National / International News
Having roommates gets old. And having roommates is cramped, says New Yorker Marcos Sanchez.
“Nine people, five cats, and a number of regulars who are guests,” Sanchez describes the residents of his Bushwick loft as he gives a tour. “This building used to be a warehouse.”
The metal stairwell is dark, but brightened by some impressive graffiti featuring yellow jellyfish. An old bucket of sand holds legions of cigarette butts, and rust has eaten through one of the steps.
Inside the apartment, the ceilings are high. Art supplies fill one communal room, an old film crane frames the couches in another.
In many ways, this loft realizes a romanticized ideal of youth and resourcefulness. The roommates host salons and potlucks, artist exhibitions and game nights. They sip beer on the roof in view of the Manhattan skyline. There’s a dilapidated water tower atop the building that offers entertainment for the adventurous and tetanus-resistant. Many of the roommates wouldn’t have it any other way.
Perhaps best of all, the rent is around $900 – about as cheap as it gets in New York City.
There is an additional price to be paid, however.
“You hear sex through the walls,” Sanchez says with a laugh. “You hear some bathroom noises. There are frequently dirty dishes in the sink. The cats are really nice but I think they’re gross. They’re the nicest creatures. It weighs on my conscience when I speak ill of them.”
But he does anyway. And he’s right, they smell.
“When I have my lotto fantasies, one of the first things I do is I get a place of my own near my job," he says.
The Desire To Live Alone
Marcos Sanchez is not alone.
“More people are living alone than at any time in the history of our species," says Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at NYU and author of "Going Solo". “Contemporary people, given the option, would rather go solo, which is why we see such incredible demand in the real estate market."
The key phrase there is “given the option.” Many people aren’t given any option at all, he notes.
"The problem is that real estate has become so expensive in the central urban areas that many people are priced out of the rental market,” Klinenberg says.
A one-bedroom in Manhattan easily goes for $3,000 a month or more. Rents are higher than before the recession and renters' incomes are lower. Mass migrations to urban centers have continued, pushing rents up even more.
Compounding the simple imbalance of supply and demand, there is a mismatch across the U.S. between the type of housing desired and the type of housing available.
“The population of singles and couples far exceeds the number of studios and one bedrooms,” says John Infranca, research affiliate at NYU’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. He is coauthor of a report examining this mismatch. In many cities, the available housing is 50-70 years-old on average, and thus designed for a different era. In his words, it was “a time when we had more large families [and] people weren’t living alone until they start[ed] their own family.”
Infranca says this means families today are paying a price for the lack of housing for singles.
“The demand for housing of this population is currently being met instead by our stock of two- and three-bedroom units...pricing families out of those units because they have to compete with two or three single individuals.”
Finding Answers in Tiny Places
One possible solution is the micro-unit. It’s a small – sometimes very small – single-person apartment. Inside of an immense factory space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Tom O'Hara, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Capsys Corp., stands over the emerging skeleton of one such unit.
“This is the combined living-dining area. [The] kitchen goes back in this corner. This is about 300 square feet.”
Capsys builds modular residences – pre-fabricated, stackable, movable homes or apartments or hotels.Sabri Ben-Achour/Marketplace
The apartment he shows me is being made for the MyMicro project, an experiment launched under Michael Bloomberg when he was mayor of New York City.
It’s small, concedes O'Hara, but that is the point.
“I don’t know that anyone would live in a space this small in Peoria, but in New York City, you have a place like this because you live in the city, and this is where you take a shower and sleep.”
The kitchen island will fold down from the wall; the bed will be either a Murphy bed or a convertible sofa.
The 55 units being built in Brooklyn will include 22 rent-restricted units, which will run from $939 to $1,873 a month depending on the income of the renter. The remaining 33 will be market rate, which means they could go for higher.
In dense cities, people live their lives outside – the coffee shop down the street, the bar around the corner. At least, that is the bet that a lot of cities are beginning to make as they allow developers to experiment with building micro-units, from Austin to Denver to Washington, DC. In most cities, minimum apartment size requirements and zoning codes make micro-units either impossible or cost prohibitive without express sanction from local authorities.
So far, the experimentation has confirmed a deep need.
“These units are renting out very quickly, if not fully rented the moment construction is finished,” says Infranca.
In that sense, it has been a success: the city is meeting demand for housing with new supply.
Then there's the question of whether this kind of apartment represents good urban planning. In Seattle, micro-units as small as 120 square feet have been built in not-very-dense parts of the city. Some residents worry about parking problems and other issues created by a sudden increase in population that could come from the creation of this kind of housing.
Those irks may be the lesser of two evils. If young people or single people can’t move to a city because there’s nowhere affordable to live the way they want, they'll just go somewhere else. And that's a far greater existential threat.
The EU is banning the manufacture of vacuums over 1600 watts, starting September 1st.
What will that mean for Patricia Ware, owner of a vacuum repair shop in Edinburgh? Ware demonstrates the difference in sucking power from her shop, Radio Electrics.
"When you have pets with a lot of dog hair and cat hair, you need to have that suction [a more powerful vacuum provides]," says Ware. "Why they're doing this, I have no idea. This is the EU crap that goes on in Brussels. But nevermind about all the racing cars that raise all the emissions in the air, that's ok, we're going to worry about a vacuum cleaner that's ... on for a half hour."
Remember your first day in an office (or, for some, a barn)?
Our first jobs shape us, how we view work and see ourselves as part of a bigger team.
We went around Los Angeles to find stories of first jobs and what lessons you still hold from your first time employed. Lizzie O'Leary told us about her first job in a sandwich shop, I was something called a 'video game quality assurance tester,' what was yours?
There are, of course, lots of studies ranking one thing against another. Some are more viable than others. But they're usually somewhat interesting.
WalletHub, a personal finance website, has taken a whole bunch of data points including age, gender, income, and household make-up to rank cities on how "typically American" they are, based on how close they are to the national average.
Number 340 out of 366 on the list? Washington, DC.
International commodity markets are full of little mysteries. For example: Why would a market player buy a whole bunch of something when the market is full of that very thing?
In this case, the thing is diesel fuel in Europe. The continent's last winter was mild, so there’s plenty in storage. Yet, according to Bloomberg, the bank Morgan Stanley has been on a huge buying spree.
The experts will tell you, nobody knows for sure. But they can guess: Maybe somebody thinks the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine will stop the flow of natural gas to Europe by winter, when demand goes up.
What does that have to do with diesel?
"If they can’t find natural gas, they’re going to have to find alternatives," suggests Phil Flynn, from Price Futures Group. "They’re going to use more coal, they’re going to use more oil..." and maybe some more diesel.
So, buy low now, sell high later.
That is unless prices don’t go up, like if next winter is really mild, or natural gas supplies are okay, or both. Then you lose money.
Risking your own money is called trading “naked,” which energy consultant David Bellman thinks is unlikely in this situation. Instead, he suggests, Morgan Stanley may be acting as an agent for end-users like governments or companies.
"They could be agents for multiple people," says Bellman. "They could have found end-user A, end-user B, end-user C, and negotiated with all of them and said, 'Aren’t you concerned about Ukraine?'"
It could be a lot simpler than that. Energy economist and consultant Phil Verleger looked up diesel prices— and the price of diesel futures— while we talked on the phone. Turns out, you can sell a contract today to deliver diesel in January for a little more than the current price.
"You could buy the diesel, store it, sell futures against it, and earn a very nice return," Verleger says, "at a time when interest rates are essentially zero."
In this case, it’s the “storing it” that’s the hard part for most players, because of the glut. If Morgan Stanley has some storage capacity, that could allow the bank to make money by buying something that nobody else wants.
The government reported personal spending fell 0.1 percent in July, following a 0.4 percent increase in June. Personal income rose 0.2 percent in July, a weaker-than-expected gain and the lowest since December 2013.
Meanwhile, the Reuters-University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index rose at the end of August, with the current conditions measure hitting its highest level since summer 2007, before the Great Recession hit.
The spending decline in July was partly a function of lower utility and gasoline bills, said economist Chris Christopher at IHS Global Insight. “That can be a good thing in many cases,” he says. “If you have a smaller electricity bill at the end of the month.”
Christopher says lower energy costs in July might result in consumers devoting extra discretionary spending to back-to-school purchases in August.
Still, combined with weak income gains in July, the consumer indicators pointed to a still-weak economic recovery. And yet, consumers now feel better about current economic conditions than they have felt since before the Great Recession.
“The fact that we’re the highest in seven years is good,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist at Wells Fargo. “It means that we’re better off than where we were a year ago or two years ago. But it still doesn’t compare to where we would be if economic conditions were truly great.” Vitner said consumers weren’t showing extremely strong satisfaction with the economy during the 2000s either, in spite of rising home prices and equity markets.
Sarai St. Julien, who was shopping at a neighborhood grocery store in Portland, Oregon, echoed the evidence in the consumer data.
“I feel more confident, but still I have to be careful,” St. Julien said. “We got hit pretty hard, my husband lost his job, and we kind of had to put ourselves back together and sold a lot of personal belongings to do it. We are doing better, he’s got a good job, but we’re still sort of digging out of a hole.”