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From the Safety of Your Keyboard

April 20, 2017

As we circulate deeper into the Facebook world to share information about our properties, we encounter the negativity that inevitably follows within social media. Recently a Facebook poster made an incredibly derogatory remark about one of our properties. When viewing their personal Facebook page, they were very positive and sharing God’s word. The negative comment towards our property conflicted sharply with the person they portrayed on their own page. This isn’t the first experience of this phenomena but it is the moment when I’m probably giving it too much thought.

Who are you? When you’re looking at that screen and posting, commenting, and messaging, who are you really? Is the perfectly edited photo really you? Is the revealing selfie really you? Are the daily positive messages you find and post really you? Is the vitriol spewed from your keyboard really you? Is the life you portray on social media reality or an illusion? In your low moments do you look at your own social media accounts and say “I wish”?

I TOLD you I was thinking about this too much!

How often do we hear the power of positive thinking brings the positive into your life? From this theory can we surmise the positive images and messages we post on social media are a form of positive thinking? Are we creating the life we want on social media to open our actual lives to the positive? To the improvements we want in our lives? If we explore this approach then a certain level of consistency is probably required. I am reluctant to believe you can post sunshine and rainbows while spreading sewage in your comments and good energy will rejuvenate your life. I am of a mind that your comments will reveal yourself quicker than any post. Can everyone be positive at all times? I don’t believe so but in those moments, is it necessary to spread negativity. Is silence so wrong?

From the safety of the keyboard, people can and often say whatever they want and frequently without thoughtful consideration. It is unfortunate. Words are often spoken verbally without forethought. They slip free before you can call them back. It is shameful the written word spreads negativity and hate when the writer can cherish moments of contemplation. Did I write something harmful? Did I write something hateful? Did I write something hurtful? Did I write something honest? More simply and most importantly, did I write something helpful?

Anyone who knows me is more than aware I am not Little Miss Mary Sunshine. I don’t keep rainbows in my pocket. On occasion, most occasions, bubbly people annoy me. I find perky people exhausting. However, I also believe most people who know me would say I am mindful of my words and my first inclination is not hatefulness. Can I be negative…absolutely. Is it my driving force…no, which is probably why such rampant social media hostility confounds me.

In my personal life I will continue to avoid social media as I would the plague. Professionally I will persist and slay the three-headed hydra with upbeat and intelligent responses! Like the hydra, shut down one hater and three more arise…we’ll just throw sunshine and rainbows at them.

Sunshine, Rainbow

 

 

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Frustrated with the System, part 1

June 13, 2016

A short while ago, I experienced a sense of frustration with our system. It wasn’t the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last. This time…I let it get to me more than others. In our line of work with low-income housing, the frustrating moments often outweigh the “we help people” moments. When providing low-income housing the majority of the individuals you work with are enmeshed deeply within the federal and state assistance programs. The idea behind programs such as cash assistance and food support is admirable but the reality is often grossly flawed. Make no mistake, these programs help numerous individuals and families obtain the help to meet basic daily needs. They can provide assistance to households who need to get back on their feet or the time needed for these households to become self-sufficient. It is these times when our system works well.

Unfortunately, more often than not, these programs are used from one generation to the next and on to the next. For some children, they grow up within the welfare system and  never realize there can be a different way. These kids are educated in how to take advantage of the system…how “free money” is the only way to live. Kudos to any kid who grows up and breaks free of the cycle. It is extremely difficult to learn beyond the example you are provided from childhood to young adult.

Should such a flawed system be ended? I can’t imagine the elderly, the children, the families who would be devastated by such an action. Even cuts in funding to these programs have far-reaching and debilitating effects. This doesn’t mean that changes can’t be made and it doesn’t mean these changes would have an immediate effect.

As we conduct annual inspections in households, we see many households that are your average clean and your average well cared for children. I am not making gross exaggerations or lumping everyone into an unsavory stereotype. There are plenty of responsible and high functioning low-income households. It must be stated, even after several years in this business, it is shocking to see the number of households that are filthy, that children have no supervision, and where full kettles of food are spoiling on the counters. Many of these apartments are the homes to individuals who are unemployed and receive cash assistance. All that food going to waste was provided by food support. Through my frustration I readily admit, most often, these individuals simply don’t know any different. We are so generational into the welfare programs, they know of no other life. If a child learns no life skills from their parent, how on earth can they teach life skills to their own children?

Now I would never presume to know all of the answers. I can’t wave a magic wand and simply fix our societal woes. I do honestly believe offering education with “free money” would be a stepping stone in a positive direction. Common sense life skills are disappearing! It seems preposterous that we would need classes on such skills that for some of our society is ridiculously common place. Cooking, laundry, budgeting, reading to children, cleaning your home, taking out garbage, and many other daily activities have simply eroded. If we as a society are providing food and cash to meet basic needs, should we not also provide the education of basic skills so regardless of income levels these individuals can contribute to society in an effective manner. Within our ambition to provide assistance, are we destroying self-worth?

Do some people live like this because they are depressed or are they depressed because they live like this? I don’t know. I can’t even guess. I do know there is a sense of pride in accomplishment. There is a sense of well-being in knowledge. In the education of basic life skills we can instill personal dignity. In addition to monetary assistance, can we teach accountability, personal worth, and self-satisfaction. Will these changes take place overnight? Will they even take place within one generation? Do I know how to make these changes? Do I even have a plan? A resounding NO to all of the above and I’ll leave such things to those much smarter than I.

We can’t simply cut the programs but as every soapbox speaker cries, we need to make changes. Is education the answer?

Warm Enough?

March 31, 2016

It has been a while since I’ve been asked to contribute to our blog, so I ask you to stay with me as I find my bearings. It is difficult for me to find and interesting topic and pull together something that people may actually want to read.  The daily items I typically work with include overall building maintenance.  While there are countless manuals written to address maintenance rarely does it make for interesting reading. That being said I’ve decided to take this opportunity to pose a question to those who may read this in the hopes that someone may have a pearl of wisdom I have missed over the years.

Every year in Minnesota there is a period of time in which the weather isn’t especially cold or warm.  Spring and Fall  can be absolutely beautiful or shockingly miserable.  In fall we move from the hot, occasionally stifling, summer days to a time when the leaves begin to change color and the temperatures will range between 60 and 75 degrees. While anyone who has spent time in Minnesota will contest, we realize Winter will soon arrive but for a couple of wonderful months we can enjoy the outdoors with a t-shirt during the day and a lightweight coat in the evening.  In the spring we face the opposite.  We move from a time of shortened sunlight and bitter cold temperatures to a few months of comfortable weather as the days get longer and the lawns, trees, garden and Minnesotans emerge from their hibernation.

The issue that presents itself every year in the late fall and early spring is at what point do you shut down (or turn on) the boilers.  For those who may not be as familiar with boiler heat it is not as simple as turning down a thermostat.  Boilers have a set temperature at which they keep the water that circulates through system providing heat.  While you can regulate this temperature to some degree as long as the boilers are firing there will be heat in the building.  Once a boiler shuts down and the water cools it takes time to get them restarted, the water heated, and the pressure regulated.

For the purposes of this article I will strictly address the issues that arrive with spring.  Perhaps this fall (around October) I’ll delve into the issues of turning the heat on too soon.

In the spring we invariably have weird weather patterns in Minnesota.  For example, this year in February we had a few unseasonable warm days in which the temperature reached near to 60.  In Minnesota this isn’t terribly uncommon and people simple enjoy them.  As we’ve moved through March we’ve again had many days of unseasonable warm temps.  This is often when I will receive calls letting me know the common areas of some of the buildings are too warm.  They ask that we shut the heat off because it is simply “unbearable” to be in the hallways.  They don’t comprehend why we would want to spend “good money” heating the building when it is 70 degrees outside.

What seems to briefly escape them is we still live in Minnesota and the temperature  fluctuations we experience haven’t changed. While we may have a week of 70 degree weather in March it doesn’t mean we aren’t going to plummet into the 30’s and 40’s for a couple of weeks in April.  It isn’t uncommon for me to receive a call from the same tenant who demanded the heat be turned off to call back and ask why the building is so cold a week or two later.  This has even happened in May after we had an  expected run of cool weather (temperatures in the 50’s) and the boilers are off.

One aspect making this even more difficult is the fact that it is an apartment building.  While one tenant may be completely content at 62 degrees to another that temperature is unbearably cold.  Heat works the same way.  Where one may be content at 75 degrees another is roasting.

The best solution I’ve found so far is to simply pick a date (April 15th – May 1st).  Based on longer range weather forecasts (which are often semi-accurate), we try to plan for any large weather anomalies and either push back or move up the date the heat will be turned off.  If there are any readers who may have a better solution I am open to suggestions.  Our first concern is always the safety of our tenants with their comfort coming in a close second.  As of yet I simply haven’t found a way to make/keep everyone happy.  Perhaps the subject of “How to Make Everyone Happy” would make a great follow-up blog topic.  I’m quite certain I’m not capable of writing it but I would be very interested to read it.

Fraud, It’s Not Worth It

March 23, 2016

In our subsidized housing for USDA Rural Development or HUD, there are checks in place to ensure people are not receiving unauthorized assistance. Rural Development uses the Wage Match program and HUD uses the Enterprise Income Verification (EIV) system. In a nutshell, what income you report to your landlord should match what is automatically reported to either of these parties, Wage Match and EIV. If it doesn’t, then we have a problem.

The problem usually arises when residents receiving assistance do not report a job or perhaps a second job. Maybe they only report one adult household as employed but not the second adult working full-time. Misreported income doesn’t need to be employment. Individuals who may have been on Public Assistance but are now receiving Social Security need to report the change. Other times it can be a parent started receiving child support when previously it was not paid to them. Any changes in income, whether decrease or increase must be reported to your landlord so you rent is accurately calculated. Willfully misreporting income is fraud.USDA_rural_development

While the Wage Match program has been in place for many years, it was not always utilized to its full potential. In recent months Rural Development has focused on Wage Match and unauthorized assistance. We discovered one resident did not report a second job for three years, nor had she reported her adult son’s job for two and 1/2 years. This resulted in three years of unauthorized assistance and a large debt to be repaid to the government. If payments are not made, it is grounds for eviction and you are still required to pay the debt.

EIV has been in place since 2009. As with all systems hud_logo_smallthere are bugs to be fixed but EIV continues to improve. Not only does this system track income, it also tracks who is receiving subsidies. This prevents ‘double subsidies’ such as separated parents receiving subsidy for their children in both households. It also prevents someone receiving subsidy in one location, moving without notifying their landlord, and attempting to receive rental assistance in the new location. It prevents receiving assistance from two separate agencies, for example; receiving assistance through the property and then bringing a Section 8 voucher to the property. This double-check system has also resulted in unauthorized assistance to be repaid to the government.

I think the key phrase here is “repaid to the government.” Rental housing subsidies are provided by the US government. Residents are not ‘pulling one over’ on the landlord; they are committing fraud against the federal government. Does this sound like a good idea? By misrepresenting income or household members, residents are engaging in illegal activity. Quite simply, it’s against the law.

House Hunting, it’s not just what you see.

February 26, 2016

There are many informative avenues that offer great advice for purchasing a home, first time or experienced buyers. Newspapers, magazines, realtors, and without doubt, the internet. Today’s tip…completely unscientific and only a matter of opinion.

Feel it in your gut.

When shopping for my first home, I knew from the moment I pulled up to the curb whether or not I would like the house. My husband, of course, said I needed to be more open minded and we should look at them. By the time we hit the fourth house that I hated it from the curb, we didn’t bother looking. He couldn’t deny it anymore. Score one point for me!

My rationale, if I hate it from the moment I look at it, why would I ever want to come home to this house. There were a variety of reasons; just plain ugly that only a lot of money would fix, about 18 inches from the house next door, tiny sporadic windows or no windows on one side, etc.

I know what I like and don’t like. I know what I can change or fix. I also face reality and sometimes, reality doesn’t even get me out of the car.

The first home we decided to buy, I could see the possibilities. It was within our budget even with the estimated cost of changes we would make. As the home buying process got underway, it became slightly treacherous. I had considerable qualms but didn’t want to start the house hunting process all over again. I despise house hunting! When the deal fell through it was greeted with utter relief by both myself and my husband. If the process is riddled with problems, listen to your gut and get out while you can.

What finally became our first home, I could see the possibilities from the curb and was delighted when I stepped inside. I knew this could be a home and it was the first house my husband and I agreed upon. The paperwork fell seamlessly into place. We had five wonderful years in that house.

Our second house I hated on sight but my husband was determined to have it. As we were moving across country, house hunting was not easily accomplished. I caved and we bought the house. It was a beautiful piece of property which is what drew my husband. The home left a lot to be desired. I’m hoping there are others out there who understand when I say “it felt wrong.” Despite every effort, change, and remodel, I loathed this house and my husband wanted to move within 6 months. We lasted just over a year.

Our third and current house defies description. So readers understand I am My Housenot frightfully persnickety and hard to please; I will attempt to explain. Our home at the time of purchase, had been abandoned for twelve years. The grass was four feet tall, no exaggeration. It was missing several windows which invited the birds and elements inside. Our first home improvement project was to put plastic sheeting over the window openings. There was little paint on the exterior and the interior paint colors blinded like only colors from the 50s can. The kitchen was an empty room with an outlet coming out of the floor for the stove. I can’t begin to describe the bathroom as the horror returns with appalling clarity. I am proud to say it does not look like this anymore but then, it’s been 16 years.

My gut, my head, my heart, and my husband were saying yes! Was it insane? Without a doubt. Would I do it all over again? Absolutely.

Do you need to take into account your budget and all of those other factors. Sure and as I said before, there is great advice available. By the time you’re viewing houses, those should already be established. When all of those parameters are met, for me, buying a house will always come down to how it feels. There are great houses but what you feel makes it a home.

 

 

 

Time Flies

February 8, 2016

While scouring for blog ideas I came across an entry it seems I wrote only yesterday. The subject; my oldest daughter leaving the nest and was she armed with the questions she needs?

https://wheretodwell.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/leaving-the-nest/

Empty-wallet-300x225In the time passed, she is living in her second rental and has her first rental horror story under her belt. As a college student working part-time, the main rental question was, can I afford it? As a parent you want your child to be in the safest possible environment but money concerns rightfully dominate the student’s thoughts.

The first rental was a room in a house with shared kitchen and laundry facilities. It was inexpensive and all utilities, laundry, and wi-fi were included. She would be sharing with the owner who had her own room, and a roommate who dominated the entire home. I thought that arrangement was odd. I thought it reeked of the two large dogs also residing in the house. My fastidious tendencies questioned the cleanliness. The property manager in me quailed at no lease. My daughter liked the dogs, her room was clean, and as she pointed out, “Mom, it is really cheap.” Being the mom I am, I checked both individuals on the public courts and found no records. Despite my reservations, her housemates appeared to be safe and in the face of her determination, I agreed it would be a decent enough place. She snapped it up and who knew what was in store?!

They put off her move for one month which was not appreciated because she wanted to settle in and find a job before school started. Okay, we can work around this. Two weeks MovingDayBoxbefore school is set to start and two days before she is set to move, the owner of the home calls to tell her some personal issues have come up and the room is no longer available. Panic! As my daughter was moving some distance from home, this was a logistical nightmare. One week before school, she receives a call informing her the room is available if she would like it. (The very same day we received the deposit back.) To save everyone the trouble, she agreed to take it and WHO KNEW WHAT WAS IN STORE?!

Long story short…they threatened to kick my daughter out because her voice was too loud when talking on the phone. Despite her whispering and me scarcely hearing her, she was too loud. This came from the dynamic duo who fought continuously and held nightly licking-dog-4screaming matches. Kitchen chairs flew threw windows sending shattering glass everywhere. Personal belongings were thrown on the front yard. Police scoured the back yard looking for the roommate’s skanky boyfriend. Apparently police visits were commonplace. The smoke-free house was SO not smoke-free. All this while my daughter promptly paid her rent, quietly went about her business, and rarely used the kitchen because the dogs regularly licked off the counters.

I reminded myself my daughter is an adult and she can make her own decisions. I refused to be an overbearing parent. As the situation worsened and I heard in her voice the toll it was taking, Mama Bear instincts kicked into overdrive. With a deep inhale and within my own mind, I gave her a deadline and if she wasn’t out of the arrangement, I was moving her out of the place; lock, stock, and barrel. I am exceptionally proud to say she later called to tell me she was looking at a place that day. Within two weeks of that call we moved her into the new place and it was one month ahead of my silent schedule. There is a certain satisfaction knowing your child recognizes the problem and took action to correct it. As a parent, it was extremely difficult to give her the time she needed to be that adult.

The new place is clean, she has a pleasant roommate, there is a lease, the landlord seems savvy, and still important, the rent is only marginally higher. Her voice on the phone, well, Mama Bear is hibernating. As my youngest nears the time to embark on her own, we’ll see if Mama Bear stays at rest.

LeaseInexpensive rental rooms are a great option for college students. I am sure there are wonderful people out there offering such rooms. My daughter didn’t happen across them. Any rental housing, room or otherwise, should come with a lease, it is truly a sign of a responsible individual expecting responsibility in return. Unfortunately a lease is no guarantee you’re dealing with someone reputable. While it is not always feasible, working with a management company for your rental needs is the most foolproof way to proceed.

It’s that time of year again!

January 19, 2016

I am plagiarizing my own work but it often amazes me how many renters are unaware of the benefits of the Minnesota CRP. All of our rental properties are within Minnesota and the majority are designated for low income individuals. Individuals who are likely to qualify for the rental rebate. I’ve updated the forms but the most of the following is copied from our February 20, 2015 blog, CRP, what do I do with it?

If you paid rent in the state of Minnesota, you could be entitled to receive a Certificate of Rent Paid from your landlord. All landlords should have them provided to their residents by January 31st. With the CRP in hand, the resident can file for Renter’s Property Tax refund (renter’s rebate).

The CRP looks like this:

CRP 2015

Once you receive your CRP, you can complete the following form. It is due by August 15th. Many people believe you need to file this with your taxes. That is just for convenience. This can be filed on its own by August 15th.

m1pr_15-page-001m1pr_15-page-002With any luck, you’ll qualify for a rent rebate!

For more information and forms, check out this Minnesota Revenue link: http://www.revenue.state.mn.us/individuals/prop_tax_refund/Pages/Property_Tax_Refund_Forms_and_Instructions.aspx