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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

One undisputed victim of the pandemic is the commercial real-estate market — both offices and retail — as people work from home and go out less.

Why it matters: The problem is that commercial real estate prices are sticky. They go up a lot more easily than they come down. If they would come down to a market-clearing level, that would vastly increase economic activity and help cities — New York foremost among them — get back on their feet.

How it works: Columbia University law professor Tim Wu explains in the New York Times just why prices are sticky.

  • Landlords have multiple incentives to keep real estate empty, rather than renting it out at a decreased rent. They range from the tax regime to clauses in mortgage contracts to accounting practices to simple hope that an empty space, kept empty long enough, will eventually find a top-dollar tenant.
  • Those incentives collectively impose a huge negative externality on cities. Empty storefronts help no one.

The solution: Wu suggests that cities should raise property taxes when commercial real estate is empty for more than 90 days, giving landlords a countervailing incentive to rent their property out at lower-than-desired prices.

The bottom line: There's no shortage of potential tenants willing to fill empty spaces — at the right price.

Go deeper

The rental housing market's "Black tax"

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Renters of color, especially Black Americans, often pay a "Black tax" — a premium for renting similar housing in the same neighborhoods as whites.

Why it matters: A recent study found that Black tenants paid as much as 2% more in rent — a gap that widened if the area had a bigger population of white people. Higher rent is just one hurdle to accessibility and affordability in the rental market that people of color uniquely deal with despite federal fair housing laws enacted more than 50 years ago.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Reports: Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and were due to travel to another destination when the gang struck in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.

3 hours ago - World

Melbourne, "world's most locked-down city," to lift stay-at-home orders

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews during a news conference in Melbourne, Australia, on Sunday. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Melbourne's stay-at-home orders will end five days earlier than planned, officials in Australia's second-biggest city announced Sunday.

Why it matters: The capital of the state of Victoria has had six lockdowns totaling 262 days since March last year. That means Melbourne spent longer under lockdown than "any other city in the world" during the pandemic, Reuters notes.