Recession Declared Over, But We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a private non-profit economic research institution well known for researching recessions, has declared that the 2020 recession is over. In fact, it ended quite a while ago, and only lasted two months, the shortest recession in history. NBER defines the start of a recession as the month following a peak in economic activity, and the end of a recession as the month at the bottom of economic activity. In this case, those months were March 2020 and April 2020 respectively. The delay in declaration is because it generally takes several months to figure out whether a recession is truly over or not, since there can be ups and downs in between the peak and trough. With this declaration, another downturn would officially be considered a separate recession.

So what does this mean? Well, it doesn’t mean the economy is healthy again. It just means we’re past the worst of it, and are in the recovery stage after the recession. We’ve been in recovery for quite some time, and will continue to be. It’s important to note that while the start of the pandemic and the start of the recession occurred at approximately the same time, they aren’t codependent. Rather, the pandemic was merely an exacerbating factor in a recession that was already approaching. Many of the effects, both psychological and government mandated, of the combined scare of a simultaneous recession and pandemic are still lingering and slowing down the recovery. The major factor keeping us back is lack of recovery in the job market.

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Plan Proposed to Aid Black Prospective Homeowners

Even though racial discrimination against homeowners was banned in 1968, the homeownership gap between White and Black households in the US is actually higher now than it was before the ban. Between 1960 and today, the gap has increased by 4% and sits at 31% nationwide, and 27% in California.

In order to address this issue, the Black Homeownership Collaborative has drafted a plan that they hope will bring homeownership to 300,000 more Black households by 2030. Their 7-point plan was approved by the Mortgage Bankers Association. The focal points are homeownership counseling and education, down payment assistance, affordable construction, improved credit and lending opportunities, increased civil and consumer rights, sustainability of homeownership, and marketing and outreach towards Black communities. Similar proposals are also in the works for Latinx communities, which make up a significant percentage of California’s population.

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FHFA to Remove Pandemic Refinance Fee

The FHFA established a new refinance fee at the end of 2020 called the Adverse Market Refinance Fee, which was designed to cover projected losses during the pandemic. But they’ve now said that their losses were not severe and that the market was not as adverse as they expected. Only 2% of single-family loans remain in forbearance. So, this fee is going to be removed come August 1st. The FHFA hopes this encourages more buyers to take advantage of low rates.

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Solar Sail Scout Ready for Launch

NASA has set the date for their Near-Earth Asteroid (NEA) Scout to this November, when it will launch along with the Artemis I test flight mission. The NEA Scout is a small craft with solar-powered sails, the first of its kind to be released outside of Earth’s orbit. If the mission goes well, it’s a good sign for an expected 2025 mission named Solar Cruiser, with a much larger solar sail. The NEA Scout is outfitted with a high-powered camera and its pictures are expected to provide valuable information about a certain class of asteroids. But it will take two years for the NEA Scout to reach its destination, even though it’s only a small asteroid near Earth.

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Are Homeownership Subsidies the Answer?

California is proposing a plan to start the “California Dream Fund,” which is intended to allow the state to subsidize purchases by first-time homebuyers without any tax increases. They hope to achieve this by allowing investors to use their money to subsidize the purchase, in exchange for an equivalent share of ownership. This will be limited to 45% to prevent the investors from owning a majority share.

The plan is still in the works, but there are already a few criticisms. Currently, there is no indication of who is liable if the property goes into default. Is it only the buyer? Do the investors have a stake, since they have an ownership share? Is the state liable since they’re the ones providing the subsidy program? Perhaps these questions will be answered later, but if the answer is simply as existing law, the program is no different from a state matchmaking program between investors and prospective homebuyers. Furthermore, subsidizing home purchases does nothing to address the real problem — the fact that home prices are so exorbitantly high in the first place that the plan is being discussed to begin with. Subsidies will increase demand, but demand is already high; it’s the low supply that needs to be addressed.

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Federal, California Eviction Moratoriums Both Extended

The eviction moratorium for federally backed mortgages was set to expire at the end of last month, but on June 24th, it was extended through July 31st. California has even gone above and beyond the CDC recommendations, extending the state residential moratorium through September 30th. With a third of renters in California feeling they were likely be evicted in July or August, and an additional 6% being quite sure of it, something needed to be done. 10% of California renters are still behind on their payments, and over a fifth of them had little to no confidence in their ability to make their July payment.

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Wedding Venue Serves Meals at Homeless Housing

When the pandemic hit, event venue The Grand in Long Beach was no longer able to host events, most of which are weddings. Rather than panic about the loss of income, The Grand decided to get involved in the community. They contacted the City of Long Beach numerous times and eventually were able to find a deal where they could cater to Roomkey and Homekey sites, which are former hotels converted into homeless housing.

Though The Grand did charge for their meals, since they were already at a loss from the pandemic closure, that wasn’t the main purpose. Each meal was only between $5 and $6, so the primary benefit to The Grand was feeling like a part of the community. And the homeless community benefitted immensely. Not only were they provided with meals without needing to leave the safety of their homes, but this was professionally catered food from a business that does events for a living. It’s good food, and helps give the homeless community hope and feelings of self-worth.

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Long Beach Provides Rental Assistance to Small Businesses

The City of Long Beach approved the Commercial Rental Assistance Grant (CRAG) back in January, and their application period is now open. It allows small businesses to get up to $4000 in funding to help them pay rent. The funding, which is approximately $1.7 million, comes from the federal COVID relief funds. Eligible businesses must be in a designated CRAG zone within Long Beach, conform to the Health Code, and have no more than 50 full-time employees. The application period began June 11th and goes until July 22nd, and applications can be done online.

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Homebuyer Demand Boosts Appliance and Electronics Sales

With demand being so high in the housing market, house sales are happening quickly. But that’s not the only thing selling quick. Those new homeowners are also looking to purchase new appliances and electronics for their new house. Best Buy in particular has exceeded their sales expectations. They’ve particularly noted sales of big screen TVs and home consultations and installations. Home Depot and Lowes are also faring well, and Walmart has increased their investment in home goods.

Representatives from Best Buy say that it’s the consultations and installations that put them over the top. There are many companies that sell appliances or TVs or office supplies. But most don’t also offer home services along with the sales. Services such as internet tech support are in high demand for buyers just moving in, who don’t want to waste any time getting connected. However, they’re less certain about their future in the second half of the year, as pandemic restrictions are ending and people are spending less time at home.

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3D Printed Rocket Next Step in Space Travel

Relativity Space, an aerospace company headquartered in Long Beach, has announced its new rocket the Terran R. The Terran R is fully 3D printed and is reusable. The 3D printing process allows for manufacture in under 60 days, with 100 times fewer parts than traditionally built rockets. Relativity was also working on a smaller rocket, the Terran 1, but decided to raise $650 million from investors to accelerate development of the Terran R.

The Terran R is intended to be a space freighter, capable of carrying cargo between Earth, the moon, and Mars. Relativity believes software-based 3D printing is the future of aerospace manufacturing and can enable efficient space travel. Their eventual goal is human colonization of Mars.

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Automation Could Force Union Workers Out of Jobs

Union labor is strong in Long Beach, where the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) has a large workforce. Despite unionization, some things are out of their control. Terminal operators currently are frequently union workers working for a public entity, since ports are usually owned by the city. But the terminals themselves are often owned by private companies, and leased to the city.

In Long Beach, the Pier T terminals are owned by Total Terminals International (TTI), which is itself jointly owned by companies based in Switzerland and South Korea. TTI is in the process of considering terminal automation to improve efficiency. While they may achieve their efficiency goal, it will also cause many of the ILWU workers to lose their jobs as terminal operators. With the terminals being internationally owned, TTI doesn’t have much incentive to care about US workers, unless their decision causes the City to want to break ties with them.

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Catalina Tourism Booming After Prolonged Closure

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Catalina Island was closed to tourism. Tourism is a major economic sector on the island, making the pandemic a significant economic crisis in addition to a health crisis. With Catalina Island now reopened, tourists are eager to get in on the fun. Tourist activities include kayaking, zip lining, outdoor recreation classes, hiking, tours, fishing, and souvenir shops.

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Here are some photos from earlier in the month:

California Delays Eliminating Mask Requirement

On May 13th, the CDC dropped the recommendation of wearing a mask for fully vaccinated persons. However, the CDC guidelines are only recommendations, not law. Federal, state, and local laws still apply. California law still has a mask requirement, so even fully vaccinated people should still be wearing masks inside businesses. The state has opted to wait until June 15th to remove this requirement.

Not everyone in California is vaccinated yet, particularly in underserved communities. The hope is that the four week period will help ensure more people are vaccinated, as well as give businesses time to readjust to the new regulations. Vaccination progress will be monitored. Current trends are good, so if they continue as they have been, vaccinated people should be able to keep their masks off after June 15th. Of course, the virus doesn’t care about laws — it may still be there after that date, so if you want to stay safe, nothing is preventing you from continuing to wear your mask until you feel comfortable.

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Remodeled Killingsworth House Back on Market

If you know architects, you may know Edward Killingsworth, a US architect who lived in Long Beach. One of the houses he designed still sits at 2 Laguna Place. The estate of the original owners sold it in 2018 with the original design for $2.6 million.

It’s no longer fully Killingsworth, as the new owners have remodeled it, but it retains some quintessential Killingsworth features: plenty of glass, floating stairs, stone countertops, and perhaps most importantly post-and-beam ceilings. It’s been updated with top-of-the-line new appliances and modernized master suite and bathrooms. There’s even an elevator. The new additions bring the price tag up to $5.179 million.


Neverland Ranch Has a New Owner

The Neverland Ranch, near Santa Barbara, California, is a 2700 acre property previously owned by Michael Jackson. The main residence is 12,500 square feet, and there is also a 3,700 square foot pool house as well as a movie theatre and dance studio. Neverland Ranch additionally features a train station, fire house, and barn. After attempting to list the property for $100 million in 2016 and then again for $67 million in 2017, the trust has now sold it for $22 million.

The new owner is billionaire Ron Burkle, co-founder of the investment firm Yucaipa Companies, who had been an associate of Michael Jackson. Also the controlling shareholder of Soho House, he had been searching for a new location for the members-only club. Burkle eventually concluded that Neverland Ranch was too remote for a new Soho House location, but decided to put in an offer anyway, and was successful.

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The Hong Kong Blue Refrigerator Project

In the neighborhood of Jordan in Hong Kong is a street called Woosung Street, popular for its restaurants. There is also a hockey academy there, as well as a sports foundation founded by Ahmen Khan. But Khan is doing something else to make people want to come to Woosung Street — he went to a nearby refuse collection site, picked up a refrigerator, painted it blue, and set it up just outside the hockey academy. The color isn’t important, though; what’s important is the sign reading “Give what you can give, take what you need to take.”

And that’s exactly what’s happening. The blue refrigerator project has gone viral, and people are visiting just to drop off food so that others can pick it up for free. The refrigerator is there 24 hours per day. Even though it’s a refrigerator, food isn’t the only thing people are picking up and dropping off. You’ll also find masks, cleaning supplies such as towels, and even clothing items such as socks.

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This photo does not depict the refrigerator described in this article.


Apartment Conversions Will Become More Common

It’s no secret that California has a shortage of affordable housing, and the diminishing construction rates definitely aren’t helping. Fortunately, there’s a rising statistic that isn’t captured in construction rates — conversions. Various types of commercial structures have been being converted into apartments over the past three decades. In the 90s, the most common type was hotels, followed by factories in the 2000s then offices in the 2010s. Now it seems we’re likely to circle back to hotels, which are experiencing extraordinarily high vacancy rates as travel has decreased during the lockdowns and recession. Hotels are also the best target for conversion to affordable housing because they generally produce lower tier apartments. We shouldn’t discount office conversions, either. As businesses are transitioning to partial or full work-from-home models, less office space is required and businesses will be looking for mixed-use structures.

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Is a Lunar Colony in Our Future?

The European Space Agency (ESA) has partnered with British metallurgy company Metalysis on a project that could potentially assist in enabling life on our Moon. Much of the oxygen present on the Moon is trapped inside of rock dust, primarily regolith. Metalysis has already been using a process to extract minerals from Earth rocks in their metal production, which happens to have oxygen as a byproduct. They believe a similar process can be used on lunar regolith to extract the oxygen, this time with the minerals as byproduct. The minerals can still be useful, too, as they can be used by 3D printers to build construction material.

In order to make this process ready for use on the Moon, it’s going to need to be less energy-intensive, since there isn’t as much energy available on the Moon as there is on Earth. Metalysis is working in conjunction with the ESA to rework their process with the express purpose of oxygen extraction from lunar regolith in mind. They believe that a more streamlined process with one specific purpose can be more energy efficient. There are also plans to reduce the size of the extraction chamber, which is currently about the size of a washing machine, so that it can be more easily transported to the Moon.

Photo by NASA on Unsplash


LA County Tightens COVID-19 Restrictions

The number of COVID-19 cases spiked dramatically in November, spurring LA County to increase safeguarding measures, effective tomorrow, November 20th. The number of customers at any time can be no more than 50% maximum outdoor capacity at outdoor restaurants, breweries, wineries, cardrooms, outdoor mini-golf, go-karts, and batting cages. This number is 25% at businesses permitted to operate indoors, such as retail stores, offices, and personal care services. In addition, restaurants, breweries, wineries, bars, and all other non-essential retail establishments must close from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. At personal care service locations, both staff and customers must wear a mask at all times, disallowing services that would require the mask to be removed, and these establishments cannot serve food or drinks. The maximum number of people at outdoor gatherings is 15, with a limit of 3 households. LA County has also established potential future guidelines that will be implemented if the number of cases or hospitalizations increases beyond certain levels.

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CFPB Plans to Replace Debt-To-Income Requirement

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is planning to make some changes aimed at widening the accessibility of mortgage loans by allowing lenders more freedom in determining a borrower’s ability to repay. Currently, one of the requirements for a qualified mortgage (QM), the loan type preferred by both lenders and consumers, is a debt-to-income ratio of no more than 43%. This criterion is designed to be an indicator of the borrower’s ability to repay. However, there are other methods of determining this that can broaden the range of QMs. The CFPB’s solution is to compare the loan’s annual percentage rate (APR) to the average prime offer rate (APOR). Because a borrower with a high DTI would likely also have a high APR compared to APOR, DTI considerations are still indirectly included, but there will also be people with a high DTI but low risk of default that are able to get a good APR to APOR ratio and therefore successfully get a QM loan.

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