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July 3, 2022 1:52 pm

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Housing market slows retreat from rising seas, bigger storms

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Chuck and Terry Nowiski lived in their country-style farmhouse with a wrap-around porch for 36 years before it flooded. After hurricanes Matthew and Florence, they said “yes” to the state’s offer to buy their place and tear it down.

Nearly three years later, they’re still waiting for the money. What’s worse, they say it’s for the home’s value before the storms hit in 2016 and 2018. Now they worry they won’t be able to buy the house they want with the federal disaster dollars they’ll get.

“It would be pennies compared to what the market is,” said Terry Nowiski of the couple’s house outside the town of Linden, about 15 miles (25 kilometers) north of Fayetteville, North Carolina. “I’ve watched housing prices in the last year go from the upper $200,000s to $350,000 to $450,000.”

Hot real estate markets have made some homeowners wary of participating in voluntary flood buyout programs, impacting efforts to move people away from flooding from rising seas, intensifying hurricanes and more frequent storms.

Flood buyout programs typically purchase flood-prone homes, raze them and turn the property into green space. That can help prevent deaths and health problems associated with flooding, such as mold-related respiratory issues and emotional trauma.

Buyouts also are considered cheaper for taxpayers compared to repairing and rebuilding flooded houses — sometimes multiple times — with government payouts and federal flood insurance.

The programs are run by local and state governments that often use grants from federal agencies. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it’s provided almost $3.5 billion to help communities acquire nearly 50,000 properties in the last three decades.

“This is basically the tool that we have right now to help people move somewhere safer,” said Anna Weber, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “And so it should work as well as it possibly can.”

But some cities have seen waning interest in voluntary programs in the wake of rising home prices. Some states are even offering extra money to persuade people to move out of harm’s way.

People who take buyouts usually want to relocate to similar homes on higher ground in the same community. But some worry that buyout dollars won’t be enough. Others reject them because private buyers’ offers were too good to turn down. The houses stayed occupied — and at risk.

And while experts say housing markets are cooling off with rising interest rates, the challenge of finding affordable homes is likely to get worse.

“Replacement housing will only get more expensive because rising waters often means more competition for less housing,” said Jesse M. Keenan, a real estate professor at Tulane University’s School of Architecture. “Nothing will be easy. Nothing will be cheap.”

Concerns about finding affordable homes outside flood-prone areas aren’t new, said Miyuki Hino, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Department of City and Regional Planning.

Programs have traditionally struggled to help everyone relocate to similar housing, particularly those with lower incomes. Inflated housing prices have shined a greater spotlight on the limitations.

“In general, they weren’t designed from the start with the idea of, ‘How does this household end up in a better place in the end?’” Hino said. “The focus has been on removing the buildings from the flood plain.”

Buyout offers can be based on a home’s fair-market value as well as its pre-storm worth. The latter generally stems from the assumption that a home is worth less because it’s been damaged. But rising home prices complicated that assumption, while magnifying concerns about the often yearslong wait for FEMA dollars.

FEMA Press Secretary Jeremy Edwards said in a statement the process can be lengthy, in part, because the agency must determine that a buyout is cost-effective and complies with environmental and historic preservation requirements.

Edwards also said that FEMA now allows for an increased payment of up to $31,000 to assist homeowners in their search for comparable housing.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Sean Casten of Illinois and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon introduced legislation last month that’s designed to shorten wait times and offer more assistance.

“The science makes crystal clear that this climate-driven devastation will only get worse and more costly,” Casten said.

Meanwhile, the Nowiskis are waiting to know how much money they’ll get for the buyout they agreed to in 2019.

Retired and in their mid-60s, they want to stay local without taking out a mortgage. Their daughter is nearby, and so is their nonprofit ministry to help troubled boys.

They’re now considering selling to a “house flipper” or just staying in their home, which is near a tributary of the Cape Fear River.

North Carolina Emergency Management, which handles the buyout program where the Nowiskis live, said in an email that a state fund provides up to $50,000 to help people find similar homes when federal grants aren’t enough.

Keith Acree, an agency spokesperson, acknowledged that buyouts through federal programs can be a long process.

“Homeowners that want to get out of a property quickly will often pursue other methods, if they have the means,” he said.

Other states are also offering money on top of federal disaster dollars. In response to rising home prices, the South Carolina Office of Resilience teamed up with coastal Horry County to create a “market adjustment incentive” in February, said Ran Reinhard, the office’s mitigation director.

The incentive ranges from $10,000 to $50,000 on top of the pre-storm home value offered by the buyout program. It appears to be making a difference.

Twenty-seven offers have been made, and 21 homeowners have signed on so far.

“We wanted to make it so a homeowner could remain a homeowner and in their community,” Reinhard said.

But in some areas, the housing market has been so competitive that private buyers have out-bid the government — even when it offers fair-market value.

North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County, which includes the city of Charlotte, is one such place. It created its own self-funded program to move people away from the Catawba River and other waterways that can overflow from heavy rains.

Rising home prices aren’t making it easy. For example, the appraised buyout value of one Charlotte home rose from around $250,000 in 2020 to about $325,000 in late 2021. The property was then purchased by a private buyer for what county officials believe was as much as $100,000 over asking price.

“I would tell you probably it’s twice as hard to get to the closing table on flood plain buyouts,” said Dave Canaan, the county’s director of storm water services before leaving the position in early June.

In Chesapeake, Virginia, no one participated in the buyout program last year, said Robb Braidwood, coordinator of emergency management.

Many older homes were built along the Elizabeth River and tributaries that swell from heavy rains and storms that push water in from the Chesapeake Bay.

There’s a fading sense of urgency because the last major flood was in 2016, Braidwood said. Another problem is the wait times for FEMA money and the limits of its grants. Increased home prices are also likely to blame.

“We do this once a year where we call out to everybody that floods,” Braidwood said. “And we just hear crickets back.”

Joseph Noble, whose North Carolina home sits near a tributary of the Neuse River, rejected a FEMA-funded buyout offer after it flooded twice in 2016.

He said the money wasn’t enough to buy a similar home nearby — and that was before prices heated up in the small city of Kinston, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southeast of Raleigh.

He worries about what kind of buyout offer he’d get if he floods this year.

“All it takes is one good hurricane that goes our way,” Noble said.


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Odessa Opera Reopens in the Midst of War – OperaWire

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Odessa Opera Reopens in the Midst of War  OperaWire

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says she expects the U.S. economy to slow in the months ahead, but that a recession is not inevitable. Yellen expressed optimism even as economists grow worried about a recession fueled by inflation and the war in Ukraine. apne.ws/1OIER5o

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says she expects the U.S. economy to slow in the months ahead, but that a recession is not inevitable. Yellen expressed optimism even as economists grow worried about a recession fueled by inflation and the war in Ukraine. apne.ws/1OIER5o

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After pandemic-related disruptions, the return of Camino de Santiago pilgrims is helping restore the vitality of Spain’s struggling villages along the famous 500-mile path. apne.ws/mdtJjXh

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After pandemic-related disruptions, the return of Camino de Santiago pilgrims is helping restore the vitality of Spain’s struggling villages along the famous 500-mile path. apne.ws/mdtJjXh

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“We cannot let his assassins also kill his vision.” British journalist Dom Phillips’ quest to unlock the secrets of how to preserve Brazil’s Amazon was cut short this month when he was killed along with a colleague in the heart of the forest he cherished. apne.ws/QkHYiIi

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“We cannot let his assassins also kill his vision.”

British journalist Dom Phillips’ quest to unlock the secrets of how to preserve Brazil’s Amazon was cut short this month when he was killed along with a colleague in the heart of the forest he cherished. apne.ws/QkHYiIi


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Crypto market cap jumps 4.5% as Dogecoin and Solana lead bounce-back after Fed rate raise bit.ly/3OgsYYW


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Jan. 6 hearings: What we’ve learned, and what’s next

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In its first three hearings, the House panel investigating the Capitol insurrection has laid out the beginnings of its case against former President Donald Trump — that his lies about the 2020 election, and his pressure on his vice president to overturn it, directly led to the violence on Jan. 6, 2021.

The committee’s June hearings — at least two more are scheduled — come after a yearlong probe and more than 1,000 interviews. The panel has featured both live witnesses and video, including from interviews with many of Trump’s closest advisers who tried to dissuade him from his efforts to stay in power. The committee has also showed video from the violent attack that day, some of which had never been seen before.

In methodically laying out their initial findings, members of the nine-member panel say they are trying to remind a weary public of what was at stake that day, and what could have happened if Vice President Mike Pence and others had not rebuffed Trump’s efforts to overturn his defeat. They are also compiling a huge trove of evidence that the Justice Department wants to use in its own investigations.

A rundown of what we’ve learned so far from the public hearings of the select Jan. 6 committee — and what’s next:

PENCE UNDER PRESSURE

The committee’s Thursday hearing focused on Trump’s pressure on his vice president after all 50 states certified President Joe Biden’s win and courts across the country had rejected his campaign’s attempts to legally challenge the results. As the president ran out of options, he and a small group of allies turned toward the final congressional certification on Jan. 6.

The vice president presides over that session every four years in a ceremonial role. Prodded by a constitutional law professor named John Eastman, Trump pressured Pence to defy the law, and hundreds of years of precedent, by stepping in to object to or delay the count.

Greg Jacob, a counsel to Pence, said the vice president was resolute from the beginning that he would not carry out the plan. “Our review of text, history — and frankly, just common sense — all confirm the vice president’s first instinct on that point, there is no justifiable basis to conclude that the vice president has that kind of authority,” Jacob told the committee in live testimony on Thursday.

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But Trump ramped up his pressure in the days before the certification, culminating with a call that aides described as “heated” between the two men on the morning of Jan. 6, a shout out for Pence to “do the right thing” at a huge rally of his supporters that morning and finally with a tweet saying that Pence did not have “courage” as a violent mob was already breaking into the building. The committee chronicled that timeline with video interviews from White House aides, clips from Trump’s speech and footage of the angry crowd calling for Pence’s assassination.

In one video played by the committee, a Trump supporter said he had heard reports that Pence had “caved,” and if he did they were going to drag “politicians through the streets.” The crowd called for Pence’s hanging as they broke into the building.

The panel also filled in new details about Pence’s hasty evacuation from the Senate as the rioting started. California Rep. Pete Aguilar, a Democrat on the committee who led Thursday’s hearing, told Jacob that the group was at one point only 40 feet from the rioters.

TRUMP AIDES SPEAK OUT

Though some of Trump’s top allies defied subpoenas to testify, the committee spoke to many of his top aides, including several who were in the White House that day and were in meetings in the weeks beforehand as Trump, Eastman and lawyer Rudy Giuliani, among a small group of others, pushed the scheme to overturn Trump’s defeat.

The panel played clips of video testimony in which the aides say they disagreed with the plan or tried to talk the president out of it – even though few of them spoke out publicly at the time.

Those efforts to persuade Trump started on election night, when the race was still too close to call and Giuliani pushed the president to declare victory. Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in one interview clip played by the panel that he told Trump it was “way too early” to make a prediction like that, but Trump went out to the press room and did it anyway, telling reporters that the early results were “a fraud on the American public” and that “frankly, we did win this election.”

The committee has also shown video from testimony by Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner. In a clip played from her interview earlier this year, Ivanka Trump told the panel that her father’s call with Pence the morning of Jan. 6 was “pretty heated” and had “a different tone than I had heard him take with the vice president before.” Others described vulgarities they said the president used.

The committee has not released the full transcripts of the interviews.

NO EVIDENCE OF FRAUD

In Monday’s second hearing, the panel showed evidence that Trump’s claims of widespread fraud in the election were false. While election officials across the country certified the results and courts rejected Trump’s many lawsuits, the president and his allies repeatedly maintained that it was true.

The committee used video clips of testimony from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who resigned after telling the president his claims were “bullshit.” Barr said he had looked into the allegations and found no evidence that any of them were true. He described his interactions with the president as he tried to convince him of the facts, telling the panel that Trump was becoming “detached from reality.”

In-person witnesses at the committee’s hearing on Monday talked about Trump and Giuliani’s pressure to try to overturn the results in their states. BJay Pak, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta who resigned as Trump pressured Georgia officials, said his office investigated Giuliani’s “reckless” claims about fraud in the state and found them to be “simply untrue.”

WHAT’S NEXT

The committee has two additional hearings scheduled this month, and more are expected. A hearing on Tuesday is expected to focus on state officials who were contacted by Trump and the White House as he tried to overturn the results. Additional hearings will look at Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department to declare the election “corrupt” and on what was happening inside the White House as the violence unfolded.

After the hearings, the investigation will continue. The panel expects to issue final reports by the end of the year. Investigators still haven’t said whether they will try to call Pence or Trump to testify, either privately or publicly.

SHARING TRANSCRIPTS

The Justice Department has ramped up its own investigation, and has asked the Jan. 6 panel to provide transcripts from its 1,000 interviews. The committee has so far declined, but said it is engaged in a “cooperative process” with the department.

“We believe accountability is important and won’t be an obstacle to the department’s prosecution,” committee spokesman Tim Mulvey said in a statement on Friday.

In a letter Wednesday, the Justice Department said the panel was complicating its investigations by not sharing,

“It is now readily apparent that the interviews the Select Committee conducted are not just potentially relevant to our overall criminal investigations, but are likely relevant to specific prosecutions that have already commended,” federal prosecutors wrote to Tim Heaphy, chief investigative counsel for the committee.

Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the Jan. 6 panel, told reporters Thursday that lawmakers will formally respond to the prosecutors. But, he added, “We’re not going to stop what we’re doing to share information that we’ve gotten so far with the Department of Justice.”

___

Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.


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N. Korea reports ‘epidemic’ of unidentified intestinal disease after Covid wave

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North Korea has dispatched medical crews and epidemiological investigators to a province battling the outbreak of an intestinal disease, state media reported on Sunday.


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Uvalde City Council to consider granting newly-elected councilman Pete Arredondo leave of absence from meetings – KHOU.com

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Uvalde City Council to consider granting newly-elected councilman Pete Arredondo leave of absence from meetings  KHOU.com

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City of Uvalde hires Austin law firm to shield it from public information requests – Huntsville Item

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City of Uvalde hires Austin law firm to shield it from public information requests  Huntsville Item

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