After the Housing Crisis, the Stories

Two new real estate books, and the stories not yet told

Three years ago, I put a down payment on a new house, and put my current house house up for sale. Never once did I think my first house would fail to sell. Not once.Today, the mindset seems loony. Unimaginable. How could I not have anticipated it? While I blissfully spent my future profits in my head, and started buying furniture for my new sweet brick cottage, I began to read newspaper reports about a downturn in the housing market. But never underestimate the power of denial. I became one of many, stuck with a house I could not sell, two mortgages and a bucketload of stress.Two new books on the real estate meltdown let me know I was not alone in my magical thinking. In Busted, Edmund Andrews, a New York Times reporter, tells the story of how he bought more house than he could afford while reporting on the housing meltdown for the paper. He understood the ins and outs of the credit swap market before the rest of us knew the word "subprime." Still, he jumped into the fray, ruining his finances and personal life along the way. (The best commentaries on Andews's much-commented upon, problematic book come from Megan McCardle.)

I wish I had known Alyssa Katz back in 2006, because she has been investigating the real estate market since 2004, and her new book, Our Lot: How Real Estate Came To Own Us, introduces us to more magical thinkers: the middle-class couple who decide to spend their savings on swampland in Florida (I kid you not), the handyman who started buying and flipping and made out great until he could no longer flip. Today, he is stuck with several properties worth less every day.Me? I decided the market could get no worse after my house sat for a year. So I took it off the market and rented it for another two, becoming one of the world's least competent landlords (thank goodness nothing went wrong with the house), allowing rent to come in late, covering utilities myself, and always operating at a loss. (Turns out I'm in great company-Timothy Geithner can't sell his house, either, and has also turned to renting.)This spring, I put the house back on the market. When the agent told me what she thought I could get for it, I blanched. All I could hope for was to break even, after I paid off my mortgage, home equity line of credit, closing costs and the credit card I used for house expenses.And that is what I got. Or hopefully will. The deal closes next week, and my fingers are not yet uncrossed. I feel nothing but remorse. After all, I could have made the same move-lowered the price drastically-three years and thousands of dollars ago.

Katz and Andrews have people to blame for their real estate crises, and they do so-Katz through the hard work of intensive on-the-ground research and interviews with common folk, and Andrews through a personal tale of financial woe intercut with breezy, well-reported stories about CEOs. Andrews has it in for Greenspan. Katz blames predatory lenders, and the various administrations of the past twenty-five years who blithely encouraged every American to become a homeowner. Me? I think I should have known when to cut my losses. (Fast Company did a great infographic comparing these two books.) Which of us is most susceptible to magical thinking? Who should be the proper antagonist in our housing disaster narratives? With these books, we can begin to sort through the line-up.There are many real estate stories yet to be told-while reading Our Lot, I kept wondering why I had not read these stories already, why there has not been more feature reporting on the people caught in the crisis. We get foreclosure and house price figures every month, but not enough about the stories behind the numbers. Why? Have journalists been too absorbed by the election and foreign policy to find these stories? Too overwhelmed by increasing editorial demands and fears about losing their jobs (or, like Andrews and Katz, who fought a New York co-op battle while writing her book, too distracted by fears of losing their own houses)? Or are many reluctant to tell their stories, because, like me, they feel a teensy bit of shame?Katz's important book introduces us to people still reeling financially. We close Andrews's tale with him on the precipice of foreclosure and bankruptcy (also, we end his story convinced he should have known better, not only about housing but also about divorce and remarriage...). Still, we lack endings. We need to tell more stories about the beginnings and the middles of our housing sagas, to help us answer question lingering yet, the one stories prompt us to ask: What happens next?
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Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

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The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


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The Planet
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via Twitter / Bye,Bye Harley Davidson

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