The Tech That Slumlords Hate

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By Ethan McLeod : bloomberg – excerpt

Housing activists, officials and researchers are deploying new tools to empower tenants, spotlight negligent property owners and curb evictions in U.S. cities.

The first words on the sign — “VACANT PROPERTY” — posted on the front door of a boarded-up rowhouse in Baltimore’s Upton neighborhood may overstate the obvious: The two-story brick home, its front steps sandwiched between tall weeds and a pile of garbage, clearly hasn’t been inhabited for some time. But the QR code sitting in the sign’s bottom right corner is a window to a trove of more expansive information about this building.

Scanning the pattern with a smartphone camera directs the user to a city web page linking to databases on property ownership, building permits, pending court cases and more. While this information is all publicly available, not everyone knows how to navigate these assorted city and state data portals.

The QR code signs are being installed by the city on its 17,000-plus properties with vacant building notices. It’s a practical evolution of a project that began as an artistic collaboration: Back in 2013, Baltimore housing activist Carol Ott and a troupe of street artists launched an effort called Wall Hunters, painting murals on vacant buildings that were accompanied by QR codes that led users to information about the building’s owner on Ott’s blog, Baltimore Slumlord Watch

The grassroots-led Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has built its suite of tools off of that very philosophy. Erin McElroy helped found the cartography-as-advocacy project in San Francisco in 2013. After the Great Recession, a wave of investment firms bought up rental properties using LLCs and LLPs, and “a central problem that we kept on coming up against was that tenants didn’t know who their landlords were,” she said…

Scrolling through the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project website today, a user can scan maps of properties owned by specific “Wall Street landlords” — real estate investment trusts such as Invitation Homes and American Homes 4 Rent that have bought thousands of properties in California in recent years — and get tips on how to research them. The site also has info on serial evictors in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas and New York City who operate under the guise of various LLCs. That’s all due to the connections between project volunteers and housing organizers, tenant communities and attorneys.

The project has also used its network to expand to new cities and roll out other tools. Its latest offering, started in 2019 and still in beta testing by a coalition of Bay Area community partners, lets a user look up an address or the associated LLC or LLP and displays all associated properties and shell companies…(more)

We need all the ammunition we can get to protect the affordable housing stock and tenants who rely on it, and in many cases data is our best defense to protect existing housing is the data collected by the technology described in the article.

Regardless of where you live in America the housing game is the same. Create a housing shortage to force a housing crisis and then pounce on the unsuspecting public with extremely unpopular solutions hatched in by the corporate backers of our elected officials, who are threatened by their party leaders. Both parties are eating from the same trough that create the crisis. The pandemic has heighten the problem by removing normal communication channels and making public participation more difficult than it already was.

SF building notice

“Business Improvement Districts” Quietly Privatize the Policing of Public Space

By Tyler Walicek : truthout – excerpt

Woven into the municipal fabric of the U.S. is a little-known mechanism of privatization and corporate control: the Business Improvement District (BID). In hundreds of urban centers, invisible borders designate zones wherein local governments have granted control of the commons to private interests. Within the bounds of a BID, its corporate operators are empowered to contract for-profit companies to clean streets, make aesthetic and tourism upgrades and, more insidiously, enforce “security” in collaboration with police. In practice, this often results in the exclusion and harassment of populations that businesses find “undesirable” — anyone that is perceived as a threat to consumer activity and profit, and especially the unhoused.

BIDs are not unlike private governments; autonomous and often opaque, many operate free from meaningful oversight. From their financial structures to their influence on policy, they are typical of corporate privatization in that they divert public resources to serve the interests of the ownership class. The recent renewal of a multi-year BID contract in Portland, Oregon, rammed through against significant public opposition, was representative of the sort of unilateralism and impunity that characterizes BID operations. Analogous dynamics can be found across the United States, replicated within the over 1,200 BIDs nationwide…

These dynamics are not exceptional, and are just as pernicious elsewhere. Portland, with a total of three, actually has comparatively few BIDs — New York City alone has 76, and California has 200 altogether. Roughly another thousand are strewn throughout the United States. A study of Californian BIDs conducted by the UC Berkeley School of Law concluded that “BID involvement in social services is experienced by homeless people as an additional form of policing, surveillance and harassment.” The report surveyed BIDs in 69 California cities and conducted in-depth case studies of the model in Berkeley, Chico, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco. Researchers found that more than 90 percent “coordinate closely with local police departments — and sometimes use their own private security — to enforce anti-homeless laws and otherwise exclude or remove homeless people from their districts.… Enforcement in California is growing and is increasingly based on homeless people’s status, rather than their behavior.”…(more)

A Small War Over Bike Lanes May Be an Uber and Lyft Conspiracy

By Whitney Kimball : gizmodo – excerpt

Enraged car owners, suddenly robbed of free parking, want to know why a New York City bike lane advocacy group is accepting funds from Uber and Lyft.

If you live in New York City, you are a pedestrian or you are a driver, and you’re enmeshed in a war over streets that hits everyone’s wallets and time. Now, an extraordinary alliance has emerged: a militant local bike lane group, backed by Uber and Lyft, is battling car owners over hundreds of free parking spots. Some suspect a massive conspiracy by rideshare companies to scoop up the streets for themselves. They may be onto something.

Flyers are up; is on fire; a petition now has over 1,000 signatures.

Bear with me for a detour into the parking situation: The turf is a desolate parking lot under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway where a bike lane and walkway will cut out a precious 680 free parking spaces. The city plans to meter the remaining 400 spots at an outrageous $1.50/hour, enforced for an unusually long stretch of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

As-is, the lot’s more of a conveniently overlooked stretch than a lot; the fumy belt between highway exits is a rare undeveloped patch of pavement with faint paint lines, roadkill Dunkin cups, and smashed tail lights under a thundering structure. As the community board has noted numerous times, it could use some plants…

Here’s where Uber and Lyft come in, and the local skirmish potentially takes a more broadly relevant twist. Meeker Ave Neighbors, the group behind the petition to halt the refurbishment, learned that Transportation Alternatives (TA), the muscular, decades-old bike lane advocacy group behind the plan, accepted a combined $125,000 from Uber and Lyft in 2020, along with donations from Revel, Bird, and Lime.…(more)

Watch for the private/public partnerships and enterprises. That is where these plots are hatched.

YIMBYs: The Darlings of the Real Estate Industry

By Andrew Szeto & Toshio Meronek : truthout – excerpt

In San Francisco’s Mission District, flyers pasted on mailboxes and light poles warn longtime residents of the new “conquistadores,” the hordes of wealthy tech industrialists who’ve descended on the neighborhood en masse over the past few years, displacing many in the Latinx-heavy neighborhood to the outer reaches of the Bay Area.

But it’s not just lower-income people who are feeling set upon. Rich newcomers also see themselves as an interest group in need of a voice. “Someone needs to represent people who haven’t yet moved into a neighborhood,” said pro-development activist Sonja Trauss, who moved to Oakland in 2011, at an April real estate industry soiree in Vancouver. In San Francisco, “the people who haven’t yet moved in” most often means the tech industrialists, lured by high salaries, stock options and in-office employee benefits like massage therapists and handcrafted kombucha.

But these new tech “immigrants,” as Trauss refers to her kinfolk, spell disaster for current San Franciscans. In 2015, the city-funded homeless count found 71 percent of homeless San Franciscans were housed in San Francisco before being pushed onto the streets…(more)

There is a world-wide new level of greed that is ripping apart the seams of human dignity and morality and civility. The land grabbing carpetbaggers are at it again. This time they are going after any piece of real estate they can gain control of without regard for human need or human suffering they may cause along the way. No wonder we hear that crime is up 300%. Fortunately for San Francisco residents, a lot of tech titans are tired of the game and are moving to Texas and Idaho. California can’t absorb many more people unless we want to dig up our vineyards to water the corp of gold diggers.

7 ways men live without working in America

By Andy Serwer with Max Zahn : yahoo – excerpt

Almost one-third of all working-age men in America aren’t doing diddly-squat. They don’t have a job, and they aren’t looking for one either. One-third of all working-age men. That’s almost 30 million people!

How do they live? What are they doing for money? To me, this is one of the great mysteries of our time.

I’m certainly not the first person to make note of this shocking statistic. You’ve heard people bemoaning this “labor participation rate,” which is simply the number of working-age men (usually counted as ages 16 to 64) not working or not looking for work, as a percentage of the overall labor force…(more)

Years ago while hanging out at an earlier afternoon happy hour scene at the Paradise Lounge in San Francisco, I wrote a song about the barflies that seemed to get along without any visible means of support, or at least no daytime jobs to be at. I called it “Every’s Got an Angle”. At the time I figured that a lot of people were self-employed freelancers such as I was, but, I also suspected there were other sidelines that kept them busy and allowed them to drink. This article covers a lot of possibilities.

One subject the authored failed to mention is the vasts amounts of cash needed to launder dirty money.

The disastrous voyage of Satoshi, the world’s first cryptocurrency cruise ship

By Sophie Elmhirst :theguardian – excerpt

Last year, three cryptocurrency enthusiasts bought a cruise ship. They named it the Satoshi, and dreamed of starting a floating libertarian utopia. It didn’t work out.

On the evening of 7 December 2010, in a hushed San Francisco auditorium, former Google engineer Patri Friedman sketched out the future of humanity. The event was hosted by the Thiel Foundation, established four years earlier by the arch-libertarian PayPal founder Peter Thiel to “defend and promote freedom in all its dimensions”. From behind a large lectern, Friedman – grandson of Milton Friedman, one of the most influential free-market economists of the last century – laid out his plan. He wanted to transform how and where we live, to abandon life on land and all our decrepit assumptions about the nature of society. He wanted, quite simply, to start a new city in the middle of the ocean.

Friedman called it seasteading: “Homesteading the high seas,” a phrase borrowed from Wayne Gramlich, a software engineer with whom he’d founded the Seasteading Institute in 2008, helped by a $500,000 donation from Thiel. In a four-minute vision-dump, Friedman explained his rationale. Why, he asked, in one of the most advanced countries in the world, were they still using systems of government from 1787? (“If you drove a car from 1787, it would be a horse,” he pointed out.) Government, he believed, needed an upgrade, like a software update for a phone. “Let’s think of government as an industry, where countries are firms and citizens are customers!” he declared.

The difficulty in starting a new form of government, said Friedman, was simply a lack of space. All the land on Earth was taken. What they needed was a new frontier, and that frontier was the ocean. “Let a thousand nations bloom on the high seas,” he proclaimed, with Maoish zeal. He wanted seasteading experiments to start as soon as possible. Within three to six years, he imagined ships being repurposed as floating medical clinics. Within 10 years, he predicted, small communities would be permanently based on platforms out at sea. In a few decades, he hoped there would be floating cities “with millions of people pioneering different ways of living together”…(more)

In the end the freedom lovers could not get past the heavily regulated international sea laws and the insurance companies refused to insure a product they did to understand.

Kudzu Is So Much More Than the “Vine That Ate the South”

By Richard Solomon : slate – excerpt

Literary metaphor, regional symbol, environmental cautionary tale. How did a humble weed take on such grand significance?

Few plants evoke the landscapes of the Deep South more powerfully than kudzu. A tangled mass of a weed, kudzu (Pueraria lobata), the “Vine That Ate the South,” effortlessly scales telephone poles, junkyards, and untended fields. According to one frequently cited estimate, kudzu covers 7.4 million acres in the United States. County-level maps created by University of Georgia scientists document kudzu’s voracious appetite: a keen driver will spy it hugging misty hillsides in Appalachia or creeping along flood plains in the Mississippi Delta. It thrives in Alabama piedmont, Louisiana bayous, the Carolina coastal plain, and the suburban sprawls of Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh, and Birmingham.

Despite its fecundity, kudzu’s reach fades at the edges of South Florida, Texas, and the Midwest Rust Belt—preserving those regions for their own mythologies. With such tidy borders, the vine serves as a useful emblem for the particularities of Southern culture. Today, there are boutiques that sell kudzu jellies in Dahlonega, Georgia, a Kudzu Review at Florida State University, a Camp Kudzu, and at least 30 roads in the South with “kudzu” in their name. Originally a loan word from the Japanese “クズ” or “葛” (kuzu), the plant’s name has thoroughly naturalized in the Southern vocabulary, akin to bayou, or Cherokee, or the Gullah and Irish-Scot vernacular y’all. By 1979, Johnny Cash could sing about “them ol’ kudzu vines” that were “coverin’ the door.” After him, Florida Georgia Line would invoke the “honeysuckle lips” of their beloved “tangled up tighter than a kudzu vine.” Georgia’s own R.E.M. put kudzu on the cover of their 1983 album Murmur(more)

Mexico City taps solar energy to clean up historic Aztec-era canals

Reuters : yahoo – excerpt

Mexican scientists deploy nanotechnology to clean up Xochimilco canals

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican scientists have developed a unique “nanobubble” system using solar energy to improve water quality in the canals of Mexico City’s Xochimilco ecological zone, a popular tourist attraction.

Officials in Mexico City have been focused on cleaning up the long-polluted waters of Xochimilco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the few areas of the capital that still boasts canal networks dating back to Aztec times.

A team of researchers from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (Cinvestav) has developed a method using solar energy to activate a pump that sends cleansing “nanobubbles” into the water…(more)

Using solar to clean the water.

A Police Raid Uncovered an ‘Unprecedented’ Pterosaur Fossil

by Becky Ferreira : vice (includes some impressive images)

With its massive head crest and eight-foot wingspan, the pterosaur is one of the most “impressive” species in its family.

Some 113 million years ago, a pterosaur with an eight-foot wingspan and an incredible decorative head crest roamed across a lush landscape, before it died and was buried in sediment.

Eons later, in 2013, the animal’s remains were seized during a police raid at Santos Harbour in São Paulo State, Brazil, along with other illegally obtained fossils.

Now, scientists led by Victor Beccari, a paleontologist at the University of São Paulo, have revealed that this confiscated specimen is the most complete known skeleton of a “tapejarid,” a family of ornamented pterosaurs. The animal is so intact that even some soft tissue has been preserved in its fossils, making it an “an unprecedented record of an articulated tapejarid skeleton,” according to a study published on Wednesday in Current Biology(more)