs wastewater testing for SARS-CoV-2 keeps getting better and better: The city today posted test results from samples taken Monday, Jan. 31 (one week ago today)—and the levels continue to markedly decline. On Jan. 31, there were 771,488 viral copies per liter—way down from a high just after the new year of nearly 6.7 million. (By the way: The city usually sends samples from every Monday and Tuesday for testing; the report noted that the Tuesday, Feb. 1, results were not yet in, and that an update would be issued when they are.)
• The end of the mask mandate and the good news locally doesn’t mean all is well regarding the pandemic in California. The Los Angeles Times yesterday published a piece with this online headline: “‘Exhausted’: In rural California, the unvaccinated and ill overwhelm hospital staff.” Key portion: “At Desert Valley Hospital (in Victorville), COVID-19 patients are still streaming into the hospital that is already well over capacity. Staffing shortages have contributed to fatigue as workers take on ever more patients. It’s no mystery why this hospital in the Victor Valley is so hard hit: Only about half the population in this rural desert area of San Bernardino County is fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve received at least two doses, according to county data. Many residents in the area also suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which increases their risk of developing severe COVID-19 and dying from it. The combination of unhealthy and unvaccinated is driving the surge.”
• Hey, did you hear that the U.S. has surpassed 900,000 COVID deaths? Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute compares how media coverage of this awful milestone compared to coverage of 100,000. He notes than on May 24, 2020, The New York Times dedicated the entire front page a list of names of some of the nearly 100,000 people who had died, calling it “an incalculable loss.” By comparison: “On Saturday, Feb. 5, (2022), the Times noted the moment that the American death toll topped 900,000. The headline read: ‘900,000 Dead, but Many Americans Move On.’”
• A professor of global health and social medicine at the Harvard Medical School writes in Time magazine that since the virus that causes COVID-19 is apparently here to stay, we all need to do a better job of making sure the indoor air we breathe is as clean as possible. A snippet: “High-efficiency air filters can be used in building ventilation systems to assure that fewer than 99.9% of respirable-size particles are recirculated back into rooms, essentially converting recirculated air into the equivalent of infection-free outdoor air. While some filter manufacturers boast of inactivating virus with UV, bipolar ions, cold plasma, or other technologies … there is no practical difference for risk in rooms.”
• The Associated Press yesterday published a horrifying investigation of abuse at a women’s prison in California. The lede: “Inside one of the only federal women’s prisons in the United States, inmates say they have been subjected to rampant sexual abuse by correctional officers and even the warden, and were often threatened or punished when they tried to speak up. Prisoners and workers at the federal correctional institution in Dublin, California, even have a name for it: ‘The rape club.’ An Associated Press investigation has found a permissive and toxic culture at the Bay Area lockup, enabling years of sexual misconduct by predatory employees and cover-ups that have largely kept the abuse out of the public eye.”
• Our partners at CalMatters bring us this disconcerting news about a new California program meant to help out college students: “A new California program to financially reward college students for volunteering has drawn national attention—but less than half of its budgeted money is going to actual student aid. The California Volunteers College Corps program, backed by $159 million in mostly state money, promises to award up to $10,000 to 6,668 low-income students who volunteer in K-12 education, on climate action or to reduce food insecurity. That only works out to $66.7 million for students, though. So where is the other $92 million going? Mostly it’s going to hiring and administrative costs despite no guarantee the program will continue past 2024. Some experts think that money split makes sense because students could benefit from training and there’s a chance the program would get additional funding in the future. Other experts think the money should go directly to students, so fewer of them will have to work on top of their other responsibilities.”
• And finally … If you’re a fan of comic books, keep your eyes open for some comics that were stolen last week from Comic Asylum, the reigning Best Comics/Games Shop in our Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll. Here are some details on what was stolen from the Palm Desert store.
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