Three Ways To Tackle Commercial Re-Occupancy In The New Normal

Tim Curran is the CEO of Building Engines, the modern building operations platform for commercial real estate.

After months of being closed or at extremely low capacity, office buildings are cautiously moving towards re-occupancy. However, getting people back into buildings is a complex matter, and it’s made even more so given the severity of Covid-19. Coupled with the fluidity of reopening timelines and safety guidelines across states, re-occupancy is entering a new normal.

While there is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to re-occupancy plans, there are three critical considerations office building owners and operators need to take into account. Especially if they want their properties to not only survive this vulnerable phase but thrive in its aftermath and the new normal of the workplace.

Reimagine office spaces’ potential.

The pandemic has proven that some remote work is possible, but there is still no denying that office spaces facilitate a number of activities integral to business and personal success. As evidenced by how quickly professionals have flocked to videoconferencing while remote, colleagues depend on face-to-face communications to be productive. Offices are natural arenas for that.

That being said, how office spaces are occupied will naturally change following the pandemic. Building owners and operators who want to retain business prospects will need to operate with a heightened level of flexibility. For example, employers have now had ample time to reevaluate how their spaces can be used more efficiently; do they want more square footage to accommodate a socially distanced workforce, or do they want less space, permanently keeping part of their staff remote?

Cushman & Wakefield’s report on the future of the workplace smartly outlines how cutting-edge office building operators can help tenants reimagine what is possible for their new needs, such as rethinking space requirements, reconfiguring spaces and realigning on safety standards. To facilitate these moves from a distance, savvy management and leasing teams can employ technology including videoconferencing and 3D visualization to help existing and prospective occupants better conceptualize the spaces they are considering. This enables owners to sooner process or renegotiate leases and help prevent slowdowns that affect business.

Prioritize safety and sanitation.

Concerns around the spread of Covid-19 are omnipresent these days, meaning that sanitation needs to be top of mind for every operator as they navigate re-occupancy. This dedication extends beyond increased cleaning — management teams need to execute ongoing, direct communication with tenants and maintenance teams to ensure everyone understands the advancement and handling of the situation. Given the patchwork of reopening protocols spread across the country, existing and prospective occupants want a clear idea of how their individual building is planning to approach re-occupancy to confirm they’re doing it safely.

To instill confidence in occupants, management teams can draft comprehensive digital guides detailing their unique action plans. In digital or written form, these guides can articulate all practices from how they’ll sanitize in the occurrence of an outbreak, to any processes occupants will have to complete when they enter the building each day. Having this information in writing will also work to eliminate unnecessary back-and-forth communications, in which detailed protocols can quickly become misunderstood or contradictory. However, even with a comprehensive guide available, operators do still need to establish and make known the most effective way for occupants to contact them, whether that be by phone, text, email or a building’s management portal.

Be strategic about downtime.

Despite management teams’ best efforts to ready their spaces for re-occupancy, it may be a while before the public again realizes the full potential of office buildings. That’s no reason for operations functions to stall in the meantime. While cutting back on utility and janitorial expenses to save money sounds like an attractive solution for properties still experiencing lower-than-normal occupancy, trimming too severely can present challenges down the road. When regular maintenance activities are ignored for long stretches of time, systems can break down and grime can build up, so that even more time and resources are eventually needed to get facilities back in working order.

To coordinate these maintenance activities, teams can use a hub through which all information — schedules, project status, tasks and instructions for completion — is exchanged. This may look like one of the many accessible project management apps available or a more sophisticated platform built with building maintenance in mind. With safety and security measures ramped up, operators need to ensure all employees have clarity around what’s expected of them so that they can correctly execute those responsibilities. Therefore, a centralized platform that’s updated in real-time can be helpful for aligning all parties. Further, since crew sizes may need to be decreased during this period, having this level of clarity and directness maximizes everyone’s time and resources.

Putting re-occupancy plans into action.

Re-occupancy is a nuanced and sometimes daunting process. When executed thoughtfully, it presents property owners and operators the opportunity to set up their buildings for lasting success. In the midst of coronavirus, the modern office building needs to deliver on a new set of criteria, focusing dually on near-term re-occupancy needs and the long-term changes that will result from the pandemic. As spaces move to be more flexible, responsive and secure, there’s more opportunity for leveraging technology to manage and even drive those changes. Especially within an industry that has historically been slow to adopt such innovations. A new era of office buildings is upon us. Are your properties ready?

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How San Francisco’s Tenant Protection Policy Is Stabilizing Low-Income Communities

The words San Francisco and affordable typically aren’t used in the same sentence, at least when it comes to the housing market. But a program called Community Opportunity to Purchase Act (COPA) changes the way in which multifamily rental projects and certain vacant lots can be sold in San Francisco. 

Since its launch in 2019, COPA has been providing certain nonprofit organizations with first dibs on purchasing multifamily residential buildings and the right to match a private buyer’s offer. 

The idea behind this built-in advantage for nonprofits was that it would prevent rampant speculation, preserve existing affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods and ensure community stability.

The San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund (SFHAF), a public-private partnership, provides flexible loans to nonprofit community partners so they can compete with market-rate development corporations to purchase buildings for low-income residents vulnerable to displacement. 

With financial assistance from SFHAF, the nonprofits buy the buildings, complete extensive repair work and operate them as permanently affordable housing.

“The Housing Accelerator Fund aims to preserve or develop 1,500 affordable housing units in its first five years,” said Rebecca Foster, chief executive of SFHAF. “We help keep low-income renters who are at risk of displacement in their homes, enable working families to live in the city, and stabilize — and ultimately revitalize — economically distressed areas.”  

Currently, eight qualified nonprofits are on the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development’s list to exercise rights of first offer and refusal as allowed under the program. SFHAF’s partner, Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), has been successful at responding to building owners’ notifications that their buildings are up for sale, as COPA requires. 

During the pandemic, MEDA has bought six small residential buildings serving tenants at risk of displacement through COPA transactions. SFHAF provided bridge financing for all of the transactions, ensuring that MEDA had access to resources to make attractive offers to sellers and then quickly close the deals.

The Housing Accelerator Fund explains that those seeking to protect affordable housing in San Francisco must maneuver through three challenges: a fast-moving market that requires a transactional speed for which the nonprofits initially weren’t set up well to handle, lack of funding and the small number of nonprofits pursuing these acquisitions.

The Accelerator Fund’s focus on providing bridge loans to nonprofits in a critical window of opportunity helped them make offers at the speed of the market. 

“The nonprofits responded accordingly by becoming skilled at putting in offers on buildings quickly and efficiently,” explained Foster. “What COPA has really done is slow down the market, which allows a very limited number of participating nonprofits to be more selective in applying the limited resources they have. Even with these obstacles cleared, the availability of long-term funding remains a constraint in nonprofits’ ability to acquire sites in the private market without disadvantage.”

Victoria Joseph, senior vice president at Citi Community Investing and Development, said the Housing Accelerator Fund is at the forefront of implementing COPA by helping provide resources – financial and otherwise – to nonprofits trying to capitalize on this new advantage. 

 “Citi has provided funding and expertise to SFHAF, committing $60 million in loans to date,” said Joseph. “Since 2017, SFHAF has closed on 21 building loans, three loans for development on underutilized land and has an outstanding lending portfolio totaling over $100 million.” 

The Housing Accelerator’s programs have helped to preserve over 300 existing affordable homes and are assisting with an additional 600 new affordable homes through construction. More than 1,000 San Francisco residents are served through these investments.

Sandra Lee Fewer, District 1 representative of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, proposed the COPA legislation in December 2018 as a means of stabilizing communities by preventing tenant displacement and preserving affordable housing. 

Fewer’s bill was based on successful precedents in other cities, most notably in Washington D.C., which has had a first-right of refusal ordinance for over 30 years. Similar policies are in force in various forms in Boston, Chicago, and Seattle.

Rent-controlled apartments have become a prime target for speculation in San Francisco. Until recent years, when long-term landlords sold their buildings, their primary market was to other investors seeking ongoing rental income.

Lately, however, speculators and cash buyers have been swooping in to buy these rent-controlled buildings by using common tactics such as evicting tenants under the Ellis Act, owner move-ins, harassment tactics or buying the properties with the intention of flipping them, renting them at market rates or converting them to TICs (tenancy in common housing), condos or tech dorms.

Prior to the COPA initiative, a clear pathway didn’t exist to allow nonprofits to buy such buildings, even if they had the means to match the seller’s price. A speculator or cash buyer was able to out-maneuver a community entity wishing to buy the building in the tenants’ interest.

The COPA law addresses the need to balance the playing field so the nonprofit community can adequately compete, without disadvantage, on the open market in acquiring rental buildings when they are put up for sale.

Elizabeth Bell, 74, has lived in the Mission District of San Francisco since 1986. “When I learned my building was for sale, my mind immediately flashed to location, location, location,” she said. “I’m two blocks from the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, so I knew the developers would be all over this building. As a senior, it’s important for me to be close to transportation. I’m also part of the Mission community. I raised my daughter here.” 

Bell contacted the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development and MEDA when she found out her building was for sale.  

“I’m so happy that I reached out, which was on the advice of housing activists I knew from the neighborhood, and that MEDA responded,” said Bell during a conversation in March, a few weeks after MEDA succeeded in purchasing her building.

Over the years, she noticed that many of the neighborhood’s longtime dwellers, such as artists, poets and residents from Latin America, were leaving the Mission District, seeking cheaper housing alternatives in other locations.

 “I stopped seeing them around,” said Bell. “I’d run into them at an event and they’d tell me, ‘I had to move to Berkeley,’ ‘I had to move to LA.’ It has been scary to see the businesses and the arts spaces vanish little by little. The cafe scene has greatly dwindled. Still, the bilingual schools my daughter went to are still here with a new crop of students. The cultural center still has exhibits and performances. There are still rumbas almost every Sunday in different places, poetry readings are still happening. That’s my community, and I want to stay here. I want it to stay alive.”

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Stripe Is Offering $20,000 Bonus To Employees Who Relocate To Less Expensive Cities, But It Comes With A Pay Reduction


Stripe is offering a $20,000 bonus to employees who move away from San Francisco, New York City or Seattle but it comes with a 10% pay reduction, spokesman Mike Manning told Forbes, making the e-commerce and mobile payment processor the latest tech company to implement pay cuts for workers who chose to relocate to less expensive cities as remote work policies are extended because of the pandemic. 

Key Facts

Stripe, which has more than 2,800 employees, has relied on remote work for years and in May announced it would hire at least 100 remote engineers, saying remote workers have helped the company stay close to customers so they can tailor Stripe’s products accordingly. 

Stripe joins other technology companies that have said they’ll cut the pay of employees who move to less expensive cities, including the social media companies Facebook and Twitter and enterprise software companies VMware and ServiceNow, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the news.

Further Background

Just as many white-collar Americans are reconsidering the cost of living in expensive cities if remote work policies continue, many companies are also reconsidering expensive office costs. Some companies have had market-based salary policies in place for years, meaning pay is adjusted based on the cost of living or cost of labor in the area. 


The job search marketplace Hired surveyed 2,300 tech workers and found that 55% said they would not be willing to accept a reduced salary if their employer made work from home permanent. An overwhelming 90% said the same job should receive the same pay, regardless of if the person works remotely, but 40% said they support location adjustments. More than half, 53%, said they would be “likely” or “very likely” to move to a city with a lower cost of living if allowed to work from home permanently. 

Further Reading

Stripe Workers Who Relocate Get $20,000 Bonus and a Pay Cut (Bloomberg)

Why Silicon Valley workers who relocate for remote work face pay cuts (Fox Business)

2020 State of Salaries Report: Salary benchmarks and talent preferences (Hired)

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Ex-NFL Players Look To Tackle Inner-City Challenges By Transforming Abandoned Properties

Former NFL athletes Garry Gilliam and Karlos Dansby have joined forces in a national effort to revitalize underserved neighborhoods by transforming abandoned properties such as schools, shopping centers and warehouses into sustainable, mixed-use eco-villages with housing, retail, co-working, urban agriculture, education centers and entertainment facilities. 

For example, a high school in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, that has been vacant since 2013, will ultimately foster constructive collaboration.

The sprawling 115,000-square foot building is set to undergo a major transformation into an eco-village with housing, retail, co-working spaces, aquaponics farms, and medical and entertainment facilities. 

The Bridge, a startup cofounded last year by CEO Gilliam and chief operations officer Corey Dupree, has leased the building and will advance plans for a co-working office space that is part of the broader eco-village plan. A groundbreaking ceremony is set for October.

The Ultimate Fan, founded in 2016 by Dansby and chairman and CEO Theodore Holloway, shares a similar mission of giving back to communities in need by empowering and uplifting those held back by poverty.

It deploys athletes, entertainers and developers with a “build and fill” business model, encouraging those stakeholders to design, build, own and operate business and land development projects. Both organizations hope to spark a movement for entrepreneurs to develop thriving, sustainable communities globally.

Gilliam said The Bridge initiative has been long in the making. “The Bridge is something that we have been working on and building for about a year and a half now, before the magnified issues of Covid and the Black Lives Matter movement,” he said. 

“Issues like systematic racism or systematic oppression are issues that have been in place for hundreds of years in this country,” Gilliam explained. “There have been attempts to try and deconstruct that system, and some elements have changed, but there are also things that have gotten worse such as redlining and food deserts in a lot of school districts that don’t have funding coming to them due to their property values and homeownership levels. The Bridge is an observation of the past and an answer to solve issues that have been occurring for a while, as well as issues that Covid and the Black Lives Matter movement have magnified.” 

Gilliam pointed out that The Bridge believes the way to combat systemic oppression is to counter it with a range of initiatives.

“We aren’t just putting a Band-Aid on the systematic issues that are present in our society,” said Gilliam. “We are really getting down to the root of these issues and creating solutions for them. The Bridge has five branches known as WELLP: Work, Eat, Live, Learn and Play. Each of these branches attacks the issues many inner cities face by providing valuable resources to the community.”

The organization seeks to acquire 5 to 30 acres in Harrisburg for sustainable eco-village campuses that will produce healthy fresh food, clean water and renewable energy. Development plans include co-working space, housing units, commercial, retail, entertainment and indoor urban agriculture as part of an agro-food tech innovation center. 

Dupree believes the vacant high school is the obvious place to start. “Harrisburg is our home,” he said. “It’s the epitome of where The Bridge pilot location should be. In saying this, I mean it is a food desert, has a low rate of homeownership and has a disturbingly low state ranking in the education system, even though it is a capital city.”

Gilliam said Harrisburg has a legacy of systemic oppression. “There’s clear evidence of redlining,” he said. “There is one grocery store within the city limits, the school system is ranked in the bottom five of the state, and homeownership levels are extremely low. Building The Bridge in Harrisburg will produce quantifiable results. We know since we lived there that it will progress the city, and eventually other cities as well.”  

The Bridge has a bold vision for economic renewal. Gilliam explained, “We are providing quality adult education that often is not provided in inner-city public schools due to lack of resources, transforming food deserts into food oases by growing food on site and providing groceries for the community, offering different types of housing from affordable to upper class with a heavy focus on workforce housing, offering a co-working space for entrepreneurs in the area and providing entertainment for the community with our arcade, which will feature a lot of virtual reality.”  

Through incubator spaces and community partnerships, The Bridge seeks to provide workforce preparedness for the community.  

“We plan on working with local contractors to hopefully take on apprentices, in some regard, to help them become more skilled in their crafts,” said Dupree. “This creates not only jobs, but more importantly, bosses and business owners.” 

Gilliam added, “The Bridge will focus on workforce preparedness in our Learn branch which will lean heavily into workforce development, job training, sustainable business practices, financial literacy courses and more. The Bridge will lay the foundation for people to create jobs and businesses, not just having a job within the community.”

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New York Sees Its Last Rental Conversions After Passage Of Tenant Protection Law

It’s a common situation for New York City renters – their rental building is going condo (or, as was the case a couple of decades ago, co-op). But after the passage of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 last summer, that scenario has been likely been relegated to the city’s history books. 

One of the extensive law’s provisions increases the required percentage of existing tenants willing to buy their apartments from 15% to 51% before a non-eviction conversion can move forward. Previously, the percentage could also include non-tenants who were purchasing the apartment to use as their primary residence. The new 51% requirement includes current tenants only.

Some developers were able to squeak their conversions in under the wire, including The Broad Exchange Building, which filed its plans before the regulations went into effect last June. This past July, the developers announced that they had met the 15% threshold to achieve declaration of effectiveness for the condominium conversion in Manhattan’s Financial District. 

Angela Ferrara, executive vice president of The Marketing Directors, which is heading up sales at The Broad Exchange Building, built in 1902, said it was likely one of the last conversions to go forward. 

Of the building’s 308 units, 56 sold as primary homes and 12 of those purchasers were already residents, according to Ferrara. 

Ferrara and others contend that the regulations will have the opposite effect of its intentions to provide affordable housing and encourage homeownership. 

“The regulations had the right intentions – to make properties more affordable,” Ferrara says. “But this particular aspect of the law has done the opposite, allowing less people to be able to buy in Manhattan.”

The Avant, located in The East Village, also converted from a rental into 26 condominium residences, submitting the plan ahead of the deadline.

“Given that this is a conversion, the team was able to completely gut the interiors and recreate larger-than-average units at still very attainable price points,” says Candice Milano, an agent with Brown Harris Stevens representing the property. “Due to Manhattan’s lack of affordable, new units, The Avant is able to meet this demand in a prime downtown neighborhood with starting prices below $1 million.”

The change is a larger issue because of the lack of developable land.

“Right now, a very good course of action would be for the developer to convert and let renters be homeowners,” Ferrara says. “This is really the only play that a developer has. New developments are not really attainable for a lot of New Yorkers. I would love the regulations to change because there will be a glut of new construction, but there won’t be something in the middle range.”

Jonathan Canter, a partner with real estate law firm Kramer Levin, said conversions are effectively dead.

“The threshold is so high,” Canter says. “It’s nearly impossible to do it on any economic terms.”

Additionally, developers received less than a week’s notice as the law went into effect immediately. 

“I think it was a knee-jerk response that condominiums are bad because people are making money off them, and because conversions would take away rental units,” Canter says. 

State Assemblyman Harvey Epstein, co-author of the tenant protection law, says the reasoning behind raising the threshold for conversions was to allow tenants to have more say in how their building is run. Financing also becomes more difficult for buildings that are not majority owner occupied.

“The goal was to help people who want to become homeowners so they have a voice on the board,” said Epstein, who’s lived in a co-op on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for more than 20 years. “If the majority of the building is owned by the sponsor, the sponsor maintains total control and tenants have no say in how the building is run.”

Epstein disagrees that the law has killed conversions.

“It makes more appropriate conversions,” Epstein says. “I don’t think a conversion at 15% is an appropriate conversion. If they can’t get 51%, maybe they shouldn’t have a conversion at all.”

Francis Greenburger, chairman and chief executive officer of developer Time Equities, says he has an idea to amend the current conversion law that would still provide support for affordable housing, allowing developers to convert a rental building under the previous terms if they contribute to an affordable housing fund.

“The specific amounts would need to be determined but our initial thought was that a contribution of 3% of the purchase price would be split equally by both the sponsor and purchasers, and that upon resale purchasers would also pay 1.5% of the purchase price at closing,” Greenburger says. “I believe this is an inherently just and equitable way to generate funding from sponsors/developers in the private sector for-profit housing market and those purchasers fortunate enough to be able to afford to buy a condominium, while targeting the funds to specifically benefit those who have demonstrated the need for affordable housing.”

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Actor Anthony Edwards Of ‘Top Gun’ And ‘ER’ Fame Lists Manhattan Penthouse

Actor Anthony Edwards, best known for roles in the movie Top Gun and TV series ER, is selling his prewar penthouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Edwards, who played Goose to Tom Cruise’s Maverick in the 1986 Air Force movie and Dr. Mark Greene on the first eight seasons of the NBC medical drama, recently listed the three-bedroom, 3 ½-bathroom unit at Philip House for $7.65 million. 

The duplex features interiors by AD100 designer Victoria Hagan, with a 32-foot-long living and dining area with 16-foot ceilings and a wood-burning fireplace. It also has three terraces, including one with an outdoor grilling area.

The eat-in kitchen features custom high-gloss lacquer cabinets, Belgian Bluestone countertops, a Sub-Zero fridge and wine fridge, six-burner Wolf range and two wood-paneled Miele dishwashers.

Philip House was built in 1927 and designed by Sugarman & Berger. It was converted to a condominium in 2013, with ARCT Architecture P.C. designing the conversion.

Building amenities include a rooftop lounge and landscaped rooftop terrace, fitness center, game room, children’s playroom and music practice room.

Elizabeth Van Hiel and Aaron Allen of Elegran have the listing.

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A Pied-A-Terre Tax On New York City Real Estate Would Likely Erase Any Of Its Potential Rewards

The New York State Senate has once again placed New York City real estate directly in its sights. Last year the Senate considered a “pied-a-terre” tax bill, but the proposal was ultimately dropped in favor of an increased mansion tax, a far easier pill for buyers, sellers, developers, and real estate agents to swallow. The pied-a-terre tax got shelved for a variety of reasons, one of which was the enormous complications of its implementation in co-ops. In brief, the proposed tax would require all homeowners whose legal residence is outside the five boroughs to pay an annual tax on maintaining a second (or third, or fourth) residence within the city. This tax would be leveled not only on new purchasers, but on anyone whose legal residence lies outside city limits. 

Administered on a sliding scale, the tax would charge between 0.5% and 4% to owners whose one to three family houses have a value of $5 million or more, and 10% to 13.5% to owners whose apartments have an assessed value of $300,000 or more. Since assessed values of New York properties vary widely, no one seems exactly sure at what value the tax would begin; some have hypothesized that the proposed law could affect owners of apartments worth as little as $1.5 million, which buys a one or at best a two-bedroom flat in Manhattan. In addition, the tax still suffers from huge administrative problems around co-ops, where the assessed values are assigned by building rather than apartment, thus muddying the waters regarding who might owe what. 

Senator Brad Hoylman, the bill’s original sponsor, and other members of the State Senate like to use recent purchases by Jeff Bezos (for $96 million) and Ken Griffin (for $238 million) as the poster children for the reasonableness of their idea. For guys like these, they say, any pied-a-terre tax would simply be a rounding error. Perhaps this is true, but it fails to consider several important issues.

First, purchases of this scale remain completely outside the mainstream, and to use such anomalies as cases in point lacks real transparency. Second and more important, the issue doesn’t center around what people can afford; it’s about what they are willing to pay. The wealthy who are establishing primary residences in Florida can afford to pay New York City and State taxes—they simply would prefer not to. The pied-a-terre tax will have a similar effect on buying behavior. 

Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “The rich are different from you and me.” But not in every way. Like the rest of us, they prefer not to spend money they don’t have to, and especially today, with so many tourist attractions involving sports and the arts unavailable in person here, the desire to buy an extra home in New York probably lies at its lowest ebb in recent decades. Add a new annual tax to that mix and you almost certainly continue to drive away those frequent visitors who have historically both spent big and lived big when they are here. And that in turn costs the city construction projects and restaurant visits and a host of other job and revenue-generating activities that virtually nullify the financial benefit gained from the tax.

The city and the state both badly need money. The federal government, at least up until now, does not seem likely to provide it, especially to a reliably Democratic state. An incremental tax on on the uber-wealthy makes sense; many of them live in New York, still pay taxes here, and enjoy its benefits. This particular tax, however, seems like poor policy. It’s unlikely to raise enough revenue to justify both the administrative time necessary to implement it and the attendant losses from the likely departure of pied-a-terre owners. 

The pandemic has economically ravaged communities throughout the United States. Our governments, at the state and local levels, need to be smart and analytical about how they attempt to generate revenue. Real estate is always an easy target for legislators. In the case of the pied-a-terre tax, however, the drawbacks seem likely to erase any possible rewards.

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Occupational Therapists Enable Independent Living For Seniors Through Wellness Design Interventions

If your health is exemplary, if you have no physical or mobility challenges, if completing tasks you’ve always handled with ease is still easy, and if no one in your life suffers from any of these difficulties, you may never cross paths with an occupational therapist. And you’d probably be the exception, rather than the rule.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, OT jobs are expected to increase 16% by the end of the decade. A rapidly-aging population has much to do with that, especially the millions of seniors who want to continue living independently in their own homes. (The Covid-19 pandemic has likely increased this number too, as seniors in nursing homes have been especially hard hit by the virus.) Occupational therapists are the healthcare field’s wellness design facilitators.

Keeping Low Income Seniors Safer at Home

Enter CAPABLE, (short for Community Aging in Place – Advancing Better Living for Elders), a program created at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and profiled recently in, that brings an OT with a nurse and handyman to low income seniors’ homes to make them safer and more functional. The program has been praised by both the current Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, and the Democratic candidate for president, Joe Biden.

Here’s what Biden said about it in a recent speech, streamed live on Facebook in July: “There’s a pilot program now in 27 cities and 16 states where a nurse, an occupational therapist and a handyman come to the home that’s caring for an aging family member… They walk through the house… and install handrails in the rights spots in the house and bathroom, or they fix the door that’s stuck so she doesn’t trip when she tries to open it. It initially found that about $3,000 in program costs yielded more than $20,000 in savings to the government, from hospitalizations and other reasons.”

According to its creator, Sarah L. Szanton, a nursing professor and director of the school’s Center for Innovative Care in Aging, Azar has been encouraging about the program’s expansion, and a key HHS committee voted in favor of having Medicare scale it further to test continued cost-effectiveness.

Occupational Therapy and Wellness Design for Seniors

Scott Trudeau, practice manager for the American Occupational Therapy Association, became aware of CAPABLE when it was in the research stage and promising early results were being shared, he recalls. Since then, the organization has consulted and partnered with study leaders to provide their specialized expertise. “In addition,” Trudeau notes, “we have advocated with Congress, CMS [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] and HHS to support codifying important occupational therapy interventions in policy and regulations.” Interventions, a term for professional involvement by an OT, are only effective when there are established mechanisms for reimbursement and payment, he observes.

AOTA has also been involved in educating its members on CAPABLE so that they can be part of its successful implementation and expansion, and in providing direct advice to the leadership team.

The CAPABLE intervention provides for a range of modifications to the home to make it safer and easier for clients to perform the activities they have set as a priority, Trudeau explains. “Key improvements like installing grab bars in bathrooms, or a railing to make it safer to navigate stairs have been widely reported. Very specific needs related to the individual home – changing out steps for a ramp, for instance – are also included. It is not one size fits all, but rather highly tailored to the needs of the individual within their home environment.” The visiting OT recommends improvements that let the senior perform the task safely and successfully and then the handyman implements them. That could be walking a dog for one client, with help from a new entryway ramp, or being able to continue baking for another, with the addition of cabinet accessories that help someone in a walker reach her rolling pins and baking sheets more easily. All CAPABLE clients set their own functional task priorities, giving the program more power to positively impact individual lives.

“This is really a key turning point in our appreciation that health care costs can be impacted by interventions that don’t necessarily fit into the traditional medical model,” Trudeau points out. “Programs like this are why I became an occupational therapist,” he shares.

You may not need occupational therapy for age or disability any time soon, and your income may be too high to qualify for reimbursement under a government program, but the ability to continue living productively and independently at home for decades to come is one an occupational therapist can help you or someone you love achieve.

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Reports Of The Death Of Cities Are Being Greatly Exaggerated

One of the familiar refrains of the pandemic is that it is the epitaph of the city. No longer are we working from home, we are now living at work. Consequently, people, like salmon, are retreating to the rural utopias from whence they spawned. Equipped with wifi and a Nespresso machine, they have all they need to work remotely. 

It is an attractive proposition, this notion of an idyllic existence away from the humdrum of the city with its pollution and crowds and cramped apartments and commutes. Remote working seems a catharsis for the stresses of modern life. But it is a mirage, and like all mirages, it will evaporate as soon as you get close enough.

The lure of technology

For centuries, cities have drawn people towards them with the promise of better jobs, better people and better lives. They have been a hive of innovation and endeavour, conversation and opportunity. Cities, through time, have bestowed myriad advantages upon its denizens; from cultural accomplishment, cosmopolitanism, public transport, expertise, emergency services, material choice to education and social utility. But first and foremost it has provided urban citizens with access to technology.

From roads to radio, printing press to plumbing, electricity to the internet, the inventions that transform our society all come to the city first and in many instances are still most effective in urban areas. The city is always the first kiss of progress and its status as the sandbox of innovation is more acute today than ever before.

Those technologies bestow significant economic and social advantage to those who live within their optimal range. There are still many parts of the developed world where having a video call is difficult and starting an ecommerce business is impossible due to poor internet speeds. Most governments find it difficult to justify significant spending on infrastructure to support small scattered populations of people living in rural areas, especially in the current economic climate. This is the city’s sustainable competitive advantage. It will continue to be far easier to develop and deploy new technologies and services to a large market living in close proximity.

The next decade will see cities transformed

It is, however, the new, not the old technologies that will ensure the city maintains its dominance. We find ourselves on the cusp of the next systemic technology shift. The mainstreaming of massive interconnectivity through IoT, faster Internet through 5G, interoperability through ubiquitous APIs, decision making AIs and immersion through mixed reality technologies will transform urban living utterly. 

Cities, in the next decade, are going to be brought to life. These technologies will animate them in a way never seen before. Every city will have its own distinctive virtual canvas, layered on top of the physical infrastructure and designed by the unique users, sensors and observations of the city itself. Sensors will become ubiquitous, recording human, device and atmospheric data, and then storing that data on city clouds. City AIs will analyse this data and spit it back out as a resource for citizens to make their city more competitive and their decisions more effective. 

Many of these technologies will not be feasible in rural areas, making those areas altogether less habitable. Rural areas will enjoy diminished access to decision-making assistance, safety tools, economic opportunity and basic service utility. Take, for instance, self-driving vehicles. Autonomous vehicles require a massive infrastructure of live data feeds from cameras, GPRS, smart devices, infrared, Bluetooth and sensors in order to ensure that a car or drone can operate safely. These data feeds are not going to exist on country lanes and byways in rural areas.

Virtual economies will be layered upon urban spaces

The physical infrastructure of cities is unlikely to change significantly over the next decade, restricted as they are by limitations of space, cost and cement, but the technologies we depend on to interact with them will. Enhanced reality technologies will allow wearers of mixed reality eyewear, including contact lenses, to interact with virtual environments layered on top of the analogue environment around them. Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs), a technology protocol that allows for the creation of certifiably singular digital assets to be tied to a unique user, will enable virtual pets, avatars, gaming, sales interactions, environmental customisation, new jobs and income streams will require 5G and IoTas well other users. Cities will become canvases upon which we paint our own realities. To deliberately remove yourself from cities is to deliberately isolate yourself from the professional and social opportunities presented by virtual economies. 

There will be challenges as the gap between urban and rural widens. Property prices in advantageous areas where data can be monetised will rise precipitously, resulting in higher levels of income and wealth inequality and impeding social mobility. It is likely that, in some countries, this will lead to greater social division amongst urban and rural dwellers as those in rural communities make a case that the infrastructure that their taxes pay for resides primarily in cities. Those who do live in cities will see a substantial degradation of their privacy rights as surveillance becomes a way of life. 

Cities will compete with each other for residents based on proprietary technologies, analytics and data. Which city has the best cloud infrastructure? Or free access to commercialisable data or APIs? These questions will determine where people want to live and businesses want to work. Does your city provide free access to traffic or football data? Standard APIs to draw data from atmospheric sensors or drone routes? Sentiment analysis and premium data markets? Can the city manage massive amounts of data exchange? Big data sophistication will determine city competitiveness and will likely lead to the rise of second and third cities as places like Manchester, Milan and Marseille strive to combine technical sophistication with quality of life.

So despite rising rents, air pollution, income and wealth inequality and stress, the city is not dying. The evolution of the techno-infrastructure of urban landscapes will make cities an economic and socio-cultural necessity for most people in the next decade. IoT, 5G, robotics, cryptoassets and enhanced reality technologies will turn cities into an interactive landscape of information and opportunity that rural living could never hope to compete with.

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Do Mortgage Lenders Reject Loans To Blacks That They Would Make To Whites?

That is the thrust of a recent article by Diana Olick in CNBC, which she terms “An outrageous tale that reveals Black discrimination in the housing market.” Her information comes from Akili Akridge, a black applicant who “had all the right stats: a steady six-figure salary, an 800 FICO credit score, and 20% equity in a home.”

The major points of the story, as told to Olick by Akridge, are the following:

  • Looking to refinance, he entered his financial information in an online mortgage site.
  • The first two calls he received asked about his race and he replied that he was black. One of them turned him down on the nonsensical grounds that they did not make loans on townhouses, the second quoted a rate higher than the one he now has.
  • On the next two calls he received, he did not identify his race, and was offered loans at competitive rates by both.

Because the story was light on details, last week I wrote Olick the following questions:

1.   Did the complainant disclose to you the names of the loan officers who rejected him, and/or the lenders who employ them? I ask this because it seems to me that the malefactors should be held to account, at least by disclosing who they are.

2.   Did the complainant disclose the web site through which he contacted the lenders? I ask that because I have a multi-lender web site ( in which built-in safeguards make the discrimination you describe impossible. I would be happy to describe how it works if you are interested.

Since I have received no reply from Olick, I decided that readers would be interested in how discrimination can be avoided. The applicant who comes to my web site for a loan provides the financial information that lenders require to qualify for the loan requested, and to price it. That information does NOT include the applicant’s race. If the applicant proceeds to contact one of the lenders, the loan officer assigned to him would know that the applicant met the qualification requirements, and that the applicant knew the price posted on that day.

The loan officer cannot refuse the loan on the grounds that it does not meet the lender’s property requirements. Those requirements are part of its qualification requirements that are posted on the site and known to the applicant. If the applicant wants a loan on a townhouse, for example, only lenders that make such loans would appear on the screen. Similarly, the loan officer cannot quote an inflated interest rate because the rate has been posted on the site and is known to the applicant.

Applicants using the site do not disclose their race until the loan officer takes the application. It would be extremely difficult for a biased loan officer to attempt to scuttle the deal at that point.

  • He can’t change the qualification requirement or the rate, those have already been set.
  • If he fabricates a rule and uses it as a ruse to reject the application, he must fill out a denial letter which sets out the specific reason for the denial. The letter must be provided to the applicant and is also available to the loan officer’s manager, whose salary and bonus are tied to the number of loans originated on his watch.  
  • If despite all this an unjustified rejection happened anyway, the applicant can contact me as ombudsman to consumers who use the site.

Mortgage lenders who want to participate are invited to contact me at

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