Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Civil Rights Leaders Join Forces with Nation's Mayors

Source: National Urban League

Washington, D.C. - October 31, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- The United States Conference of Mayors, led by President and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, convened prominent civil rights leaders and a delegation of the nation’s mayors to discuss a national agenda to protect civil rights and ensure economic inclusion. The group convened at the historic Gracie Mansion with host NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio around a common purpose and shared vision for creating a better future for Americans hardest hit by inequality.

The group committed to developing both a slate of local policy initiatives they can work to implement themselves and recommendations for action at the federal level, emerging with a series of short- and long-term imperatives including fights to domestic budget cuts that will stagnate earnings, household incomes and economic growth across all communities. The nation’s mayors and civil rights leaders also stressed the importance of ensuring the 2020 Census count is fair and accurate and combatting bigotry and hate while addressing racially motivated violence.

“Whatever your political leanings, there’s no denying that there is a paralysis in Washington, D.C. We can disagree about the cause, and we can disagree about the remedy, but one thing we are not going to disagree about is the fact that we can’t wait for it to resolve itself,” said Marc Morial, President of the National Urban League. “We are moving forward, and this is where we begin.”

“Mayors are closest to communities and prioritize people, not politics,” said US Conference of Mayors President Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans. “In the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement was underway, people moved out of cities and into the suburbs, but now, the opposite is happening. As a result, mayors must be focused on policies and programs that lift up and benefit all of our communities and we don’t have time to wait on Washington. Here’s the reality, while we’d like to have the Federal government as a real partner, the greatness of America will stand in spite of what’s happening in Washington. If we build new partnerships and work together, we can change the way our country works through big issues like fairness, immigration reform, and economic security. We are confident that through the conversations we started today, we can find common ground, identify best practices and build a long and fruitful relationship that will significantly impact our country."

In attendance at the meeting were Mayor Christopher Cabaldon (West Sacramento, Calif.), Mayor Greg Fischer (Louisville, Ky.), Mayor Michael Hancock (Denver, Co.), Mayor Toni Harp (New Haven, Conn.), Mayor Catherine Pugh (Baltimore), Mayor Allison Silberberg (Alexandria, Va.), Mayor Paul Solberg (Madison, Wis.), and Mayor Richard Thomas (Mount Vernon, NY).

Leadership from the US Black Chambers, Inc., National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, National Newspapers Publishers Association, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, National Immigration Law Center, Anti-Defamation League, Enterprise Community Partners, US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, National Action Network and Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

“We are here because we are fighting for the soul of this country and the future of this country, said Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, SC and Vice President of the US Conference of Mayors. “Cities are where things are happening; 85% of Americans live in cities and 91% of the country’s GDP comes from cities. If we can come together, we can determine policies. It’s our job to tell the world we are greater than the sum of our parts.”

"Rarely have we seen a time where it was so important for mayors and civil rights leaders to come together," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "Inequality is the crisis of our time. One underpinned by institutional and structural racism, and one that together we can work to solve. I am proud to be joined by a coalition of strong mayors and civil rights leaders who all know that cities are places of change. In a time of hostility towards cities from Washington, together we'll lead the way.”

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Court Blocks Trans Military Ban in Yet Another Setback for the Discrimination Administration

Source: National Center for Transgender Equality

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Washington, D.C. - October 31, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- In yet another blow to the Trump administration’s campaign of discrimination against transgender Americans, a federal court today temporarily blocked President Donald Trump’s dangerous and disrespectful Twitter-based ban on transgender military service members.

The ruling in Doe v. Trump concluded that the ban appeared to be based on little more than prejudice, saying that “there is absolutely no support for the claim that the ongoing service of transgender people would have any negative effective on the military at all,” and that “there is considerable evidence that it is the discharge and banning of such individuals that would have such effects.” The ruling also followed other recent court decisions in recognizing that government discrimination against transgender people is subject to heightened scrutiny by courts.

NCTE recently led a coalition of transgender organizations from around the country in filing an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the military ban is part of a wider pattern of discrimination against transgender people by the Trump administration.

NCTE Executive Director Mara Keisling issued the following statement:

Again and again, our courts have been forced to step in and halt this administration’s unconstitutional and dangerous bigotry. As today’s ruling makes clear, this ban was never about military readiness—just like President Trump’s Muslim bans have never been about national security. This ban is about discrimination, plain and simple. We are grateful that the plaintiffs and thousands of other troops will be able to continue serving without the threat of discharge while this case proceeds. Unfortunately, this ruling is not the end of the story, and these troops and their units will still face uncertainty unless Congress acts to end this ban for good.
Lawmakers in both major parties have denounced the ban, and bipartisan bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to end it. Though backed by both the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senate leaders blocked a vote to add a measure that would have ended the ban to the pending national defense authorization bill.

In related News:

In defeat for Trump, judge blocks transgender military ban

First-time Buyers Stifled by Low Supply, Affordability: 2017 Buyer and Seller Survey

Source: National Association of Realtors

Washington, D.C. - October 31, 2017 (The Ponder News) --Despite solid interest in buying a home – sparked by steady job gains, record low mortgage rates and higher rents – the severe drought in housing supply in much of the country over the past year accelerated price growth and kept many first-time buyers out of the market.

This is according to the National Association of Realtors®' 2017 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers1, which also identified numerous current consumer and housing trends, including: mounting student debt balances and smaller down payments; increases in single female and trade-up buyers; the growing occurrence of buyers paying the list price or higher; and the fact that nearly all respondents use a real estate agent to buy or sell a home, which kept for-sale-by-owner transactions at an all-time low of 8 percent for the third straight year.

In this year's survey, the share of sales to first-time home buyers2 inched backward to 34 percent (35 percent in 2016), which is the fourth lowest share since 1981. In the 36-year history of NAR's survey, the long-term average of first-time buyer transactions is 39 percent.

“The dreams of many aspiring first-time buyers were unfortunately dimmed over the past year by persistent inventory shortages, which undercut their ability to become homeowners,” said Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist. “With the lower end of the market seeing the worst of the supply crunch, house hunters faced mounting odds in finding their first home. Multiple offers were a common occurrence, investors paying in cash had the upper hand, and prices kept climbing, which yanked homeownership out of reach for countless would-be buyers.”

Added Yun, “Solid economic conditions and millennials in their prime buying years should be translating to a lot more sales to first-timers, but the unfortunate reality is that the nation's homeownership rate will remain suppressed until entry-level supply conditions increase enough to improve overall affordability.”

Other key findings and notable trends of buyers and sellers in this year's 144-page survey include:

Student debt balances continue to grow

Highlighting the additional challenges imposed on consumers trying to reach the market, 41 percent of first-time buyers indicated they have student debt (40 percent in 2016). The typical debt balance also increased ($29,000 from $26,000 in 2016), and over half owe at least $25,000. Additionally, of the 25 percent who said saving for a down payment was the most difficult task in the buying process, 55 percent said student debt delayed saving for their home purchase.

“NAR survey findings on student debt released earlier this fall revealed that an overwhelming majority of millennials with student debt believe it's delaying their ability to buy a home, and typically for seven years,” added Yun. “Even in markets with a plethora of job opportunities and higher pay, steep rents and home prices make it extremely difficult to put savings aside for a down payment.”

Single females make up larger share of sales

Solid job prospects, higher incomes and improving credit conditions translated to continued momentum in the growing share of single female buyers. At 18 percent (matches highest since 2011), single women were the second most common household buyer type behind married couples (65 percent). Furthermore, single women purchased slightly more expensive homes than single men despite earning less. The overall share of single male buyers (7 percent) remained below unmarried couples (8 percent) for the second straight year.

Down payment amounts decrease for first-timers, rise for repeat buyers

The ongoing climb in home prices pulled the typical down payment for first-timers to 5 percent this year (6 percent in 2016), which matches the lowest since 2013. Meanwhile, higher home values likely gave more sellers the wherewithal to use the cash from their recent sale to make a bigger down payment on their new home purchase (14 percent; 11 percent in 2016). Repeat buyers' sales proceeds from their previous purchase (55 percent) surpassed their own personal savings (50 percent) this year as a larger source of their down payment.

Personal savings ranked first for first-time buyers as the primary source of their down payment, followed by a gift from a friend or relative (25 percent; 24 percent in 2016). Over a half of first-timers said it took a year or more to save for a down payment, and 25 percent said saving was the most difficult task in the entire buying process.

Age of first-timers stays flat; climbs to new survey high for repeat buyers

For the second straight year, the median age of first-time buyers was 32 years old. First-time buyers had a higher household income ($75,000) than a year ago ($72,000) and purchased a slightly smaller home (1,640-square-feet; 1,650-square-feet in 2016) that was more expensive ($190,000; $182,500 in 2016). Fewer first-time buyers purchased a home in an urban area (17 percent; 20 percent in 2016).

The age of repeat buyers increased to an all-time survey high this year (54 years old; 52 years old in 2016) as older households, perhaps with plans to stay in the workforce longer but with an eye towards retirement, felt more comfortable about buying. Overall, repeat buyers had roughly the same household income than last year ($97,500; $98,000 in 2016) and purchased a 2,000-square-foot home (unchanged from last year) costing $266,500 ($250,000 in 2016).

Supply scarcity leads to increase in buyers paying list price or higher

Underscoring the supply and demand imbalances prevalent in many parts of the country, 42 percent of buyers paid the list price or higher for their home, which is up from a year ago (40 percent) and a new survey high since tracking began in 2007. Buyers in the West were the most likely (51 percent) to pay at or above list price.

“Many of those in the market to buy a home this year had little room to negotiate,” said Yun. “Listings in the affordable price range drew immediate interest, and the winning offer often times had to waive some contingencies or come in at or above asking price to close the deal.”

Buyers report less difficulty obtaining a mortgage

The improving financial health of borrowers and a slight ease in credit standards are leading to a smoother process in obtaining a mortgage. Fewer buyers (34 percent) compared to a year ago (37 percent) indicated that the mortgage application and approval process was somewhat or much more difficult than they expected.

Fifty-eight percent of buyers financed their purchase with a conventional mortgage, and 34 percent of first-time buyers took out a low-down payment Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgage, which is up from 33 percent last year but down from 46 percent five years ago.

Nearly all buyers choose a single-family home in a suburban location

A majority of buyers continue to choose a home in a suburb, small town or rural area (85 percent) as opposed to an urban one (13 percent; 14 percent in 2016). Eighty-three percent of buyers purchased a detached single-family home, which for the third straight year remains the highest share since 2004 (87 percent). Purchases of multi-family homes, including townhouses and condos, were at 11 percent.

Most buyers search for homes online…and use a real estate agent

This year's survey data continues to show that the internet (95 percent) and real estate agents (89 percent) remain the top two information sources used during buyers' home search. Overall, 87 percent of buyers ended up purchasing their home through a real estate agent (88 percent in 2016), and finding the right property to buy and help negotiating the terms of the sale were the top two things buyers wanted most from their agent. Even for those who found the home they purchased online, nearly all still closed on it with the help of an agent (88 percent).

“It's no surprise a majority of first-time buyers indicated that the top benefits received from their agent were help understanding the buying process (83 percent), pointing out unnoticed property features or faults (60 percent), and negotiating better sales terms (51 percent),” said President William E. Brown, a Realtor® from Alamo, California. “Realtors® over the past year have helped buyers – and especially first-timers – navigate extremely competitive market conditions where the need to be prepared and act quickly has been paramount to the success of purchasing a home.”

Homeowner tenure at all-time high; equity and share of repeat buyers climbs

The typical seller over the past year was 55 years old, had a higher household income ($103,300) than last year ($100,700) and was in the home for 10 years before selling – matching the all-time high set both in 2014 and a year ago. Prior to 2009, sellers consistently lived in their home for a median of six years before selling.

With home values steadily rising over the past several years, sellers realized a median equity gain of $47,500 ($43,100 in 2016) – a 26 percent increase (24 percent last year) over the original purchase price. Homes sold after 21 years of ownership had the largest equity gain (104 percent), while those who purchased six or seven years ago saw a larger return (27 percent) than those who purchased between eight and 15 years ago (14 percent to 18 percent).

The percent share of buyers trading up increased for the third straight year, rising to 52 percent from 46 percent in 2016. In 2014, 40 percent of buyers purchased a bigger home.

“The decline in first-time buyers and uptick in repeat buyers trading up to a larger home reflects the more favorable conditions for home shoppers at the upper end of the market, where listings are more plentiful and sales have been consistently higher over the past year,” said Yun.

Seller use of an agent remains at all-time high; FSBOs at record low

Sellers' use of a real estate agent this year remained at an all-time high of 89 percent. This in turn – for the third straight year – held for-sale-by-owner sales to their lowest share (8 percent) in the survey's history.

An overwhelming majority of sellers were satisfied with the selling process (88 percent), with most also indicating that they would definitely or probably use their agent again or recommend him or her to others (85 percent).

“Homeowners understand the value, and seek the expertise and guidance Realtors® bring to the table when it's time to sell their home,” said Brown. “Despite incredibly favorable market conditions for sellers – where finding interested buyers was not a problem – nearly all turned to a Realtor® to help assist them through the intricacies of listing their home on the market, accepting offers, negotiating the sales price and closing the deal.”

NAR mailed a 131-question survey in July 2017 using a random sample weighted to be representative of sales on a geographic basis to 145,800 recent home buyers. Respondents had the option to fill out the survey via hard copy or online; the online survey was available in English and Spanish. A total of 7,866 responses were received from primary residence buyers. After accounting for undeliverable questionnaires, the survey had an adjusted response rate of 5.6 percent. The sample at the 95 percent confidence level has a confidence interval of plus-or-minus 1.10 percent.

The recent home buyers had to have purchased a home between July 2016 and June 2017. All information is characteristic of the 12-month period ending in June 2017 with the exception of income data, which are for 2016.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America's largest trade association, representing more than 1.3 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

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Trump Will Aid Persecuted Christians in Middle East

Source: Liberty Counsel

Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2017 (The Ponder News) -- Vice President Mike Pence announced a new policy at the In Defense of Christians annual summit in Washington, promising direct aid to persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

The Obama administration previously gave over a billion dollars in aid to the Middle East through the United Nations. However, little of that money made it to Christians and other vulnerable religious minority groups in that region. The Trump administration has now promised to bypass the United Nations and give the funds directly through the United States Agency for International Development to organizations on the ground to help victims of persecution and genocide.

Vice President Pence also noted the United Nations continues to deny funding requests in many instances to partner with faith-based groups with proven track records and deep roots in the Middle East. “My friends,” the Vice President said, “those days are over. This is the moment. Now is the time. And America will support these people in their hour of need. President Trump and I see these crimes for what they are: vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the gospel of Christ. And so too does this president know who and what has perpetrated these crimes and he calls them by name: radical Islamic terrorism,” said Pence.

Through Liberty Counsel’s Liberty Relief International project, we strategically partner with ministries to provide humanitarian relief and spiritual support to persecuted Christians in the Middle East.

“Every day, Christians are persecuted and murdered for their faith in the ancient land where Christianity was first born,” said Mat Staver, Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Founder and President of Liberty Relief International. “We commend the Trump administration for recognizing this serious threat and helping these victims of persecution and genocide directly. The United Nations is a useless organization that refuses to help Christians. This announcement by the Trump administration is a welcome relief,” said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is an international litigation, education and policy organization. Liberty Counsel has a number of affiliated ministries, including Christians in Defense of Israel and Covenant Journey, a program that provides a life-changing experience in Israel for Christian college-age students who have leadership potential.

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