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Why So Many People May Never Recover From Hurricane Michael

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When Luis Barrios climbed out of a canoe and trudged through knee-deep waters into his parents’ modest home in north Houston days after Hurricane Harvey hit last year, he was shaken. There was debris everywhere. The few pieces of new furniture his parents had recently bought were soaked beyond repair. A lifetime of family photos floated through the filthy stormwater.

Barrios’ parents didn’t have insurance. He estimates his parents lost about $10,000 worth of belongings. On top of that, they spent $2,000 to repair their minivan, which had severe water damage.

But Barrios was comforted by his faith and the fact that it would just be a matter of time before his family recovered. A year later, Barrios isn’t so sure anymore.

“Hurricane Harvey rocked us,” Barrios, 40, told HuffPost.

Barrios and his parents ― Patricia, 59, and Juan, 63 ― were living paycheck-to-paycheck before Harvey and were just getting by. In the year since, bills have steadily piled up, leaving the family in an elusive game of catch-up from which they may never escape.

Luis Barrios poses with his mother, Patricia, and sister during happier times. Last year, the Barrios' lives were devastated


Luis Barrios

Luis Barrios poses with his mother, Patricia, and sister during happier times. Last year, the Barrios’ lives were devastated during Hurricane Harvey. Barrios remains hopeful but says it will be a long time before he gets back on his feet.

Natural disasters are often referred to as “great equalizers” because they don’t discern between rich and poor victims. But low-income people can’t prepare for a hit the way well-off people can, which means they’re far more likely to have their lives uprooted.

This stark reality has come into full view once again in the wake of Hurricane Michael after the ferocious storm slammed into the Florida Panhandle last week.

The hurricane claimed at least 30 lives and left hundreds of thousands of residents without power. It will likely leave a lasting imprint on the poorer areas ravaged by the storm, where residents were already struggling. Panama City, where about 1 in 5 residents lives below the poverty line and neighborhoods have been flattened beyond recognition, is one of those cities where hurricane victims will be reeling for years to come.

“People who were already living on the margins and down in the cracks before this happened had next to nothing,” said Anne Hinze, a volunteer with  CrowdSource Rescue who has brought supplies to people in need in Panama City. “Now, they have absolutely nothing.”

Hinze said she met one family that had all of $2.50 the day before the hurricane. They had to decide whether to buy heart medicine for the father or a little bit of gas. They decided to buy gas and are now desperate to find a way to get the prescription.

More than 1,000 people are still missing in the Florida Panhandle. Most are from Panama City and are likely impoverished, elderly or have disabilities. 

Poor people often have no choice but to stay behind when a hurricane hits because they can’t afford the costs ― gas, hotel rates and other expenses ― involved in evacuating. People with warrants or who are on house arrest are often hesitant to seek refuge at shelters. Some may not even be aware of the storm’s threat. 


CrowdSource Rescue

CrowdSource Rescue is a volunteer-run disaster technology platform formed during Harvey and has been involved in searching for missing Michael victims, focusing primarily on areas without power and neglected areas that the Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn’t yet reached.

Hinze and her husband, who live about 60 miles west of Panama City, packed their car up with water, menstrual hygiene products, food and other supplies to bring to people in need two days after the hurricane. The pair met a couple who haven’t had cellphones since the summer and have no television. They had no idea that a storm was headed there way. 

“It sounds crazy, how do you not know a storm is coming?” said Matthew Marchetti, co-founder of CrowdSource. “That’s these peoples’ reality sometimes.”

Nonprofit CrowdSource Rescue dispatches volunteers to find people who are missing or in need of help after a disaster hits. I


CrowdSource Rescue

Nonprofit CrowdSource Rescue dispatches volunteers to find people who are missing or in need of help after a disaster hits. It sends local volunteers to respond to calls, and members also scour remote areas that haven’t yet received help.

Additionally, for low-income people who endured damage to their homes and personal property in Florida, it could take years for them to recoup the losses. 

It’s a common refrain among vulnerable people who experience hurricanes and other natural disasters.

After Hurricane Katrina, for example, more than 250,000 people were displaced from their homes, many of whom were shipped to neighboring states where they had no connections. Even as much of the city has recovered, the rebuilding effort was far more difficult for some communities. Five years after the storm, New Orleans’ white population pretty much returned to its pre-storm level. But today, there are still about 100,000 fewer black people living in the city than there were before the storm. While some people have built new lives in other places, many people who want to return simply can’t. Lack of affordable housing is one issue. Costs associated with moving and complying with new housing safety standards are another. 

That a major natural disaster can hurl a family living on the fringes into a downward spiral makes sense. Most Americans today can’t even afford a minor emergency. According to a January report from Bankrate, a website that provides financial advice, just 39 percent of respondents said they’d be able to cover an unexpected $1,000 bill with funds from their savings. Most of the other respondents said they would have no choice but to pay with a credit card, borrow from family and friends, or get a loan.

Debbie Powell of Panama City, Florida, walks to her trailer on Oct. 15 in Water's Edge RV Park, which was damaged by Hurrican


Scott Olson via Getty Images

Debbie Powell of Panama City, Florida, walks to her trailer on Oct. 15 in Water’s Edge RV Park, which was damaged by Hurricane Michael.

Hurricanes are particularly punishing because of the exorbitant costs associated with adequate preparation.

Low-income people are more likely to live in areas that are susceptible to storm shocks and reside in shabbily built homes that can’t withstand major damage, according to a report by the Brookings Institution last year. In Houston, for example, low-income neighborhoods were the hardest hit by Harvey, in large part because the city spends more on infrastructure in wealthier neighborhoods. Lower-income areas are also less likely to have embankments, drainage systems and other measures that can protect them from raging floodwaters. 

This demographic is also less likely to be able to afford flood insurance, which they can be penalized for.

After Hurricane Harvey, residents living in flood zones who didn’t purchase flood insurance were denied funding from FEMA. Some residents said they didn’t know about the requirement; many simply couldn’t afford the nearly $1,100 annual fee.

In this Aug. 9, 2018, photo, Shirley Paley, left, talks about surviving through Hurricane Harvey as she stands inside her hom


ASSOCIATED PRESS

In this Aug. 9, 2018, photo, Shirley Paley, left, talks about surviving through Hurricane Harvey as she stands inside her home, which is being repaired from flood damage.

“I can pay $150 a month for flood insurance or I can eat with that money,” said Marchetti, referring to the calculation that struggling people who live in hurricane-prone areas are forced to make. “They take the risk, and when a hurricane comes in, they are people who fall through the cracks.”

For those without car or personal insurance, it doesn’t even take losing a big-ticket item to wreck a family’s finances. Having to suddenly come up with a few hundred dollars to replace a refrigerator that breaks during a storm can be the thing that sends a family into a tailspin, said Brian Greene, president and CEO of the Houston Food Bank. In these instances, strapped families may resort to seeking out payday loans ― high-interest loans with rates based on the borrower’s credit and income profile. Annual interest rates are around 400 percent and can plunge families into inescapable debt.

“All these things that pile on are fundamentally different for families of modest means than they are for middle- and upper-income families,” said Greene. “It’s not that the losses are higher ― it’s the ability to absorb them. That’s the disparity.”

Hinze said that the people she’s met in Panama City are experiencing this very disparity. The National Guard is giving out supplies to victims in need, but people living in remote areas have no way to access those services. Even in trailer parks that have been decimated, people have stayed behind because they have nowhere to go.

Some FEMA officials have come by and told residents to “register” on a website for disaster assistance. But many of the residents don’t have cellphones or cell service, and most don’t have access to Wi-Fi, Hinze noted. 

Hinze said she’s going to return to the area to bring supplies, but knows this is a short-term fix, and she worries how these people’s lives may continue to spiral as the weeks go on. 

A year in, the Barrios family in Houston is living out this very fear as they try to recover from their lost wages and property.

Prior to the hurricane, which caused about $125 billion in damage in Texas, Juan Barrios worked full time at a local golf club, where he earned about $11 an hour. The facility shut down after the storm, and Juan was out of a job, with no pay, for about three months. Patricia Barrios doesn’t work and has diabetes. Her health has been declining, and she has accrued about $50,000 in medical bills. Their landlord raised the rent ― which is standard after a storm hits. Patricia and Juan couldn’t afford the $150-a-month hike, so they moved in with Luis, whose home was spared during the storm.

Luis Barrios was happy to take in his parents but has his own financial struggles. He earns $10 an hour doing maintenance work at a local church, but recently experienced a brain aneurysm. Barrios has $30,000 in medical bills and will likely have to move soon.

While the Barrios family’s case is devastating, it’s not all that unusual, and one likely to be repeated many times over in the aftermath of Michael.

Barrios says his mother can’t help but cry, especially over the irreplaceable items like damaged family albums. He said he’s trying to stay hopeful, but it’s hard.

“I want to be encouraged to say it is going to get better,” Barrios said. “But the way life has been, my spirit will tell you: ‘Wow, it’s going to be a long time before I get back on my feet.’”

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11-Step Guide to Buying A House

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Purchasing a home is likely going to be one of the largest purchases you will make in your lifetime, which is why it is so important to follow the right steps when starting on your home-buying journey to ensure that the entire process goes smoothly from start to finish!

We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to buying a home, to help you get off on the right foot when it comes to buying a home. Click the download button below to download these steps in PDF form.

1. Decide to buy a home

Make sure you are ready both financially and emotionally!

2. Get Pre-Approved

Work with a mortgage broker or your bank. They will work with you on what you require to submit an application. Once approved, this will determine how much you can afford to spend on a home.

3. REALTOR® Consultation

Work with a RE/MAX agent to help guide you through the process. The right agent will discuss your price range, ideal locations, current market conditions and much more!

4. Start Your Search

Your REALTOR® will get you information on new homes that meet your criteria as soon as they’re listed. They’ll work with you and for you to ensure you find your dream home.

5. Current Market Conditions

Your experienced RE/MAX agent is a valuable resource as you consider different properties. They will be there when you have questions regarding the homes you’re interested in – they can tell you what is a good deal, and when to walk away.

6. Make an Offer

Your REALTOR® will help create your offer tailored to your needs including the right subject clauses down to the closing date that works best for you.

7. Negotiate

You may receive a counter offer but don’t be worried! RE/MAX agents will negotiate for you to ensure you get the best possible price for the house you love!

8. Accepted Offer

It’s crunch time! The next few weeks are busy as you need to schedule and remove every one of your subject clauses by the specified date. You’ll likely need to schedule an inspection, appraisal, financing approval, and several others. You will also need to provide a deposit to put down on the home. The deposit will be a pre-determined amount given in-trust to your REALTOR® to show the sellers you are committed to this home. Don’t worry, that money goes towards the purchase of said home if all goes well! This is a busy time but be sure to reach out to your RE/MAX agent if you have any questions or are unsure about next steps.

9. Subject Removal

Once you have completed all your subject clauses, and everything went smooth, it is time for you to sign on the dotted line and consider your new home to be yours (almost!).

10. Official Documents

You will need to provide your RE/MAX agent with your preferred lawyer or notary to have the official title transferred into your name. You will meet with the lawyer or notary in person to sign all the legal documents before you move in. This typically happens a few days before you take possession of your new home.

11. Move In!

Congratulations, you are officially a homeowner! The date pre-determined by you is your move-in day! You can now move into your new home. Your RE/MAX agent will be there ready and waiting to hand you the keys. Enjoy!

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Know When to Rent ‘Em, Know When to Buy ‘Em

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We’re told it’s always better to buy than rent. Everyone—from our parents to the banks to the government—encourages us to buy, buy, buy our homes.

But times have changed, and I dare say that these authority figures might be slightly out of touch. The jaw-droppingly high cost of real estate in big cities is encouraging millennials to rent instead of own, causing homeownership rates to drop. At 30 years old, 50.2% of millennials own homes versus 55% of baby boomers at the same age. As a millennial homeowner, I can’t help but wonder if I’m generationally displaced.

There’s an old misconception out there about renting that needs to be addressed. You’re not “throwing away your money” if you’re renting. While that familiar axiom might be true sometimes, there are plenty of circumstances in which it does actually make more sense to rent than buy.

You Might Choose to Rent If…

…You Invest What You Save

Renting tends to come with lower carrying costs than owning. Typically, all you’ll have to worry about paying as a renter is, well, the rent (clearly) and perhaps a share of utilities. This leaves you with extra monthly cash to invest, which can ultimately put you on even financial footing or better with a homeowner.

As always, there’s a familiar caveat here: You need to be financially disciplined for this strategy to pay off. One mistake I see a lot is that those who rent tend to fall prey to something called ‘lifestyle inflation.’ Rather than investing what they save as renters, they just rent nicer apartments, eat at fancier restaurants, and put more money into their wardrobe than their RRSP. But this money vacuum can be easily avoided by:

1. Budgeting to find out how much you have left over to invest each month after factoring out all your expenses, then;

2. Funneling that leftover money directly into your investments. Some robo-advisors, like Wealthsimple, allow you to do this automatically via pre-authorized contributions, which set recurring transfers from your chequing account into your investment portfolio, at whatever amount and interval you choose.

…You Have Rent Control, aka the Urban Holy Grail

Depending on where you live, you might be lucky enough to benefit from the urban miracle known as rent control. That means your landlord can only increase your rent by the rate of inflation, which in turn keeps your cost of living way down and leaves you with more money to invest. In Canada, rent control is now implemented in most big cities like Toronto and Vancouver (although not in Montreal).

…You Have a Mobile Lifestyle

Renting makes it easier to move; if you’d like to relocate it’s usually as simple as giving your landlord 60 days written notice. But when you own a home you’re more tied down, and the obligation to be near your property may prevent you from chasing new adventures in faraway lands. I once turned down a fantastic job opportunity in Dallas, Texas for this very reason.

…You’re on a Tight Budget

Renting tends to be more affordable than buying in big cities like Toronto and Vancouver. I know, I know, renting is still unreasonably pricey in certain neighborhoods. But buying in those same areas can be arm-and-a-leg expensive.

When you rent, all you have to come up with is the first and last month’s rent; no need to scrimp and save to pull together a massive down payment on a house, which, incidentally, will take you two to four times longer to save than it did your parents.

And homeownership leads to a lot of other costs aside from mortgage payments. When you buy real estate, you’ll need to pay closing costs, which typically add up to between 1.5%–4% of the property’s purchase price and can include a home inspection fee, real estate lawyer fee, land transfer taxes, and homeowners insurance (sometimes you’ll have to fork over an entire year’s worth of home insurance as one lump sum).

There’s also the elephant in the room that nobody likes to speak about: repairs and maintenance. Homeowners are responsible for paying the big bucks for costly home repairs, such as a new roof and furnace, and are advised to set aside 3–5% of a home’s value toward home repairs and maintenance each year. Renters, on the other hand, can just call their landlord whenever they need repairs (provided the landlord actually picks up). Still, it’s important that tenants know their rights when renting to be aware of which fees do and don’t fall under their responsibility.

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A Montreal Real Estate Broker Answered 5 Qs About Buying A Property To Rent Out

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You’ve probably heard that Montreal’s real estate market is on fire. But how can you get in on the action? According to Alex Marshall, a local real estate broker, buying a property as an investment for the purpose of renting it out is a great way to go about it.

Marshall, who’s part of the Keller Williams Prestige team, sat down with us to explain why and how to purchase an investment property. These types of properties are also known as revenue properties.

Why do you recommend buying a revenue property?

Marshall used personal experience to highlight the advantages of owning a revenue property. He’s currently renting out the Saint-Henri loft he bought in 2010.

“Not only is my tenant paying off my mortgage, but I’m making a couple 100 bucks a month as well,” Marshall said.

Marshall was also able to take out a line of credit on the property, he said, and use the equity to buy an additional property.

“You actually don’t need to live in the property that you buy. I’m seeing clients who are in apartments with low rent [who] don’t want to move but have got the money right now … and are looking for smart ways to invest,” he said.

What are some tips to help people save up for a revenue property?

When Marshall was saving up to buy his first property, he said he worked a second job. 

“There’s a lot of value to having that side hustle … even if it’s at Subway or it’s at a landscaping company on Saturdays. It will add up significantly in the long run,” he said.

He gave the example of adding $5,000 to your annual income.

Marshall said you can qualify to borrow roughly four times your annual salary for a mortgage so $5,000 could actually provide you with an extra $20,000 of buying power.

“That might get you a second bedroom, that might get you a parking spot, that might get you a larger space,” he said.

The pandemic, Marshall said, has also helped some of his clients save extra funds.

“You can’t travel, you can’t go to the restaurant, you can’t go to the theatre, you can’t go to the bar. So a lot of people right now are finding themselves with almost a disposable income,” he said.

Marshall also recommends looking into Canada’s Home Buyers’ Plan program, which allows you to withdraw up to $35,000 — — tax-free — from your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) to put toward buying or building a qualifying home. 

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