JBG Smith Raises $75 Million for Amazon-Related Affordable Housing

Al Jackson, JBG executive vice president of social impact investing

JBG Smith, the dominant developer in the National Landing area where Amazon will build its HQ2 offices, has raised $78 million in an affordable housing initiative. The company hopes to raise between $100 million and $150 million in all. The funds would be used to develop “workforce” housing, targeting households with incomes too high to qualify for government housing assistance but too small to afford the rent on average two-bedroom apartments, reports the Washington Business Journal.

The JBG Smith initiative does not directly address the concerns of community activists who worry that an influx of highly paid Amazon employees will drive up housing prices in the Arlington-Alexandria area, leading to gentrification and displacement of lower-income families. But the addition of “a few thousand” units of housing would absorb a significant percentage of households expected to be drawn to the area. Amazon has said it will hire 25,000 employees over several years. The project likely will attract thousands of employees from other companies and organizations in the Amazon innovation ecosystem as well as people performing retail, construction, and service jobs.

The big question is where that housing will be built. The article quotes Al Jackson, executive vice president for social impact investing at JBG, only as saying that the company will target neighborhoods that could experience “significant gentrification” over the next decade.

Bacon’s bottom line: Continue reading

Herring Still Campaigning on Racial Justice Issues

Attorney General Mark Herring wants to be the next governor of Virginia, which means he first must win the Democratic Party nomination. Despite confessing several months ago that he once wore blackface as a college student, he has put race front and center in his bid for the state’s top office. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

Last year Herring launched his gubernatorial bid on the proposition that a crescendo of white supremacist hate crimes warranted new hate crime legislation. The bills he favored got nowhere in the General Assembly. But he’s back, participating yesterday in a Loudoun County forum on how to counter racial inequities such as the lack of judicial diversity, offensive highway names, and how to quickly remove Confederate monuments, according to WJLA.

Are those really the top concerns of Virginia’s African-Americans? Not jobs? Not education? Not health care? I guess we’ll find out whether a white man cranking up the volume on symbolic but inflammatory racial issues is a winning political formula in today’s Democratic Party. Continue reading

Virginia, Antifragility, and the Next Recession

Dust Bowl refugees in the 1930s. Will Virginia be on the delivering end or receiving end of the next recession-induced migration?

In the previous post I argued that there are large pockets of hidden risk in the U.S. and global economies that could trigger a devastating economic downturn. I’m not predicting that a recession is imminent — I do not profess to see the future — but I would suggest that only fools would pretend that these risks do not exist and fail to protect themselves from them.

As I have detailed in previous posts, Virginia is highly vulnerable to an economic downturn. The consolation is that we’ll have plenty of company. The Old Dominion is hardly the only state in the union that has failed to take advantage of 10 years of economic expansion to buffer itself from the next recession, which, unless President Trump has repealed the law of business cycles, is inevitable. What we don’t know is the timing. Do we have five years to adapt, or only one? Continue reading

“A Dozen Pockets of Extreme and Growing Risk”

Source: Dollarcollapse.com

The economy is chugging along at a 3% growth rate, unemployment is hitting record lows, productivity is surging. The economy looks like it’s in fantastic shape. A friend of mine and long-time Trump hater, normally disinclined to give the president credit for anything, marveled recently that the low-inflation, low-unemployment economy “is as good as it gets.” I hope like heck it stays that way.

But I am an inveterate worry wart. I’ve lived through booms before — the 1980s savings & loan bubble, the 1990s tech bubble, the 2000s real estate bubble. I’ve heard the promises that “it’s different this time.” And I’ve seen the busts that followed. It’s a universal rule that most “experts” did not foresee the meltdowns coming. The same thing may be happening again. Very few are paying attention to the build-up of highly leveraged corporate debt, both in the U.S. and abroad.

I don’t know if the “junk bond” sector will precipitate the next recession. Perhaps the next downturn will originate overseas and spread to the U.S., and a meltdown in junk bonds will merely act as an accelerant to a broader collapse. Whatever the case, the $1 trillion market now represents a significant risk. State and local governments in Virginia need to acknowledge this and other risks lurking in the economy as they go about making spending and taxing decisions. Only a fool would assume that the decade-long expansion, one of the longest in U.S. history, will last forever. Continue reading

Contracting Out MH Transportation Not Best Choice

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has a front-page article today that raises many questions. It reports that the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental  Services (DBHDS) has entered into a two-year, $7 million contract with a private company to transport persons, who have been temporarily detained, to hospitals or mental health facilities for evaluation of being involuntarily committed.

Traditionally, sheriffs’ deputies or police officers transported these individuals, usually in marked police cars and sometimes in handcuffs. The rationale for contracting out this service is that it will be less traumatic for the involuntarily committed person and it will free up law enforcement officers, who spend thousands of hours on these transportation runs, for other public safety functions.

I sympathize with the motives for the change. Putting mentally ill people in police cars, sometimes in handcuffs, undoubtedly increases their trauma and reinforces the stigma accompanying mental illness. Law enforcement officers often have to drive many miles, sometimes across the state, to transport these patients, wait until the mental health facility accepts them as patients, and turn around and drive back to their home locality. That is a lot of time that the officers could have been on patrol duty, enforcing traffic laws or responding to calls for law enforcement support.

Nevertheless, contracting out this function to a private company is not necessarily a good idea. Continue reading

Movable Walkways for Potomac Yard Metro?

We have all encountered moving walkways in airports. I’m wondering why we haven’t seen them in other places. Perhaps the darn things are just so expensive to build and maintain. But that may change. A moving walkway is one of the options being considered in the planned $370 million Potomac Yard Metro station to be built near Amazon’s HQ2 project in Arlington County.

There are four broad design options, according to the Washington Business Journal. All but one would require a 765-foot trek to the fare gates: Continue reading

“It Is Becoming OK Not to Go to School”

Zenobia Bey

Zenobia Bey is CEO of Community 50/50, an organization dedicated to promoting “positive thinking” and “social skills” in Richmond inner-city youth. As a civic activist who works and lives in the community, she has a different take on the high dropout rate in Richmond Public Schools than what we hear from well-meaning white, middle-class politicians, journalists and pundits who pontificate about poverty from afar.

While the high school graduation rate has improved statewide since 2014, the graduation rate has declined from 84% to 75.4% for Richmond high school students. Richmond Public Schools have the worst dropout rate in the state. Clearly, the problem is related to the high incidence of poverty among Richmond school students. But poverty does not explain why the problem is getting worse — even as the Richmond School Board last spring suspended an attendance policy that would have put 400 students at risk of missing graduation.

Writes RVA Hub in an article about Richmond’s low graduation rate: Continue reading

Fresh Thinking from Richmond’s New Public Housing Chief

RDHA chief Damon Duncan. Photo credit: Style Weekly

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority has a new chief executive, Damon Duncan, who led a housing authority in the Chicago suburbs before taking on his new role in March. He has a tough job. The public housing stock has been deteriorating — units have outlived their useful life by 10 to 15 years at least, he says. And Richmond housing projects are beset by crime, much of it committed by outsiders. Between the maintenance backlogs and the high crime rates, public housing in Richmond is a scandal.

In a Style Weekly profile, Duncan comes across as energetic and willing to challenge the status quo. What impresses me most is that he’s talking about making changes that will surely ruffle feathers in the poverty-industrial complex. To receive subsidized housing, he says, residents will have to work or enroll in education or training programs. Writes Style: Continue reading

SCC Demanding Data in Future EE, DSM Cases

Two recent State Corporation Commission rulings on utility-sponsored energy efficiency and demand management programs produced contrary results for the applicants but a consistent theme of SCC skepticism in the absence of hard data and a demand for more data going forward.

The SCC last week approved all eleven new or continued programs proposed by Dominion Energy Virginia, which will cost its customers up to $226 million over five years.  That May 2 opinion is here.  But an April 30 opinion (here) rejected much of a similar request from Washington Gas and Light, citing a lack of specific results data from that company’s customers.  Continue reading

Left-Right Coalition Urges Electric Deregulation

In the mid-1980s William W. Berry, president of Dominion Energy predecessor Vepco, championed the cause of deregulating electricity markets. He proposed breaking the electricity industry into separate components: generation, transmission, and retail distribution. Only retail electric lines, he suggested, were a “natural” monopoly. Berry’s vision, which was never fully executed in Virginia, bore strong similarities to the proposals outlined today by the Virginia Energy Reform Coalition (VERC).

VERC, a coalition of free-market, environmental and anti-poverty groups, is calling for a massive restructuring of Virginia’s system of regulated electric utilities. The existing monopoly structure is “broken,” argued a series of speakers at a noon press conference, because politically powerful utilities utilize campaign contributions and their lobbying clout to advance their interests in the General Assembly at the expense of the public. Continue reading

And Now… Some Mind-Blowing Data about Rural Virginia

Source: StatChat blog

Rural Virginia may have seen a decline in the number of jobs since 2011, but get this: Incomes have been rising faster than in Virginia’s metropolitan areas — 12% since 2010 compared to just 5% for the metros, says Hamilton Lombard on the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group blog, StatChat. Likewise, poverty rates have fallen more in Virginia’s rural areas. Continue reading

Changing How Virginia Thinks about Economic Development

Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), is doing more than closing billion-dollar deals and resurrecting Virginia’s reputation as a top state to do business. He’s trying to change how Virginians think about economic development — or at least change what outsiders think about how Virginians think about economic development.

The VEDP has done something it has never done in the dozens of years that I have followed the partnership — launched a quarterly publication, the Virginia Economic Review, that will, in Moret’s words, “provide an inside look at Virginia’s economy, its diverse array of world-class companies, its amazing talent, and its stunning natural beauty, as well as insights from national thought leaders.”

With apologies to Oldsmobile, this is not your father’s sales material. With a focus on tech companies and tech talent, the inaugural edition interviews Amy Liu, a nationally known thinker about economic development with the Brookings Institution (cited previously on this blog); Peter Cappelli, director of the human resources center at the Wharton School; and Dan Restuccia, chief product and analytics officer of Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market analytics firm, among others.

Some of the insights contained within: Continue reading

A Big Win for Rockingham County

Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. has announced plans to invest $1 billion over the next three years to expand its manufacturing operations in Rockingham County. The project will add 120,00 square feet to an existing 1.1 million-square-foot plant to increase production of Gardasil, a human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. The project is expect to create “close to 100 new jobs,” reports the Daily New-Record.

Merck will be eligible for a custom performance grant of up to $7.5 million for storm water and infrastructure upgrades, subject to General Assembly approval. Blue Ridge Community College and James Madison University are eligible for another $2.5 million to create a custom workforce solution. The company is also eligible to receive sales and use tax exemptions on manufacturing equipment, as well as a Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit for new, full-time jobs created.

Bacon’s bottom line: As always, I have questions… Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Boomtowns, Amazon, and Rent-a-Tribe

Pockets of prosperity. America’s big metropolitan regions may be sucking up most of the growth and prosperity of the current business cycle, but they’re not sucking up all of it. In crunching data measuring economic prosperity, population growth and rising incomes, GOBankingRates found numerous “cities” (not metros) that qualify as “boomtowns.” One region stood out as especially vigorous: the South. And Virginia nabbed two spots in the top 10, reports CNBC.

Charlottesville ranked 6th among cities in the South with 2012 -to-2017 income growth of 17.9%, population growth of 11.9%, and GDP growth of 22.4%.

Richmond ranked 9th in the South with income growth of 15% over the same period, population growth of 7.6%, and GDP growth of 22.4%.

Can Amazon avoid a housing crunch? Amazon officials have told the Washington Post that the company will learn from its experience in Seattle how to avoid creating a housing crunch when its HQ2 expansion brings 25,000 jobs to a Washington region that already has full employment and high housing prices. Amazon contributed $80 million to public and private efforts to support affordable housing and prevent homelessness in Seattle, said Jay Carney, a senior vice president. But he added that it is primarily the government’s responsibility to ensure an adequate supply of affordable housing. Continue reading

Dominion Tool? The GA Is an Entire Toolbox

Retiring state Senator Frank Wagner gets appointed to some job by Governor Ralph Northam Friday and the headline on Blue Virginia labels him a “Dominion tool.” But has the other legislator being rewarded with a full-time job, Delegate Mathew James, cast any votes against the state’s favorite political whipping boy?

James being a Democrat, of course, nobody sought to look. The political assault on Dominion is carefully framed away from actual roll call votes, because the truth is plenty of members of both parties have loyally supported Dominion Energy Virginia with votes “on the board.”  James is among them.

Each voter must decide whether or not loyal support for Dominion’s efforts to enrich its stockholders at their expense matters.  It is up to each campaign against one of those incumbents to seek a way to make the voters care.  The data is out there but it is dry, complicated, dare one say boring.  Having spent a year digging into State Corporation Commission matters in depth, boring is a fair word usually.  Continue reading