Amazon’s Amazing Plans for National Landing

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Amazon’s Amazing Plans for National Landing

In case you haven’t heard, Amazon is bringing its second headquarters to Northern Virginia’s newly dubbed “National Landing.” Encompassing parts of Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard, the new headquarters will rely on local developer JBG Smith to house the anticipated 25,000+ employees. A new website, NationalLanding.com, provides a peak into the future development plans for the soon-to-be local hot spot.

 
 

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Is it Meridian Hill Park or Malcolm X Park?

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Is it Meridian Hill Park or Malcolm X Park?

The National Park Service, which oversees the park, calls it Meridian Hill Park. News outlets, including The Washington Post, have used both names at different times. In 2006, the D.C. Department of Transportation erected royal blue signs by the park that employ a run-on version of the name “Meridian Hill Malcolm X Park” because “the community requested the sign include both names on the panel agency”, says Terry Owens, agency spokesman. The evolution of the name is a bracing reminder of how different D.C.’s history and present has been for various groups of Washingtonians.

In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson ordered a small obelisk placed a mile and a half north of the White House to serve as a longitudinal meridian for the new capital city. An owner who acquired the land after the War of 1812 was the first to call it Meridian Hill. Meridian Hill Park officially opened in 1936. By the 1960s, it had become a gathering place for black activists. “One of the things that the activists that renamed the park wanted to ensure was that that area was black people’s land”, says George Derek Musgrove, co-author of “Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital”. A 1970 congressional measure to rename the park for Malcolm X failed, but the name stuck. Starting in the early aughts, an influx of affluent millennials and empty nesters to the neighborhood drove up home prices, displacing many longtime black middle-class and working-class residents. Old-timers began to notice that with the population shift came an increase in the use of Meridian Hill Park. “People who have shown up in the past 15 years are changing the lexicon of the city” says Blair Ruble, local historian and author of “Washington’s U Street: A Biography.”

An unscientific 2014 poll on the neighborhood blog Popville, which describes its readership as “affluent young professionals,” seemed to back up those observations. Seventy-one percent of the 2,000 respondents called it Meridian Hill, 15 percent referred to it as Malcolm X, and 13 percent favored the synthesized Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park. D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau, who used to live just south of the park and represents the neighborhoods around it, refers to it both ways and even as “Meridian Hill-slash-Malcolm X”; as her chief of staff Tania Jackson explains, Nadeau is “aware that people identify with both versions of the name for different reasons.” So is it Meridian Hill or Malcolm X Park? Well, I guess it just depends on who you ask.

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What Is the Cost of a Home Appraisal and What Should You Know?

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What Is the Cost of a Home Appraisal and What Should You Know?

The home appraisal is a critical issue -- for home buyers, sellers and mortgage lenders – and here's why. According to U.S. real estate industry figures, the average cost for a home appraisal is $331, with the low end of that rage at $250 and the high end at $450. However, in the DC area, it’s common to see appraisals cost as much as $600. Home appraisal costs depend on a variety of factors, including the size of the home, the state where the residence is located, and problematic issues in doing a home appraisal that might keep the appraiser on the property longer than expected. 

What is a Home Appraisal?

A home appraisal is an objective estimate of a home's market value, based on a thorough examination of the home and property. Aside from using a home appraisal to weigh the value of a residence, mortgage lenders also use an appraisal to make sure they aren't lending the buyer more money than the home is worth. A home appraisal prioritizes the current condition, size and the location of the property. A home appraiser should be aware of the condition of the inside of the home and upgrades done, as well as know the price of comparable homes sold in the neighborhood recently (typically over the past six months).

Who Handles the Home Appraisal?

Home appraisals are conducted by licensed professionals who are experts at home and property assessments. Professional home appraisal licensing is handled by the state the property is located, and applicants need to complete 75 hours of coursework focusing on basic home appraisal principles and processes. When on the job, licensed home appraisers must maintain complete objectivity on the home they're appraising. 

Who Pays for a Home Appraisal?

Typically, the buyer pays for a home appraisal. The buyer can pay up front at the time of the appraisal or the appraiser's fee can be included in closing costs.

What's the Difference Between a Home Appraisal and a Home Inspection?

The biggest difference is who the process seeks to protect. In a home appraisal, the process protects the mortgage lender financing the purchase of the home. In a home inspection, the objective is to protect the buyer, who usually pays the few hundred dollars it takes to conduct a home inspection. In addition, a home inspection is much more focused on the condition of the property, while the home appraisal prioritizes the value of the home.

What if Your Home Appraisal is lower than the Sales Price?

It's actually not uncommon for a home appraisal to come in with a figure that's lower than the sales price. There's no guarantee that the appraisal has to match the purchase price, so if you're buying a home, and the appraisal comes in low, there are several tactics buyers usually take to keep the deal alive.

Asking the seller to match the appraisal price

Assuming the buyer is still interested in buying the home and is contractually able to back out if the appraisal is low, the buyer can ask the seller if he or she will lower the sales price to match the appraised value. The lender would also need to be involved in any price cut due to a low home appraisal.

Offering to increase home purchase down payment

To keep the deal active, a buyer might offer to increase his down payment in a low home appraisal scenario. The lower appraisal may well jeopardize the buyer's home loan, so if the buyer can jack up his down payment in order to reduce the amount he will borrow from the lender, she/he can still be approved for the mortgage. 

Dispute the appraisal outcome

Home appraisals are subjective and various factors - which may be calculated incorrectly or omitted entirely - can result in a low appraisal. Working with a real estate agent, a buyer could contact the lender and provide their own data that may correct the low appraisal figure. If the lender approves a disputed appraisal application, it's turned over to the lender's own mortgage appraisal unit for further review -- and hopefully a decision that supports the sale price is the new outcome.



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Is Airbnb Doomed in DC?

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Is Airbnb Doomed in DC?

The DC Council passed a preliminary bill to limit Airbnb rentals in the District. But just as the Council was preparing to move forward with a final vote on the bill, a report from the DC Chief Financial Officer (CFO) uncovered language in the bill that no one on the Council was aware of (smh) – the bill would actually outlaw 80-90% of all short-term rentals in the city!

What was the bill supposed to do?

After learning about some egregious abuses and the belief that Airbnb is a threat to the city’s housing stock, the Council decided to imposes restrictions on who could actually rent their properties using the popular hosting site. Specifically, people who don’t actually live in a property would no longer be able to legally rent a property. However, for those who actually live in their house and want to rent out a room or parts of their house, would be free to continue doing so. Or the bill will let them rent the whole place while out of town, but only for 90 days a year. While the impact of these restrictions were heavily debated amongst stakeholders, the Council’s intent was to protect the housing stock for DC tenants.

What did the bill actually do?

Well, as it turns out, the bill actually went much further than anyone intended. After initial passage to move forward with a final vote on the bill by the Council, a report (the Fiscal Impact Statement) from the DC CFO determined the bill would outlaw 80-90% of all short-term rentals, even for people who are renting a room in their house when home or for only a small percentage of time when away. You see, there was a provision in the bill that hadn’t gotten much attention. That provision says that, in addition to the bills restrictions outlined above, someone could only get a short-term rental license — a requirement to rent through a service like Airbnb under this bill — in areas where the zoning allows "transient rentals.” This would include areas where hotels are allowed, but residential zones do not allow this…and most Airbnb rentals are in residential zones.

So how did we get here?

Proponents of this bill have pointed to some egregious abuses, like a landlord with a building under rent control who just rented all the units out through Airbnb…which we all agree is not cool. More generally, they argue, Airbnb and related services squeeze the supply of regular rental housing. Let's say someone bought a row house or condo in a mixed-use neighborhood, lived there for a while, and moved away. They could rent the place to a new permanent tenant. Or, they could list it full-time on Airbnb. The latter often makes more money. Using Airbnb also helps the homeowner avoid being subject to tenant protection laws.

On the other side, you have the opponents (i.e. the Airbnb lobbyists) of the legislation who argue that these rentals cover at most 0.25% of DC's housing, so the claim that it's restricting housing supply isn't justified. Airbnb argues that rentals in less tourist-heavy neighborhoods, like east of the Anacostia River, bring visitors to areas they wouldn't otherwise see to support neighborhood restaurants and shops…and also have very few hotel options anyways.

But wait, there are more issues!

The CFO’s report said the bill would reduce the city’s revenue by “at least $20 million in fiscal year 2019 and $96 million over the four-year financial plan" in lost tax revenue. Not good at all, especially considering the fact that the shortfall must be made up to fill the hole. And it’s not easy to find an additional $20-25 million per year in lost revenue. The other option for the council would be to eliminate the fiscal impact, which means the bill would need to be amended to avoid the revenue loss.

So what’s the latest?

As of late October, Chairman Phil Mendelson sent a letter to the Zoning Commission asking to amend the zoning code to permit short-term rentals in residential zones. On October 29th, at a brief special public meeting, the Commission voted to request recommendations on how to proceed from the Office of Planning. A final vote on the bill was delayed so the councilmembers could comb through how payment for the bill's implementation would be accounted for, and some are a bit pessimistic in their belief that zoning rules will be amended before the bill passes.

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D.C. Wrote 86,000 Street Sweeping Tickets Last Year. Is It A Money-Making Scheme?

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D.C. Wrote 86,000 Street Sweeping Tickets Last Year. Is It A Money-Making Scheme?

D.C. issued 86,000 street sweeping tickets in 2017 — a total of $3.8 million — plus late fees and additional charges when cars were towed. So WAMU took a deeper dive into the issue by asking: does street sweeping really do anything? Is it really just for the ticket revenue?

Not Just Aesthetics

A map from 1880 shows many downtown streets were swept weekly, while Pennsylvania Avenue was swept every day. Back then, the streets were filled with horse manure, but these days, it’s about getting trash off the streets. It’s working, according to the District Department of Public Works, which swept up 4,361 tons of waste last year - enough to fill 159 tractor trailers. After the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, people started thinking about how street sweeping could help clean up waterways. The Anacostia River has so much trash, the Environmental Protection Agency has declared it in violation of the Clean Water Act. Jurisdictions in the watershed are on a “pollution diet,” and must show the EPA they’re making progress towards reducing trash. Starting at the top of the waste chain, “We can think about using compostable products, or even reusable products, or choosing not to use a product, “says Laura Cattel Noll from the Alice Ferguson Foundation

Tire Wear, Oil Leaks and Exhaust

Trash isn’t the only pollutant on the road. The D.C. Department of Environment estimates street sweeping keeps almost nine tons of sediment out of waterways each year — enough to fill a large dumpster. Sediment is one of the main pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed ,which Neely Law, with the Center for Watershed Protection, says isn’t just harmless dirt. “We’re finding not just dirt in street, but a lot of other contaminants, including toxins. In addition, Much of the bad stuff on roadways comes from cars, such asTire wear leaky oil spills, nitrogen, and other chemicals from car exhaust settling on the pavement.

Why Don’t The Suburbs Sweep?

They do! Just not as aggressively as the District. “In urban jurisdictions, street sweeping is rewarded as a very efficient and effective way,” says Adam Ortiz, director of the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment,. In D.C., though, officials say ticketing is necessary. There are about 15 street sweepers roaming city streets day and night, with about 30 city workers assigned to the task. William Houston, a sweeper operator for the past 16 years, says the hardest part of the job maneuvering around cars parked in the way of his sweeper. “We have a lot of people who just say they don’t want to move their cars.“ Christopher Shorter, director of the D.C. Department of Public Works, says what works in Arlington wouldn’t work in the city, since “D.C. is a much more densely populated area, so we face different challenges when it comes to parking and curbside management. We would not be able to have a successful program if cars were still parked on the street. It would be very difficult for us to get around a whole block full of vehicles.”

But Isn’t It Really About the Ticket Revenue?

To answer the question about revenue: last year, although the city wrote a lot of tickets ($3.8 million worth) the sweeping program cost much more ($4.8 million). So not exactly a great way to make money.

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