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Friday, September 30, 2011

KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR -- 5


KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR

After breakfast, we visit Truman's Little White House where wheelchair-accessible tours are given of the property and its grounds, built for the military and used by President Harry Truman as a working vacation home.

Our guide, Tom, is engaging and very knowledgeable about the simple yet elegant white wooden frame home that helped Truman relax beneath the splendor of spreading banyans.

All of the furniture and decor are original or restored to their original appearance, from the 1940s style chairs on the sun porch to the lounge era cocktail shakers at the bar to Truman's beloved poker table, where the powerbrokers of the day whiled away the evenings with cards and cigar smoke.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

KEY WST BY WHEELCHAIR -- 4


KEY WST BY WHEELCHAIR

We stay nearby at the Southernmost on the Beach, a modern hotel that has cozy, comfortable rooms as the name says -- on the beach.

Wheelchair-accessible rooms with a king bed are on the first floor with accessible parking spaces right outside the door. Wide doorways, grab bars and a roll-in shower with fold-down seat provide good access.

Access could be improved at the property by widening the path of travel that passes in front of the rooms outside, ramping the sun deck and purchasing a lift for the pool.

A perfect nearby spot for breakfast (they serve lunch and dinner, too) is the Duval Beach Club. Just a short, accessible walk from the hotel via paved paths and sidewalks, the casual restaurant is open from floor to ceiling on the side closest to the ocean.
Ask for a table on the beach side and watch the golden sun rise in the cerulean sky while listening to the seductive rhythm of the surf. Breakfast entrees are reasonably priced and tasty, and the servers have that Key West blend of tropical ease and Bohemian friendliness.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR - 3


KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR

When we are home in Miami, Heidi enjoys a high level of independence afforded by her power wheelchair and lift-equipped accessible van.

But we've learned that the heavy power chair limits us on the road, because Steve can't lift it through a challenging threshold, bump it over a rampless curb or walk it up a few steps.

Because Heidi's manual chair is light, Steve can perform those tricky maneuvers with Heidi in it.

Thus, Heidi sacrifices the independence of a power chair and relies on Steve-power to push her in her manual wheelchair when we visit a city known for its narrow sidewalks, small inns and historic structures.

We meander along historic streets to get to the fabled city cemetery and other points of interest.

We could take a wheelchair-accessible ride on the open-air Old Town Trolley, which features stops at Mallory Square, Historic Key West Seaport, Duval Street and the southernmost point in the continental United States, with its outsized black, red and yellow stone buoy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR -- 2


KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR

We begin our exploration with a walk and roll down Duval Street. We love the pedestrian scale, activity, mix of uses and historic buildings. We hate the chain stores and T-shirt shacks and the overemphasis on bars.

Overdevelopment does have one upside for the disabled visitor: increased wheelchair access. Chains have the money to put in lifts, elevators, ramps, wider doors and other features that remove barriers to wheelchair mobility.

Restorations, renovations and other upgrades tend to bring accessibility to century-old buildings that previously were off-limits to wheelchair users.

Simonton Street, running parallel to Duval, gives one hope: Old Florida houses, Caribbean-flavored abodes with Bahamian shutters and stucco homes with Mediterranean flourishes draw in the eye and spark the imagination as to what it would be like to live in the Conch Republic.

Curb ramps are plentiful and generally in good shape, though in the rainy season, water often collects in the gutter at the bases of the ramps. Though we dearly love to walk and roll along great American streets, such journeys usually require a sacrifice.

Monday, September 26, 2011

KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR


KEY WEST BY WHEELCHAIR

By Steve Wright

We are excited about our inaugural trip to Key West -- photographing architecture, dining on fresh-caught fish, experiencing the fabled sunset celebration.

But we also feel a nervous anxiety. Heidi, who has severe rheumatoid arthritis, has used a wheelchair for 35 years. That third-of-a-century of using alternate mobility has taught her never to be surprised.

Hotels that promise to be wheelchair-accessible often are not. Attractions billed as barrier-free frequently present dozens of hurdles. Historic restaurants, houses and other attractions often accommodate disabled people in convoluted ways.

Traveling by wheelchair always adds a unique balancing act to the other adventures of the road. Sometimes we enter the dining room through the kitchen.

Many times Heidi has sat on the ground floor of a museum looking at a picture book while Steve explored an upper level reachable only by stairs. Often our allergies have been aggravated because the only handicapped room is a smoking room.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Talk On Corners: Special Edition, The Corrs

Talk On Corners: Special Edition, The Corrs (143/Lava/Atlantic)

Artists who crank out beat-heavy dance pop are a dime a dozen.

But the pleasant melodies and catchy rhythms in this collection stand out because they’re seamlessly integrated with traditional Irish elements.

The members of this Irish quartet – all related -- sing and play on the dozen tracks, 10 of which they wrote or co-wrote.

The album’s original incarnation was released in 1997, but this effort is distinguished by its righteous remixes.

Andrea Corr’s voice on the opener, What Can I Do (Tin Tin Out Remix), is as shimmery and crystalline as icicles in winter sun.

Though she doesn't have an extraordinary range, she possesses expert vocal control and power.

Only When I Sleep boasts terrific guitar work and a spacey, dreamy texture.

Irish fiddle and a heavy dance beat help the group leave its unique mark on a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams (Tee’s Radio Mix).

Since 1995, The Corrs have had phenomenal international success.

With this work, they now stand poised to break wide open in the United States.

--Heidi Johnson-Wright

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sugar Town, The Iguanas

Sugar Town, The Iguanas (Koch)

Listening to this New Orleans-based quintet for a couple songs can be perplexing.

On one track, they play with the raw urgency of a college radio garage band.

On the next, they’re crooning in Spanish and bounding along with Tex-Mex brio.

But take Sugar Town as a whole, and a grand musical gestalt occurs.

Somehow it all just works.

Captured kicks off the disc, lurching and clanging like a camel pulling a junk wagon.

Nice crunchy sax work and a bluesy guitar solo top it off.

A spirited Latin sound powers La Llanta Se Me Poncho and complements the pleasing vocal harmonies.

The Iguanas wander into lounge lizard territory with Love Terrifies Me, a festival of whammy chords and staccato sax.

Sprinkled liberally throughout the collection is sly humor, as on You Killed My Buzz: “Flying around in your big hairdo/Lying and cheating as swingers do.”

Fun and funky, clever and corny, Sugar Town satisfies that craving for eclectic delights.

--Heidi Johnson-Wright

Friday, September 23, 2011

Jonatha Brooke Live

Jonatha Brooke Live, Jonatha Brooke (Bad Dog Records)

Like the ocean, Jonatha Brooke’s music can be both comforting and unsettling.

There’s something wise and nurturing about her voice, but she doesn’t shy away from life’s uncertainties – complicated relationships and those experiences that defy neat categories.

Always is a fable about a princess seeking “a room of her own.” By song’s end she finds empowerment and freedom, yet there’s a steep price to be paid.

The song is at once joyful and quietly sad, like a manatee’s gaze.

In fact, this whole collection is comprised of emotion-laden tracks that bring out the best in the Boston native, formerly with the band, The Story.

The stripped-down production allows her rich, tawny voice to magically weave her poignant stories.

Another noteworthy tune is Blood From a Stone, a touching tale of the complexities of mother/daughter relationships.

Brooke’s observations are dead-on and devastating: “Silence has become our only currency/you pay me and I’ll be sure to pay you back.”

--Heidi Johnson-Wright

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bad Love, Randy Newman

Bad Love, Randy Newman (Dreamworks)
Randy Newman’s four decades of accomplishments are impressive: singer, songwriter, musician, composer of film scores, Academy Award nominee.

Arguably Newman’s forte is his uncanny ability to hone in on the idiosyncratic truths about people.

Bad Love beautifully showcases that ability.

Here he’s not penned songs so much as human tableaus that mercilessly hurl zingers at Homo sapiens.

Yet his messages are palatable thanks to his uproarious humor and biting wit.

Edgy guitar licks set the tone for I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It), an hilarious song about rock stars long past their prime.

In The World Isn’t Fair, the narrator imagines a conversation with Karl Marx.

To Marx, unfairness means social, economic and political inequality. To the narrator, it means not having a trophy wife like his middle-aged peers do.

Forget dialectical materialism; arm candy rules.

The disc’s standout track is Shame, a screamingly funny tune about an ill-fated May-December romance.

The older male narrator grapples with his baser desires while unsuccessfully fending off his female-voiced conscience.

Bad love, indeed.


--Heidi Johnson-Wright

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING -- part 10


PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

As National Church Residences continues to expand beyond its traditional portfolio of affordable housing for elderly and disabled people and tackles more diversified projects for all ages and populations, Senior Vice President of Acquisitions and Development Michelle Norris sees a need for more flexibility from HUD.

“HUD headquarters must help steer the deal through the complicated old regulations that seem to want to trip up every deal and expedite the timing. Preservation often takes longer to do than new construction which means we aren't reaching as many communities as we should quick enough.” Norris said.

“Preservation is complicated, often frustrating and hard to execute with excellence,” she continued. “However, when it is done right, it is absolutely the right thing to do. It is more economical than building new, it is inherently green, it allows residents to stay in their communities and it creates partnership and great pride in all who are involved in saving the housing.”

Wright frequently writes about smart growth and sustainable communities. He and his wife live in a restored historic home in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana. Contact him at: stevewright64@yahoo.com

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING -- part 9


PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

Julie Bornstein, president of the Campaign for Affordable Housing, can easily tick off a list of the consequences of not preserving a healthy inventory of safe, well-located and affordable housing:
• Workers are pushed farther away from jobs and must endure long commutes that pollute the air, congest the roads, lower productivity and increase absenteeism.
• There is a negative impact on community life because people don’t identify with either their work community or their home community and are on the freeway when they could be coaching Little League or volunteering at the hospital.
• The incidence of substandard housing increases as tenants don’t have decent choices, so they accept whatever dwelling they can find.
• Overcrowding results in both apartments and homes. When housing is unaffordable, two families will double-up to rent housing.
• Illegal conversions---usually garages but structures not intended to be housing—create an unsafe supply of rental housing to meet demand in the underground economy.
• Employers cannot find workers to fill essential, but lower paying jobs.
• Many young families leave the area and most others can’t afford to move in, so an expensive area’s population becomes older very quickly. School population declines and perfectly good schools close for lack of students.

Monday, September 19, 2011

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING -- part 8


PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

Muha said more affordable rental housing can be preserved by providing tax relief to owners of aging Section 8 (low income housing) portfolios in exchange for selling the properties to new owners that will recapitalize them to remain affordable for years to come.

She notes that current tax laws act as a disincentive for investors in certain properties to consent to a sale to a new entity that would rehabilitate and extend the life of affordable apartment complexes.

“It is shameful that in the richest country in the world, a worker earning two times the minimum wage is living in substandard housing or doing without sufficient food, medicine, etc. to pay the rent.” Muha said. “Americans have lost interest and as a result, so has our federal government, in ensuring that our citizens have a decent and safe place to live. Until housing becomes a priority on the national agenda, there will be families and elderly and disabled folks living in substandard housing.”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING -- part 7


Crowley also called on HUD to provide help to maintain the aging housing stock that was created with its dollars.

“The federal government needs to put more money into this. A national housing trust fund would be a tool for reinvesting in affordable housing preservation,” Crowley said.

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

The obstacles preventing affordable rental housing preservation could be further removed by: states and counties matching the dollars that come from HUD, affordable developers creating good community relations programs that erase neighborhood opposition and some sort of incentive or device that would assist developers in overcoming regulatory barriers at the local level.

Denise Muha, executive director or the National Leased Housing Association, said a lack of affordable housing rentals can result in problems ranging from an insufficient amount of service workers to keep an economy going to dangerous situations where 10 or more people are crammed into a tiny housing unit.

“Owners' decisions to renew the contracts or terminate their low income use are generally market based, but can be attributed to something we call ‘HUD fatigue,’ which she defined as owners “just getting tired of dealing with the HUD layers of rules and changing policies and recently HUD's inability to pay its bills - specifically, subsidy on Section 8 contracts.

Many owners have waited one or more months for their funds leaving them late in paying mortgages, etc.”

Saturday, September 17, 2011

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING - part 6


“Communities are incomplete,” said Sheila Crowley, President of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. People who do jobs that the community needs -- hospital aids, cashiers -- these folks must work more than one job and are left with fewer hours for family time. There are health and education consequences.”

“Kids who are in families who don’t have affordable housing move from school to school,” she added. With these increased rates of school mobility – churning through school system to school system – they don’t learn and are trying to catch up. Teachers in the classroom must devote extra time to them which has a negative effect on the quality of schools.”

Crowley said for owners who want to get out of HUD’s rule, there should be incentives to encourage them to sell to nonprofits that will maintain the apartments as affordable rentals.

“If you have a property that is in a declining neighborhood, you tolerate it,” she said of HUD hurdles. “But if the neighborhood is improving, then you’re motivated to get out of affordable housing. HUD needs to preserve the stock it has to remain competitive in the market. At the end of the day, the problem is budgetary – (the federal) domestic discretionary budget is low.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING - part 5


PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

A case study provided by the Preservation Compact explains that the pre-development financing was provided by a nonprofit lender specializing in emerging markets. Crucial financing was provided by both the State of Illinois through tax credits and a housing trust fund and the City of Chicago via bonds and Community Development Block Grant funds.

In August, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced that the city will help will create nearly 2,700 affordable rental units for low- and moderate-income households in 29 developments in neighborhoods across the city.

The city’s $277 million contribution to the multiyear project includes $175 million low-income housing tax credits and bonds, $63 million in loans and $39 million in tax-increment financing.

Additional money will come from the Illinois Housing Development Authority, the Federal Home Loan Bank and private investors and lenders.

Without such aggressive programs the nation’s lack of affordable rental housing will continue to create dire consequences, according to Sheila Crowley, President of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING -- part 4


PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

In the Chicago region, the MacArthur Foundation is breaking barriers by funding the Preservation Compact, an Urban Land Institute project that will save at least 75,000 existing affordable homes in Cook County by the year 2020.

The compact is working to create more responsive and flexible financing from investors, expedited approvals or tax incentives from the public sector and creative development strategies both from for-profit and nonprofit developers.

One recent victory involved the Lorrington Apartments in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, which has been affordable since 1985. The building owner’s Section 8 contract was expiring, and he was ready to sell.

With housing costs steadily rising in the popular neighborhood, the classic building’s 54 units could have easily been sold to a for-profit condo conversion developer.

But a combination of public, private and nonprofit agencies preserved them as affordable. The nation’s largest nonprofit developer, bought, rehabilitated and now manages the building – with a contract ensuring affordable rental prices through 2027.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING -- part 3


PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING
Schwartz, sharing observations she and MacArthur colleague Erika Poethig delivered at a HUD symposium, identified three barriers to affordable housing preservation that must be overcome:

• Properties. Current resources, incentives and requirements tied to affordable rental properties do not adequately encourage or require owners to preserve long term affordability or to sell to other owners committed to that objective.
• Ownership. Current policies also limit the ability of owners to recapitalize, earn sufficient cash flow and build a sustainable capital base from which to successfully maintain, manage and operate properties that are affordable to low- and moderate-income renters.
• Transactions. Current housing programs and regulations are fragmented, cumbersome, often unpredictable and inconsistently applied. Transactions that would transfer properties to new owners committed to preserving affordability and providing good long-term stewardship are difficult, costly and slow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING -- part 2


PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

The foundation’s “Window of Opportunity: Preserving Affordable Rental Housing” goal is to directly support the preservation and improvement of 100,000 affordable rental homes and to significantly improve the regulatory and funding environment for preservation through policy reforms at local, state and federal levels.

“Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies reports that over the past 10 years two existing units were lost for every affordable rental newly built,” said Debra Schwartz, Director of Program-Related Investments for the MacArthur Foundation. “Without concerted action, our nation’s stock of affordable rental housing is projected to fall by another million units or more in the decade ahead.”

“It is expected that by the end of 2007, over $3.5 billion in new long-term subsidy and financing will have been invested in `Window of Opportunity’ projects at an average cost of roughly $80,000 per home,” she added. “This is significantly less than the cost to build a new affordable rental unit anywhere in the country today.”


Monday, September 12, 2011

PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING


PRESERVING AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING
By Steve Wright

If homeownership is the American Dream, then lack of affordable rental housing is the American Nightmare.

For a huge percentage of Americans – those who are part of the increasing low-wage workforce, elderly, disabled, entry level professionals, even mid-level wage earners in expensive big cities – renting makes more sense that home ownership.

While the need for affordable rental housing has never been greater, the uphill battle to preserve existing affordable housing has never been steeper.

A number of factors – an endless maze of U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations, the lure of market rate rent earnings, high land values, perplexing local building codes – threaten to diminish an affordable rental housing inventory that already fails to meet the rising demand for it.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is supporting a 10-year, $75 million initiative to preserve and improve affordable rental housing across the country.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11 -- One Decade Later

September 11 -- One Decade Later

9-11-2001

It was my wife's birthday, her first as a resident of Miami -- where we moved from Ohio.

I got up early at our high rise apartment, got the mail that I'd forgotten from the day before and headed to work.

We had big plans that night. I'd take my wife out on the town to celebrate the successful reinvention of ourselves in SOFLA.



At work, in an office filled with former New Yorkers, I proudly showed the cover image that I shot for Total Access Magazine -- a proud photo of the Word Trade Center's Twin Towers accompanying a story I'd written about our beloved Manhattan.

My boss gasped when she saw it -- reports were out that a plane had hit one of the towers. Surely, a tragedy, but only some kind of freak flight accident we guessed...as we scrambled to find someone with a TV in the pre-Twitter, Facebook, blogger days.

As the morning unfolded, it became clear something much worse was happening to America. A second tower hit, the first going up in flames, reports of other crashes by the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.




Stunned, we were ultimately dismissed from our mid-rise worksite. Police cars zoomed past on the highway. Was Miami under attack? Would terrorists blow up the nuclear power plant and forever destroy the Everglades, Florida Keys and diverse Miami?

By mid-afternoon, I was hugging my wife on her 37th birthday -- but not in celebration of her Feliz Cumpleanos or our new life in South Florida.

We were clinging to each other, wondering how we'd evacuate our apartment if an act of terrorism shut down the power -- rendering the elevator useless to help her make it down several floors in a wheelchair.



We watched the TV and hoped for leadership from a president we hadn't voted for. Friends who are Agnostics phoned and said they were praying on bended knees.

Days and nights passed without the roar of airplanes heading to and from Miami International Airport. The posh Mandarin Oriental, usually lit brightly and full of people, looked bare and dim across the sliver of channel separating us on mainland Brickell from its Brickell Key opulence.

Today, a decade later, America is mired in an economic crisis that has hurt more working families than any act of terrorism. New York has survived and thrived. A half decade following the WTC attacks, we mustered the strength to visit Ground Zero.

Heidi, turned 47 on this infamous day, is even more beautiful now than she was a decade ago when life forever turned 9-11 from her birth date to the most memorable and tragic date in American history.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ultimate Divas: The Greatest Female Vocalists of Our Time, various artists


Ultimate Divas: The Greatest Female Vocalists of Our Time, various artists (Arista):

The trouble with collections such as this is the inevitable quibbling they invite over the inclusion of one artist and the exclusion of another.

Forget such debates and enjoy its outstanding assemblage of 17 women gifted with pipes and panache.

Billie Holiday is a sublime way to start, her version of My Man (Mon Homme) impeccable in its phrasing and depth of feeling.

Lena Horne is both delicate and powerful on Stormy Weather.

Ella Fitzgerald is pure perfection with Someone to Watch Over Me.

Flash forward and we thrill to Gladys Knight’s soulful Midnight Train to Georgia and ache when Diana Ross croons the poignant Touch Me in the Morning.

Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got to Do With It is still fresh after 15 years.

Only time will tell whether Annie Lennox (Why), Mary J. Blige (Not Gon’ Cry) and Toni Braxton (Un-Break My Heart) will have the staying power of uber-diva Aretha Franklin, who closes the collection with neither Respect nor Chain of Fools, but Puccini’s aria Nessun Dorma.


--Heidi Johnson-Wright

Friday, September 9, 2011

Seven More Minutes, The Rentals


Seven More Minutes, The Rentals (Maverick)

Barcelona, Spain must be an inspirational place.

Matt Sharp, bassist for Weezer and driving force behind the Rentals, wrote or co-wrote this wonderful album’s songs in that city and even named one of the tunes after it.

Besides references to discos and transvestites, the song features commanding guitar, a compelling hook and kicky electronic fuzz.

It’s the coolest tune the Pixies never did.

And though the apparent influence of other bands – including the Beatles – pops up throughout, the Rentals are no mere imitators.

Of course, one expects impressive things from a band who’s collaborators include Blur’s Damon Albarn and Elastica’s Donna Matthews.

The result is a delightful mix of pop, punk and powerful hooks that’s at turns lighthearted and ominous.

She Says It’s Alright pairs a gentle, little tune with lyrics that painfully convey a lover’s indifference.

The hard rocking Keep Sleeping hints at the ugliness of possessiveness: “When you leave your friends for me/the itinerary is a thousand places we could be.”

--Heidi Johnson-Wright

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Nashville Sessions, Leftover Salmon


The Nashville Sessions, Leftover Salmon (Hollywood)

Eclectic, electric and boatloads of fun best describes this collection by this Boulder, Colo.-based group.

The roots-oriented quintet left their mountain turf for Nashville where they brought together talent from Taj Mahal to “Big Head” Todd Park Mohr.

The fruit of their toil is wonderfully listenable and remarkably cohesive given the diversity of artists involved.

The backbone of the Salmon is bluegrass, so the album opens appropriately with the mountain music of Midnight Blues.

Guest musicians Del and Ronnie McCoury ably contribute to the lively track.

The catchy, earthy Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes is Mahal’s masterful contribution complete with his gorgeously gritty vocals and delightful dobro stylings.

Heavy hitting talent Waylon Jennings scores big with his tune, Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.

The song, rendered as a duet with Salmon Vince Herman, asks whether country music has strayed from its roots and its vision.

Lines Around Your Eyes, a Cajun-style ripsnorter penned by Lucinda Williams finds her delivering powerhouse vocals on this track about the pitfalls of love and passion.

Also of note is the irresistible Latin-flavored Dance On Your Head featuring Bela Fleck on banjo and the up-tempo country rocker On The Other Side, blessed with the harmonica magic of Blues Traveler’s John Popper.

--Heidi Johnson-Wright

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bif Naked review


I Bificus, Bif Naked (Lava/Atlantic):

In this crazy post-feminist climate, “you go, girl” seems to be a philosophy, incantation and battle cry all at once.

Enter Bif Naked, a straight-edge, straight-on pop punker with mucho moxie, a gift for songwriting and a voice that can sear or soothe, depending on her mood.

With kohl-heavy Siouxsie Sioux meets Salome looks, she doesn’t want anyone’s head on a platter – just take her seriously, please.

Easy enough, she’s earned it.

I Bificus is a musical juggernaut that kicks from start to finish and improves with successive plays.

The opener, I Died, takes no prisoners with its tale of devastation at the hands of a lover over lunch.

“I died eating french fries/in the restaurant on the corner,/where you broke my heart” might be ditzy fluff coming from a more lightweight artist, but from Bif the words are gut wrenching and existentialist deep.

She explores the betrayal of infidelity in the frenzied, punk-pulsating Moment of Weakness and in the thunderous Only the Girl in which her vocals grow from vulnerable to snarling.

So much more than a punkette scorned, Bif delivers a joyful if guarded tribute to true love in the undulating Lucky.

Anything is a delightful, detail-rich portrait of first love.

--Heidi Johnson-Wright

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bryan Ferry Review


Bryan Ferry: As Time Goes By

As Time Goes By, Bryan Ferry (Virgin):
There are really two Bryan Ferrys.

The first is the former driving force behind Roxy Music, art-rock band extraordinaire of the ‘70s and early ‘80s.

The other Ferry is the elegant, debonair cabaret singer who’s world is awash in sighs, soulful glances and songs about pitching woo.

As Time Goes By is firmly rooted in his latter alter ego with Ferry delivering 15 standards from the ‘20s and ‘30s in his wonderfully woozy, world-weary style.

And though the arrangements and instrumentation – strings, brass, woodwinds, brushes on the snare – are exquisite, it’s Ferry’s understated yet passionate singing that makes it all work.

He’s light and vibrant on Easy Living and Lover Come Back To Me and deeply romantic on Time On My Hands and Where Or When, deftly avoiding the trap of camp exaggeration which has, at times, plagued his earlier cover albums.

The disc’s piece de resistance is Ferry’s smoky, exotic rendition of I’m In The Mood For Love.

Here Martin Denny tropical lounge music meets the dreamy watercolor world best exemplified by Roxy’s Avalon.

Former bandmates Phil Manzanera and Andy Newmark play on the cut.

--Heidi Johnson-Wright

Monday, September 5, 2011

TAX CREDITS CREATE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING - 11


TAX CREDITS CREATE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

By Steve Wright

Even with success stories such as the Monte Cristo, Peterson still said the supply of affordable housing is not keeping pace with the demand. To increase opportunities and make low income housing more efficient and in-line with Smart Growth principles, he would:

• Make all layers of housing subsidies work seamlessly together.
• Encourage mixed income developments.
• Encourage more urban density and land efficiency.
• Build more affordable housing around public transit.
• Encourage more Green Building practices.
• Create some form of inclusionary zoning that generates housing units.
• Streamline zoning, permitting and other development processes to control spiraling costs.
• Ask For-Profit and Non-Profit to work together more.
• Push for better results from programs and services that work with special needs housing such as those serving disabled, homeless, farm worker and offender re-entry populations.
• Add another layer of subsidy to the Tax Credit program to develop Workforce Housing.

Wright frequently writes about smart growth and sustainable communities. He and his wife live in a restored historic home in the heart of Miami’s Little Havana. Contact him at: stevewright64@yahoo.com


Sunday, September 4, 2011

TAX CREDITS CREATE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING - 10


TAX CREDITS CREATE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

By Steve Wright

In the Pacific Northwest, Bob Peterson – Manager of the Tax Credit Division of Washington State Housing Finance Commission -- is particularly proud of the historic Monte Cristo Hotel in Everett, Washington.

The hotel, which once set vacant and neglected for more than two decades, was converted to affordable housing 15 years ago and is still going strong. One hundred percent of its 68 units are rented to people earning no more than 60 percent of the Area Gross Adjusted Income, the standard LIHTC requirement.

The rehabilitation of an old hotel has a mix of studios, one- and two-bedroom units. Because Washington requires tax credit recipients to maintain affordability for 40 years, the Monte Cristo’s units will be available to low income renters for at least another quarter century.

“Housing needs differ not only from state-to-state but also within counties,” Peterson said. “More flexibility should be given to local communities to `fill’ in their housing gaps using these current resources. It would be nice to have incentive-based programs vs. legislating the development of affordable housing.”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

TAX CREDITS CREATE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING - 9


TAX CREDITS CREATE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

By Steve Wright

Egan also promotes a holistic approach to affordable housing, such as those detailed in “Increasing the Availability of Affordable Homes -- A Handbook of High-Impact State and Local Solutions,” prepared by the Center for Housing Policy (CHP).

The publication details how Fairfax County, Virginia recently approved a plan to rezone an area near a mass transit stop to increase density substantially on land formerly occupied by an older, low-density subdivision of 65 homes plus five acres previously used for surface parking.

The new MetroWest development will have about 2,250 condominiums, apartments and townhouses; up to 300,000 square feet of office space; and, up to 190,000 square feet of retail space.

“During negotiations over the proposed MetroWest development, Fairfax County secured a promise from Pulte Homes, the developer, that approximately five percent of the homes would be affordable — almost double the number required under current Fairfax County provisions for developments of this density,” the CHP handbook explains.

NHC’s Egan said higher density zoning with boosted Floor Area Ratios for development can create room for affordable housing on even a pricey piece of land, quipping “God isn’t making anymore land, but he is using FAR.”

Friday, September 2, 2011

TAX CREDITS CREATE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING - 8


TAX CREDITS CREATE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

By Steve Wright

The State of Ohio also now requires projects that receive tax credits -- family, senior, disabled and permanent supportive housing for the homeless – to remain affordable for 30 years. The demand for low income housing remains so high that the state is still only capable of funding about one out of every four applications each year.

To further assist with gap financing, Ohio created a housing trust fund. To generate dollars for the trust fund, the state doubled the fee people pay for recording all official documents with the County Recorders.

Conrad Egan, President and CEO of the National Housing Conference (NHC), praised the federal tax credit program administered by states for its “overall efficiency, economy of delivery and longtime sustainability.”

But he said affordable housing is too much of a “lasagna deal,” with several layers of financing required in addition to tax credits to make an affordable rental project’s numbers work.

Egan said it would be easier for affordable rentals to be created if all the layers of funding were done in one cycle, so developers would not be carrying land costs and hamstringed from breaking ground until several different agencies approve their projects.

“Nothing drives developers crazy like a lack of predictability,” he said.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

TAX CREDITS CREATE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING - 7


TAX CREDITS CREATE AFFORDABLE RENTAL HOUSING

By Steve Wright
While many are trying to make historic tax credits more available for affordable housing preservation, the state of Ohio is among the leaders in setting aside conventional Low-Income Housing Tax Credits for the restoration and preservation of existing units.

Ohio is one of eight states that reserves 25 percent or more of its LIHTC for preservation. To make sure preservation really works on older properties, the state requires extensive rehabilitation work to bring the existing up to modern code, to boost energy efficiency and to upgrade to minimum accessibility standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We are making a number of efforts to preserve affordable housing,” said Kevin Clark, the Housing Credit Allocation Manager Ohio Housing Finance Agency. “We set aside a quarter of our tax credit allocation for preservation of existing affordable housing -- most for preserving a Section 8 building, or properties financed by HUD, some created with rural development funds and also older tax credit properties, deals that had to be affordable for 15 years but now could go market rate.”