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Moreover, as Butler puts it, "A tenant-buyer cannot buy his unit one day with a 60 percent discount, sell it the next at the full market rate, and walk away with the difference." If the tenant resells his new home or cooperative apartment unit within a year, he must refund the entire discount. That penalty is gradually reduced so that it's only after five years that the homeowner can sell the home without having to refund any of the discount.
The US public-housing program has included various limited homeownership features designed to expand home ownership by low-income people. But they have been beset, says Butler, by various problems because of their conditions of sale. He suggests that a successful US program would include (1) a price discount instead of a token down payment, so that buyers have a sufficient stake to undertake maintenance, (2) interest-rate relief depending on a buyers' income and therefore ability to take advantage of the income-tax interest deduction, and (3) provisions for training tenants/owners in home management and maintenance.
Butler notes that local public-housing authorities now have the statutory authority to sell low-income projects to tenants. However, local housing-authority bureaucracies are rarely eager to divest themselves of any of their empire. Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) is taking another tack: he's introducing legislation that would allow tenants of public housing for at least five years to purchase their housing units for 30 percent of market value, regardless of the wishes of the local public housing authority.
Butler emphasizes that the point of a program to sell public housing to its low-income tenants "is not to raise income but to promote ownership in poor communities." Such a move, he notes, "would utilize the strengths and ownership dreams of residents themselves to help overcome the debilitating problems of America's inner cities."
- Not for banks only. In 1983, 36 states passed laws loosening restrictions on credit unions. Consequently, many of the unions now offer additional services in competition with banks, such as money-market and checking-type accounts, low-interest credit cards, higher interest on savings accounts, and automated teller service.
- Some small praise. Among the nearly 300 (mostly burdensome) changes in the * tax code hammered out by the Congress in its $50-billion tax-hike bill are two that are relieving: church employees may opt out of the Social Security system, and the capital-gains holding period-the time it takes for an investment gain to qualify for the lower capital-gains tax rate-is cut from one year to six months.
- Underground video. It appears that the latest tool for evading the censors and thought police in some repressive countries is the videocassette recorder. In many Mideast Moslem nations, for example, where morals regulations ban most Western films from movie houses, citizens watch censored flicks on their home VCRs. According to a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, the Motion Picture Association of America claims that in some Mideast countries, almost every household has a VCR. And in the Soviet Union, the magazine reported, "a black market for foreign video equipment and tapes has sprung up in Moscow and other cities." Videocassettes ranging from Jane Fonda workout tapes to Russian-dubbed Bruce Lee movies circulate among Soviet subjects much as does the prohibited literature of the underground samizdat press. Government authorities are reportedly having much trouble controlling the video underground.
- Private evictors. Washington, D.C., has found an unusual function to contract out: the eviction of tenants who are behind on the rent. Private contractors, instead of US marshals, can now carry out evictions, in hopes of relieving a backlog of thousands. Some families lived rent-free for over a year because the marshals were carrying out only 12 percent of court-ordered evictions.
- Eminent decision. The California Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that a business owner whose property was condemned to make way for a new freeway is entitled to compensation for loss of business "good will." It is the first court interpretation of a 1976 California law requiring payment for loss of good will in eminent domain cases.
- Investing freely. New York State's savings banks were substantially deregulated in June. They may now use an unlimited percentage of their assets for commercial loans, have unrestricted powers to invest in stocks and bonds, may invest in real-estate development and ownership, and may engage directly in leasing activities. "These provisions would allow banks greater freedom to invest their funds where they please rather than in the communities from which they derive their assets," complained Community Service Society activist Peggy Kerry.
- Winning the number game. Alaska state agencies will no longer require that people provide their Social Security numbers on state forms. This is the result of a long legal battle conducted by Elder Lebert, a Fairbanks, Alaska, carpenter.