Changes in the workweek? Working remotely challenges the 9 to 5

Over the last few years, many of us are noticing that our friends who work in the city
don’t always have to be IN the city to work. Whatever you call it—the freelance generation,
the alternative work force, the gig economy—fewer people work a 9 to 5, 40 hour a
week job.


Many people don’t have to be physically at work to be working. There is both a
freedom and a burden in being away from the office, yet tethered to work by a cell phone.  The amount of time spent working remotely is increasing around the country. Subsequently, flexible work hours are also on the rise. Working outside of the office is affecting our definition of the workweek; and though we won't go as far (yet) as to say this article's title: "The 9 to 5 Workweek is Dead", it is on the decline.

"Remote work, at this point, has become mainstream. About 25% of all US employees work remotely all or most of the time, according to a Gallup poll. Email, chat apps like Slack, and video-conferencing have moved to the cloud, which makes it easy for remote workers to stay in touch. Research suggests remote workers are more productive and log more hours than employees who work in the office, and for many companies, offering an option to work remotely helps recruit employees who are seeking better work-life balance or who want to live in a location where the company has no office." ( Sarah Kessler, QUARTZ)

As more of the population switches to working remotely, what people are looking for in residences may also change. Previously in a home there may have been enough room for dad to have an office. But enough room for mom, step-dad, visiting siblings and co-workers all to find a comfortable place to work? If our work habits continue to move away from the office, private homes or public areas may need to compensate for lost space.  


For the last twenty years, many of Beacon's residents have relied on commuting to the city for work every day. The ease of commuting to NYC on the Metro-North Railroad remains an attractive option. However, as virtual work becomes more popular, a smaller percentage of Beaconites will commute to the city for work five days a week.

 

At Weber Projects, we try to anticipate how our construction can help meet the needs of this ever-changing world. For example, in our upcoming project "Edgewater", Weber Projects is including a quiet space where people can plug-in and work outside their apartments.  Because although working remotely or from home can decrease your commute and offer flexible hours; it may also become its own lonely problem. Working virtually doesn't have to mean working alone! 

 

Single-family homes in a New Century

Rethinking the value and costs of single family homes

Since World War II, single-family homes have been the American Dream.  Very few of us can remember a world without single-family homes and suburbs.  

But more and more, experts and buyers are questioning whether or not single-family homes should, or even do still, represent the bedrock of 'the American dream'.

An article from USA Today titled “The single-family house: An american icon faces an uncertain future” provides a good starting place for understanding the issue. (Follow the link for details.)

The following quote from the article is typical of the questions being asked:

“…. The house is too sprawling in a time of climate change, too expensive in a time of economic inequality and just too boring for many city-dwelling Millennials; ... more of us should live closer together, in neighborhoods near mass transit, with less need to drive and more chance to interact.”

The same point is being made in academic research on single-family homes; with the focus increasingly about the environmental issues associated with single-family dwellings.

 

Environmental concerns over single family homes are growing

In this paper the author, a doctoral candidate at NYU, addresses "The problem of urban sprawl".  Again, the primary concern is environmental:  not only the footprint of the homes themselves, but the dependence on cars fostered by single-family homes.  As the researcher says:

“The most straightforward result of people spreading out in single-family homes instead of clustered together in urban cores is how people transport themselves...This in turn generates more hazardous pollution and carbon dioxide, which directly contribute to environmental problems like smog and climate change."

The negative environmental impact of mega-homes (that is, homes larger than 3,000 square feet) is particularly clear. One Big Home, a documentary that has been attracting audiences around the country, is a pointed example of the amount of green space taken up by large single-family homes.

To quote one reviewer, the film is “Vital viewing for those concerned with zoning, affordable housing and the changing character of residential America." (John Rennie Short, Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland.) 

This increase in awareness motivates cities around the country to look at what kind of zoning changes are needed to discourage oversize single-family homes.

At the same time, it is becoming clear that cities need to set environmental standards for single-family construction and renovation.  As one local example, given Beacon’s tough winters, basic adjustments in how homes are insulated would make a huge difference in the amount of energy needed to heat the house through the winter.  

 

Mandated environmental certification programs may do more good by concentrating on single-family homes

There are a growing number of opportunities to certify single-family homes as “green”:  LEED 4 has examples within their programs for single-family homes. There are other single-home certification programs that could be investigated.  For more information, see this article about LEED by Freshome.com.

Since half of Beacon’s residences are single-family homes, mandated environmental certification programs for construction and renovation would arguably have more positive environmental impact than the certification of new multi-family homes, which, unlike homes built decades ago, are being built with environmental concerns in mind.

Finally, Beacon public officials concerned with housing should already be considering the current move away from single-family homes as a result of both changes in the tax law and general social preferences.

 

Changing tax laws discourage current and future home owners

Most publications and news organizations are doing in depth pieces on why buying homes doesn’t make as much financial sense as it used to make. 

The Wall Street Journal has a particularly good article addressing the current changes affecting home buyers: "Should You Pay Off Your Mortgage? The New Tax Law Changes the Math".

The most important point is that roughly HALF of the people who were able to take a mortgage deduction in the past will not be able to do so in 2018 and going forward, under the new federal tax laws.  This will obviously impact banks, as well as their willingness to make construction loans available for single-family homes, etc.

There is another issue with detached homes that is only now being publicly discussed, which is that detached homes have a historical tie with racism. 

 

Zoning laws reflect archaic racial and class segregation 

A provocative article in the L.A. Times "L.A.'s land use rules were born out of racism and segregation. They're not worth fighting for" has started a more open public dialogue about zoning, racism and detached homes.

As the Times explains,

“...single-family-only rules are a legacy of racist exclusionary zoning...Minorities, after all, could usually more easily afford apartment living than home ownership.”

To our knowledge, neither Beacon nor Dutchess County publishes home ownership data by race:  anecdotally, it appears that Beacon homeowners are overwhelmingly white.

 

Planning for the Foreseeable Future 

With all of this in mind, and as a variety of experts and communities are coming to the realization that single family homes are no longer the dream, but the emerging problem, it becomes important for Beacon to look at the impact of its predominantly single-family homes. As a city, we need to build a comprehensive plan to alleviate the environmental risks of single-family homes and to address the decline in their market attractiveness.  

For future generations, zoning changes may need to be made to keep single-family homes from becoming an environmental, economic, and social liability.

Otherwise, the city is at risk of having created, and creating, residential policies that were created while looking in the rear view mirror.

 

Construction and the Environment

As we all focus on renewable and non-renewable sources of energy and materials, we have had and continue to have robust discussions on solar power, geothermal power and water.

In our day to day work at Weber Projects, it is a priority to think about how best to use materials that don’t seem to be in short supply today which are clearly not infinite. Some of these materials, known as construction aggregates, including sand and gravel. 

There is a great infographic in an article by the Association of American Railroads that shows the multiple processes and expense required to mine gravel from the earth and then it sold and delivered  to a construction site, or to your home’s garden or driveway.  It is clear that this is an area where we can do better by making sure we think locally.

That’s why we were pleased to be able to repurpose rocks lying in the field at Edgewater into gravel.  We used local machinery. Local labor. And avoided mining or shipping. 

Last week we started working with the gravel to create this pathway at 7 Creek Drive.  Every bit of what remains will be used in local projects, as will leftover bits of crush brick and rusted steel.

It makes both financial sense and environmental sense to reuse construction materials instead of tossing them.

If you are considering doing a construction or remodeling project, you might want to check out this article about materials you can salvage and reuse.

Brainstorming about Edgewater

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We spent a little bit of time trying to come up with all of the reasons we think the Edgewater development would be great for Beacon:

  • It rescues what is now an abandoned property and turns it into another excellent spot for Beacon river views and beyond. The property will remain over half green-space, and the project will revitalize the landscape by replanting native species and conserving water and runoff.
  • Having a residential community within reasonable walking distance of the train will be a game-changer for Beacon commuters and our visiting friends. It will be an element along the path from the train station to main street. This will enable Beacon to move away from complete dependence on cars.
  • The design helps combat climate change. And, the property will be ready for alternative energy and solar when it becomes financially viable. In the meantime, focus on proper building and insulation techniques will allow us to set a new standard for home energy consumption in Beacon.
  • Bigger residential communities mean bigger weekday patronage for local businesses, restaurants and pubs, and will strengthen the local tax base. More construction work means more jobs, and once complete we estimate 20 full-time-equivalent jobs to add to the local community - a practical first step towards economic self-reliance and opportunity.
  • The development is in line with the Beacon Comprehensive Plan for property development. Including over 31 workforce-housing designated units designed for local teachers, firefighters, police and more.
  • At our own expense we have initiated exhaustive quality-of-life studies concerning the community in an effort to make sure we have a positive impact on Beacon and its surroundings. An organic roll-out over several years will further reduce the risk of negative impact on the area.
  • The project will be entirely privately financed. No taxpayer funding will be used. Higher initial development costs will be incurred to ensure longevity and prime environmental standards. We have a reputation for a top-notch residential design, build-quality and energy efficiency throughout our properties.
  • The project will contribute to raising Beacon's walkability scores. Lots of amenities on-site for both residents and non-residents will improve the quality of life for everyone in beacon. From event space and picnic areas we intend for the space to be welcoming to the entire community.
  • We think the housing will be attractive to younger people, bringing some working-age balance to Beacon's aging population while adding affordable and practical options for Beacon's older residents as well. Multi-generational and economically-diverse communities are healthy communities!
  • We have been building relationships and beginning dialogues with neighborhood residents and businesses to try to ensure that their needs and concerns are understood and addressed by the intended development.

The bottom line: More units and more density means increased supply of rentals; This should lead to more affordable rental rates all around Beacon without compromises to environmental standards and pro-community spaces.

Feel free to reach out to us via the provided contact info you can find on our website for any further information.

School Budget Vote May 15th

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Vote YES for the Beacon City School District Budget on May 15

Beacon City School District residents in Beacon, Fishkill and Wappingers Falls are receiving a District Budget “Snapshot” in the mail this week— look for a postcard in the mail with all of the news.  The proposed  budget allows the district to maintain all current programs, add 5 new Elementary positions, and provide security upgrades across the district, including a new position: Director of Security. 

At the same time, most taxpayers will see little or no increase in their taxes - some will even see a decrease, due to tax base growth. We like to think we helped with that—development added both new and high end residences to the tax base.

Beacon’s Tax Cap limit for 2018-2019 was calculated at 3.87%, one of the highest percentages in the area.  The limit is determined by a complex formula.   What this tax cap makes clear, though, is that fears were unfounded that an absolute tax cap of 2 percent would limit the value to schools of the growth in Beacons property values. 

This budget is in addition to the Capital Project that was passed last December.

Be sure to vote for the budget on May 15,and join us in supporting  our public schools.  More information is on the district website at beaconk12.org.

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We choose native plants

No pesticides, no herbicides, no fertilizers and low maintenance.

Oak Sedge in bloom.

Oak Sedge in bloom.

At Weber Projects LLC, we work closely with our landscape and horticultural professionals in choosing northeast American trees, grasses and other plants.  We do it because native plants have evolved alongside bees, birds, butterflies and other living things in creating harmonious plant communities and require very little maintenance and resources.

No one likes to cut down a tree, or pull up grasses, even if they represent an invasive specie, but even the Audubon society believes in the benefits of working with nature instead of imposing solutions upon her.

Oak Sedge Blooming.

Oak Sedge Blooming.

For Beacon, given recent discussions, we love that our native grasses, after the first year, require minimal watering!

We are excited for all the new plants coming and calling Beacon home! Thank you to North Creek Nurseries for sending us such beautiful landscape plugs! 

And a shout-out to American Beauties for growing such wonderful natives and making them available to homeowners! 

The Challenge Ahead

This year has seen a lot of interesting thought and informed discussion around the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.  No one believes that African-Americans and Hispanics have achieved parity in home ownership with Caucasians.

Of the many pieces written, here is one I found particularly interesting. 

Although Beacon has come a long way, the home ownership issue affected us too. The gentrification wave of the last 10 – 20 years in Beacon offered affordable housing for newcomers, but I haven’t seen data on what the impact was on African-Americans and Hispanics who had called Beacon home for longer.

Now that federal tax law has changed, and mortgage write offs will not be as common,  more is being written about the advantages of renting instead of buying homes.

We believe that renting is a good answer for many.  But it shouldn’t be the only answer.

We look forward to vigorous and realistic discussion about a new generation of public-private partnerships that allow everyone in Beacon to grow their personal wealth, whether through home ownership or not.

The Wheels at 7 Creek

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Recently one of our tenants was walking on a sunny weekend and found someone with a professional looking camera crouched in front of the apartment building at 7 Creek.   The visitor was working on getting a shot through the spokes of the wheels placed there, and clearly didn’t have a lot of time before his wife and baby turned the corner and he lost pace.

Hearing about the photographer’s focus on the beauty of those two wheels meant a lot to us.

When the Company started work on 11 Creek Drive a few years back, we discovered the wheels. They were well under the building as they as they were when powered by water.  It was a great struggle to remove them, but they were well worth the effort.

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The wheels were used to power leather belts, which ran the machinery when the building was a silk manufacturing plant—starting  back in 1876.

One of the joys of doing what we do is being able to bring history back to life. We enjoy learning as much as we can about the artifacts we discover along the way.

After four years of storage it was an absolute pleasure to place them where everyone could get a glimpse of yesterdays’ ingenuity making it possible to power without electricity.

Both wheels now stand proudly at the entrance of 7 Creek Drive, where they are once again near the rush of the river.

If you have a chance, take a walk by.  The wheels are right across the parking lot from the brewery if you are walking on a sunny day and get thirsty….

Supply and Demand

Interesting article in Bloomberg today predicting higher home prices.

“The U. S. Housing market’s storyline for the last several years has been one of steady demand and limited supply, pushing prices ever higher” says Bloomberg, one of the world’s most respected business publishers.

They add that “inventories of previously owned homes are plumbing the lowest levels in at least 19 years, a key reason why resilient demand by itself has fueled price appreciation that’s extending to the new homes market.”

The new variable?  Soaring costs for building materials.

Clearly Beacon is not alone is seeing prices for construction and new homes increasing.  According to S & P, property values just showed the biggest year over year gain since June 2014.

A Strategy for Higher Walkability

In recent years,  the idea of “walkability” is gaining traction.   One clear advantage of cities over suburbs is that urban areas are more walkable, which cuts down on the environmental hazards created by cars.

Real estate listings are starting to post “walkability scores” to make it easy to identify neighborhood dependence on cars, instead of on public transportation, biking and riding.

Various Beacon neighborhoods have different scores.  Apartments on Main Street have very high walkability scores.  Others, like Tompkins Terrace, next to Edgewater, still rank as good (the score is 53 on a scale of 1 to 100) but there is room for improvement.

Here is how the score works:

90–100      Walker’s Paradise
                  Daily errands do not require a car

70–89        Very Walkable         
                  Most errands can be accomplished on foot

50–69        Somewhat Walkable                                   
                  Some errands can be accomplished on foot

25–49        Car-Dependent                              
                  Most errands require a car

0–24          Car-Dependent                                            
                  Almost all errands require a car

Raising Beacon’s overall score will take cooperation: Mayor Casale has just made

a strong impact by simplifying the bus route.

Once Edgewater is up, we believe the changes in the walking path to the station; the availability of electric cars and focus on making bicycle storage easier and convenient will help lift Beacon into the ranks of highly walkable small cities.

 

Spring Plantings

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Yesterday the team planted the first Magnolia tree along with others around 7 Creek drive.

A landscaping team chose the Magnolia to complement the landscaping that we are starting to plant now.  Magnolias are native to this area; we are looking forward to this tree blooming next year.