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Redevelopment authority begins work to restore historic Waynesburg building – Observer

WAYNESBURG – The Greene County Redevelopment Authority is beginning a project to preserve and restore a historic building in downtown Waynesburg.

Workers are removing asbestos from the interior of the J.H. Ganiear Building at 146 E. High St. Within the next two weeks, a contractor is expected to start demolishing the rear two-thirds of the structure.

The building, which last housed Waynesburg Floral, stretches from High Street back to Cherry Alley and looks to have been built in sections.

It is “way too big” and in too poor of condition to restore in its entirety, authority Executive Director David Calvario said.

“We’re going to tear off the rear, put a roof on it to secure (the front section), let it dry out and then figure out where we can go from there,” he said.

The goal is eventually to restore the building to house a retail business on the first floor and apartments upstairs.

The building is more than 100 years old and, as indicated in a picture of it in the book “Waynesburg Prosperous and Beautiful,” published in 1907, once housed furniture and undertaker businesses.

The first floor on High Street was last occupied by Waynesburg Floral, which closed a number of years ago.

The building is severely deteriorated. The roof “is shot” and over the years the interior has suffered “significant weather damage,” Calvario said. As part of the restoration, the entire interior will probably have to be gutted, he said.

“It’s just a massive project,” Calvario said.

The authority purchased the property for $4,500 at a county judicial sale, which removed any liens or judgements filed against it. The demolition is expected to cost about $100,000.

The preservation work is being completed with grant money the authority received from the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Act.

The grant, combined with contributions from the county and several municipalities, has been used by the authority for a program to eliminate blight, return properties to the tax rolls, and provide housing for those who need places to live.

Under the program, the authority obtains dilapidated houses or buildings through donation or by purchasing them in foreclosure or at tax or judicial sales.

It rehabilitates buildings that can be rehabilitated and demolishes those beyond repair to make room for new housing.

The houses and other buildings that are repaired are then sold with the proceeds going to cover the costs of the repairs and possibly to make money to continue the program.

Once the building has a new roof to prevent further damage, the interior can then be restored, Calvario said. How that will be done has not yet been decided.

The authority could do the work itself, partner with a private developer to complete the project or sell the building, as long as the buyer included a housing component as required by the state grant, he said.

Article source:

Hell without the L?: Here’s how real estate players are bracing for the train shutdown

The L train

The L train

Brooklyn residents panicked when MTA officials announced in January that the L train — the engine that charges North Williamsburg and Bushwick — would potentially shut down for over 18 months to allow for critical repairs to the Canarsie Tube.

Merchants from Bedford to Jefferson howled that there’d be fewer takers for their $4 PBR + pickleback shot specials, and landlords wondered if the creative businesses that have sprouted around the L train stations would wither away.

Renters, who comprise the vast majority of residents, might flee for better-connected ‘hoods, flattening or pushing down rents and tipping over-leveraged multifamily owners into financial disarray, the narrative went.

The Real Deal spoke to residential and commercial brokers, developers and business owners to gain some insights into what North Brooklyn will look like after 2018, without the L train (or, as in the MTA’s alternate plan, an L train with no night and weekend service for five years).

Here’s what they had to say:

Residential rentals and sales:

Approximately 78 percent of housing units in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick are occupied by renters, according to data from the 2014 Housing and Vacancy Survey, and they’re likely to be the among the most affected by transit trauma. Landlords will have to admit that short-term tenants have better options for the money, and adjust rental rates accordingly, real estate professionals said.

Jonathan Miller

Jonathan Miller

“This is a zero-sum game. What comes at a loss to this market is a gain in another neighborhood that doesn’t have a commuting challenge,” said Jonathan Miller, head of real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel. “I think that’s the first response and why rents will drop.”

Andrew Rose, a broker at Mirador Real Estate and a Williamsburg resident, said the market changes would be immediately noticeable.

“In the first couple of months [landlords] would drop their prices,” he said. “But at some point you just can’t cover it.”

According to MNS Real Estate‘s latest rental market report, the average rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in Williamsburg reached $3,153 in February, up from $3,065 during the same period last year.

It’s tricky to say how much rental prices would fall starting in 2018, but some in the industry believe landlords are in for a double digit drop. Rose sees a 15 percent reduction for landlords.

Miller drew the parallel to the Second Avenue subway in Manhattan, where ongoing construction has resulted in single-digit rental drops in some pockets. He believes the fall would be greater in Brooklyn due to a lack of alternative transit options.

“It would be a stretch to think that rents would not be impacted to a greater degree, meaning more than a single digit modification over the next two years,” he said.

It’s not an insignificant concern for the developers bringing 995 rental units to Williamsburg in the next two years, according to an analysis from CityRealty.

Miron Properties CEO Jeffrey Schleider represents a group of developers who are collectively delivering over 200 rental units coming to the market in Williamsburg over the next two years. If prices in the neighborhood were to fall, he said those developers would be able to sustain one-to-three years of reduced rent.

“If there’s a full closure, we would advise our developers to reduce their rates on existing tenants in order to keep them in place during this time,” Schleider told TRD. Any reduction in rents would be determined by how inconvenienced the tenants are and what alternatives the MTA develops, he added.

Schleider said most landowners will weather the storm, but warned that developers who paid a very high price per square foot could be at risk of losing tenants and potentially facing foreclosure.

A rendering of 2 North 6th Place

A rendering of 2 North 6th Place in Williamsburg

Not all think there will be major hiccups.

“It will have a short-term impact on rents, and it will be modest,” said Paul Travis, managing director of Washington Square Partners, adding that developers are “looking five-to-10 years from now.”

Some developers are ahead of the curve of the shutdown. Steve Charno, President of Douglaston Development, has already promised that staff at the 41-story 1N4TH will drive tenants from the building’s front steps to the JMZ train when the repairs begin. Douglaston also has a 40-story, 554-unit rental tower rising next door at 2 North 6th Place. The 500,000-square-foot project is expected to open its door to residents in 2017.

“As soon as we realized our residents might have some anxiety about how they would get to work, we decided [free shuttle service] would be in their best interest,” Charno told TRD.

On the sales side, 57 new condominium buildings containing 1,464 units are in the pipeline for Williamsburg, according to an analysis by TRD of filings submitted to the Attorney General’s Office since 2014.

One of those new buildings is a rental-to-condominium conversion at 184 Kent Avenue, undertaken by Kushner Companies, Rockpoint Group and LIVWRK. The 338-unit project has a projected sellout of $414 million, TRD reported.

A rendering of 184 Kent Avenue

A rendering of 184 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg

New development projects, like 184 Kent, are likely to be negatively impacted more than resales, according to industry veterans.

“In a resale situation, inventory is relatively tight versus the new development market, so it’s maybe less of a factor,” Miller said. “Maybe sellers are more negotiable on the resale side.”

Donna Olshan, president of Olshan Realty, said the effect on the sales market in Williamsburg could be similar to that of the neighborhoods near the long-planned Second Avenue subway.

“There are many sales that didn’t happen around the Second Avenue subway because people couldn’t take the construction that happened,” Olshan said. “There are people that bought at a discount, but there are a whole lot of people who said, ‘forget it.’”

Still, it’s all relative.

“Whatever the negative impact on the sales side, it will be far less than the impact to rentals,” Miller said.


More than any other submarket, small retailers with razor-thin profit margins are likely to be sucking wind when the MTA’s hard hats tape off the subway stations.

Tim King

Tim King

CPEX Real Estate co-founder Tim King compared the impending shutdown to the Titanic striking the iceberg — at least for third-class passengers.

“A small tenant who’s well positioned, who serves their client base can presumably survive,” he said. “But someone who opened up recently, and anticipates a steady flow of clients, customers and business coming from Manhattan on the L train— should there be a permanent shutdown— it’s going to have a significant, catastrophic impact on their business.”

King expects small business owners centered around the Bedford Avenue stop will fight for slimmer retail rents. The average rents, at $350 per square foot, are the highest in Brooklyn.

“A lot of people [are] refiguring what’s appropriate in terms of the market rent, and it’s likely that existing tenants are going to go hat in hand and say, ‘Listen, we can’t survive on the current flow of business, we need a reduction.’”

Halstead Property broker Warner Lewis, who also owns Donna, a cocktail bar in South Williamsburg, said businesses that are dependent on foot traffic and steady stream of L train straphangers are the most likely candidates for closure.

“When you have a margin business, you can’t take a 30 percent drop,” Lewis said. Still, he predicted the completed construction would eventually be a “net positive” for Williamsburg. “It’s way too established of a neighborhood to long term be affected by this.”

Developers who haven’t yet secured tenants for their retail projects, as well as smaller tenants paying a premium to be on the Bedford Avenue submarket, are most at risk, according to Marcus Millichap broker Shaun Riney.

The average price per square foot for a retail building in Williamsburg was $4,143 in 2015, more than double the 2014 average, according to TerraCRG, with developers including RedSky Capital paying record prices for property off the Bedford Avenue stop.

Last year, the firm led by Benjamin Bernstein and Benjamin Stokes, paid $20.7 million for a 1,600-square-foot property at 204-206 Bedford Avenue. Joe Sitt’s Thor Equities is in contract to buy a development site from the Salvation Army for $36 million, although the developer may now be looking to back out of the deal, with some industry chatter that the shutdown is giving them cold feet.


While Williamsburg is mostly known for its retail and residential markets, big-name developers such as Toby Moskovits’ Heritage Equity Partners are looking to build major office properties in the neighborhood’s industrial-zoned areas.

25 Kent Avenue

Rendering of 25 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg

“If an office tenant is going to come in, they’re going to do a long term deal,” said Newmark Grubb Frank Knight broker Whitten Morris, the listing agent for 25 Kent Avenue, Moskovits’ 480,000-square-foot, mixed-use project. In fact, he said, fixing the L train could bring more confidence since there would no longer be something “hanging over the market.”

Investors are also making bold moves to expand the burgeoning office submarket on the East Williamsburg-Bushwick border.

101 Varick Avenue

101 Varick Avenue in East Williamsburg

The area is seeing big development plays, including the Lincoln Property Company’s office-and-retail project at 455 Jefferson Street, the warehouse conversion at 456 Johnson Street by Sequoia Development Group, and the Normandy Real Estate Partners-led office-and-retail project at 333 Johnson Avenue. Even Simon Dushinsky’s Rabsky Group, one of Brooklyn’s most prolific developers, is branching out with its first office project, a warehouse-to-office conversion at 101 Varick Street that could house up to 285,000 square feet of space.

A full shutdown could be a “disaster and a catastrophe for everyone,” including developers and tenants, said Citi Habitats’ Chris Havens, who is overseeing leasing at 456 Johnson Avenue, three blocks from the Morgan Avenue stop on the L line.

Asking rents for office space in East Williamsburg average $40 to $50 per square foot.

“The office market in Brooklyn has been pretty intense lately, and this may be a year where [rent] plateaus, takes a break,” Havens said.

The L train shutting down won’t necessarily stop developers who have already moved ahead, though. “Everyone I know that’s doing [an office project] is already going forward,” Havens said. “The only thing that’s for sale around here was for sale a few months ago, and people are going ahead.”

Owners of creative commercial spaces, which include film and television stages, art studios and offices, in East Williamsburg and Bushwick are spooked.

“There will be no businesses if they shut the L train down,” Thomas Dodd, who operates Brooklyn Fire Proof’s creative spaces in Bushwick, said at a community board meeting in February. “You will devastate the entire community… I will have to shut down all of my businesses, relieve all of my employees, and move, quite frankly, from Brooklyn. There’s just no way around this. Zero.”

The MTA hasn’t said when it will announce its decision about the possible closure.

Ariel Stulberg contributed reporting.

Article source:

List: 56 new laws on Wisconsin’s books as of Wednesday, March 30th

Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin State Capitol

Wisconsin State Capitol

MADISON — Governor Scott Walker signed 56 bills into law Wednesday, March 30th at the Wisconsin State Capitol in Madison. 

Assembly Bill 543 – expands the number of bills required to be reviewed for social and financial impacts to include mandates that change the cost-sharing for a particular health insurance plan.  The bill also requires the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) to issue social and financial impact records before any public hearing on a bill or amendment.  If there is no public hearing, OCI is required to prepare a report prior to the vote.  Authored by Representative John Jagler (R – Watertown) and Senator Leah Vukmir (R – Brookfield), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 19-13.  It is Act 288.

Senate Bill 615 – makes several changes to the Special Needs Scholarship Program, which was created in the 2015-17 biennial budget, including requiring a child with a disability who wishes to participate in the program to have an Individualized Education Program or services plan in effect prior to being eligible to participate; permitting a child with a disability to apply for a scholarship and attend a private school under the program at any time during a school year; requiring a parent or guardian of the child attending a private school under the program to make the child available no more than once every three years for a reevaluation of the child’s IEP and services plan; and requiring a participating private school that receives more applicants under the program than the number of spaces available at the school to accept applications in the order in which they are received.  The bill also modifies how the revenue limit authority is calculated for school districts with students that enroll in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program and the Racine Parental Choice Program.  Authored by Senator Leah Vukmir (R – Brookfield) and Representative John Jagler (R – Watertown), the bill passed the Senate with a vote of 19-13 and was concurred by the Assembly with a vote of 56-37.  It is Act 289.

Assembly Bill 865 – allows a pharmacist or pharmacy student to administer an injectable prescribed drug to a patient outside of the context of teaching the patient self-administration techniques.  The bill requires a pharmacist or pharmacy student, or his or her agent after the pharmacist or pharmacy student administers a prescribed drug product or device to a patient, to notify the prescribing practitioner or enter the information in a patient record system shared by the prescribing practitioner.  Authored by Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R – Fond du Lac) and Senator Leah Vukmir (R – Brookfield), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 290.

Assembly Bill 866 – as amended, allows a pharmacist to use his or her professional judgment to dispense non-controlled substances up to 90 days when refills exist on a prescription order.  Authored by Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R – Fond du Lac) and Senator Leah Vukmir (R – Brookfield), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 291.

Assembly Bill 521 – makes various changes to the criminal invasion of privacy statute.  It provides that in addition to installing or using an installed surveillance device, no person may use a surveillance device – whether installed or not – to observe in a private place a nude or partially nude person without the consent of the person observed.  The bill makes it a Class I felony to capture, reproduce, exhibit, or distribute an “intimate representation” without the consent of the person depicted under circumstances in which he or she has a reasonable expectation of privacy if the person knows or has reason to know that the person who is depicted does not consent to the capture of the intimate representation.  Authored by Representative John Spiros (R – Marshfield) and Senator Leah Vukmir (R – Brookfield), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 292.

Assembly Bill 174 – limits the civil liability of private campgrounds for injuries or property damage suffered by campers engaging in normal camping activities.  Owners and operators of a private campground, as well as any employees and officers of a private campground, are immune from civil liability for acts or omissions related to camping at a private campground if a person is injured or killed, or property is damaged as a result of an inherent risk of camping.  Authored by Representative Joel Kitchens (R – Sturgeon Bay) and Senator Devin LeMahieu (R – Oostburg), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 19-13.  It is Act 293.

Assembly Bill 664 – allows licensed treatment professionals offering outpatient mental health services at school to receive Medical Assistance (MA) reimbursement, to the extent federal law allows such reimbursement, regardless of whether the school site is designated as a clinic office.  The bill also requires Department of Health Services (DHS) to reimburse certain providers working independently, who may not currently be reimbursed by MA.  Authored by Representative Joel Kitchens (R – Sturgeon Bay) and Senator Devin LeMahieu (R – Oostburg), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 294.

Assembly Bill 837 – adopts the updated Revised Uniform Partnership Act (RUPA) as drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws (NCCUSL) with some state modifications.  A partnership may currently file a partnership agreement with the register of deeds in the county where the partnership is located, and this bill permits the voluntary filing of partnership documents with the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI).  To become a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP), both domestic and foreign partnerships must file documents with DFI, and this bill provides procedures for changes to the business structure of an LLP, including mergers, conversions, domestications, and interest exchanges.  Authored by Representative Adam Jarchow (R – Balsam Lake) and Senator Devin LeMahieu (R – Oostburg), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 295.

Senate Bill 550 – as amended, establishes an authorized special group for persons interested in expressing their support for the Milwaukee Bucks professional basketball team.  The bill makes a one-time appropriation increase to the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the amount of $23,700 for the initial costs of plate production.  In addition to a regular vehicle registration fee, special group members are required to pay a $15 fee for issuance or reissuance of the special plates and to annually include a voluntary payment of $25.  The bill requires the special plates to display a logo or symbol associated with the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, and specifies that the plate design is to be approved by the president of the Milwaukee Bucks.  Also under the bill, the Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is prohibited from issuing these special plates, until they have obtained the authority to use any applicable trademark or service mark associated with the Milwaukee Bucks on the special plates.  Authored by Senator Devin LeMahieu (R – Oostburg) and Representative Paul Tittl (R – Manitowoc), the bill passed the Senate with a vote of 24-8 and was concurred by the Assembly with a vote of 91-4.  It is Act 296.

Assembly Bill 602 – adds Christian Schools International to the list of entities that are accrediting agencies and preaccrediting agencies for purposes of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the Racine Parental Choice Program, and the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.  The bill also adds Christian Schools International to the list of entities from which accreditation may qualify a private school to participate in the Special Needs Scholarship program.  Authored by Representative Terry Katsma (R – Oostburg) and Senator Chris Kapenga (R – Delafield), the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 63-35 and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 19-13.  It is Act 297.

Assembly Bill 776 – allows state crime labs to possess, manufacture, or use a controlled substance without specifying the name or schedule assignment of the controlled substance.  The permit is effective for any controlled substance whether or not the name of the drug is specified.  Authored by Representative John Spiros (R – Marshfield) and Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R – River Falls), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 298.

Assembly Bill 804 – as amended, allows the Public Service Commission (PSC) Chair to extend, for good reason, an affiliated interest agreement consistent with other application timelines and extensions.  The bill also: eliminates a Focus on Energy “double-tax” by clarifying that only investor-owned utilities’ retail revenue will go toward the program, saving ratepayers $7 million; allows the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) more time to consider permits related to high-voltage transmission lines; saves ratepayers unnecessary relocation or permitting costs for existing utility structures; allows the Commission the authority to more appropriately bill staff time to the entities requiring it; relieves utilities of a duplicative and unnecessary sulfur dioxide reporting requirement; and removes Commission authority to investigate railroad telecommunications systems and complaints about local access and transport area (LATA) boundaries because these sections of the statute are now obsolete.  Authored by Representative Mike Kuglitsch (R – New Berlin) and Senator Roger Roth (R – Appleton), the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 61-33 and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 19-13.  It is Act 299.

Assembly Bill 695 – adopts the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, as recommended by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.  The bill allows Wisconsin citizens to designate a guardian to manage and oversee their digital assets, in a similar way as they can make plans for their tangible property.  Authored by Representative Robert Brooks (R – Saukville) and Senator Roger Roth (R – Appleton), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 300.

Assembly Bill 714 – expands the definition of tourism entity to allow convention and visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce to provide tourism promotion and tourism development services to one or more municipalities if they spend 51 percent of revenues on tourism promotion and tourism development or, if not applicable, spend 100 percent of the room tax revenue they receive for tourism promotion or tourism development.  The bill also changes membership of the governing body of a tourism entity serving a tourism zone.  It requires at least four owners or operators of lodging facilities that are located in the tourism zone for which the room tax is collected.  Authored by Representative Mike Rohrkaste (R – Neenah) and Senator Roger Roth (R – Appleton), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 301.

Assembly Bill 730 – prohibits cities, villages, towns, and counties from enacting or enforcing ordinances or adopting or enforcing resolutions regulating the use, disposition, or sale of auxiliary containers; prohibiting or restricting auxiliary containers; imposing fees, charges, or surcharges on auxiliary containers.  Authored by Representative Mike Rohrkaste (R – Neenah) and Senator Roger Roth (R – Appleton), the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 63-35 and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 19-13.  It is Act 302.

Assembly Bill 25 – prohibits Wisconsin agencies from enforcing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) rule prohibiting the commercial sale of less-than-optimum energy efficient wood stoves.  Authored by Representative David Craig (R – Big Bend) and Senator Frank Lasee (R – De Pere), the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 63-35 and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 19-13.  It is Act 303.

Assembly Bill 807 – makes the following changes: updates the use of “reserves” to “net worth;” allows the Office of Credit Unions (OCU) to accept an examination report from the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA); removes a limit on the amount that a credit union may make in donations and grants; provides a procedure under which a group of credit union members have a right to inspect and copy non-confidential portions of the credit union’s books and records; authorizes credit unions and the OCU to provide confidential examination reports to credit union attorneys, independent certified public accountants, or other consultants and advisors; updates language related to director conflict of interest; repeals the Credit Union Finance Corporation provision in current statute that is not used; and repeals the limit of fixed assets a credit union can hold.  Authored by Representative David Craig (R – Big Bend) and Senator Richard Gudex (R – Fond du Lac), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 304.

Assembly Bill 824 – authorizes the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to pay unexpended sparsity aid to a school district that qualified for sparsity aid in the previous school year but, due to an increase in the school district’s membership, does not qualify in the current school year.  The bill also changes the membership cap of the school district to 745 pupils beginning in the 2016-17 school year.  Authored by Representative Jeffrey Mursau (R – Crivitz) and Senator Thomas Tiffany (R – Hazelhurst), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 305.

Assembly Bill 704 – allows a tribal college-county joint library to participate in a public library system.  The agreement must require that the tribal college annually provides to the county library board an accounting of the expenditure of any appropriations received from the county and that, subject to certain reasonable regulations, the tribal college make the library free for the use of the inhabitants of the county.  The bill also provides that a county with a tribal college-county joint library must have a three member library board, with members appointed by the tribal college, the American Indian tribe or band that controls the college, and the county board.  Authored by Representative Jeffrey Mursau (R – Crivitz) and Senator Thomas Tiffany (R – Hazelhurst), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 306.

Assembly Bill 755 – requires the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to issue a general permit authorizing the Department of Transportation (WisDOT) to discharge storm water from the site of certain activities conducted by WisDOT.  Authored by Representative Jeffrey Mursau (R – Crivitz) and Senator Jerry Petrowski (R – Marathon), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 307.

Assembly Bill 198 – prohibits a person from driving a motor vehicle while using a cellular or other wireless telephone in a construction zone or utility work area, except to report an emergency.  The prohibition does not apply to the use of voice-operated or hands-free device if the person does not use his or her hands to operate the device, except to activate or deactivate a feature or function of the device.  Persons who violate this prohibition may be required to forfeit not less than $20 nor more than $40 for the first offense and not less than $50 nor more than $100 for a second or subsequent offense within one year.  Authored by Representative John Spiros (R – Marshfield) and Senator Jerry Petrowski (R – Marathon), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 308.

Assembly Bill 721 – establishes a process for escheating unclaimed U.S. Savings Bonds to Wisconsin.  Currently, the Department of Revenue (DOR) cannot cash in unclaimed U.S. Savings Bonds, so they are stored in their paper form.  It is estimated that the current amount of paper bonds in possession of the state is $400,000 to $600,000.  This bill allows the state to take ownership of unclaimed U.S. Savings Bonds, allowing them to claim the proceeds from the U.S. Treasury and hold those proceeds in the unclaimed property program until the rightful owner or the owner’s heir claim them.  Authored by Representative Terry Katsma (R – Oostburg) and Senator Howard Marklein (R – Spring Green), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 309.

Assembly Bill 760 – expands the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) reimbursement ability to include categories such as timeshares, future service plans, rental cars, foreclosure consultants, and self-service storage facilities violations.  Authored by Representative Terry Katsma (R – Oostburg) and Senator Howard Marklein (R – Spring Green), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 310.

Assembly Bill 341 – creates the crime of terrorist threats.  Under this bill, it is a Class I felony for a person to threaten to cause the death of or bodily harm to any person or to damage any person’s property under specified circumstances.  Authored by Representative Edward Brooks (R – Reedsburg) and Senator Howard Marklein (R – Spring Green), the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 98-0 and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 311.

Assembly Bill 731 – modifies provisions created by Act 55 in the 2015-17 biennial budget, which authorized the creation of ABLE accounts in Wisconsin.  The bill repeals the provisions in Act 55 requiring the Department of Administration (DOA) to implement and administer the program, and instead allows individuals in Wisconsin to utilize an ABLE program in other states by maintaining the same preferential tax treatments for ABLE accounts that were included under Act 55.  Assembly Bill 731 also clarifies that under state law, any ABLE account proceeds will be disregarded for eligibility determinations under the Medicaid program, which is consistent with federal law.  Authored by Representative John Macco (R – Ledgeview) and Senator Howard Marklein (R – Spring Green), the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 63-35 and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 32-0.  It is Act 312.

Assembly Bill 841 – as amended, authorizes the Pharmacy Examining Board to grant a waiver or variance in connection with a pilot program from any rule promulgated by the board if it is related to the practice of pharmacy or prescription verification; the board determines that the waiver or pilot program will improve the safety and quality of pharmacy practice in Wisconsin; and the board may not authorize a pilot program to last longer than three years.  Authored by Representative Mike Rohrkaste (R – Neenah) and Senator Terry Moulton (R – Chippewa Falls), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 313.

Assembly Bill 840 – requires the Department of Health Services (DHS) to submit an annual report to the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) on ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), which must contain: the total revenue collected from ASCs; the amount each ASC paid, the amount Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) received from Medicaid payments as a result of the assessment; the amount each MCO paid to ASCs; and the increase in Medicaid payments to ASCs on a fee-for-service basis resulting from the assessment.  The bill also requires ASCs to report any data required by the Department of Revenue (DOR) to determine assessment amounts, including the medical specialty of the ASC.  Authored by Representative Mike Rohrkaste (R – Neenah) and Senator Terry Moulton (R – Chippewa Falls), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 314.

Assembly Bill 35 – as amended, requires the Department of Justice (DOJ) to allow law enforcement agencies to use the integrated crime alert network to disseminate a report of a hit-and-run incident to entities that DOJ identifies as persons who can effectively broadcast or make public reports, if all of the following conditions are met: a person has been killed due to the accident that is related to the violation; additional information is available to law enforcement about the incident that could help identify the person or vehicle; and an alert could help avert further harm or could aid in apprehending the person who allegedly committed the hit and run.  The bill also requires a law enforcement agency that receives a report of a hit-and-run incident to disseminate the report through the integrated crime alert network if all of the conditions listed above are met.  Authored by Representative Scott Krug (R – Nekoosa) and Senator Terry Moulton (R – Chippewa Falls), the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 86-6 and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 315.

Senate Bill 549 – expands the use of an existing resource to assist the Wisconsin Agricultural community at times of greatest need following a gubernatorial designation of disaster.  The bill also increases the availability of resources to maintain family farmsteads by modifying eligibility requirements.  The bill modifies and expands terms of guarantees to allow flexibility in work situations.  Authored by Senator Terry Moulton (R – Chippewa Falls) and Representative Lee Nerison (R – Westby), the bill passed the Senate on a voice vote and was concurred by the Assembly on a voice vote.  It is Act 316.

Assembly Bill 843 – eliminates the requirement that the Department of Revenue (DOR) determine if an assessment changed on appeal has an effect on equalized values before approving a chargeback, which requires the overlying tax jurisdiction to pay part of the refund to the property taxpayer.  Authored by Representative Todd Novak (R – Dodgeville) and Senator Richard Gudex (R – Fond du Lac), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 32-0.  It is Act 317.

Assembly Bill 670 – prohibits a person from operating a drone over a correctional institution, including any grounds of the institution.  A “correctional institution” is defined as any state or local facility that incarcerates or detains any adult accused of, charged with, convicted of, or sentenced for any crime.  This includes a state prison as well as a county jail, and a house of correction.  Authored by Representative Michael Schraa (R – Oshkosh) and Senator Richard Gudex (R – Fond du Lac), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 318.

Assembly Bill 201 – removes the requirement for prosecutors to prove that a driver knew they struck a person or a vehicle occupied by a person.  Operators of vehicles involved in an accident must reasonably investigate what was struck and, if he or she knows or has reason to know that the accident resulted in injury, death, or vehicle damage, must stop at the scene of the accident and provide any necessary information and assistance.  This bill will help prevent a hit-and-run driver from using the defense that they thought they hit something else.  Authored by Representative André Jacque (R – De Pere) and Senator Van Wanggaard (R – Racine), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 319. 

Assembly Bill 566 – increases penalties for all depicting nudity offenses where the victim is under the age of 18 when the violation occurs.  The bill also increases penalties for locker room-specific privacy offenses and increases penalties to an additional level of severity when victims are under the age of 18.  Authored by Representative Samantha Kerkman (R – Salem) and Senator Van Wanggard (R – Racine), the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 85-13 and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 320.

Assembly Bill 575 – codifies the Department of Revenue’s (DOR’s) current practice of publishing preliminary equalized values by August 1.  The bill also requires DOR to correct an error in equalized values greater than two percent of the corrected equalized value before August 15 when equalized values are finalized.  Authored by Representative Samantha Kerkman (R – Salem) and Senator Luther Olsen (R – Ripon), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 321. 

Assembly Bill 576 – reduces time, by one year, that local assessments can be out of compliance with state law before state-supervised revaluation is ordered.  Authored by Representative Samantha Kerkman (R – Salem) and Senator Luther Olsen (R – Ripon), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 32-0.  It is Act 322.

Assembly Bill 370 – expands the certain exceptions currently made for active military relating to vehicle registration renewals and driver license renewals, to also include active duty U.S. Foreign Service personnel.  Authored by Representative Scott Krug (R – Nekoosa) and Senator Luther Olsen (R – Ripon), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 323. 

Assembly Bill 616 – as amended, makes two changes relating to collector trucks licensed as “special interest” vehicles under Ch. 341, Stats.  First, the bill clarifies that a 500-pound weight limit for hauling by nonmilitary trucks does not apply to the weight of a trailer or load drawn by a truck.  Second, under current law, a licensed special interest vehicle must not transport passengers for hire.  The bill expands that prohibition to prohibit collector vehicles from transporting property for hire.  Authored by Representative John Murtha (R – Baldwin) and Senator Luther Olsen (R – Ripon), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 324.

Assembly Bill 584 – requires the Local Government Property Insurance Fund (LGPIF) to keep at least $1 in reserve for every $2 in premium collected.  This ration ensures the fund is appropriately capitalized.  If the fund falls below the required ratio and is above 225 percent, the fund is required to assess members for the shortfall.  The bill also ensures the LGPIF does not have excess reserves.  In cases where LGPIF has more than $2.25 in reserve for every $1 of premium, the fund is required to issue a refund to fund members.  Authored by Representative John Nygren (R – Marinette) and Senator Frank Lasee (R – De Pere), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 325.

Assembly Bill 668 – makes technical changes to the financial guarantee contracts between financial institutions and insurers.  Under the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) technical bill passed earlier in the year, these contracts were subjected to a 24-hour stay requirement.  Federal banking rules recognized some stays, but not those required under state law.  The deletion of the 24-hour stay requirement under state law will make these contracts less expensive to execute.  Authored by Representative Kevin Petersen (R – Waupaca) and Senator Frank Lasee (R – De Pere), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 326.

Assembly Bill 698 – changes the licensure requirements in order to obtain a liquefied petroleum gas retailers license from the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).  Under current law, a retailer may prove financial responsibility by obtaining a surety bond or irrevocable letter of credit, and Assembly Bill 698 eliminates these two options as ways of proving financial responsibility.  Authored by Representative Dave Heaton (R – Wausau) and Senator Frank Lasee (R – De Pere), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 327.

Assembly Bill 702 – establishes designated special groups for persons interested in obtaining special plates expressing support for the Wisconsin Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Whitetails Unlimited, the Boy Scouts of America, nurses and the nursing profession, or certain efforts of the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer.  In addition to a regular vehicle registration fee, special group members are required to pay a $15 fee for issuance or reissuance of the special plates and to annually include a voluntary payment of $25 that provides funds to that respective designated special group.  Authored by Representative Joel Kitchens (R – Sturgeon Bay) and Senator Frank Lasee (R – De Pere), the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 90-2 and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 29-3.  It is Act 328.

Assembly Bill 842 – modifies and updates a number of rules and statutes related to the Wisconsin Technical College Board.  The bill changes the name of faculty development grant programs for technical colleges; eliminates the requirement for those programs and for the technical college instructor occupational competency program; modifies some rules of the Technical College System Board; and eliminates outdated rules for the Technical College System Board.  Authored by Representative David Murphy (R – Greenville) and Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R – River Falls), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 329.

Assembly Bill 848 – makes changes to the rules of the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin (UW) System, including revising several rules to allow certain types of notice to be served by electronic means in addition to personal service and service by certified mail; eliminates an outdated provision in the rules regarding faculty holding appointments under a statutory law that was repealed in 1974; modifies rules to be consistent with statutory changes made by the 2015 biennial budget; removes references in the rules to a statute regarding faculty tenure and probationary appointments that was repealed in the budget; modifies the rules to refer to the UW System’s 2-year schools as “colleges” instead of the outdated term “centers;” modifies the rules to define “chancellor” as the chief executive officer of an “institution;” and provides for capitalizing “Board of Regents” and “University of Wisconsin System” throughout administrative code.  Authored by Representative David Murphy (R – Greenville) and Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R – River Falls), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 330.

Assembly Bill 351 – modifies the eligibility criterion based on residence for the Children First program.  The bill allows a court to order a non-custodial parent to participate in a Children First program outside the parent’s county of residence if the parent resides within a reasonable driving distance.  Authored by Representative Nancy VanderMeer (R – Tomah) and Senator Julie Lassa (D – Stevens Point), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 331.

Assembly Bill 557 – adds heroin metabolite to the definition of a restricted controlled substance for which a person’s blood may be tested in order to determine whether a person has operated a vehicle under the influence of a restricted controlled substance.  Authored by Representative Joe Sanfelippo (R – New Berlin) and Senator Alberta Darling (R – River Hills), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 332.

Assembly Bill 648 – prohibits the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS), city, village, or town from enacting or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits the seasonal placement of a Christmas tree in the state capitol rotunda or church.  The bill also creates the presumption that fire safety inspections of seasonal Christmas trees in the state capitol rotunda or church is not a fire hazard.  Authored by Representative Jesse Kremer (R – Kewaskum) and Senator Stephen Nass (R – Whitewater), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 25-7.  It is Act 333.

Assembly Bill 819 – a limited number of employers, including non-profits, hospitals, and governments, reimburse the Unemployment Insurance (UI) Trust Fund directly for benefits paid rather than paying a UI tax.  Those employers are charged for benefits obtained fraudulently, unlike regular employers, who are not.  This bill eliminates that inequity by using a small sum of Trust Fund dollars plus interest to pay these charges.  The bill increases program integrity by clarifying the definition of “concealment” and providing continued funding for program integrity efforts; increases program efficiency by providing statutory authority to modernize appeal procedures; clarifies benefit eligibility requirements including defining by statute when a claimant must accept a job offer; strengthens the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund by establishing penalties for fraudulent tax avoidance, eliminating unfair competition against law-abiding Wisconsin employers; and provides additional resources for program integrity.  Authored by Representative Daniel Knodl (R – Germantown) and Senator Stephen Nass (R – Whitewater), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 31-1.  It is Act 334. 

Assembly Bill 53 – classifies malicious threats, with intent to extort money or any pecuniary advantage, or with intent to compel the person threatened to do any act against the person’s will, to disseminate or communicate to anyone information, that would humiliate or injure the reputation of the threatened person as a Class I felony.  Authored by Representative Jim Ott (R – Mequon) and Senator Stephen Nass (R – Whitewater), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 335.  

Assembly Bill 662 – as amended, makes the following changes to current law related to the county board’s requirement to set coroner fees and the moratorium on coroner or medical examiner fees: provides the requirement that a county board set fees for all services rendered by a coroner also applies to all services rendered by a medical examiner; provides the moratorium to prohibit the county board from charging anyone an increase in fees as described above; specifies that fees listed above for which the county board may not increase during the moratorium apply to both the coroner and medical examiner; and provides an exception to the moratorium on coroner or medical examiner fees.  Authored by Representative John Nygren (R – Marinette) and Senator Robert Cowles (R – Green Bay), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 336.

Assembly Bill 872 – establishes Garnishment Fees structure as follows: when a creditor establishes a garnishment schedule with a debtor, an initial fee of $15 is paid by the creditor to the garnishee for the cost of establishing the payment schedule on the debtor.  In the second and any subsequent payments, a $3 fee is subtracted from the payment by the garnishee to cover the cost of the collection.  Authored by Representative John Nygren (R – Marinette), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 21-11.  It is Act 337.

Assembly Bill 722 – requires each school that maintains an Internet site and for which the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has published an accountability report to prominently display a link to the school’s most recent accountability report on the school’s Internet site within 30 days after the department publishes the accountability report.  The bill also requires each private school participating in a parental choice program and independent charter school that maintains an Internet site to do the same.  Authored by Representative Adam Neylon (R – Pewaukee), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 338.

Assembly Bill 864 – requires that a bartender only receives a citation for serving an underage person, if the sale occurs pursuant to a “sting operation” and the bar owner is not on the premises at the time of the sale.  Authored by Representative Tyler Vorpagel (R – Plymouth), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 339.

Assembly Bill 357 – makes it a Class I felony to throw or expel blood, semen, vomit, saliva, urine, feces, or other bodily substance at or toward a prosecutor.  Authored by Representative Todd Novak (R – Dodgeville) and Senator Van Wanggard (R – Racine), the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 84-14 and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 24-8.  It is Act 340.

Senate Bill 581 – increases annual compensation amount an elected official in a city, village, or town having a population of 5,000 or less may earn as a volunteer firefighter, emergency medical technician (EMT), or first responder for that local government.  Authored by Senator Robert Cowles (R – Green Bay) and Representative Joel Kitchens (R – Sturgeon Bay), the bill passed the Senate on a voice vote and was concurred by the Assembly on a voice vote.  It is Act 341.

Assembly Bill 922 – ratifies the tentative bargaining agreement reached between the Board of Regents and the University of Wisconsin System and the Wisconsin State Building Trades Negotiating Committee.  The bill authorizes expenditures from the program supplement appropriations to fund the cost of the agreement, which calls for a zero-percent base wage increase.  Authored by the Joint Committee on Employment Relations, the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 94-0 and was concurred by the Senate with a vote of 32-0.  It is Act 342.

Assembly Bill 674 – allows family members who are being prevented from visiting or communicating with their loved ones to petition a court for visitation.  The bill also creates a basis for filing a cause of action to review the conduct of a guardian if they are knowingly isolating the person they are caring for from his or her family members or violating a court order granting visitation.  Authored by Representative John Spiros (R – Marshfield) and Senator Terry Moulton (R – Chippewa Falls), the bill passed the Assembly on a voice vote and was concurred by the Senate on a voice vote.  It is Act 343.

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East Rockaway man arrested for foreclosure fraud

An East Rockaway mortgage modification adviser was arrested on March 24 and charged with stealing more than $30,000 from an Orange County homeowner who had hired him to help her prevent a foreclosure on her house.

“This defendant is alleged to have taken advantage of a homeowner who was already in financial trouble by stealing more than $30,000 from her in a time of need,” said Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.

 According to Singas, Jeffrey Halpern, 60, who did business as JCK Marketing Inc., was hired in September 2011 by the homeowner in an effort to avoid a foreclosure and to obtain a loan modification with CitiMortgage. She paid Halpern a $4,000 retainer.

He allegedly called the woman every month thereafter, sometimes weekly, requesting payments for the bank. When she questioned him, he told her that the bank required the payments in order to continue processing her modification application. He was forwarding all of the money, he said, to CitiMortgage, and it was being applied to her mortgage payments. Based on this information, the victim continued to make payments to Halpern, from February 2012 to December 2013, totaling $31,310.

She became suspicious when CitiMortgage informed her that the bank had never heard of Halpern and had no knowledge of any loan modification set up on her behalf. The bank informed her that her home was about to be foreclosed, and that it had not received any payments in her name. In December 2013, she stopped making payments to Halpern.

An investigation revealed that none of those payments were ever applied to her mortgage, nor did Halpern ever obtain a loan modification. A review of his bank accounts showed that the victim’s funds were almost immediately withdrawn from his account in cash from ATMs, and that Halpern allegedly used the money for personal and business purposes unrelated to the woman’s mortgage or loan modification.

A history of impersonation

Shams Tarek, a spokesman for the D.A.’s office, confirmed that Halpern is the same man who had impersonated a police officer in 2003, threatening to arrest a man unless he paid him $100, Nassau County police said at the time.

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5 signs you’re not ready for a mortgage

Buying a home is still cheaper than renting in nearly every major U.S. market. That’s one of a few key trends that have mortgage lenders expecting big things in 2016. Nearly two-thirds of industry professionals think purchase loan volume will rise this year, according to a recent survey from trade group Lenders One.

Bullish outlook aside, there are still plenty of challenges for many would-be buyers, from shaky credit to sputtering incomes and more. To be sure, the right time to pursue a home purchase is when you’re financially and emotionally ready.

Here’s a look at a few signs you’re not quite there.

1. Bruised Beaten Credit

You don’t need top-tier credit to land a home loan. You don’t even necessarily need what’s often considered “good” credit. But consumers with scores below a 620 can have a tougher time securing financing.

That’s a common credit score benchmark for government-backed loans (Federal Housing Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture), while conventional lenders might want more like a 640 or 660 score.

If your score is subpar, it’s important to take charge of your credit profile before you look to buy a home. You can pull your credit reports for free each year from, then hunt for and dispute errors and discrepancies.

Different lenders can have different credit score cutoffs. Even if you clear a lender’s baseline, working hard to improve your score may also help you nab a better interest rate. You can monitor your progress by getting your free credit report summary each month on

2. Insufficient Savings

You don’t need a mountain of money to buy a home. You don’t even necessarily need a down payment – just ask VA and USDA buyers and the thousands of folks who tap into down payment assistance programs in their community. But you’re going to need at least some cash in the bank, in part to possibly cover expenses like a down payment, earnest money deposit, appraisal, inspection, closing costs and more.

Conventional loans typically require a 5% down payment, although some lenders may offer them at just 3% down. FHA loans require a minimum 3.5% down payment. On a typical $250,000 loan, that’s anywhere from $7,500 to $12,500. An appraisal and inspection might set you back another $600 or more.

If a new home means higher housing costs, having a solid nest egg can also help you avoid any “payment shock” when it’s time to make that first mortgage payment.

3. Income Instability

Mortgage lenders want to feel like you’re a safe bet. A rocky employment situation can raise red flags. Ideally, you’ve been working the same job for at least the last two years. But that’s certainly not a reality for millions of American workers.

Employment scenarios are always a case-by-case evaluation. Generally, though, you might have a tougher time securing a home loan if:

You’ve been on the job less than a year.
You’ve been self-employed for less than two years.
You’re a commission-based employee without a two-year track record.
You’ve recently changed career fields or had a lengthy job gap.
Again, every borrower’s situation is different, and guidelines and policies can vary by lender.

4. You’re Still ‘Seasoning’

There is homebuying life after a bankruptcy or foreclosure, but you’ll typically need to wait at least a couple years following one of these events. Waiting periods can vary depending on the type of bankruptcy or foreclosure, the loan type, the lender and more.

In addition to any “seasoning” period, as they’re known, credit scores often take a beating after a bankruptcy or foreclosure. Would-be buyers will often need to spend those years working hard to rebuild their scores.

5. You’re Unprepared for New Expenses

Owning a home can be freeing, but it also comes with new expenses you don’t typically face while renting or living in your parents’ basement. Property taxes, homeowners insurance, homeowners’ association dues, maintenance costs and more can all eat into your monthly budget.

Rules of thumb vary, but many homeowners budget at least 1 percent of their home’s value each year for maintenance and upkeep. Plus, there’s no landlord to call when the water heater fails or the heat goes out. You’re on the hook for troubleshooting and repair or replacement costs.

More from

How Much House Can You Afford?
How to Get Pre-Approved for a Mortgage
How Much Debt Is Too Much?

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Resident fights bank’s eviction effort

Defendant says company bungled 
foreclosure proceedings

A Brush Creek resident is entering his 15th month of fighting a bank’s effort to evict him from the home he’s owned for 17 years, contending the company has violated consumer-protection laws and stands to make a windfall on the resale of the residence.
A legal filing by defendant James Anthony St. Ville says the Northern Trust Co., an international financial services conglomerate with $106 billion in assets, has “consistently failed to comply with the most basic protections afforded by state and federal foreclosure laws enacted in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.”
Those protections, as required by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and by Colorado law, include providing the steps a consumer can take to avoid foreclosure. Such steps, known as loss mitigation, can include utilizing a third-party lender to help pay down the debt.
St. Ville’s attorney, Gregory Gordon of Aspen, filed a response Tuesday opposing Northern Trust’s motion for judgment, and included a brief in support of having a jury decide whether the bank acted properly in the foreclosure proceeding.
Northern Trust Co. first tried to foreclose on the defendant’s Brush Creek Village home on Dec. 30, 2014 — “on the eve of more rigorous consumer-protection laws taking effect in Colorado on Jan. 1, 2015,” Gordon wrote.
But even with the more lax consumer-protection regulations in place before 2015, the bank still failed to follow loss-mitigation requirements, ruled Judge Denise Lynch of the 9th Judicial District in June.
Gordon wrote that Northern Trust Co. failed to provide the direct phone number for its loss-mitigation representative or department, and the judge denied the bank’s motion to authorize the sale of the home.
Northern Trust Co. succeeded in foreclosing on the property in January, with Judge John Neiley of the 9th authorizing the sale because St. Ville missed payments on the $1.6 million deed for the home. The bank bought it at auction in November for just under $1.5 million.
But St. Ville refused to move out, and Northern Trust Co. filed an eviction lawsuit against him earlier this month. The bank says it is a straight-forward case because of Judge Neiley’s ruling and that St. Ville is now trespassing in the home that he had owned since 1999.
Gordon, in his filing Tuesday, disputed that, writing that Judge Neiley found that the bank violated a Colorado statute that mandates foreclosure entities provide a loss-mitigation application. But that deficiency was found to be outside the limited scope of a foreclosure hearing, and the sale was allowed to go forward.
Foreclosure hearings generally tackle whether a bank has given proper notice to a debtor. In an interview Tuesday, Gordon said the failure to provide an application was not within the law’s notice provisions.
“It was not something [the judge] could consider within this context,” he said.
Northern Trust Co., in its second foreclosure effort, provided the name and number of a loss-mitigation specialist. But at the onset of that proceeding, the person had been transferred to another department and “apparently refused to take defendant’s calls entirely (including … calls from several third-party lenders who might have been able to provide financing to defendant),” Gordon wrote. “While these issues may be beyond the scope of a [foreclosure] hearing, they are recognized and valid claims and defenses in this action.”
The bank stands to make a windfall profit because it can sell the home for much more than it paid at auction, Gordon said.
Judge Chris Seldin of the 9th, the latest to oversee the case, has yet to rule on whether St. Ville is in the home illegally, or if a jury will decide if Northern Trust Co. violated Dodd-Frank and Colorado law.
But in a ruling issued Monday, Judge Seldin ruled in the bank’s favor in finding that it had properly served St. Ville with the eviction summons and complaint by mailing the documents and personally giving them to him.

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Foreclosure rate rises slightly in Winston-Salem area – Winston

Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2016 12:57 pm

Foreclosure rate up slightly in Winston-Salem area

By Richard Craver Winston-Salem Journal

Winston-Salem Journal

Foreclosure filings in the Winston-Salem area rose slightly from a three-year low in January, a national real-estate research group said Wednesday.

The CoreLogic report focuses on residences in some stage of foreclosure. The Winston-Salem metropolitan statistical area comprises Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Stokes and Yadkin counties.

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Report: Jacksonville foreclosure rate decreased

JACKSONVILLE, Onslow County –

A report released by an organization called Corelogic states Jacksonville’s foreclosure rate decreased in 2016. Foreclosure is when a person stops making payments on their mortgage and their house is taken from them.

According to numbers from a recent Corelogic National Foreclosure Report, Jacksonville’s foreclosure rate was 1.71 percent in January 2015. As of January 2016, the rate is down to 1.65 percent.

The report also said the city’s foreclosure rate remains higher than the national average, which sits at 1.15 percent. The president of the Jacksonville Board of Realtors, Alexis Pierson, said there are many reasons for these numbers.

“There’s so many different factors that come into play,” Pierson said. “Anything ranging from the local economy to the national economy and to a certain extent, the global economy. So, I wouldn’t say there is any one particular factor that is played into it, but a lot of things.”

To get a copy of the report, click here. To learn more about how to prevent foreclosure, visit the North Carolina Foreclosure Prevention Fund website.

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Colorado Springs foreclosure picture continues to improve, new report says

photo -

Foreclosures that dogged Colorado Springs’ housing market during the Great Recession continue to decline, although homeowners should guard against financial woes like those that led to the surge in distressed properties, one real estate agent says.

A new report by CoreLogic, a California-based housing data firm, shows that Colorado Springs’ foreclosure rate – the percentage of loans in some stage of foreclosure – fell to 0.60 percent in January, down from 0.78 percent a year earlier. The rate was three times higher – 1.86 percent – five years earlier in January 2011, CoreLogic’s reports show.

The percentage of Springs-area mortgage holders who were delinquent on loan payments by at least 90 days fell to 1.92 percent in January. That’s down from 2.41 percent in January 2015 and down from 4.51 percent in January 2011, according to CoreLogic.

Colorado Springs, like many areas around the country, saw spikes in foreclosures in the years around the recession. In 2009, foreclosure filings in El Paso County soared to a record 5,288, although they’ve declined each year since and totaled 1,470 last year.

Many property owners encountered job losses, medical issues or other problems that contributed to them being unable to keep up with mortgage payments during the recession, said Charles D’Alessio, broker/owner of Synergy Realty Group in Colorado Springs.

Other property owners couldn’t afford rising payments on mortgages, such as adjustable-rate loans that ratcheted higher every few years, he said.

Now, market conditions are far better, D’Alessio said.

More jobs were added to the Colorado Springs-area economy last year than at any time since 2000, U.S. Bureau of Labor figures show. Mortgage rates also remain at historic lows. And banks have more flexibility to make loans – strengthening the housing market and helping to whittle down the number of local foreclosures, he said.

“It’s a little easier to get loans now because the government wants the lenders to have the ability to give people money so they can get into homes,” D’Alessio said.

But homeowners should remain cautious with their finances, D’Alessio said. Even as job growth has improved, the Springs economy still has room to grow, D’Alessio said. And despite more jobs, many employees aren’t seeing an increase in their incomes, he added.

“If their job doesn’t improve financially with raises, if people aren’t able to get jobs to make more money, then they could find themselves in the same position (as during the recession),” he said.


Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228

Twitter: @richladen

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"Pandemic" author Sonia Shah

Six years ago, science writer Sonia Shah began work on a book that would explain how the next pandemic might originate: It would start as a pathogen found only in animals, adapt to humans through close contact, and spread rapidly thanks to urbanization and modern travel. Since then, the Ebola virus has ravaged the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The chikungunya virus established itself in the Americas for the first time. And on February 1, 2016, within weeks of Shah publishing her book, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Zika virus a global health emergency. All three followed the same animal-to-human pattern, aided by fast and easy transportation.

If Shah sounds prescient, it’s at least in part because she’s a student of history. Her new book, Pandemic: tracking contagions, from cholera to Ebola and beyond, takes cholera as its central simile. The microscopic bacteria that causes that disease floated benignly in the coastal waters of the Bay of Bengal, attached to tiny crustaceans, until British-driven settlement of wetlands allowed it to adapt to humans. Cholera caused its first pandemic in Bengal in 1817, killing 10,000 people. Ocean travel got it to Paris by 1832. The world’s seventh cholera pandemic, ongoing right now in Haiti, got an assist from airplanes. Some 770,000 Haitians have been stricken and more than 9,200 killed by the disease since 2010. (“Pandemic” is usually defined as a disease outbreak afflicting a whole country, region, or the world—or, in Shah’s words, “an epidemic gone global.”)

The Zika virus, meanwhile, rarely kills its victims, but is strongly linked to birth defects and an increase in the rare Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can cause paralysis. In March, the World Health Organization forecast that as a result of Zika, Brazil would see about 2,500 babies born with microcephaly, which is characterized by brain damage and abnormally small heads. Zika wasn’t seen in the Americas until 2015, when Brazil confirmed its first transmission. Now it has appeared in many parts of Central and South America, and Puerto Rico is bracing for an epidemic.

Shah is the author of three previous books, including The Fever, an acclaimed history of malaria, and The Body Hunters, about pharmaceutical testing on poor patients. In this wide-ranging interview, Shah talked to Bulletin columns editor Elisabeth Eaves about Zika, the role of human behavior in spreading novel pathogens, and how to prevent the next pandemic—which, she suggests, will require a very different approach than the one we rely on now. Today, she says, we need a new sanitary movement, like the campaign for public health that arose to combat disease in the 19th century. Shah also shares her views on two of the world’s most powerful health institutions, the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation.

BAS: Your new book, which warns that we’re going to see novel pathogens cause pandemics, came out within weeks of the World Health Organization declaring Zika an international public health emergency.

SHAH: Zika virus is a great example of what’s been going on since I started writing the book six years ago, and why I wrote it to begin with. We’ve had over 300 of these infectious pathogens either newly emerge or re-emerge into new places. Zika is really just the latest in a long string—Ebola in West Africa, novel types of avian influenza, tick-borne diseases, mosquito-borne diseases. All of this stuff has been happening because of changes in the way we live. And Zika is taking advantage of the changes, just as the other ones have.

BAS: You use cholera as your central point of comparison. How does that disease help us understand today’s emerging pathogens? Why did you choose it?

SHAH: To try to understand how a microbe turns into this very deadly, destructive social phenomenon—pandemic—I wanted to look at the history of pandemics and see how it could shed light on new pathogens that are emerging. Not that many microbes have actually been able to cause pandemics in modern history. There have probably been about five. Among those, cholera really stood alone for me because it’s one of the most successful in terms of causing pandemics. It hasn’t just caused one or two. It’s actually caused seven pandemics, and the seventh is going on right now just a few hundred miles off the coast of Florida, in Haiti. Cholera is also extremely deadly. It kills half the people who get it unless they’re rapidly treated. And it’s been well-documented from the beginning, because cholera first emerged in 1817. So we have a really good history of how this thing came out and plagued the world over and over.

BAS: Many of these novel pathogens first emerge in animals and then jump to humans through human-animal contact. Can you explain why and when that jump occurs? Why is it that a pathogen might not adapt to humans for a long time, and then suddenly does?

SHAH: It’s just like any living organism in a new environment: There are going to be new challenges, and most of the time it’s not going to survive. And of course our bodies are designed to repel such intrusions with our immune system, so most new microbes that invade our bodies are going to be neutralized. But that means there’s a lot of pressure on those microbes to change. If they can change in ways that allow them to get around the immune system, they get this huge prize, which is all of the cells and tissues in our bodies.

We see a lot of these pathogens come from species that are closely related to us because the pathogens don’t have as far to go to adapt to our bodies. A lot of our major pathogens—malaria, HIV, probably Zika virus—come from other primates. We also see a lot of pathogens come from livestock that we domesticated a long time ago, like cows and sheep. What’s happening now, though, is a little bit different, because we are invading wildlife habitat, disrupting it, and shrinking it all over the world. We’re living in an age of extinction because human activity is impinging on so many wildlife habitats, but the animals that are able to survive come into close contact with humans. Bats are a great example—we’re getting a lot of these diseases from bats right now. Ebola is from bats. Nipah virus is from bats. Marburg virus is from bats. SARS is probably from bats. And it’s partly because they’re mammals like us. On top of that, they can fly, so they can spread things around. And on top of that, we’re destroying so much bat habitat because of deforestation.

Bats are highly adaptable, so they’re able to survive even in close contact with humans. They come and live in your suburban backyard, your garden, your farm. All it takes is being exposed to, say, the saliva of a bat or excretion from a bat. That happens pretty easily because fruit bats, in particular, spit all over their fruit before they eat it. They pierce a fruit, cover it with saliva, and drop it down after sucking out all the juice. The ground below fruit trees where bats live are littered with these saliva-covered half-eaten fruits. Having lived with a mango tree in Australia, I can attest to this. The entire garden was full of bat-saliva-covered fruit. If you have little kids, they’ll go pick it up, touch it, then put their hands in their mouths. And that’s it—you’ve created a bridge for these microbes to pass into the human body.

These microbes can replicate really fast, and they’re messy in their replication. So just by chance, one will arise that will survive in this new environment, the human body. And that’s how it happens. That’s also why it doesn’t happen all the time. There’s a series of unlikely events that all have to line up perfectly for this to happen. So pandemics are actually really unlikely events, because if you think about all the microbes out there with the biological capacity to potentially cause a pandemic or an epidemic, that’s a huge number, but in fact, pandemics have only happened a handful of times in the past few centuries.

BAS: So repeated human-animal contact increases the odds.

SHAH: That’s right. With more and more contact, the probability rises. That’s not to say it always takes a long time, because it’s probability, right? It could happen right away, but chances are it’s going to take a lot of exposures for these microbes to adapt to the human body.

BAS: Pandemics have both biological causes and human-behavior causes. What are the current most potent human behavioral causes?

SHAH: There are a bunch of them that have to line up. The way we invade and disrupt wildlife habitat allowed Zika to cross over into our body, but then we also have to provide a virus with amplification opportunities so that it can get good at transmitting between people and fuel a global epidemic. That is happening mostly in crowded places around the world—slums and cities with a lot of ad hoc development, and factory farms where lots of animals are crowded together closely, which is kind of the animal equivalent of slums. These are places where human pathogens can gather steam to cause pandemics.

We saw this with Ebola, for example. We’ve had Ebola outbreaks since the 1970s, but for a long time, they never infected any place that had more than a few hundred thousand inhabitants. Now, we’ve had massive urban expansion, especially in tropical areas. So in 2013, when Ebola emerged in West Africa, within a few weeks of emerging in a pretty remote part of Guinea, it had reached three cities with a combined population of about three million. And that’s very important to why it was such a huge conflagration and spread to other countries.

The same thing with Zika. We’ve had Zika virus since at least the 1940s, possibly before that, but it never caused a major epidemic. It was carried by a forest mosquito that mostly bit animals, not people. Then it hitched a ride on an airplane, probably from French Polynesia into Brazil. And there it found these huge susceptible populations in these massively expanding cities. And it’s being carried by a mosquito that thrives in exactly those conditions, a mosquito that thrives in human settlements and only bites people and has dramatically expanded its range because of urban expansion in the tropics.

So it comes down to urbanization, invasion of wildlife habitat, and that great ability to carry these things around really rapidly. In the past, a highly virulent pathogen couldn’t travel that far because its carriers would get sick or die. What we’re seeing now is that the people, animals, or insects carrying these things can travel really far, really fast. Even if they are highly virulent, they can actually get around the world because we have airplanes. If something occurs in one part of the world, it’s going to very rapidly be carried around the globe.

BAS: Now that Zika is upon us, how should the world be responding?

SHAH: There were so many missed opportunities to prevent the Zika pandemic from happening. Now that we’ve already missed them, what do we do?

Our typical response to epidemics is to wait until they happen, wait until a bunch of people get sick, then say, oh my gosh, we need drugs and vaccines right away. This is part of our reliance on the biomedical establishment. For many decades, we decided that infectious diseases were not a threat anymore. We conquered them with antibiotics, and we had this evidence-based medicine that could very rapidly come up with drugs and vaccines, so we didn’t really have to worry about it. The thinking was that it was okay if some new infections emerged, because we would just stamp them out.

That is still our attitude today. And we have the Zika virus now, affecting a lot of people, endangering babies, and we’re waiting for the biomedical establishment to hurry up and create tools that are going to kill it. But the best-case scenario is we’ll have a vaccine in maybe three to 10 years. By then, millions of people are going to be infected. So right now, our best defense is our own immunity. The vast majority of people who get Zika virus are going to survive. The people who are really most at risk are women of childbearing age and pregnant women. So how do you protect them?

You give them access to contraception. Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and it’s even worse in Latin America where the Catholic Church has been so prohibitive towards contraception. If we give women good access to contraception and access to abortion if they need it, we can minimize the damage that this virus can cause in the next generation. But we can’t wait for a vaccine. That’s going to take too long. The Zika virus is going to wash over all of the susceptible populations well before we get a vaccine. The vaccine is for the next Zika pandemic, not this one.

BAS: Does controlling mosquitoes help, or is that too little, too late?

SHAH: Mosquito control is a very blunt instrument. It kills all mosquitos, but Zika is only carried by one genus of mosquito, and only by females because those are the only ones who bite people. On top of that, in order for a mosquito to infect a person, it has to first take a blood meal from an infected person, then survive another week, because that’s how long it takes for the virus to get back up into its salivary glands. So the only mosquitoes you really have to kill are old females.

You could kill all the mosquitoes in a whole population in order to target a very, very small subset of disease-carrying individual insects. But there’s no real evidence that simply depressing the overall population will work. How much do you have to depress a whole population to get to those particular mosquitoes? It could be 80 percent. It could be 99 percent. And our best control methods never get to 100 percent, ever. And if you reduce the mosquito population by 60, 70, 80 percent for a week, is that going to be long enough?

I don’t know, but the evidence from all the mosquito spraying they’ve done to try to stop dengue fever is that it hasn’t actually worked to diminish transmission. I really question the whole idea of trying to attack the mosquito population. You do have to protect people from getting bitten, but that’s different.

BAS: What policies—local, national, global—do we need to prevent a pandemic from wreaking havoc?

SHAH: We need a new sanitary movement. In the 19th century we had repeated epidemics of cholera, yellow fever, tuberculosis, and all kinds of things. There were entrenched private interests that didn’t want to do anything about it. But people said we need to clean up the water, manage our waste better, have housing with screens, and all these things to protect our health, and a social movement grew out of that—the sanitary movement. That’s what ushered in all of those changes that prevent epidemics to this day. Except in Flint, we have clean water. We have good sanitation, we have electricity, we have decent housing that keeps mosquitoes from coming inside. Not to say that everyone does, but most of us do.

Those are all the result of government policies that were put into place to protect public health, and they still work to this day. So how do we build on that to protect us from this new threat? There are many ways, but it’s going to take political will. It’s going to take our government and public health leaders standing up to entrenched special interests. And they’re not going to want to do it. It’s going to take controlling trade, to some extent, controlling shipping, addressing poverty, addressing slums, addressing all of these things that make us vulnerable to epidemics. That’s major social action, and the big missing piece is public pressure. There’s no public pressure to do any of these things because the public just thinks, let the doctors deal with it, they’ll come up with a drug, they’ll come up with a vaccine. But that’s not going to be good enough anymore. We can’t do that fast enough.

BAS: How confident are you that we will be able to do those things given how contentious science, health care, and the role of the federal government are in American politics?

SHAH: If people understood how these diseases have been emerging—if people understood the risk better—I think things would change. Look at the dengue outbreak in Florida in 2009, which was precipitated in part by the foreclosure crisis in 2008 which allowed all these homes to be abandoned and so many swimming pools to be ignored while they filled up with water and became giant mosquito hatcheries.

If the people in that community had known that it was a public health risk to have these empty swimming pools, they might have said, “we need to protect our community.” We do that with other things. There are communities that stand up to toxic waste dumps being sited near them because they know it’s a public health risk, but we don’t have that understanding about the risk of a mosquito habitat being formed.

You have neglected neighborhoods in the middle of cities—in, say, Houston and parts of Florida—where there is sporadic garbage collection, and when it rains, bins fill up with standing water and mosquitoes hatch out. Then you’re going to have outbreaks of West Nile virus and dengue and probably Zika when it comes. These are all things that we could become more aware of and think of as public health risks and be involved in. I just don’t think we’ve gotten that public awareness yet. We’ve been so passive because we have this great faith in our biomedical establishment to come up with drugs and pills.

BAS: You talk in your book about the possibility of a global disease surveillance system. Supposing we had a good one to catch emerging diseases, what should that system be looking for and where?

SHAH: Since we know the main drivers for new pathogens, we can predict where they’re most likely to occur. So we need experts to come up with hot spot maps, showing places where there’s a lot of invasion of wildlife habitat, a lot of slums, a lot of intensive livestock agriculture, or some combination of all those things. In those places, you could do active surveillance for microbes. We have the technology to do that now. It’s only just recently that we can even detect microbes in their natural environment. Before, we were only seeing a tiny fraction of the ones that are actually out there. Now we see that they’re everywhere, and we can pick up their genetic fingerprints from a desk, a toilet seat, or soil in the garden. We weren’t able to do that until quite recently.

It’s like our eyes are finally being opened to see the microbial world for what it is. And that means we can track it, too. We can actively surveil places where microbes are exploiting the habitat. You can also track how they might be changing in ways that might allow them to infect people or spread rapidly among them. If we had a system to do that in a coherent way, looking at international hotspots, you could even develop a forecasting system.

Timing is everything with these things, because they erupt and spread exponentially. So even if it’s just a matter of months or weeks or days, advance notice can make a huge difference in the toll these outbreaks take.

BAS: So we have the technology for such a surveillance system, but we don’t have a system at the moment?

SHAH: There are certain initiatives to try to encourage groups to do surveillance, and some NGOs doing that kind of work, but we don’t have a coherent international system. We don’t really have a coherent international system for anything.

BAS: That’s for sure. Moving on, how is climate change linked to the spread of the kind of novel pathogens that lead to pandemics?

SHAH: In a lot of epidemics there’s a climate change aspect, because a lot of pathogens are dependent on climatic conditions. The other part of it is, you can’t really predict how climate change will affect human pathogens. For example, a lot of precipitation could create a lot of standing water and puddles where mosquitoes can breed, and lead to more mosquito-borne disease. But a lot of precipitation also could wash away mosquito eggs and lead to a decline in mosquito-borne disease. There’s no easy correlation between climatic changes and whether a disease is going to get worse or decline.

But the main thing is that climate change creates new opportunities. Diseases can spread into new landscapes and populations because climatic conditions make it possible. That means you’re going to have more disease because people will have less immunity. When diseases stay in one place, people gain some immunity to it and the overall level of disease goes down. When diseases are able to spread into new places, that’s when you see people getting sick and dying in greater numbers. Just by changing the landscape of where new diseases go, climate change is likely to cause more disease overall.

BAS: Your book talks about the cholera riots of the nineteenth century and how even in contemporary times communities turn on scapegoats in times of disease. How can our behavioral reactions to disease in and of themselves be dangerous?

SHAH: We’ve seen that again and again: When new pathogens emerge and people don’t know where they came from, people tend to blame their favorite scapegoats. In the 1830s, Irish immigrants were blamed for cholera, in 1840, Muslims were blamed for cholera, and in the 1890s, Eastern Europeans were blamed for cholera. We see this today as well. During the Ebola outbreak, healthcare workers were actually blamed for bringing Ebola, and in some case were violently assaulted and even murdered. In Haiti, UN troops, government actors, and even the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders were blamed for bringing cholera. [A UN soldier may, in fact, have brought the first cholera case to Haiti.]

The new pathogens, even if they don’t cause a lot of death and sickness, exert a destabilizing force throughout society, especially when there’s already mistrust between different parties.

BAS: What role do antibiotics have to play in combating emerging pathogens? Are they up to the job?

SHAH: We’ve known since the 1920s that if you use antibiotics in ways that are not medically necessary, you will encourage the emergence of bacteria that can resist antibiotics. But in the United States, 80 percent of antibiotics are used for non-medical purposes. They’re used for commercial purposes in livestock agriculture. So we’ve had a steady increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Just recently we’ve seen the evolution of the MCR-1 gene plasmid, which is like a piece of genetic material that can move between different bacterial species. This was found in pigs in China, and it allows bacteria to resist our very last-resort antibiotic—a drug called colistin—that is reserved for use in the most drug-resistant bacterial infections. We don’t use colistin much in human medicine.

But in China, tens of thousands of pounds of colistin are used every year in livestock agriculture, and so now we have this new plasmid that can move into new species where it could cause absolutely untreatable bacterial infections. That means that simple things—a minor injury or common infection—could become deadly events. That also would change the face of modern medicine. You wouldn’t do routine things like knee replacement surgery, for example. Unless it were a question of life or death, having a routine procedure wouldn’t be worth the risk of getting an untreatable deadly infection. Many medical procedures would just become obsolete.

That said, there’s a way out of this problem. We know that if you use antibiotics rationally—only for medical purposes—you can steward them for a lot longer, and you don’t have as much of a problem with resistant bacteria. It’s really about the timeline, because it takes time to develop new antibiotics. Right now there’s not enough market incentive, so 15 of the 18 biggest drug companies in the world have dropped out of the business of developing antibiotics altogether because it’s not lucrative. These are drugs that people don’t want to spend more than $200 for, even though they save your life. We only take them for a week. Compare that to an arthritis drug that you have to take every day for decades. Companies can make maybe $50 million a year from an antibiotic, compared to $1 billion a year for a drug that treats erectile dysfunction, arthritis, hypertension, or high cholesterol—any of those conditions that are chronic. So you have massive market failure.

And, even if we create new antibiotics faster—which we do need to do—we also have to steward each of those new drugs for longer, which will take changing the way we use them.

BAS: Like stop giving them to animals?

SHAH: Stop giving them to animals. Antibiotics are given to animals to get them to grow faster, and they are designed not to easily biodegrade. That’s the whole point of a drug—it’s not supposed to be metabolized and disappear. Then, we have no system for managing livestock waste. We have unlined open cesspools that have spilled out into the greater environment, into the water, into the soil. That’s where all of our microbes are, too. We’re just constantly exposing the whole microbial world into a wash of antibiotics because of this.

BAS: In your book you observe that the World Health Organization has become weaker in recent years. Why has that happened? Why is it a problem?

SHAH: The WHO used to take on pretty powerful private interests. It took on a big campaign against smoking, which was in direct conflict with the tobacco industry, and it took on infant formula marketing. It went up against Nestle and other major companies marketing infant formula, which is very dangerous in places where the drinking water is unsafe. This was back in the 1970s and early 1980s. And then the WHO became perceived by major donors to the UN system as too political, and so it has been slowly defunded. To make up the shortfall, the WHO started accepting private contributions, and those now make up a majority of its budget. But the contributions don’t just replace the old money, they come with strings attached, so private donors are able to buy control of what the WHO does.

So the majority of the WHO budget is under the control of the donors who earmark the money for certain kinds of campaigns and projects. They’re not going to earmark it for projects that undermine their interest, right? We already see a distortion in the WHO budget. The money that the WHO controls goes to the diseases that cause the most burden in the world, but the money they get from these private donations are allocated in a much more uneven fashion. Ninety-one percent of those [private-donation] funds are dedicated to diseases that cause about eight percent of the global burden of disease. It’s really not targeting the major public health problems.

And the WHO is now doing a lot of these “public-private alliances,” which are basically what we used to call industry influence on the public sector. We have Coca-Cola and fast-food companies helping the WHO pass recommendations on how to diminish obesity and heart disease and all these things that their products directly contribute to. The WHO’s guidance becomes very much contaminated by these industry interests, so instead of saying eat fewer packaged foods, they’re saying exercise more. And that’s happening across the board. Some of the most effective public health interventions are falling by the wayside because they don’t intersect with industry interests.

BAS: You observed that the Gates Foundation has become the world’s third biggest financier of global health research after the US and UK governments, but you’re uncomfortable with that picture.

SHAH: I think the Gates Foundation is doing great work—they’re doing important work that nobody else is doing. It’s good that they’re doing it, but the fact is, the Foundation is now really calling the shots. It is in charge of the public health agenda, and yet there’s no accountability. Right now we like what the Gates Foundation is doing, but what if in five years, things change there? There are, like, five people in charge of it, so it could change. And if it does change, we have no mechanism for demanding accountability. The Gates Foundation is a private entity. It can do whatever it wants, so we just have to hope that what it wants is good for all of us. We’re really just relying on its good intentions. Maybe that will work, but maybe it won’t.

We know, in larger society, that the whole reason we have political accountability is because even though we might trust our politicians today, we want assurances that we can always trust them. And that if we don’t trust them, we can switch them out for new ones. But we don’t have any of those accountability mechanisms with private entities. That’s why, in my opinion, they shouldn’t be in charge of large public projects that we all have a stake in, like our health.


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