Jul 2, 2020

Axios Cities

By Kim Hart
Kim Hart

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  • Today's edition is 1,722 words, a 6-minute read. Let's dive in.
1 big thing: Replacing the nursing home

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Nursing homes have been the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, prompting more urgent discussions about alternative housing situations for older Americans.

Why it matters: Nursing homes and residential care facilities account for 45% of COVID-19 related deaths, per the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity — but there are few other viable housing options for seniors.

Here are the alternatives that are growing in popularity:

"Granny flats" — or small units built in backyards, above garages or in basements — are seeing the biggest surge in interest, experts say, because they are often easiest to tack onto existing structures and get less resistance from the NIMBY crowd.

  • They allow aging parents and grandparents to live near caregivers and can offset living costs for homeowners.
  • Some cities are trying to make them easier to build. Most recently, the Austin City Council in April directed staff to find funding for low-cost loans and to streamline the permitting process in a push to increase the use of secondary units (or accessory dwelling units) in the city.

Multigenerational living has increased over the past decade, with 9.3 million people over 65 living with grown children or grandchildren in 2017.

  • In a recent AARP survey, 52% said the benefits of living in an intergenerational home outweigh the disadvantages and risks posed by COVID-19. But ages 50–59 are most likely to see those benefits, with older age brackets more heavily weighing the downsides.

Co-living — or living with roommates and sharing common areas a la "The Golden Girls" — is still relatively small among the 65 and older camp, but the rise of services that match older roommates like Nesterly and Silvernest has boosted interest.

  • "It's logical to conclude that with extended periods of isolation that interest could increase," said Danielle Arigoni, director of AARP Livable Communities. "But on the flip side, it may be that people are more afraid of having a roommate right now."

The big picture: Most communities do not have the housing that will be needed as their residents age.

  • Many older adults either can't afford to downsize as the nation's housing stock has grown bigger and more expensive, or they don't have enough savings or retirement funds to keep paying a mortgage or the rent for pricey long-term care centers.
  • A growing number of older adults live in low-density areas filled mostly with single-family homes and require cars to get around. That's problematic both for seniors looking to downsize and for those who can no longer drive themselves.
  • And in many metro areas, more than a third of older households are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30% of their income for housing.

"To the extent people want to stay in communities where they've been living, we'll absolutely need more housing options, such as apartments and denser, more walkable solutions that are lower cost," said Jennifer Molinsky, senior researcher at Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Between the lines: Even with new options for semi-independent living situations, service-rich residential housing that provides meals, transportation and medical care will still play a large role as we live longer and require more around-the-clock attention.

Go deeper:

2. The budget blow awaiting state and local government workers

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

State and local government jobs are being gutted, even as the labor market shows signs of a slight recovery, Axios' markets reporter Courtenay Brown writes.

Where it stands: Nearly two decades' worth of public sector jobs have been erased in three months as of May — easily bypassing declines seen during the financial crisis, per Pew Research.

Between the lines: The Federal Reserve offered cash-strapped state and local governments a rescue float to help manage cash flow pressures. But only one — out of over 250 eligible states, cities and counties — has taken it so far: Illinois.

  • Hawaii officials last week authorized the state's governor to borrow up to $2.1 billion from the Fed's facility — but that doesn't mean they'll do it.
  • It's cheaper for municipalities to borrow elsewhere. The interest rates set by the Fed's facility are "higher than the more traditional public or private markets for borrowings," analysts at rating agency Fitch wrote last month.

What they're saying: "As with all of our facilities, they're not intended to be primary, they're intended to be backstops," Tom Barkin, head of the Richmond Fed, said in an interview with Axios earlier this week.

  • But so far municipalities aren't issuing any more debt than usual.
  • "The visible supply of [municipal bonds] coming to the market in the next 30 days has been steadily declining since the middle of April and is currently close to its 2019 average," Cooper Howard, who analyzes the municipal bond market at Charles Schwab, tells Axios.
  • More debt, though, would add to their future liabilities, Howard says.

Read the full story

3. The cities that are already defunding the police

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The "defund the police" movement is already having a real impact as city leaders are calling to cut law enforcement budgets or reallocate funds in at least 19 cities, according to Local Progress, which pushes for racial and economic justice and is tracking the issue in real time, Axios' Stef Kight and I report.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, the LA City Council unanimously voted to replace police officers with unarmed community-based responders for nonviolent calls, CNN reports.

  • New York City lawmakers approved a budget that includes slashing $1 billion from the NYPD, though many protesters say the cuts should have been larger.

What's happening: In Minneapolis, the City Council has started the process of eliminating the police department from the city's charter via a referendum on the November ballot, per MPR News.

  • Last month, the Baltimore City Council approved a $22.4 million budget cut for the police department.
  • The Portland City Council cut $15 million from its police budget last month. $5 million of that would be put toward a new program that sends unarmed first responders to answer homelessness calls.
  • Philadelphia canceled a planned $19 million increase for the police department and shifted $14 million of the police budget elsewhere — including affordable housing.
  • The Hartford City Council voted to cut or reallocate $2 million of its police budget.
  • In Seattle, every department budget is being trimmed by around 10%, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told Axios' Dan Primack on the "Axios Re:Cap" podcast. "We have to reallocate parts of the budget to take things out of the police department that shouldn’t be there. ... We have to rethink what remains in the police department," Durkan said.

Yes, but: The defund the police movement is also strongly polarizing: 53% of Americans have an unfavorable view of the movement, compared to just 34% who view it favorably, according to an Axios-SurveyMonkey poll. (The split becomes narrower when the words "defund the police" aren't used.)

What to watch: The U.S. Conference of Mayors last week released principles to guide a "police reform framework" that mayor and police chiefs can adopt to deter patterns of racial discrimination. That framework is expected to be announced in the next month.

4. Nextdoor CEO pledges to address racial profiling and censorship

Nextdoor, the hyper local social network, is seen on a computer screen in March 2020. Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images.

Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar is vowing to update the site's moderation policies and recruit more Black moderators after the hyperlocal social network came under fire for removing posts related to Black Lives Matter while tolerating racist messages, per NPR.

Why it matters: The service, where more than 265,000 U.S. neighborhoods swap roofer recommendations and lost-dog announcements, is getting a hard lesson in the perils of content moderation that have dogged bigger social networks Facebook and Twitter.

What's happening: Nextdoor posts are moderated by volunteers. Friar told NPR the moderators were deleting posts about Black Lives Matter because they were following old guidelines that national issues shouldn't be discussed on the neighborhood forum.

  • Those rules have been updated to explicitly allow conversations about racial inequality and Black Lives Matter, Friar said.

Details: Nextdoor is planning to offer bias training to moderators, trying to recruit more Black moderators, and increasing removal of racial profiling posts. Friar also told NPR that its artificial intelligence-driven moderation tools are being tweaked to detect racist posts.

  • Nextdoor has also been criticized for its cozy relationships with police departments.
  • In June, Nextdoor pulled its controversial "Forward to Police" feature that lets users send posts directly to local police. There have long been concerns that the tool aided racial profiling by prejudiced users, per Engadget.

Our thought bubble: National conversations are inherently local.

  • Nextdoor's hyperlocal nature has the potential to foster much-needed dialogue about racial inequality on a more personal level, especially during the pandemic, when neighbors aren't able to physically gather.
5. The South is quickly losing newspapers
Reproduced from UNC Hussman School of Journalism; Note: States were grouped into regions according to the following classifications: Pacific: AK, CA, HI, OR, WA; Mountain: AZ, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, UT, WY; Midwest: IL, IN, MI, OH, WI, IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD; South: DE, DC, FL, GA, MD, NC, SC, VA, WV, AL, KY, MS, TN, AR, LA, OK, TX; Mid-Atlantic: NJ, NY, PA; New England: CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT; Chart: Axios Visuals

Every state in the South had at least one county without a newspaper, according to new research from Penelope Muse Abernathy at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Axios' media reporter Sara Fischer reports.

Details: According to the study, roughly 10% of Texas counties and 15% of Georgia counties no longer have a stand-alone newspaper.

  • "Several other states in the South, with many fewer counties — including Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee — had at least a half-dozen counties without newspapers."

What to watch: The fate of two major newspaper chains could have big implications for the future of several newspapers in the South. Ken Doctor writes for Nieman Lab:

  • Tribune Publishing, which owns the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida's Sun-Sentinel, on June 30 reached "the end of two 'standstill' periods. Tribune’s two major shareholders — Alden Global Capital, with 33 percent of the company’s shares, and Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, with 25 percent — had promised not to actively buy or sell any shares until June 30."
  • McClatchy, which owns the Miami Herald, the Charlotte Observer, The State in South Carolina, the Sun Herald in Mississippi, and more, on July 1 received final bids for its 30 newspapers, "as the country’s second-largest chain prepares to wind toward some exit from bankruptcy."
6. Urban files
Expand chart
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise, Naema Ahmed, Danielle Alberti/Axios

Coronavirus cases flat or growing in 48 states (Axios)

Our ghost-kitchen future (New Yorker)

How Texas lost control of the virus (Bloomberg)

The coming wave of coronavirus evictions will wipe out Black renters (Bloomberg CityLab)

7. 1 tiny thing: Social distancing in miniature

Photo: Jonas Klüter/picture alliance via Getty Images

The latest model building set at the Hamburg Miniatur Wunderland features a detailed carnival landscape called "Kirmes."

  • Look closely and you can see the little figures of people spaced out on socially distanced ground markers in front of a snack bar.
  • Zooming in even more reveals tiny face masks on the fair-goers.
Kim Hart

Have a very safe July Fourth! See you next week.