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Trombone Shorty visits his childhood home

Fri, 2015-08-21 13:00

Troy Andrews, who is better known as Trombone Shorty, started performing as a child in a family and neighborhood of musicians in Treme, New Orleans.

Now he's one of the city's musical luminaries. He also started a foundation to teach young musicians how to make a living in the music business.

Andrews speaks with Lizzie O’Leary while strolling through his old neighborhood.

Click the media player above to hear the full interview.

Credit: What's in your wallet?

Fri, 2015-08-21 13:00

The world of consumer credit has been pretty bleak in the years since the economic crisis. But things are definitely looking up. According to Fair Isaac Corporation, or FICO for short, the average FICO score is 695 — the highest it’s been since 2005.  Almost 20 percent of consumers are scoring 800 or above, a slight increase over six months earlier. And fewer consumers are coming in below 550.

Basic money management, or how not to be broke: Pay your bills on time, pay down that credit card debt and seriously, do you really need those $300 boots? Everyone’s heard it. Now people are actually doing these things.

“People have been saving money, putting money in the bank, and being more careful about their use of money,” says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer advocate with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Also, he says it’s a lot easier now to know what’s going on with your credit. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been pushing banks and creditors to give away credit scores for free. This week, American Express joined other big card companies in making FICOs available to cardholders.

“And that may be helping to educate more consumers,” Mierzwinski says.

But there could be something else boosting credit scores. Since the economy tanked, a lot of people have given up on credit.

“The economy was so poor for so long that people were reluctant to take on debt, to engage in credit use,” says Rod Griffin, director of public education at Experian.

A lot of credit card dropouts are millennials. 

"I don’t know if this is young adults seeing their parents go through some type of financial trauma, or if it’s just them being a little more risk averse,” says Carly Urban, assistant professor of economics at Montana State University.

Griffin points out that millennials’ reluctance to use credit cards might work against them. It's hard to build good credit when you don’t use credit. 

 

Examining the Gulf Coast's master plan

Fri, 2015-08-21 12:31

When you talk to some residents along the Louisiana coast about rebuilding after Katrina, they'll say it almost doesn't matter if you rebuild the area unless its protected from another storm — and like many things, that hinges on money.

The legislature came up with a $50 billion master plan for coastal restoration to take care of projects like rehabbing the wetlands, which act as a natural storm barrier. But the plan is about $20 billion short in funding.
Mark Schleifstein covers the coast and environment for nola.com, the Times-Picayune website. In 2002, he predicted what a storm like Katrina could do to the city in a piece called "The Big One." In it, he wrote: "A major hurricane could decimate the region, but flooding from even a moderate storm could kill thousands. It's just a matter of time."

He outlines the importance of coastal restoration in his recent story "New Orleans' future depends on coastal restoration, but where's the money?"

Those demands are the ones the state Legislature has recognized by supporting the state's Master Plan, a $50 billion, 50-year outline that split its proposed resources between coastal restoration and flood protection.

But even state officials acknowledge they picked the $50 billion price tag because that's the most they believed the state could raise in the first 50 years. Inflation alone has increased that price, some say, and combined with delays in the most significant projects — including major Mississippi and Atchafalaya river diversions — has likely raised the cost to at least $100 billion.

Just where is all this money going to come from? That's a key question for the future of New Orleans and most of the region.

 

Felicia Day and the guild of geek

Fri, 2015-08-21 12:21

In her memoir "You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)," Felicia Day discusses her successful web series "The Guild" and how the internet has shaped her career.

Day was inspired by the “massively multiplayer online role-playing game,” World of Warcraft. She says the game is “a place where millions of people all over the world log on and play together or alone in a virtual world.” She adds the game was “very transformative for me personally, because it inspired me to start writing, and I created a show based on gamers called 'The Guild.'”

Getting her show off the ground wasn’t so easy. Hollywood executives weren’t excited about a show about gamers.

“So I couldn’t get it made and got discouraged, and a friend of mine had been making sketches for this new online service called YouTube,” Day says. YouTube was just in its infancy when she started her web series, so the concept of starting a show online was still pretty new. “I was like OK … maybe we could cut it up into pieces and make it ourselves in our garage. And that’s really where everything started.” The web series was a hit, and it gained a large fan base.

Despite the success of all her internet endeavors, she still enjoys just regular old acting.

“It is fantastic, because I get to do just one job. I mean I have signed on for the career of a million hats, and they’re stacked a mile high … that’s kind of what’s required of you in the digital world. You can’t be a specialist, I think; you have to be very broadly talented in a way,” Day explains.

When she finally ended "The Guild" and started her own company, Geek & Sundry, the burnout she felt was significant.

“I don’t think anyone talks about you can struggle as much with the pressures of success as you do the pressures of failure.” She acknowledges that that struggle of being successful can be a finer line to walk. Luckily, she has lots of people on the internet that keep her grounded.

“I always have a sniff test at the end of something. I try to think: ‘Is this really going to piss someone off?’ Is this arrogance? Is this hubris?' Because the internet is the first in line to knock you off a pedestal.”

At least, Day says, “that is a constant you can always rely on."

How Katrina changed the face of New Orleans

Fri, 2015-08-21 11:18

In the 10 years since Katrina, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have been reshaped in many ways: who lives there, the kind of work they do and what they can afford. Being Marketplace, we wanted to "do the numbers" on New Orleans.

Allison Plyer is executive director of the Data Center, a New Orleans-based think tank that publishes the New Orleans Index, a data-based looked at the demographics of New Orleans.

Total city population: Down

"The city has about 384,000 people now. Pre-Katrina, according to the census in 2000, we had about 484,000."

Population growth: Up

"But every year we gain population. I always remind folks, that's the most important thing, as long as every year it's going up, that's good."

African-American residents: Down

"Pre-Katrina, about 66 percent of the population was African-American. We've lost about 97,000 African-American residents, which was a large chunk, so now, we're just about 59 percent Africa-American."

White residents: Down

"We also lost about 9,000 white residents. A lot of folks don't realize that. But still proportionally now, the city has a larger share of whites, just because of how the African-American population has declined so much."

Hispanic residents: Up

"We've gained about 6,000 Hispanics and a couple thousand Asians. So we're diverse in a different kind of way than we were pre-Katrina."

Bus transit: Down

"We used to have a pretty good system of buses, relative to many other cities in the country. Certainly not relative to New York or San Francisco, but relative to other cities. Those buses were flooded, as I think everybody saw. The reimbursement from FEMA was such that we were only able to acquire about one-fifth of the buses we had pre-Katrina. That means we have a lot fewer routes running right now and a lot less frequency. And that's really hard for a lot of our workers who work in the tourism industry and rely on that."

Community-based clinics: Up

"There's been a movement towards community-based clinics that spawned, really, out of Katrina, and has been more effective in supplying primary health care than our previous model, which was all centralized downtown in the [Charity Hospital region]. It delivered a lot of other care really well, but for primary care, this decentralized system of clinics has proven to give more access to low-income communities. And we're seeing that now in the studies that are coming out."

Grocery stores: Mixed

"Grocery stores have rebounded to pre-Katrina levels. Tulane just came out with a study on that. Pre-Katrina levels were not as good as they should be, we still have food deserts, but there was a time it was really dire here, in terms of availability of grocery stores."

The push for better cybersecurity in cars

Fri, 2015-08-21 11:10

Over the next few days, members of the automotive industry are gathering in Detroit for this year’s Autonomous Cars Conference, and one of the big issues facing the field is cybersecurity for vehicles.

Last month, you may remember, a Wired Magazine reporter lost control of his transmission, driving 70 miles an hour on a highway in St. Louis as a sort of demonstration project set up by "white hat" hackers. If there had been any doubt whether new cars rolling off the assembly line are at risk, last month’s stunt answers that clearly.

“Theoretically, hackers can take control over all control of the car, the steering wheel, can take control of the brakes, can take control of the engine and shut it off,” says Pete Samson, with the firm Security Innovation.

If your vehicle’s computer is networked to any other computer, your vehicle is vulnerable. Kathleen Fisher of Tufts University says automakers are beginning to recognize that now they must become software companies too.

“It’s going to take significantly more investment in the software that is running the cars written to higher standards of quality,” she says. “It’s going to take a culture of assuming hackers are trying to break in and thinking in a defensive mindset.”

Fisher says a bill moving through the Senate, the Spy Car Act, may force the industry to make necessary changes. If done right, she says, that could make hacking so hard, attackers would look for easier marks.

The push for better cyber-security in cars

Fri, 2015-08-21 11:10

Over the next few days, members of the automotive industry are gathering in Detroit for this year’s Autonomous Cars Conference, and one of the big issues facing the field is cyber-security for vehicles.

Last month – you may remember month – a Wired Magazine reporter lost control of his transmission, driving 70 miles an hour on a highway in St. Louis as a sort of demonstration project set up by ‘white hat’ hackers. If there had been any doubt whether brand new cars rolling off the assembly line are at risk, last month’s stunt answers that clearly.

“Theoretically, hackers can take control over all control of the car, the steering wheel, can take control of the brakes, can take control of the engine and shut it off,” says Pete Samson, with the firm Security Innovation.

If your vehicle’s computer is networked to any other computer, your vehicle is vulnerable. Kathleen Fisher of Tufts University says automakers are beginning to recognize that now they must become software companies too.

“It’s going to take significantly more investment in the software that is running the cars written to higher standards of quality,” she says. “It’s going to take a culture of assuming hackers are trying to break in and thinking in a defensive mindset.”

Fisher says a bill moving through the Senate, the Spy Car Act, may force the industry to make necessary changes. If done right, she says, that could make hacking so hard, attackers would look for easier marks.

Trombone Shorty visits his childhood home

Fri, 2015-08-21 06:49

Troy Andrews, who is better known as Trombone Shorty, started performing as a child in a family and neighborhood of musicians in Treme, New Orleans.

Now he's one of the city's musical luminaries. He also started a foundation to teach young musicians how to make a living in the music business.

Andrews speaks with Lizzie O’Leary while strolling through his old neighborhood.

Click the media player above to hear the full interview.

Leah Chase’s 65 years in the same New Orleans kitchen

Fri, 2015-08-21 06:46

Since 1946, Leah Chase has been in the kitchen Dooky Chase's Restaurant in New Orleans. She’s served Quincy Jones, Jesse Jackson, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, James Baldwin, Ray Charles, former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and many others.

Quite simply, she's a legend in the city. Her restaurant was flooded with 5 1/2 feet of water from Katrina and closed for two years. Now 93, she speaks with Lizzie O’Leary from her kitchen, where she still shouts out orders to her staff every day.

Click the media player above to hear Chase's story.

Big Freedia, entrepreneur and Queen Diva

Fri, 2015-08-21 06:28

Big Freedia, born Freddie Ross, is known as the queen diva of bounce music. Bounce has made her famous, and she has a reality show and an autobiography.

Ten years ago, she was riding out Katrina with her family. Freedia tells her story outside the church in New Orleans' Third Ward where she learned to sing. She starts by defining bounce.

“It’s up-tempo, it’s heavy base, it’s call and respond. It has a lot to do with shaking the derriere.”

Music isn't the only way Freedia earns a living. She’s an author, producer, actor, decorator and has plans in the works for much more. But all the money from those businesses can make life complicated.

“More money, more problems. You have to learn how to manage your money in this game especially, because you never know when there’s gonna be a rainy day.” 

Big Freedia, entrepreneur and Queen Diva

Fri, 2015-08-21 06:28

Big Freedia, born Freddie Ross, is known as the queen diva of bounce music. Bounce has made her famous, and she has a reality show and an autobiography.

Ten years ago, she was riding out Katrina with her family. Freedia tells her story outside the church in New Orleans' Third Ward where she learned to sing. She starts by defining bounce.

“It’s up-tempo, it’s heavy base, it’s call and respond. It has a lot to do with shaking the derriere.”

Music isn't the only way Freedia earns a living. She’s an author, producer, actor, decorator and has plans in the works for much more. But all the money from those businesses can make life complicated.

“More money, more problems. You have to learn how to manage your money in this game especially, because you never know when there’s gonna be a rainy day.” 

PODCAST: A paint store ten years after Katrina

Fri, 2015-08-21 03:00

Airing Friday August 21, 2015: On today's show we check in on the global stock market, firefighters in the Western states, and a small paint store in New Orleans ten years after Katrina.  

Show me a hero in housing policies

Fri, 2015-08-21 02:56

HBO has begun a six-part miniseries about a long running movement in America: fair housing -- how best to integrate communities and stop discrimination when it comes to where people live. It's called "Show Me a Hero," and it's a dramatization of what happened in Yonkers, just up from New York City, when a federal judge in the 1980s ordered Yonkers to put in low-income housing as the law required, provoking ferocious opposition. The showrunner for Show Me a Hero is the guy who did the Wire about Baltimore. 

Click the multimedia player above to hear the conversation with Marketplace Morning Report host David Brancaccio.

Undocumented

Fri, 2015-08-21 02:00

This week, Actuality considers Donald Trump's plans for immigration reform and finds them wanting. And do U.S. farms need more immigrant labor, or do they just need to pay higher wages? Plus, the neuroscience of long-distance Turkish whistling. 

Western states scrambling for more firefighters

Fri, 2015-08-21 02:00

Wildfires are burning in ten states across the American West. States and the federal government are struggling to contain them, but they are running short on firefighters. The National Guard is participating, and some active duty military are getting last minute training to join by Sunday.

Tina Boehle, a public information officer at the National Interagency Fire Center, says smoke is even clogging the air near their headquarters in Boise, Idaho.

“I can’t even see the foothills, which are a only few miles away,” she says. The Fire Center coordinates logistics among state and federal agencies to help organize the response to wildfires. Boehle says almost 30,000 people, including firefighters and support staff, are struggling against the western fires.

“We have crews from the eastern states, the Midwest, the south, coming down from Alaska, as well as from Canada,” she says, adding that the U.S. is in negotiations with Australia and New Zealand to for additional crews.

Regular fire houses have skeleton crews while their staff heads to the burning forests. 

“We have employees that are on the duty for 20-25 days in a row with no days off,” says Mike Lopez, the president of Cal Fire Local 2881, part of a union representing many California firefighters. With staff being pulled away from their normal stations, Lopez says many are missing time with their families, adding additional stress to the grueling work.

Some 4,000 prisoners are also helping, says Bill Sessa of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as part of a program that's been going on since the 1940s.

“When [the inmates] are on the fire line," he says, "they do everything that a trained firefighter would do to fight a wildland fire.”

Prisoners can earn up to $26 a day, which Sessa says is pretty good for prison pay.

John Deere releases earnings

Fri, 2015-08-21 02:00

Farm equipment manufacturer John Deere releases its quarterly report before the market opens on Friday. The news is not expected to be good, because many farmers are struggling with low grain prices, such as those for corn and soybean prices which have dropped by 45 percent or more.

"Profitability for farmers is the worst that it's been in definitely well over five or six years," says Kwame Webb, an analyst at Morningstar, "Sales for Deere and most of its competitors in the agricultural market [are] down in the order of 20 to 30 percent."

It could take two years before farmers start to recover enough for sales to pick up again, according to Webb and Lawrence De Maria, a global industrial infrastructure analyst at William Blair & Co.

"[John Deere has] taken production down quite a bit," De Maria says, "They've had a lot of factory people being laid off around the enterprise to reduce costs."

Would you rather?

Fri, 2015-08-21 01:00
10,000

That's how many employees at Uniqlo's Japan locations can opt for a three-day weekend. Fast Retailing, the parent company of Uniqlo, will give the option of a four-day workweek to some of its workforce starting this fall. According to Bloomberg, about 10,000 employees at Uniqlo Japan can take a three-day weekend in exchange for 10-hour work days. If the initial rollout is a success, the fashion retailer will also consider introducing a shorter week at its corporate headquarters. 

1980s

That's the time frame of the HBO miniseries "Show Me a Hero." It focuses on fair housing, dramatizing what happened in Yonkers, New York, when a judge ordered it to provide affordable housing. Showrunner David Simon talks to David Brancaccio about how to best integrate communities and stop discrimination.

$200,000

That's how much NASA granted researchers to figure out how to turn human waste into usable products, according to Quartz. Mark Blenner, a Clemson University professor in the chemical and bioengineering department, is engineering yeast to produce onboard items for astronauts, including plastics and vitamins.  

20 percent

This is how much revenue dropped for John Deere from a year ago, according to the company's third-quarter earnings report. The fortunes of the equipment manufacturer is tied to farmers, who are struggling with low grain prices; corn and soybean prices have dropped by 45 percent or more.

Highland Park Swap Mall: A Year Later

Thu, 2015-08-20 13:33

This is a story about an old two-story brick building in a working class neighborhood in northeast Los Angeles called Highland Park. For several decades the building’s top floor has been home to the Highland Hotel, a 28-unit residential hotel for low-income men. The bottom floor was a “swap mall” where mom-and-pop vendors sold discounted goods.

I first encountered the building about a year ago, walking through the neighborhood with a real estate agent who, like many of her colleagues, was peering through the windows, imagining what it could be, now that the area was attracting a wave of new investment. Her verdict: the space divided into "cute boutiques." She said that would likely happen soon.

Ever since then, I have wondered what did happen.

But before I tell you that, let me introduce you to some of the people inside this building. Because there was more to the place than what you could see when you peered in through the dusty windows or read the real estate brochure about it being a Prime Highland Park Mixed Use Opportunity.

John Piper, who spent much of his childhood in Highland Park and came back as an adult to live in the hotel for almost a decade, described some of his most memorable hall-mates.

“There was Crazy Ralph — big, huge, bald Ralph,” Piper says. “He was tone deaf, but he’d crank up his music and sing like a bird.”

"And there was Crazy Tony,” Piper says. “Walking up and down the streets talking to nobody on his cell phone.” This, Piper says, was a mode of self-defense to keep people from bothering Tony in what could be a rough neighborhood.

And there was “Rodney the Kool-Aid guy,” because he always drank Kool-Aid.

John Piper 

Krissy Clark/Marketplace

Piper, 52, is a character in his own right: an artist and former welder and former air force guy and former heavy-metal drummer who used to perform at the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas. He moved to the Highland Hotel right around the time he became disabled, after he collapsed during a pulmonary embolism and lost most of the movement in his right hand.

“It's such a good place to live for guys. We can't help but like the place,” Piper says. His rent was cheap — $500 a month, including utilities. He loved the view he had from his room, which looked out over the main drag in Highland Park, Figueroa Street. “I could watch the parades and watch Santa Claus go by. What's not to like about that?”

There were definitely some things not to like about the place though, Piper says. It was a building where people without a lot of other options came to stay. Some struggled with mental health issues or addiction. Some just struggled. There was a morbid joke around the building, Piper says. “Once you come in there you leave in a bag.”

During the eight-plus years Piper lived at the Highland Hotel, he says one resident died of a gunshot wound. Another guy hanged himself. Another died of lung cancer. But Piper says there was also an accidental, if slightly chaotic, community that formed among people on the edge who looked out for each other.

If a hotel resident was in trouble, Piper says, they could often find dinner and Kool-Aid from Rodney the Kool-Aid guy. Piper says he used to go with another neighbor, who had a brain injury, to a food pantry at a local church once a month.

“I was broke and trying to figure out how I was going to eat,” Piper says. “And he needed somebody to help him out.”

***

When I first went in to the building last fall, around the time that real estate agent was scoping it out for a couple of potential cute boutiques, a bunch of tenants, including John Piper, were shooting the breeze downstairs in the Swap Mall. They were well aware of the attention their building was getting. What might happen if the building was sold was, in fact, a big topic of conversation.

Some of the former business owners and residents of the Highland Park Swap Mall, including Frank Valenzuela (second from left), Carlos Valdez (second from right) and John Piper (far right). This photo was taken last year. (Krissy Clark/Marketplace)  

Carlos Valdez, who ran a little computer repair shop at one of the Swap Mall kiosks, made the point that a new owner could mean upgrades to the building, which had suffered from years of deferred maintenance. That could be good for his business.

“If you had landlords that would care about their building and go, ‘Hey, look, we got to improve for our tenants,’ I'm pro for it,” he said. “I’ve seen other buildings up the street that were a mess, and now they're making money.”

But Frank Valenzuela, another residential hotel tenant, saw it differently. If the building was bought, he said, “everyone would get evicted and the building would get refurbished in to something else.” Valenzuela argued that whoever bought it would want to clear out the tenants and put the building to a more lucrative use to make the most of their investment.

“I really doubt that's renting rooms to crazy people,” Valenzuela warned his neighbors.

John Piper sat back and listened in on the debate. I asked him what he expected if the building was sold. “I'd probably go live at my brother's house in Redondo Beach,” he said, thinking for a moment. “It'd probably be good for me.”

***

That was almost a year ago. Since then, the building has been sold for $3.6 million. John Piper did not end up in Redondo Beach.

Instead, he ended up in Van Nuys, a working class neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, in a two-bedroom apartment he shares with two other people. I visited him recently on a sweltering summer day. We retreated to the doorway of his air-conditioned bedroom.

“My room’s a wreck still,” he apologizes.

Piper pays $100 more for this room than the unit he had to himself in Highland Park. But unlike his old unit, he has his own bathroom.

The last few months have been a scramble for Piper. He says he was informed back in February, right after his birthday, that the Highland Hotel had been sold. He says the building manager and the new property manager arranged a meeting with him to explain the new owners had plans to renovate the building — maybe turn it in to offices.

“’And everybody's going to need to move,’” he remembers one of them telling him.

“I said, ‘Really, everybody? Me and everybody that lives up here and the whole Swap Mall and everybody?’ He goes, ‘Yeah.’ And I'm, like, ‘Wow. That really sucks.'”

It took Piper two weeks to find a new place to live. In the meantime, he says he stayed in a motel for $70 a night. He says he looked for another place to rent in Highland Park and neighboring areas, but couldn’t find anything he could afford. When he finally found the room in Van Nuys, he took it. But he didn’t like the fact that it would be a 45 minute drive from his old community.

“That's where I had all my connections and everything, right there in Highland Park,” he says. “I kind of miss living there. Now for me to do anything, I got to drive all the way back over there.”

The silver lining, Piper says, is he received some money from the building's new owners. He used some of it to buy a car, which he needs now since his new place is so far away. The money came out of a series of negotiations with the new property managers, Piper says.

“They said ‘You have to move, here's $8,000.’ And I said ‘No, thank you.’ And then they raised it to $10,000 and I said ‘Nope, sorry.’”

Piper had done some research online about rent control laws. He says he told the property manager, “I know what I'm entitled to. That is the amount that I will get.”

The amount Piper had in his head was a little more than $19,000. According to Los Angeles rent control laws, that’s how much relocation money a tenant who is disabled and has lived in an eligible unit for more than three years is entitled to under a “no-fault eviction.”

Piper says he figured rather than fight for that amount, which might require a lawyer, he would agree to less. He says he agreed to a little more than $14,000. Between all the moving costs, staying in a hotel while he found a new (more expensive) place to live and buying a car, most of the money is already gone.

“The money definitely helped,” Piper says. “But look what it’s taken me. Now I’m down to $1,500.”

But there was something that Piper did not know. Residential hotel units like the one he used to live in have special protections in Los Angeles. Landlords have to get city approval in order to convert them to another use — approvals the city says the new property owners have not applied for yet. In the meantime, Piper was under no obligation to leave his old unit. He could have told the new owners he wanted to stay.

When I told this to Piper, he was surprised. “I never knew that I could have stayed. They never even mentioned it.”

“Tenants, they often don't know their rights,” says Raphael Bostic, a housing expert and professor of public policy at University of Southern California. He says these kinds of negotiations happen all the time.

Tom Majich

Krissy Clark/Marketplace

“Most of these folks are not skilled, seasoned negotiators, whereas the developer is going to have a team of folks where this is what they do.” Bostic says there's a distinct possibility in negotiations like these “for the tenant to agree to a worse deal than they might have otherwise been able to get.”

I tracked down one of the new owners of the building, Tom Majich, president of RedCar Properties, a real estate investment company in Los Angeles. He says he wasn't involved himself in the negotiation with John Piper, but that in general, it's up to tenants to know their own rights.

“I'm not ... and this is like a derogatory word, but I'm not their babysitter, and I'm not their parent,” Majich says.

Majich says some of the residential hotel’s former tenants did not pay rent, had firearms or were using or dealing drugs on the property. He says he paid tenants to leave the property because cares about the neighborhood. He wants to clean it up.

“Can I support everyone's challenge? Absolutely not,” he says. “But I very much care about this part of town, and it's because I care that we made the investment so it isn't an area where people are overdosing in our driveway. We're going to prevent that.”

I ask him if he knows where any of his former tenants went, and he says he only knows of one, who moved in to his sister’s in Highland Park. I ask if Majich wonders where the others went.

He pauses for a moment. “I don’t.”

A note pays tribute to former occupants of the hotel. 

Krissy Clark/Marketplace

Here is what I was able to find: One man moved in with his mom and used the buyout money to start medical technician school. Another purchased a house out by the Salton Sea. Another is currently working for the new building owners.

And of course, Piper lives with two roommates, farther away from his old stomping grounds in Highland Park than he would like.

“My life is OK,” Piper tells me. “But I'm not as happy as I was when I was living where I was.”

As for Crazy Ralph, Crazy Tony and all the other former tenants, Piper doesn't know where they went. But when I walked through the halls of the old hotel a few weeks ago with Majich as workers were clearing out some of the units, I saw something: little green post-it notes on the doors to some of the rooms, with names of old tenants and the letters R.I.P.

 

When sharing is scaring

Thu, 2015-08-20 13:00

The sharing economy has drawn some unpleasant headlines recently: rape, assault and the alleged failure to do proper background checks. The horror stories have added fuel to the debate over the ability of an industry to regulate itself and the necessity of government intervention. 

"To paint a broad brush to say that there are major trust issues or safety issues in the sharing economy is a bit of sensationalism," says Billee Howard, CEO of Brandthropologie and author of the book "We-commerce."

According to Airbnb, there have been 340 complaints over property damage in 2015 out of 23 million guest stays — that's fewer than one in every 67,000 guests. Guest complaints about hosts are "incredibly rare," the company says. Uber, which is accused by several U.S. attorneys general of having substandard background checks that failed to catch dozens of people with criminal records, did not return a request for comment. 

Arvind Malhotra, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says while the numbers may be small, it naturally raises suspicions. "It's an emerging problem. Similar issues, when they crop up in diverse locations, tend to indicate possible system breakdown."

He says this poses a double risk to sharing-economy companies because negative stories can scare away both customers and suppliers, like drivers and hosts. 

For advocates of the sharing economy, this is exactly what they say will drive improvements, as opposed to government intervention. 

"We generally don't start by saying let's get the government involved," says Arun Sundararajan, professor of  information, operations and management sciences at New York University's Stern School of Business.  "In the American economy, what we've traditionally done is let the market provide what it can and then have the government step in and surgically correct market failures." 

In other words, competition can sometimes be its own regulator. Matthew Mitchell, senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, says excessive regulation can have similar effects to under-regulation. "Ironically, highly regulated industries, like taxi industries, have some of the worst safety and quality records in part because regulations have protected incumbents from any sort of competition that might serve customers better."

UNC's Malhotra says industries trying to protect their image will likely move faster than lawsuits and government regulation alone, but "somewhere there's a happy medium." After all, we don't leave businesses to develop their own fire codes. 

 

When sharing is scaring

Thu, 2015-08-20 13:00

The sharing economy has drawn some unpleasant headlines recently: rape, assault and the alleged failure to do proper background checks. The horror stories have added fuel to the debate over the ability of an industry to regulate itself and the necessity of government intervention. 

"To paint a broad brush to say that there are major trust issues or safety issues in the sharing economy is a bit of sensationalism," says Billee Howard, CEO of Brandthropologie and author of the book "We-commerce."

According to Airbnb, there have been 340 complaints over property damage in 2015 out of 23 million guest stays — that's fewer than one in every 67,000 guests. Guest complaints about hosts are "incredibly rare," the company says. Uber, which is accused by several U.S. attorneys general of having substandard background checks that failed to catch dozens of people with criminal records, did not return a request for comment. 

Arvind Malhotra, professor of entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says while the numbers may be small, it naturally raises suspicions. "It's an emerging problem. Similar issues, when they crop up in diverse locations, tend to indicate possible system breakdown."

He says this poses a double risk to sharing-economy companies because negative stories can scare away both customers and suppliers, like drivers and hosts. 

For advocates of the sharing economy, this is exactly what they say will drive improvements, as opposed to government intervention. 

"We generally don't start by saying let's get the government involved," says Arun Sundararajan, professor of  information, operations and management sciences at New York University's Stern School of Business.  "In the American economy, what we've traditionally done is let the market provide what it can and then have the government step in and surgically correct market failures." 

In other words, competition can sometimes be its own regulator. Matthew Mitchell, senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center, says excessive regulation can have similar effects to under-regulation. "Ironically, highly regulated industries, like taxi industries, have some of the worst safety and quality records in part because regulations have protected incumbents from any sort of competition that might serve customers better."

UNC's Malhotra says industries trying to protect their image will likely move faster than lawsuits and government regulation alone, but "somewhere there's a happy medium." After all, we don't leave businesses to develop their own fire codes. 

 

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