Friday, April 29, 2011

Environmental Justice

One of the biggest issues in sustainability is Environmental Justice which addresses the inequality of those in the lower income groups to have access to quality home, food, water, air and education. You are very much defined by where you are on the income scale and more and more people of late are sliding down not up the ladder.

Today I received a note from Sustainable Seattle saying today is day to note and end of Racism. Well after the last two weeks of the circus media train and the "birther" issue it could not have come at a better time.

Today is Stand Against Racism Day. We are sending you an article written by our board member, Nathan Jackson. We challenge you and ourselves to stand today and everyday against racism- and take actions towards social justice in our work and personal lives.

Environmentalism and Social Justice
by Nathan Jackson, Board Member, Sustainable Seattle

The environmental movement is at a crossroads. The message of protection and stewardship of the environment has penetrated most levels of society with recycling bins in every corner of the nation from the Emerald City to the great state of the Hoosiers. The message of human caused climate change with a few exceptions is generally believed and most people accept at least the concept of climate change. At this time in history environmentalists need to overcome the next and biggest change in their approach to protecting the planet, protecting the people.

Social justice, a sense of equal treatment throughout society, is the biggest challenge and opportunity for environmentalists and other caring people. Climate change, though scientifically proven, is still for most people an idea of future change and damage to the natural environment. However, the effects of climate change are being felt right now by the people that society has forgotten or tried to ignore, minorities, the poor and the working poor.

The disadvantages many people face is a product of what is called institutional racism. Institutional racism is the past unfairness of laws and rules that have made many minorities have a harder time building and maintaining wealth and opportunity. When people are stopped from buying homes, entering higher education or gaining access to good paying jobs because of federal, state or city wide laws they cannot in large numbers be a success. Individuals through extraordinary effort, luck and circumstances may become a success, but if you look at minorities as a group you get a better view of the extra challenges they have to defeat.

So what does this have to do with environmental groups? Environmentalists are missing an opportunity to focus the attention of climate change on the effects to humanity. The same people who face the additional challenges to a successful life are the same people who living everyday with the toxic effects of harmful business practices, pollution, illegal dumping, and industrial waste. Those who live with the effects are the ones with the most to lose and the most to immediately gain. The chance to combat two major problems, inequality and climate change is a chance that environmental groups need to seize in order to make the lasting change necessary to protect the environment and humanity.

Environmentalists should be walking the neighborhoods that are polluted not only to observe but to reach out to the people who have little or no choice in living there. They should be seeking out the neighborhood councils and breathing the air that many people have to breathe every day. They would see that the movement to fight for the planet needs to start with stopping the more local pollution and damage that hurts people right now.

In Seattle, one can predict with surprising accuracy how long someone will live, what they will do for a living and how they will die based on their zip code. In historic Central District across the board those living there have shorter life spans, and more breathing related problems due to air pollution and industrial waste. The rate of asthma amongst children is much higher and adults who live in areas stricken with poverty are twice as likely to have breathing problems.

When it comes to other environmental problems associated with human causes one can do no better than looking at the poisoning and pollution of the Duwamish River that has been going on for a hundred years. Industrial waste and dumpage that includes PCB's, arsenic, and dioxins have made the river one of the most polluted sites in the United States. The fact that the Environmental Protection Agency made it a Superfund recipient proves that the damage has been intensive as only the most damaged areas received federal funding. Fortunately some environmental groups have shown some forward thinking and have partnered with local populations and minority groups affected by the pollution to work towards solutions.

The Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition is an organization made up of environmentalists, local Native American tribes, business leaders, and local populations to finally bring about a sustainable change to the river that will allow it be clean for human use, safe for salmon and other animals and be an example of rethinking industrial choices to include environmental and human considerations. The group is reaching out for public comment, meeting groups where they are and listening to ideas from the people most affected by the problem.

Environmental Justice is the term that focuses on the immediate damage that people face if they are in areas where laws and tradition place factories, garbage dumps, toxic waste disposal sites and electrical lines. The idea behind Environmental Justice is that new laws and rules should "even out" environmental damage by making companies and organizations move their factories and dump sites in a regulated way. The idea is that if everyone gets the "benefits" of these services then everyone should "pay the price." The problem with Environmental Justice is that it does not get to the root problem of inequality. Without those hard fought regulations that sometimes take years of court battles to enforce, the factories and dump sites will move right back into the "poorer" neighborhoods where they will stay until another dynamic leader fights again.

The environmental movement has an opportunity to broaden their message and gain valuable allies in their fight to protect the environment from human caused problems and restore the natural habitat. The groups need to reach out a group of people that they have historically ignored and fight by their side to lessen the damage that they are suffering from industrial choices made by the rich and enforced by institutions and instead give real actions to real problems from which they suffer. Health concerns, fewer choices in jobs and careers, lack of quality education, crime and equality are all causes that social justice is concerned about and the environmental movement should broaden its concerns to include the more human side to climate change.
Until the story changes from "Save Mother Earth" to "Save your fellow man" the environmentalists will be fighting a wave against strong and wealthy opponents and many people who simply do not care. By redefining environmentalism in human terms, people will see that they have real here and now reasons to get involved with the environmental movement. People will connect their son and daughter suffering from asthma to our bad business practices. People will see that their cousin's diabetes and heart disease stems from a lack of walkable, breathable neighborhoods and a steady diet of cheap, yet unhealthy fast food. People will see the benefit of clean rivers and streams when the water that comes out of their tap is not poisoned.
Make the fight to save the planet practical and connected to lives here and now and we will have a nearly endless stream of supporters and activists who can make real, life affirming differences in their neighborhood and beyond. We will have a group of dedicated, passionate people who can when their own backyard is stable and safe can broaden their boundaries and their views to include a wider spectrum of challenges.

LEED Does Good

As who feels that perhaps this is excessive in meeting the needs of Affordable Housing but that its a municipal project and therefore "required" to attain certifcation, I am grateful that this project is in fact a public one an affordable one and they are homes that are leased/rented to tenants who would otherwise have to opt out of being in a green home.

USGBC Certifies 10,000th Home to LEED Standard
Tacoma Housing Authority’s Salishan 7 affordable housing development, certified to LEED-Platinum, achieves green standard milestone.

By: Katy Tomasulo
Eco Home

The 91-unit Salishan 7 affordable housing community in Tacoma, Wash., earned the distinction as the 10,000th residential project to be certified to the United States Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes green building standard.

“Reaching this milestone signifies the continued transformation of the home building industry toward high-performing, healthy homes that save homeowners money,” Nate Kredich, vice president of residential market development for USGBC, said in an announcement.

To date, the organization has rated 10,161 homes, and an additional 38,000 are in the pipeline.

Developed and owned by the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) and built by Walsh Construction Co., Salishan 7 is the first Hope VI project in the country to achieve LEED-Platinum. The 22-acre walkable, transit-oriented development is the last rental phase of the 1,300-unit Salishan community, located about five miles east of downtown Tacoma.

Though Salishan 7 is THA’s first LEED-certified community, the organization already builds to meet Washington State’s Evergreen Sustainable Development Standard as well as continually striving for the practical benefits of durability and efficiency.

“We’re in it for the long-term; we realize savings over time,” says Salishan project manager Roberta Schur. “We operate these units for 40, 50, 60 years, so we will see that payback.”

Each of the houses, which also achieved 4-Star Built Green Community Certification from the Master Builders of Pierce County, is built to perform 30% more efficiently than an average home and tests at 2.5 air changes per hour at 50PA, or better, in blower door tests. Among the homes’ energy-efficiency features are triple-pane windows with a U-factor of 0.26; R-23 blown-in insulation and R-49 ceilings; Energy Star-rated appliances and lighting; and ductless mini-split heat pumps. Smart metering and Internet-based energy monitoring will allow residents to track and manage consumption and adapt practices appropriately.

Other details include low-flow fixtures; drought-tolerant turf; low- and no-VOC paints; and bio-swales for stormwater management. In addition, contractors diverted 98% of construction waste.

“It’s exciting to be part of something larger,” Schur says of the group’s reaction to having the milestone LEED project. “We’ve achieved our own local milestones … but it’s nice to be part of something outside of ourselves.”

The Not-So-Deconstructed House

Having lived in the Bay Area over the last 10 years it is where I became acquainted with and a strong advocate of the deconstructed and reclaimed house. I knew of one individual using only salvaged and donated items to build her home in what has to be one of the most expensive areas in which to live.

When I returned to Seattle I found a very strong Salvage community and emphasis on deconstruction vs demolition a growing trend but I have not seen many homes embrace this concept. I have found one home reconfigured by the Re-Store but that is now over two years ago with little since.

I found this on the Builder website and from the design to the construction the collars definitely match the cuffs on this great not-so-recycled house.

Green From Green

A San Francisco builder finds success with salvaged and recycled-content materials in this infill spec home.
By: Nigel F. Maynard

Run of the Re-mill This Noe Valley, San Francisco home incorporates a strong salvage, reuse, and recycling strategy.

There are many ways to build an eco-friendly house, but business partners Mike Kerwin and Mason Austin at San Francisco–based Kerwin Rockwell Green Construction pursue a strategy so simple that it makes you wonder why more builders don’t use it. “We approach every project with the objective to reclaim, recycle, or repurpose building materials,” the company’s website says.

Kerwin used that approach a few years ago to great success on an infill spec house in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. Working under the name Lorax Development, Kerwin built what is often called the greenest house in San Francisco. Designed by John Maniscalco Architecture, the house is a warm contemporary confection with a long list of green features, but Kerwin says the reuse and recycling principles were instrumental in the success of the project.

The exterior siding is made from concrete and fly ash that normally end up in a landfill, the floors are century-old reclaimed railroad ties from Southeast Asia, the countertops are made from recycled paper, the insulation is made from recycled blue denim, and the house features the city’s very first residential rainwater collection system that is used to flush toilets, clean laundry, and wash the car.

Rainwater Collection

Credit: Courtesy Kerwin Rockwell Green Construction
Kerwin turned to Wonderwater to design, create, and install a system that collects rainwater and stores it in tanks under the deck. A solar-powered filter cleans the non-potable water and a pump sends it back into the home to flush toilets, wash clothes, and provide water for washing cars and other landscaping needs. Wonderwater. 530-925-2586.

Salvaged Flooring

Instead of using wood from virgin trees, the builder sourced salvaged wood from railroad ties in Southeast Asia. “This 100-year-old wood was destined for the burn piles,” Kerwin says. “[I]nstead, it has yielded some beautiful reclaimed wood floors.” The lumber company provides prefinished and raw lumber, including standard domestic species as well as products from all over the world. The builder mixed its own putty to fill some of the irregularities and holes in the wood. Terra Mai. 800-220-9062.

Credit: Courtesy Bonded Logic
Recycled Denim Insulation

The builders passed on fiberglass insulation and chose UltraTouch denim instead. Made from natural fibers that contain up to 90 percent post-consumer content, the product provides for effective sound absorption and high thermal performance. It does not itch so it’s very user-friendly and easy to install. The manufacturer says the product contains no volatile organic compounds. Bonded Logic. 480-812-9114.

The Sun Shot Initiative

Good News on the Green front. The DOE announces nearly $170 million in available funding to advance solar energy technologies

Called The SunShot Initiative it aims to reduce the total cost of solar energy systems by about 75%—to roughly $1 per watt—before the end of the decade. The research and development funding that will be created will support four areas of investment:

Improving efficiency and performance of solar cells
New installation—or balance of systems—technologies
Advancing solar energy grid integration
Researching for new materials and processes for solar PV technologies

Together, these investments will help reduce the cost for utility-scale solar energy installations, increase American economic competitiveness, and help the U.S. lead the world in the global market for solar photovoltaic.

"These investments will drive innovation in the solar energy field—laying the groundwork to meet our SunShot goal of dramatically reducing the cost of solar energy nationwide and helping America to win the race to produce the most cost-effective, high-quality photovoltaic in the world," said Secretary Chu. "A robust American solar industry will boost our technological leadership and competitiveness, improve the nation's energy security, create skilled manufacturing jobs, and help reach the President's goal of doubling our clean energy in the next 25 years."

These funding grants are based on the Department's strong portfolio with regards to R&D in solar energy. The goal is to improve the performance of current and next generation PV cells, develop advanced power electronics that optimize the performance of PV installations, and reduce the costs of PV balance-of-system hardware.

For information and application requirements regarding the varying funding opportunities go to the Funding Opportunity Exchange Website.

In the last decade, DOE has invested more than $1 billion in solar energy research that has been leveraged with significant private industry funding to support more than $2 billion in total solar R&D projects.

To achieve the SunShot goal of reducing the total installed cost of large-scale solar electricity by about 75%, DOE will be working closely with partners in government, industry, research laboratories and academic institutions across the country. For more information and to follow the progress of the Initiative, visit the SunShot Initiative website

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Green Bucks

Many U.S. homeowners are now eligible for up to $25,000 in federally-insured loans to make energy-efficient upgrades such as adding insulation, sealing ducts or replacing windows, as announced by the Obama administration last week.

Consumers with good credit scores, manageable debt and some equity in their homes can get "PowerSaver" loans at or below market rates to finance efficiency measures that also include new HVAC systems, water heaters, solar panels and geothermal heating/cooling.

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, shown testifying at a Senate hearing in Washington on March 15, announced federally-insured loans last week to help homeowners finance energy efficient upgrades.

"We're making it easier for American homeowners to save money by saving energy," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, noting they spend an average of $2,000 each year on utility bills.

Eighteen regional and national lenders, including Quicken, have signed on to the two-year pilot program, said Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, who joined Chu in making the announcement. Donovan said he expects the loans will serve about 30,000 homeowners and will not only save them money on energy bills but also reduce pollution and create at least 3,000 construction jobs.

The loans are part of the Obama administration's broader efforts to improve home energy efficiency. In November, Vice President Joe Biden announced a pilot program in which nine communities will test a new Home Energy Score, which ranks a home's efficiency on a scale of one to 10.

Similar to the miles-per-gallon label for cars, the score will also tell consumers how their homes compare with others and how much money they could save with efficiency upgrades based on an energy audit.

The Federal Housing Administration will cover up to 90% of the loans' amount in the case of default, leaving the remaining risk to the lenders. Participating lenders are largely selected based on their commitment to work in partnership with established home energy retrofit programs provided by states, cities, utilities and home performance contractors. These markets include, but are not limited to areas of the country participating in the Energy Department’s Better Building Program.


I often find myself seeking Modern Architecture to go beyond the glass box of walls and steel only to find myself seeking it elsewhere.

And then again something changes my mind. Neil Denairi's HL23 condo project is one of the most interesting pieces I have seen that reminds that modern doesn't mean dull it can be expanding - as in the mind, as in engineering and as in community.

I think the New York Times does an excellent job surmising the projects challenges and the results that transcend a city whose love of Meier often overshadows its reality. Glass and density are sometimes mutually exclusive.

But Denari is clearly using that love of glass but taking it to a level that is less a wall of one and more a maze of such.

Integrated into the community, a tribute to the future with a nod to the past - HL23 is mod-architecture at its best.

Nostalgia Wrapped In Steel

Architecture is a notoriously slow profession. Mastering all the elements that go into designing a building — scale and context, material and form, the structure needed to hold the building up — takes a lifetime. And clients investing millions of dollars in a project tend to feel safer around someone with a little gray around the temples.

But even given all that, the pace of Neil Denari’s career seems excruciatingly slow. This architect, born in Texas, who founded his firm in 1988, has been a prominent figure in architectural circles since the late 1990s, when he was director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, an offbeat school that was a center of experimentation. Since then, although he has remained a prominent academic — he is now a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles — he has done only a handful of small additions and renovations. He has never produced a free-standing building.

So the completion of HL23, a 14-story condominium tower at 10th Avenue and 23rd Street in west Chelsea, is a milestone in the career of one of the country’s most underachieving talents. Encased in a contoured glass-and-steel exterior, the building is as sleek and muscular as an Italian sports car. And it establishes Mr. Denari, at 53, as an architect with something to say about the road American culture has followed from the postwar era to today.

The conditions for the project were not ideal. The building stands on a relatively small (12,000-square-foot) lot, almost two-thirds of which is tucked beneath the elevated greenway of the adjacent High Line, making it impossible to build on. The rest is wedged between a residential tower on one side and the High Line’s bulky steel frame on the other.

To pack the maximum square footage into such an awkward space, Mr. Denari designed a building that swells as it rises. Seen from 23rd Street, the building’s bulging glass south facade has an aerodynamic look. Seen from the High Line, the folded steel surface of its eastern side — whose panels were manufactured in Argentina on presses used to make body parts for Mercedes trucks — conjures a hood scoop on a car.

The building’s odd form creates a wonderfully varied sequence of interior spaces. The lower apartments overlook the High Line’s gardens through floor-to-ceiling windows that resemble enormous windshields. From a south-facing fourth-floor living room, you look straight down the length of the High Line’s concrete walkways and gardens, which veer off to the left before disappearing behind a building several blocks away. (The effect is especially mesmerizing at night, when the High Line is closed to the public and evokes an abandoned road, overgrown with wild flowers; during the day, when it is mobbed with people, the experience is more voyeuristic.)

The mood changes higher up, where the building expands to accommodate bigger floor plates. Tilted glass walls in a sixth-floor living room allow residents to look straight down into the High Line’s luxurious gardens. A seam in the building’s east facade creates a long vertical window with views north up the elevated park, which from this height looks like a highway.

The machine aesthetic is everywhere. Steel cross braces cut across the windows. Many of the glass walls are mechanized, sliding open a few inches at the touch of a button.

The allusions to a mobile culture suggest a version of the American dream straight out of the Eisenhower era. And even the building’s voyeuristic aspects can be read as a form of nostalgia: a Manhattan version of teenage lovers steaming up car windows parked on a cliff side overlooking the bright lights of the city below.

But like other architects of his generation, especially those who formed many of their ideas working in Los Angeles’s sprawling suburban maze, Mr. Denari is less interested in perpetuating the myth of the open road than in mining it for new ideas. His work has more to do with exploring adolescent fantasies than with celebrating personal freedom. It suggests a longing for a world — free, open, upwardly mobile — that began to break down more than 30 years ago.

In Chelsea Mr. Denari has created a building that, intentionally or not, is as much about the desire to recapture that vision of America as about the pretty views. Inevitably, it makes you wonder where that dream went wrong.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The House is Falling

For those in the Trades from builders to contractors things are not looking better on the home front. The irony is why this industry has taken a huge hit the CEO's of major home builder firms salaries have not declined. Like most of American businesses the discrepancies between the Executive pay scale and the rank file worker is running at over 300% and much of it based on red line profits not actual ones. This is again not sustainable if these business are to remain in existence. You cannot have huge pay packages when profits are generated by simply cutting not actually selling products, goods or services. Eventually you will cut yourself out of of existence.

The Febuary numbers are out and they were not good. House prices continue to slide, with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) monthly purchase-only house price index (HPI) down 1.6% (SA) in February—the fourth consecutive decline and the eighth decline in the past 9 months. Overall, the FHFA index is down 5.7% for the year, and 18.6% below the peak of April 2007.

The HPI was down in all of the nine Census divisions, with the Mountain (-3.7%), East North Central (-2.6%) and New England (-2.0%) divisions experiencing the largest declines. In the past 12 months the sharpest declines were observed in the Mountain (-11.8%), Pacific (-8.7%), South Atlantic (-5.8%) and East North Central (-5.1%) divisions. Not surprisingly, these divisions include states most affected by the housing market downturn (Arizona and Nevada [Mountain], California [Pacific] and Florida [South Atlantic]) and experiencing the weakest economic conditions (Michigan, Illinois and Ohio [North East Central]).

The Middle Atlantic (-6.1%) division (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) also experienced a significant decline over the past 12 months, however it was less affected by the housing market downturn and its overall decline since the peak has been more gradual. House prices in the other divisions had less of a run up in the mid-2000s and less of a decline since the beginning of the recession. These states have experienced a more moderate house price declines over the past 12 months (West South Central [3.7%], West North Central [3.3%], New England [3.3%] and East South Central [2.9%]).

The February house prices decline was not unexpected given the very weak housing demand in February, with existing homes sales down 8.9% and new home sales falling to a record low of just 250,000 units. The steadily increasing share of distressed house sales, driven by the high volume of underwater mortgages, is also a significant factor in the house price declines, particularly in the markets most affected by the housing market downturn (Arizona, Nevada, Florida and California). With a high volume of underwater mortgages and distressed property sales in these most affected markets, further declines in house prices are likely. Markets less affected have a smaller share of underwater mortgages and distressed home sales, and house prices in these markets are likely to stabilize soon.

And this was in today's New York Times.....

Builders of New Homes Seeing No Sign of Recovery

Published: April 22, 2011

RICHMOND, Ill. — In this distant Chicago suburb, a builder has finally found a way to persuade people to buy a new house: he throws in a car.

The promotion has helped sales at the development in Richmond, Ill., but business is still relatively slow.

Kim Meier’s spring promotion, which includes a $17,000 credit at a nearby General Motors dealer, has produced seven sales since the beginning of March, a veritable windfall of business for a builder who sold only 20 houses last year. “We needed to do something dramatic,” said Mr. Meier. “The market’s been soft.”

That is one way of putting it. The recession hurt a lot of industries, but it knocked the residential construction market to the mat and has kept it there, even as the broader economy has started to fitfully recover.

Sales of new single-family homes in February were down more than 80 percent from the 2005 peak, far exceeding the 28 percent drop in existing home sales. New single-family sales are now lower than at any point since the data was first collected in 1963, when the nation had 120 million fewer residents.

Builders and analysts say a long-term shift in behavior seems to be under way. Instead of wanting the biggest and the newest, even if it requires a long commute, buyers now demand something smaller, cheaper and, thanks to $4-a-gallon gas, as close to their jobs as possible. That often means buying a home out of foreclosure from a bank.

Four out of 10 sales of existing homes are foreclosures or otherwise distressed properties. Builders like Mr. Meier who specialize in putting up entire neighborhoods on a city’s outskirts — Richmond is some 50 miles northwest of downtown Chicago — cannot compete despite chopping prices.

Chicago was not an epicenter of the housing boom with the sort of overbuilding found in Arizona or Florida, but new-home sales in the metro area are down 90 percent. There are about 65 sales a week for a region of 10 million people.

Several factors have combined to make the Chicago market so weak. There were more subprime loans here, which meant more defaults, which in turn left more distressed homes for buyers to choose from.

Most of the construction here was done by private builders. Unlike the national firms, they did not have the resources to survive a prolonged downturn. “Some of the private builders just evaporated, and some said the hell with it,” said Tracy Cross, a consultant who tracks the local market. Only a few remain, including Mr. Meier’s KLM Builders.

Construction of new single-family homes usually surges after a recession because of lower rates and pent-up demand. But the Census Bureau said this week that while multi-unit construction had picked up strongly in the last year, single-family home construction fell 21 percent to an annual rate of 422,000. One consequence of the anemic pace: more than 1.4 million residential construction jobs have been lost in the last five years.

Robert Barycki is one of a handful of buyers keeping the market from drying up completely. He’s 30, a partner in a hardware store, and currently living with his parents. He was drawn by the new-car offer to the biggest of KLM’s four active developments, called Sunset Ridge Estates.

“My money was in the bank, collecting very little interest, so I thought I might as well take a little gamble,” said Mr. Barycki, who is paying $182,000 for a three-bedroom. “Eventually, home-owning will come back.”

Eventually, no doubt. But in the meantime, sentiment might still be souring. Executives at Equity LifeStyle Properties, a Chicago firm that sells properties in resort communities, said this week they were seeing “a psychological change”: potential customers wanted to preserve their capital rather than risk it in real estate.

Bill McBride, who runs the popular financial blog Calculated Risk, said this might be the moment when people decisively started to turn on home ownership. “I’m starting to feel the hate,” he wrote.

In such an atmosphere, every new home built and sold represents a victory. One of the few segments of the market that has shown signs of life is urban townhomes. Lennar, a national builder, has one of these developments under way in the upscale community of Arlington Heights, about 20 miles from downtown Chicago.

Then Pulte, another national builder, started construction on its own townhouse community a few miles away, even as it was recording a 2010 third-quarter loss of a billion dollars. In the meantime, Lennar cut its prices by another 10 percent, but sales in the fourth quarter barely budged.

Lennar says its sales have picked up and it is drawing customers from people who looked at Pulte’s project and passed. Pulte says the same thing about Lennar.

“It’s brutal out there,” said Mr. Cross, the consultant. “You have to put on your boxing gloves.”

Some victories may be brief. Builders say buyers have been acting ahead of a small rise in mortgage insurance premiums from the Federal Housing Administration, which backs many purchases. That mini-rush to lock in a deal might lift March sales figures for new homes, which are due out Monday, analysts say.

Mr. Meier, who has been building in this stretch near the Wisconsin border for 25 years, hopes the car promotion will put a floor under his market. In flush times, he would sell about 100 houses a year to a diverse group of buyers, from empty nesters to commuters.

Richmond bills itself as a “Village of Yesteryear,” which has come true in another way as house prices roll back to the mid-1990s. But some KLM buyers look for more, choosing to skip the car and put the $17,000 into the house instead.

That is what Wayne and Doris Powrozek, who are paying $193,000 for a three-bedroom, did. “If it’s free, it’s for me,” said Mr. Powrozek, who recently retired from AT&T.

The Powrozeks bought because they were worried prices were going up. Mr. Meier says he thinks they must — the cost of raw materials is rising. But with the price of existing homes continuing to fall, and the prospect of more foreclosures, he could again price himself out of the market.

Like nearly all those in real estate, Mr. Meier is determinedly optimistic. “Everybody wants in at the top, no one wants in at the bottom,” he said. “People are paralyzed by their fear.”

Last year, KLM told buyers it would match the government’s $8,000 tax credit. The car promotion more than doubles that. If the market still does not turn around, what could be their next promotion?

“Buy one, get one free,” his wife, Sally, suggested. They had a good laugh over that.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Earth Day

10 Affordable and Easy Things to Do to Honor Earth Day

1. Bring Your Own Bag: Get an inexpensive canvas bag today and use it. Hang it by your main entry way to remind yourself to use it whenever you run an errand or shop. Many stores are offering discounts and credits towards your purchase when you BYOB.

2. Get a Reusable Cup: Purchase a ceramic, stainless steel, recyclable plastic cup and use that when you refill or refuel. Many coffee shops offer a discount on those who bring their own mug.

3. Pick up Litter: Simple act of kindness and a simple act of disposing the items that can block sewers, dirty water and make our streets just less pleasant.

4. Go paperless: Switch all billing to online billing. Find out if you can subscribe to magazines, newspapers online and save the paper. Try out a Kindle for ways of reading without paper.

5. Plant a few plants: Indoor or out a great way to stimulating the environment and cleaning the air is through plants.

5. Go for a walk: Be it for pleasure or purpose. Park the car and walk.

7. Get a smart power strip: Consolidate all the electronics onto one strip and shut it down when not in use.

8. Find a local group and join it: Much of our social life seems to be managed online. Try living offline and build a community of those who share your interests

9. Turn of the gadgets: Live without your cell phone or Ipad or Laptop today. Try to see how well you can go gadget free.

10. Laugh and smile: The positive effects of laughter and smiling may not be environmental but they can be beneficial.

Find Your Dirty Job

Mike Rowe Is No Expert, But He Knows Where to Find Them

After being an apprentice on nearly 300 dirty jobs, Mike Rowe is still no expert, but he sure knows where to find them. In 2008, Mike launched mikeroweWORKS, a website dedicated to championing the cause of hard workers and reinvigorating the skilled trades. Since then, mrW has provided resources, news, and a community forum for folks from all kinds of trades. Now, with the launch of the Trades Hub, the goals of mrW can be expanded even further and across many more website portals.

Think of Trade Hubs as a “first cousin” to mrW. With this new platform, we’ll be able to pull together even more experts from such diverse trade fields as construction, plumbing, landscaping, manufacturing, machinery and HVAC just to name a few.

Here’s what you can look for at the Trades Hub:

More High Quality Content: The mrW Trades Hub will be pulling together all kinds of blogs, articles and news stories relating to the trades, by the trades and for the trades. They will be updated throughout the day.

One Stop Shop: With an easy to navigate site, users will be able to quickly source out those areas of interest that appeal to them on any given day. The links will take them right to where they want to go without sorting through all kinds of search engine pages for the right site.

Finding the Diamond in the Rough: When you consider the millions of new pages and posts uploaded across the internet everyday it’s hard to find the best representations for your interests. Trade Hubs takes internet searching to the next level by identifying those popular blog and websites that might normally go unnoticed if you’re not a regular subscriber.

Building Up the Trades Community: "The skills gap is a real concern that's getting more worrisome every day. Fewer skilled tradesmen in the workforce will affect us all. Younger folks need to have a better understanding of how they can benefit from learning a trade, and parents need to encourage their kids to consider this worthwhile and important path. mrW strives to reinvigorate the trades. The mrW Trades Hub will help us in that effort."

mikeroweWORKS would like to thank Tony Karrer with assistance from John Sonnhalter for their efforts in getting the Trades Hub up and running.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Eco Friendly Office

Since returning to school to study Energy Management its been a prime discussion on how businesses small and large can do more to create a green working environment. The easiest and most affordable is to appoint someone on staff to be a "Green Ambassador" A position much like the facilities manager who will look into ways to make the office a little greener. From energy saving to composting and recycling there are small ways small offices can take part in making the world a green place.

Here are some suggestions:

* Do what you can online- Rather than subscribing to an industry magazine that gets delivered every month, organize your subscriptions to be online and make sure that all subscriptions organized by employees are also delivered to their inbox rather than your businesses mail box.

* Switch everything off at the end of the day- Many people simply put their computer into sleep mode, but this doesn't mean that it's off. By turning off everything completely, switching it off at the power points you are making sure that you are minimizing the total amount of power used.

* Re-use where possible- Encourage staff and lead by example by reusing the opposite side of old printing paper.

* Buy green products- This means everything from recycled toilet paper to recycled envelopes. Make sure all of your cleaning products are also not harmful to the environment and that wherever possible, you use environmentally friendly products. Encourage staff to do the same when purchasing items for the office.

* Go Big - It's a great idea if you really want to position your company as environmentally friendly to get your staff to participate in a tree planting day or fund raise for a charity.

* Add plants to the office. The clean and filter the air as well as beautify the environment.

* Add recycling bins in easily accessible areas particularly the lunch room. Include a compost bin. Encourage bringing your own cups and utensils to discourage waste or use ones that can be composted. There may be a gardener on staff who would like it and use it.

* Create a Transportation plan. From car pools to bike racks to subsidized public transports. If you are located somewhere where people are driving to and from work each day it's a good idea to find alternative modes of transportation and encourage its use.

* Giving employees a chance to work from home- If their job permits working remotely, it is a good idea to give staff the chance once a week or fortnight to work from home. This will not only save on fuel emissions, but also boost staff morale, giving them added flexibility.

* Give employees the chance to contribute- Going green should involve every staff member. Give employees the chance to submit ideas on how to make the office more Eco-friendly and give out prizes for the most Eco-friendly ideas.

* Choose the right materials for your promotional items- Make sure that all of your promotional items are made from environmentally friendly materials. For example, if you currently have your logo printed on paper bags, make sure they are made from recycled paper.

Making your business more Eco-friendly is easy. By following a few steps you'll not only be making your contribution to saving our environment but you'll also be helping to empower your employees and reduce costs all at the same time.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Green Baby Green

As we move forward into the next decade the growth of Environmental protection and Green Energy the goal posts move further down the field making it harder to reach with each play.

The current budget for 2012 cuts many Environmental protections, with $1.6 billion in cuts from the E.P.A. and $49 million from programs related to climate change. Meanwhile at the regional levels is much less clear.

The current GOP crop of Legislators are working to overturn or ignore Federal regulations and are making sweeping changes, many of them similar across the affected states: cut budgets and personnel at regulatory agencies, prevent the issuing of new regulations, roll back land conservation and, if possible, eliminate planning boards that monitor, restrict or permit building development.

The irony is that this is to encourage business development and create jobs. Meanwhile I urge many of you to take a tour of your local city from urban retail spaces that sit vacant to light industrial areas abandoned. When you have massive urban cities such as Detroit and Cleveland decaying I question the need to develop forest, wetlands and other natural areas for business?

A company called New Wood here took an already shuttered existing lumber mill in Elma, Washington and retrofitted the plant to create their new sustainable alternative to wood. Hiring over a 100 displaced former mill workers to assist in their manufacturer they found that they had the existing infrastructure and skills needed to adapt to their new green product. The belief that our current labor force is not trainable, flexible is another myth that continues to permeate this philosophy to keep older workers unemployed. And the idea that there are no available existing physical structures in place to build is another.

Only last week I read about the complaints of a large retail structure in the called Xanadu built in the boom time but is such an eyesore it cannot be restructured or improved, and yet sits on the edge of a fantastic native wetlands. The Governor Chris Christie hates the building but of course the concept of restoring native greenspace over the wisdom or belief "build it they will come" lets it remain against what seems to be everyone best judgement. And this is in times when many larger malls sit with massive vacant spaces due to bankruptcies of larger retailers and businesses. So again is there really a need?

What appears to be the division of those in one party vs another only needs to realize this is less about politics and more about business. For years the Wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts sat in debate not because of true environmental concerns but more of its most vocal opponent, Ted Kennedy, who disliked the disturbance of his view. Upon his death the farm went up without obstruction.

Debates over Natural Gas continue as we debate the long term problems of Fracking while in the long term it is the one fossil fuel of which we have plenty. So while we debate this we try to find ways to re-brand or market it as "Clean Coal" knowing that is an oxymoron if not impossible.

We debate the debt as a threat to our future but yet we overlook the long term affects of what our Economy is doing to our Environment and in turn the existence of the planet as if that is something self correcting and beyond our control. Science is not something on demand that you can simply accept or reject when it fits your political outlook, your religion or your interests. Science is not infallible but it is there for reason to find ways to improve the quality of life for all.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Forecasting the Weather is Easier

This morning I was reading Fortune regarding the current state of the Housing Market. From the top ten cities to buy to the long term affects of the foreclosure market there were some interesting points made for those looking to either buying or investing in real estate.

The most interesting are of course Census trends forecasting where current population demands indicate the need for housing; however as I have researched that does not necessarily reflect the significant productivity commensurate to both prices and demand. Many of the cities that have experienced large growth have jobs and industries largely linked to lower wage jobs such as service or hospitality. Coupling low wages with high foreclosure cites (such as Las Vegas) this does not bode well for those currently in the Building/Construction trades. You cannot buy what you cannot afford.

And the cities Fortune forecast as hot housing markets are also significantly in depressed cites with high foreclosure rates. So what may be a bargain for investors to rent (which that demand is seen as high) is not necessarily so for individuals who are looking to relocate for work.

The Mortgage crisis was largely a fraudlent predatory lending spree that misled consumers into believing that prices would escalate beyond reach, rates would not be this low for long (although the irony was that most loans were not standard 30 year term loans) a fact many borrowers did not understand or written with 5 year balloons that subsequently raised the rates to payment levels that could not be sustained on the income of the borrower - but the idea was well then sell your house as it will be worth so much more. The Gambling mentality that allowed people to avoid making appropriate down payments and adequately budgeting, understanding the "bottom line" when it came to Mortgages lent to the air an already hyped up environment that was furthering the bubble market. Today with lending rates still low there are few borrowers however to qualify. What was once a principle in lending - income verification and income-to-debt-ratio that were eliminated/overlooked during the go go housing bubble have returned screening out further prospects from the pool.

I believe the Fortune article below does a great job in explaining how you should really understand your finances and what is needed prior to hoome buying.

How cheap houses spell bad news

Posted by Colin Barr
March 9, 2011

Houses look more affordable than ever. But prices will have to fall further before many Americans can actually afford to buy one.

The end of 2010 brought the start of a double dip that left U.S. home prices down 31% from their mid-decade peak. The latest slide puts the price of the average dwelling far below its long-run average as a share of per capita income, according to Paul Dales of Capital Economics in Toronto.

Housing is "exceptionally undervalued" by this measure, Dales writes. He says houses are trading at a 21% discount to their average price as a multiple of income, going by the S&P Case-Shiller national composite index.

Cheap houses and low interest rates seem to point toward a housing renaissance. A buyer who takes home the median per capita income can acquire the median-priced house while spending just 13% of disposable income on monthly housing bills, Capital Economics estimates. That's another low.

Yet low monthly payments alone won't be enough to keep house prices from spiraling downward again over the next year or two. The issue isn't what houses fetch now, it's what they might be worth in the near future – and how many people might be able to foot that bill. Both of those numbers look to be headed sharply lower.

Consider that mortgage rates, though about a percentage point above last fall's deflation scare low, remain 2 percentage points below their long-run average. With the bond markets at loose ends about the price to be paid for U.S. fiscal laxity, a further rise in mortgage rates looks likely.

Higher rates raise monthly financing costs, cutting the amount buyers can put toward principal payments – and driving down prices in lockstep. Why step in front of that steamroller now?

The other bad news for house prices lies in weak employment and wage trends and tightening standards for financing – which may help explain who has been buying houses lately.

With banks increasingly demanding substantial down payments, even supposedly affordable houses are a stretch for many. The median sales price of a new house in 2010 was $222,600, according to Census Bureau data. That means saving a $45,000 nut, plus closing costs, on the median per capita income of $26,530.

At the average U.S. personal saving rate of 5.8%, doing so would take 29 years. Even using the household median income figure of $49,777, you're looking at 15 years or so just to get the down payment on hand.

Prices for existing houses, which have been accounting for the vast majority of sales, are lower, which makes the savings math a bit less daunting. Even so, those numbers say the pool of potential homebuyers is not terribly large right now, not with unemployment running near 9% and the labor force thinner than it has been in 26 years.

And so it is that more than two-thirds of existing home sales since last summer were made to cash buyers or investors, while a mere 6% of purchases were made by first-time homebuyers, Dales says.

First-timers accounted for 41% of house sales in 2009 and between 35% and 39% from 2005 to 2008, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. The 2009 number was surely boosted by first-timer tax credits, but it's clear that it's not out of line with the recent average.

So like it or not, house prices are going to keep falling until jobs become plentiful, wages start rising and the outlook for rates becomes clearer. That is, until it becomes clear that a good portion of the population can actually afford those affordable prices.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Down the Up Staircase

Yes I am a broken record when it comes to my harping on Education issues. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I was a Teacher and am now Substituting or the fact that I simply cannot sit back and watch this train wreck continue.

I left Education years ago for many reasons. The first financial. I would just now, had a I stayed in my profession, be earning the amount my Master Degree cost at the time in the late 90s. That was its initial costs, add the loans and interest costs I am sure it would be double that amount had I not moved into the lucrative field of home remodeling and selling my properties. I also left because well some of what you hear about Educators are true. But having worked in Banking and other professions I saw well plenty of people phoning it in, were crazy, Machiavellian and just plain nuts. So in other words Education is not anymore or less batshit than any working field.

What I did also experience is what most Educators call "churn." This is very unique to the field. Until you reach tenure you move schools - a lot; you will see schools turnover Principals - a lot; you will see fads and fashions in school curriculum and design - a lot; you will see Superintendents come and go (the average is 3 years)- a lot. New Boards and new Municipalities and new Government plans that change every few years also add to the mix. This churn in any stable business creates chaos and an environment that is less than stable, secure and well functional. It explains some of the problems in our current system. Add to that the chaos of many students own lives a day in school is no day at the beach. In fact on many days its more akin to the movie The Snake Pit. And its why I left.

Today I loathe most days in schools. Its that simple I am deeply unhappy and I hope to get back into Construction as soon as possible. But in the interim I keep thinking that I should be more of an advocate so that those without the options can find themselves looking forward to working in it. I carry no ill will to those on the front lines and I support them in whatever way I can despite my own personal feelings and unhappiness.

I read today on Truthdig, by Chris Hedges, an excellent article that again sums up the frustrations by those in the system. I share it with you below. It is quite accurate in its honesty.

Why the United States Is Destroying Its Education System
Posted on Apr 10, 2011

By Chris Hedges

A nation that destroys its systems of education, degrades its public information, guts its public libraries and turns its airwaves into vehicles for cheap, mindless amusement becomes deaf, dumb and blind. It prizes test scores above critical thinking and literacy. It celebrates rote vocational training and the singular, amoral skill of making money. It churns out stunted human products, lacking the capacity and vocabulary to challenge the assumptions and structures of the corporate state. It funnels them into a caste system of drones and systems managers. It transforms a democratic state into a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs.

Teachers, their unions under attack, are becoming as replaceable as minimum-wage employees at Burger King. We spurn real teachers—those with the capacity to inspire children to think, those who help the young discover their gifts and potential—and replace them with instructors who teach to narrow, standardized tests. These instructors obey. They teach children to obey. And that is the point. The No Child Left Behind program, modeled on the “Texas Miracle,” is a fraud. It worked no better than our deregulated financial system. But when you shut out debate these dead ideas are self-perpetuating.

Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence. This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations. They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions. They want them to serve the system. These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs. The tests elevate those with the financial means to prepare for them. They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority. Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts—those who march to the beat of their own drum—are weeded out.

“Imagine,” said a public school teacher in New York City, who asked that I not use his name, “going to work each day knowing a great deal of what you are doing is fraudulent, knowing in no way are you preparing your students for life in an ever more brutal world, knowing that if you don’t continue along your scripted test prep course and indeed get better at it you will be out of a job. Up until very recently, the principal of a school was something like the conductor of an orchestra: a person who had deep experience and knowledge of the part and place of every member and every instrument. In the past 10 years we’ve had the emergence of both [Mayor] Mike Bloomberg’s Leadership Academy and Eli Broad’s Superintendents Academy, both created exclusively to produce instant principals and superintendents who model themselves after CEOs. How is this kind of thing even legal? How are such ‘academies’ accredited? What quality of leader needs a ‘leadership academy’? What kind of society would allow such people to run their children’s schools? The high-stakes tests may be worthless as pedagogy but they are a brilliant mechanism for undermining the school systems, instilling fear and creating a rationale for corporate takeover. There is something grotesque about the fact the education reform is being led not by educators but by financers and speculators and billionaires.”

Teachers, under assault from every direction, are fleeing the profession. Even before the “reform” blitzkrieg we were losing half of all teachers within five years after they started work—and these were people who spent years in school and many thousands of dollars to become teachers. How does the country expect to retain dignified, trained professionals under the hostility of current conditions? I suspect that the hedge fund managers behind our charter schools system—whose primary concern is certainly not with education—are delighted to replace real teachers with nonunionized, poorly trained instructors. To truly teach is to instill the values and knowledge which promote the common good and protect a society from the folly of historical amnesia. The utilitarian, corporate ideology embraced by the system of standardized tests and leadership academies has no time for the nuances and moral ambiguities inherent in a liberal arts education. Corporatism is about the cult of the self. It is about personal enrichment and profit as the sole aim of human existence. And those who do not conform are pushed aside.

“It is extremely dispiriting to realize that you are in effect lying to these kids by insinuating that this diet of corporate reading programs and standardized tests are preparing them for anything,” said this teacher, who feared he would suffer reprisals from school administrators if they knew he was speaking out. “It is even more dispiriting to know that your livelihood depends increasingly on maintaining this lie. You have to ask yourself why are hedge fund managers suddenly so interested in the education of the urban poor? The main purpose of the testing craze is not to grade the students but to grade the teacher.”

“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”

The demonizing of teachers is another public relations feint, a way for corporations to deflect attention from the theft of some $17 billion in wages, savings and earnings among American workers and a landscape where one in six workers is without employment. The speculators on Wall Street looted the U.S. Treasury. They stymied any kind of regulation. They have avoided criminal charges. They are stripping basic social services. And now they are demanding to run our schools and universities.

“Not only have the reformers removed poverty as a factor, they’ve removed students’ aptitude and motivation as factors,” said this teacher, who is in a teachers union. “They seem to believe that students are something like plants where you just add water and place them in the sun of your teaching and everything blooms. This is a fantasy that insults both student and teacher. The reformers have come up with a variety of insidious schemes pushed as steps to professionalize the profession of teaching. As they are all businessmen who know nothing of the field, it goes without saying that you do not do this by giving teachers autonomy and respect. They use merit pay in which teachers whose students do well on bubble tests will receive more money and teachers whose students do not do so well on bubble tests will receive less money. Of course, the only way this could conceivably be fair is to have an identical group of students in each class—an impossibility. The real purposes of merit pay are to divide teachers against themselves as they scramble for the brighter and more motivated students and to further institutionalize the idiot notion of standardized tests. There is a certain diabolical intelligence at work in both of these.”

“If the Bloomberg administration can be said to have succeeded in anything,” he said, “they have succeeded in turning schools into stress factories where teachers are running around wondering if it’s possible to please their principals and if their school will be open a year from now, if their union will still be there to offer some kind of protection, if they will still have jobs next year. This is not how you run a school system. It’s how you destroy one. The reformers and their friends in the media have created a Manichean world of bad teachers and effective teachers. In this alternative universe there are no other factors. Or, all other factors—poverty, depraved parents, mental illness and malnutrition—are all excuses of the Bad Teacher that can be overcome by hard work and the Effective Teacher.”

The truly educated become conscious. They become self-aware. They do not lie to themselves. They do not pretend that fraud is moral or that corporate greed is good. They do not claim that the demands of the marketplace can morally justify the hunger of children or denial of medical care to the sick. They do not throw 6 million families from their homes as the cost of doing business. Thought is a dialogue with one’s inner self. Those who think ask questions, questions those in authority do not want asked. They remember who we are, where we come from and where we should go. They remain eternally skeptical and distrustful of power. And they know that this moral independence is the only protection from the radical evil that results from collective unconsciousness. The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think. Those who are endowed with a moral conscience refuse to commit crimes, even those sanctioned by the corporate state, because they do not in the end want to live with criminals—themselves.

“It is better to be at odds with the whole world than, being one, to be at odds with myself,” Socrates said.

Those who can ask the right questions are armed with the capacity to make a moral choice, to defend the good in the face of outside pressure. And this is why the philosopher Immanuel Kant puts the duties we have to ourselves before the duties we have to others. The standard for Kant is not the biblical idea of self-love—love thy neighbor as thyself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you—but self-respect. What brings us meaning and worth as human beings is our ability to stand up and pit ourselves against injustice and the vast, moral indifference of the universe. Once justice perishes, as Kant knew, life loses all meaning. Those who meekly obey laws and rules imposed from the outside—including religious laws—are not moral human beings. The fulfillment of an imposed law is morally neutral. The truly educated make their own wills serve the higher call of justice, empathy and reason. Socrates made the same argument when he said it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.

“The greatest evil perpetrated,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “is the evil committed by nobodies, that is, by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

As Arendt pointed out, we must trust only those who have this self-awareness. This self-awareness comes only through consciousness. It comes with the ability to look at a crime being committed and say “I can’t.” We must fear, Arendt warned, those whose moral system is built around the flimsy structure of blind obedience. We must fear those who cannot think. Unconscious civilizations become totalitarian wastelands.

“The greatest evildoers are those who don’t remember because they have never given thought to the matter, and, without remembrance, nothing can hold them back,” Arendt writes. “For human beings, thinking of past matters means moving in the dimension of depth, striking roots and thus stabilizing themselves, so as not to be swept away by whatever may occur—the Zeitgeist or History or simple temptation. The greatest evil is not radical, it has no roots, and because it has no roots it has no limitations, it can go to unthinkable extremes and sweep over the whole world.”

The Best and The Brightest

With the large unemployment numbers and many of them older (as in over 45) and highly experienced workers facing the longest period of unemployment the adage "you are overqualified" is one heard a great deal. Often perceived as subtle age discrimination or simply a way of hiring those for less wages it is contributing to the largest underclass of people whose talents and skills should be recognized for building the Economy and in turn restoring it.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review dispels the myth that hiring qualified or "over" qualified workers does not lead to worker problems in fact are quite the opposite. I reprint it below and provide a link to the site as there is also a worthwhile video about why Managers should avoid hiring clones of themselves. We have relied way to long on the "like hire like" mentality and I believe that it contributes to a lack of diversity on many levels. And as a result you are missing out on perspectives and ideas that those not like you can provide.

Should You Hire an Overqualified Candidate?

12:12 PM Thursday March 3, 2011
by Amy Gallo |

As politicians and economists puzzle over America's jobless recovery, managers who have started to hire again face another problem: how to handle all the overqualified candidates coming through their doors. The prevailing wisdom is to avoid such applicants. But the unprecedented availability of top talent created by this recession and new research on the success of these candidates may be changing that.

What the Experts Say

Recruiters have traditionally hesitated to place overqualified candidates because of several presumed risks, says Berrin Erdogan, a professor of management at Portland State University and the lead author of a recent study on the subject. "The assumption is that the person will be bored and not motivated, so they will underperform or leave." However, her research shows that these risks may be more perceived than real. In fact, sales associates in her study who were thought to be overqualified actually performed better. And rarely do people move on simply because they feel they're too talented for the job. "People don't stay or leave a company because of their skills. They stay or leave because of working conditions" she says.

Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, a senior adviser at Egon Zehnder International and the author of Great People Decisions and "The Definitive Guide to Recruiting in Good Times and Bad," agrees that there are more benefits to hiring an overqualified employee than there are risks."When making hiring decisions, visionary leaders don't just focus on the current needs, but on the future," he says.

Here are several things to consider next time you are looking at a stack of overly impressive resumes.

Overqualified or over-experienced?

Don't assume someone is overqualified based on a quick screen of their credentials. "There is a lot of misunderstanding over what overqualified is," says Ergodan. "We define it as meeting and exceeding the skill requirements of the job. So having a lot of education doesn't over-qualify you." Nor does experience, if the person's prior positions are not directly related to the job in question. Get to know the candidate before you decide to pass. There may be reasons why he is interested in this specific position. He may want to shift industries, move to a new location, or achieve greater work/life balance. And there may be ways that you can make use of his "extra" experience.

Think bigger than the job in question

When considering a candidate who is, in fact, overqualified for the job opening, ask yourself if there is room to expand the role and make use of the skills he brings. "While the old paradigm for hiring was to determine that a job was vacant and look for the right candidate, in today's world one should also consider the talent opportunities at hand, and try to find the jobs that may be created or open in the near future for them, in the larger organization," says Fernández-Aráoz.

"Hiring overqualified candidates can help you achieve much higher productivity, grow, and achieve opportunities that you may not even be thinking about pursuing right now." There are other less obvious benefits too: these employees can mentor others, challenge peers to exceed current expectations, and bring in areas of expertise that are not represented at the company.

Bring them on carefully

"Effective onboarding is essential, especially for the overqualified," says Erdogan. "Unmet expectations are one of the more common reasons for turnover," so you should be clear with yourself, the new hire, and the rest of the organization about what the job entails, as well as what it could become. Adds Fernández-Aráoz: "You need a clear and explicit plan for the future, whether you are thinking of a promotion, a lateral move, or a new project altogether. You need to think and discuss beyond the initial stage where he or she may be temporarily underutilized."

Both he and Erdogan caution that recruiters need to manage an additional risk: a boss who feels threatened. "Managers often worry, 'Can I supervise the person effectively?'" says Erdogan. A superior with less experience than the new hire might be concerned that the person will take her job, make her look bad, or be too challenging to manage. This is not reason enough to say no. Instead, focus on the future for that candidate. In cases where the boss is insecure, "you should not bring that new hire in without a plan to promote him in the near term," says Fernández-Aráoz.

Pay what they are worth

Although it's tempting in a bad job market to buy top talent on the cheap, Fernández-Aráoz disapproves of the strategy. "While my experience shows that you can get candidates for up to 25% less in the middle of a big recession, I would not recommend underpaying an overqualified candidate," he says. "We all have the expectation to be rewarded in a way which is reasonably proportional to our effort and contribution, and fair." And if the candidate is as strong as you think, you are likely competing with other employers for her. If you can't afford her, Fernández-Aráoz says it's better to pass than to underpay. If she wants the job anyway, simply have a frank conversation about her future prospects in terms of promotion and compensation so that she fully understands what she's getting into.

Principles to Remember


Think broadly about your organization and its overall talent needs now and in the future
Consider how you could accommodate a promising candidate's skill set by shaping the job
Onboard carefully and be clear about your plans for the new employee


Narrowly define the hiring process as finding one person for one role
Confuse education and experience with skills; a candidate with lots of experience still may not have the capabilities to do the job
Try to pay an overqualified candidate less than he's worth

Case Study: The hiring risk pays off
In 2009 Lara Galinsky, senior vice president at Echoing Green, needed to hire a finance director for the young, but growing, global non-profit. She thought the ideal applicant would be someone relatively young but with a few years of non-profit finance experience. She was not expecting a candidate like John Walker.

John had most recently worked for a venture capital fund that was forced to lay people off because of the economy. Prior to that, he had spent over ten years in the defense industry in a variety of senior design and management roles. "I didn't have a background in social enterprise or non-profit. I didn't know anything about 501(c)(3)s," he says. But he did have deep experience in running, buying, and selling companies.

This was not an unusual situation for Echoing Green. "We get a lot of resumes from people who want to do a sector switch," Lara explains. They have a lot of work experience but not necessarily a lot of experience in the sector." She had previously ruled out candidates who were overqualified for certain positions or who didn't bring enough relevant experience.

But John had been referred by a friend of the organization, and since Echoing Green straddles the world of for-profit business and non-profit organizations, she thought his experience might be applicable.

Lara and her team talk about the risks and the opportunities of hiring each candidate. They knew that there were risks with John because he had never worked in the sector. But they saw many upsides too. "We didn't have anyone on staff with private equity experience and yet we work in that space. We knew we could use a for-profit lens," explains Lara.

In the end, Lara thought the benefits outweighed the risks. They had been impressed with John's willingness to learn what he didn't know. "Hunger and potential are the most important factors we look for in candidates," she explains. "We hire for talent, not necessarily for acumen. I look for people who can grow, mesh, and evolve."

John came on board in early 2009. Lara encouraged and incented him to network with finance directors from other organizations, so that he could gain insight from experts in the field. The learning curve was steep but he was able to come up to speed quickly and is now thriving in the position. As Echoing Green moves into impact investing they have also been able to tap directly into his previous VC experience. While John wasn't the person Lara initially envisioned hiring, she hadn't imagined what someone like him could do in the position. "We have evolved with him — and used his skills in ways we didn't anticipate

The Grapes of Wrath

In that book during the depression the Joad family were forced to leave their home in Oklahoma to relocate to California in search of work. California, as it was believed, was the promised land.

What is interesting as I study the current Census and align it with the "mythology" that Americans are a mobile lot and relocate in order to find work and establish urban areas often centered on certain industries - the Automotive industry - Detroit, Software/Technology - the Bay Area and so on, in reality the new economy is less about migratory patterns and about actual productivity and wealth building.

As we hear the destruction of many of our once urban hubs - Detroit, Cleveland come to mind - we believe that the entire cities are now destitute and those who live there either too poor or too stupid to leave. The reality is that well most of us really are not all that hot on relocating and even in Detroit as it remakes its City is finding yes some resilience and frustration by its residents with regards to the changes they must make to survive. Much of this is of course racial with Detroit being America's most segregated city.

But what is interesting is that much of this relocation and population growth is not tied to productivity and in turn economic growth. It seems very much tied to either immigration - where the large cities are populated by the growing Hispanic community who are also in the least paid positions and retirees who are no longer contributing the larger GNP. So for it seems those cities deemed "dead" are in fact surviving and of course those with the largest concentration of the 1% (as in New York City) it goes without saying raises the level overall (although perhaps not to their fellow non one percenters).

This is an article from the Atlantic discussing the current trend and its long term impact. If you are interested in finding a place to do business this may well lend you in deciding where you may need and want to relocate.

And another article reprinted below regarding the growth without growth concept.

Growth Without Growth
United States Community / Economic Development Op-Ed Population Growth Slow Growth
20 January 2011 - 9:57am
Author: Bill Fulton

If you think the economic growth figures are sluggish, try looking at the population figures and think about this: Most of America's large metropolitan areas are not growing very fast. But does slow population growth mean they're not going to prosper either? Or is it time for America's cities and metropolitan areas to get serious about "growth without growth"?

According to the Census Bureau, there are 49 metropolitan statistical areas in the United States. Between 2000 and 2009, six of them lost population – led, not surprisingly, by New Orleans. But another seven grew by less than a half-percent a year – including New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. Nine more – including Virginia Beach, Louisville, Memphis, and San Diego – grew by less than one percent a year. And seven more – including Oklahoma City, Seattle, Miami, and Columbus – grew by just a little more than one percent per year.

So, 29 of the 49 largest metro areas in the country are now growing slowly – including the biggest ones, many mature areas in the Northeast and Midwest, and many places we think of as fast-growing Sunbelt cities. Indeed, most of the metros we think of as the drivers of the American economy are now slow-growth places.

Over the past half-century, we have come to equate a stagnating population with a stagnating economy. Orlando and Phoenix are growing fast – so they're prospering. Cleveland and Detroit are losing population fast – so they're in decline.

But with so many metros now slowing down in population growth, maybe it's time to re-think the relationship between economic growth and population growth. Maybe it's time to figure out how to have growth without growth.

Wealth Builders and Population Magnets

A few years ago, Paul Gottlieb, an economist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, took a look at whether growth without growth was possible. He did so by comparing population growth and growth in real per-capita income in the 100 largest metropolitan areas. Most of the results were not surprising. Many thriving metros — Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Phoenix — were above the national average in both categories. Many struggling ones, including Cleveland itself and all the metropolitan areas in Upstate New York, were below the average in both categories.

Surprisingly however, Gottlieb found that almost half of the 100 largest metro areas fit neither category. They're either "wealth builders" — places such as Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, Pittsburgh and St. Louis — that saw income go up faster than population, or they're "population magnets" — places such as Daytona Beach, El Paso, Knoxville, Orlando and Portland — that saw the reverse.

The "wealth builders" are of particular interest – places where population has slowed down or stagnated, yet are still adding income and wealth. Pittsburgh, for example, has been losing population for decades. Yet nobody thinks of Pittsburgh these days as an economic failure. It’s reinvented itself, adjusted to a smaller population, and today thrives on a “new economy” that emerged from the old. St. Louis is the same way.

Indeed, in most cases, the "wealth builders" were older, blue-collar places in the Northeast, the Midwest and the South: Kansas City, Little Rock, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Providence and Tampa.

What is the difference between these cities and the ones that had both low rates of population increase and little economic growth? That is, places such as Buffalo, Hartford, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Charleston, West Virginia. After all, both groups of cities have lower educational attainment and strong manufacturing bases. Even more baffling, why are some of these gritty, non-dazzling metropolitan areas doing better on Gottlieb's "growth without growth" index than supposed superstars such as Atlanta, Austin, Las Vegas and Orlando?

The answer appears to be that not adding population has some benefits. First, much of the nation's population growth in recent years has been driven by immigration, and recent immigrants pull down the overall per-capita income. And second, many of the fastest-growing metros — Las Vegas and Orlando among them — have parlayed climate and raw land into a tourism-based economy, which tends to create low-wage jobs.

The "growth without growth" champs, such as St. Louis and Pittsburgh, may experience higher levels of educational attainment and high-tech employment — more than Buffalo and Cleveland, and, at the same time, more than Las Vegas and Orlando.

Does That Mean NIMBYs Are Right?

A lot of people glom on to these statistics for their own purposes. "Slow-growth" politicians where I live in coastal California use it to advocate closing the door to new residents. They say that these statistics reveal that population growth often isn't worth the cost and that just because you stop adding population doesn't mean that you call a halt to prosperity. Indeed, part of Gottlieb's motivation in doing the study seems to have been to challenge conventional wisdom. Limiting population growth doesn't inevitably harm a metropolitan area's prosperity.

But I'm not so sure that this new research supports the slow-growth argument in quite this fashion. Of the 23 "wealth builder" metro areas whose income gains exceeded population growth, the only one engaged in widespread population restrictions as a public policy goal was San Francisco. But San Francisco was the exception rather than the rule. Population may be growing slowly in most of these cities, but the tepid rates are not because of government slow-growth policies.

In Ventura County, California, our local voters are always trying to restrict growth and send surplus residents somewhere else. I've always thought maybe it should be official government policy to ship all those extra folks to Pittsburgh and Detroit and other Rust Belt towns.

Now I'm not so sure. Maybe back in the Rust Belt, they're better off without the rest of us