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WASHINGTON – The number of homes under construction fell 8.7 percent in February, as ground breakings for single-family houses plunged to their lowest level in nearly two years.

The Commerce Department said that builders started construction at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.16 million units last month, down from a 1.27 million pace in January. The setback stems from a 17 percent drop in the building of single-family houses, which posted the weakest pace since May 2017. Apartment construction increased in February.

Single-family housing starts are running 2.3 percent below last year's pace. Lower mortgage rates at the start of 2019 appear to be boosting buyer demand for housing, but builders are contending with rising costs for labor and land that also limit new construction. Cold weather in February also likely contributed to the decline in housing starts, while recent flooding in the Midwest might dampen building in that region.

“Today's lackluster release is likely due to poor weather conditions,” said Matthew Speakman, an economist analyst at the real estate company Zillow. “The outlook for home construction should improve was we turn the corner into spring, but that could take longer in parts of the country where flooding continues into late March.”

Starts plummeted 29.5 percent in the Northeast. They declined by 6.8 percent in the South and 18.9 percent in the West. Home construction increased 26.8 percent in the Midwest, but the gains came entirely from apartment complexes.

A separate report said the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index increased 3.6 percent in January from a year earlier. That's down from a 4.1 percent pace the previous month.

 

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In 2014, real estate developer Vanessa Sturgeon inked a deal with City Hall to build a 30-story downtown residential and office tower, the fourth tallest on the Portland skyline.

That tower, Park Avenue West, was a win for city officials, who had watched the property sit fallow for so many years it had earned a nickname: "the Moyer Hole," after owner Tom Moyer, Sturgeon's grandfather. It was a win for Sturgeon, whose building would be allowed to soar 30 stories—because the city agreed to let her build higher than zoning codes would usually allow.

And it was supposed to be a win for organized labor: In exchange for permission to build higher, Sturgeon agreed to contract with a company that hired union cleaners and security guards in the commercial parts of the building. (She also paid the city $100,000.)

But Sturgeon hired no contractors for cleaning.

Instead, she found a way to wiggle out of the deal: Commercial tenants at Park Avenue West would hire their own non-union cleaners and the agreement did not explicitly prohibit that.

"The intent was to require cleaning staff to be represented [by a union]," says Marshall Runkel, chief of staff to City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly. "Everyone agrees that is not happening." Runkel concedes City Hall cut a lousy deal: "The rule and agreement were not written well."

Service Employees International Union Local 49 says the deal is clear enough—the city just isn't enforcing it. Sturgeon, through an assistant, declined to comment. Her attorney, in letters to the city, contends she is abiding by the agreement.

"I thought we agreed to fair treatment—and fair wages—for janitors providing services to Park Avenue West, and I'm disappointed we haven't had a better partner" in Sturgeon's company, TMT Development, says City Commissioner Nick Fish. "I certainly didn't expect we'd spin our wheels for this long arguing over the letter and spirit of the deal."

The case of Park Avenue West is important because it demonstrates how the city gives away millions of dollars worth of value to developers—without ensuring they keep their end of the deal.

City zoning rules limit how high a building may be built on a property, by calculating the square footage allowed on each floor. This measurement is called floor-area ratio, or FAR.

When developers want to build higher, they may buy development privileges from other property owners to build more. (In the case of Park Avenue West, City Hall granted the development permission that would have belonged to a building erected above city-owned plaza Director Park.)

The city is now studying how to sell more development privileges on city-owned land through FAR transfers to developers looking to build higher and more densely in the central city.

An executive summary by consulting firm EcoNorthwest estimates the sale of such privileges could bring in nearly $63 million for the city by 2035. But what happened at Director Park raises a red flag whether the city can enforce the rules it places on such trades—including a requirement to build affordable housing.
"If we can't hold them accountable at least one time, why would they ever believe they have to be accountable?" says Felisa Hagins, political director of SEIU Local 49.

Over the past three years, City Hall and Sturgeon's company, TMT Development, have exchanged a series of letters through their attorneys without resolution.
Union members hope companies that pay union wages and provide benefits will get the jobs.

Nonunion minimum wage jobs pay $12 an hour in Portland. Union wages are at least $14 an hour after a probationary period, SEIU says, with roughly another $6 an hour in benefits.

"I'm hoping they change to a union company," said Renato Quintero, 52, a janitor and union vice president who cleans at Intel, at a protest earlier this month. "They charge a lot of money for wealthy people, but those who clean it hardly can make it to pay the rent every month."

In a statement to WW, the mayor's office appeared to give up.

"The city has gone as far as they legally are able to," says Mayor Ted Wheeler's spokeswoman Eileen Park. "We reiterate our values. The mayor believes in the importance of unions and the critical role they play in ensuring livable wages and benefits for employees."

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KALAMAZOO, MI — It's spring again, and that means the start of construction season. Road closed signs and orange cones are beginning to appear throughout Kalamazoo County. 

As crews begin to dig in, local officials are working to keep citizens informed. 

"Many of you remember last year was a very challenging year when it came to navigating downtown," Downtown Kalamazoo President Andrew Haan said during a recent meeting about construction projects near downtown Kalamazoo expected to impact traffic this summer. 

"We will have some challenges again this year," he said. "They will not be as disruptive."

The organization is working with the city to minimize impacts, he said, and plans to offer regular updates about construction activities in downtown Kalamazoo.

The city of Kalamazoo held a meeting on March 20 to highlight some of the construction projects happening this year in Kalamazoo, focused on the projects that would impact traffic in and around the downtown area. 

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DeStefano Architects of Portsmouth has won “Best of Customer Service” on Houzz, the online platform for home renovation and design. The honor is based on several factors, including D|A’s overall rating on Houzz.com and client reviews submitted in 2018.

 

Ellen Mulligan is being honored as the top producer for the Center Harbor Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage offices in Center Harbor and Wolfeboro with over $30 million in closed sales for 2018.

NHCIBOR Cares recently made two contributions totaling $2,000 to NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire. One gift is for general support of the organization’s work to create affordable housing opportunities in New Hampshire and the second is a directed gift from the DeStefano-Barrett Legacy Fund in honor of Robert Cruess, a member of NHCIBOR. Shown at the presentation are, from left: Jennifer Vadney, NeighborWorks Southern NH; Gaelen Cruess, TFMoran; Robert Tourigny, NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire; David Grappone, KW Commercial; and Laura Nesmith, Colliers International.

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has signed a long-term lease to occupy more than half of the 96,000-square-foot building at 5 Branch St. in Methuen, Mass. Renovation of the space is underway, and Dana-Farber expects to open in early 2020. Bob Richards of Cushman & Wakefield represented the tenant and Brooks Properties, owner of the property, was represented in-house.

Salem, NH-based Brooks recently completed a new four-story medical office building in Salem, and has three-story medical office building under construction in Salem as well.

Rick Schlager of Brentwood has rejoined Blue Water Mortgage Corp., an independent mortgage broker serving Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and Florida, as area manager and senior loan officer based in Hampton, NH. In addition, Blue Water has hired Kerry Donovan of Merrimack and Stephen Buchan as loan officers.

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TULSA, Oklahoma - Earlier this month the Better Business Bureau and Home Builders Association released its first joint press release warning those across Green Country about doing business with Engineered Concrete Systems.

 

As of this posting, there have been four formal complaints filed to the BBB and more than 250 inquires into the business.

 

Kenneth Miller hired Engineered Concrete Systems to seal his driveway and front porch in 2017. He says all this time later he’s out $7,200.00 and his driveway has never looked worse.

 

“It did look fairly good at the time,” Miller said. He explained it wasn’t until about three months after the work was done that the sealant on the driveway started to peel.

 

“It was cracking, it was turning white, it was bubbling up in places.”

 

Miller says he contacted the owner of Engineered Concrete Systems, Bill Holcombe, to tell him what was going on. He says, Bill told him the sealant can’t be applied during the winter months and to contact him in the spring to arrange a time they could come back out and look it over.

 

“I tried to contact him in the spring of 2018 and just had one problem after another, either he didn’t answer his phone or he was busy with something else.”

 

In an effort to get Holcombe face-to-face, Miller went to the Home and Garden Show in 2018 and confronted him saying that he wanted his driveway fixed and wanted a date that his crew would be out there to do the work.

 

In early August, Miller says a crew from Engineered Concrete Systems showed up at his home. He says they scrapped his driveway to get the sealant off and in the process even damaged sections of the concrete. Instead of making the situation better Miller claims they made it much, much worse.

 

It was after that situation that Miller fired Engineered Concrete Systems and told them they’re no longer allowed on his property. Miller contacted the BBB to file a complaint against Engineered Concrete Systems.

 

Since Miller filed his complaint with the BBB there have been at least two more, bringing the total to four. There have also been 266 inquiries into the company, more than 100 of those have come in since the BBB and HBA issued a warning to consumers about doing business with the company. We’re told a few of those calls have been very concerning.

 

We were able to get in touch with Mr. Holcombe’s attorney, Oliver Arbogast. He is standing behind his client and his client’s business practices saying that he did three million dollars in work last year and some of the projects haven’t been finished yet and some he admits will have to be redone.

 

“I know that there are some jobs going on that are going to have to be redone but Mr. Holcombe’s always been a man of his world,” Arbogast said.

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Construction starts Wednesday on a new police station in Royal Oak as part of its civic center project downtown. The station on 11 Mile Road between Second and Knowles streets would replace an older facility built in 1964.

The city of Royal Oak is closing 190 parking spots by the Farmers Market building Wednesday to begin construction of a new police station as part of the wider city center project.

Parking is a hot topic in the 60,000-resident Oakland County city — especially concerning the Royal Oak Civic Center, a multi-pronged construction effort clustered downtown east of Main Street and south of 11 Mile Road.

The closure for construction of the $19.1 million police station will leave 88 parking spaces in the Farmers Market lots, according to a spokeswoman for the city project.

The city contends that parking woes caused by the construction squeeze will be alleviated when a nearby 581-space parking structure opens in June. It also has an online parking guide and is offering free valet and shopping carts for market customers.

Worries about reducing parking by the Farmers Market — and downtown in general — prompted some farmers and business owners to band together in a group called Take Back Royal Oak Coalition and create SavetheFarmersMarket.com. Several businesses have complained over the past year that construction and lack of parking has hurt sales. And some farmers fear that transferring Farmers Market parking from nearby lots to the new parking deck will drive away shoppers.

Civic center progress

The Royal Oak Civic Center is a city-led development project with several components.

Ground first broke in May for a six-story office building from Lansing-based developer Boji Group on the site. It will house a $70 million Henry Ford Health System outpatient medical center.

Work on the public parking structure is nearly complete and construction started in December on a new $12.2 million City Hall building. The city also plans to demolish the current City Hall and replace it with a park.

The police station is up next. Construction work starts Wednesday on a replacement building that'll be adjacent to the Farmers Market. It's slated for 2020 completion.

"Our current facility was constructed in 1964 and is extremely outdated for the type of technology and equipment we use today," Royal Oak Police Chief Corrigan O'Donohue said in a news release.

It's designed to allow the force to operate more efficiently and spend more time out patroling, the release said. Improved features also include a more "modern lock up and booking area" and a bridge to the courthouse, according to the release.

 

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Ghana shortlists six companies for the Eastern railway project

Six out of 45 companies have been shortlisted to construct the Eastern rail project that will link Accra to Kumasi from Achimota to the Tema Port.

Chief Executive Officer of the Ghana Railway Development Authority (GRDA), Mr Richard Diedong Dombo, confirmed the reports and said arriving at the six shortlisted companies, the committee and the advisers took into consideration their financial and technical capacities.

“The government of Ghana cannot fund the project from its resources. On an infrastructure where the construction of a single kilometer on average cost about US $4m, we cannot rush things so we took our time to evaluate their financial and technical capacities” said Mr. Diedong Dombo.

The final six who come from the USA, France, Germany, China and Ghana, have been sent to a tender review committee for further evaluation and once approved, they would settle on the preferred contractor for the project.

The Eastern Railway project

The Eastern Railway project is part of GRDA master plan of modernizing the country’s network and adding 4,000km to its length. The gauge rail running from Accra to Kumasi has a total track length of 330km and the gauge is 1,067 mm. Re-construction of the rail is estimated to cost US $1bn with a single kilometer costing an estimated US $4m.

The reconstruction will include financing, development and operation of the line. It will also include the provision of rolling stock, station upgrades, signaling and communication equipment. The construction of the Eastern rail will be carried out in six stages and will be done on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis.

On the western rail line, Dombo said the authority was using the same process as there was currently an evaluation process on received bids out of which the preferred company would be chosen. The government had also taken a step to commit its own resources to construct 22 kilometres out of the 333km stretch.

“We have already awarded 5km to Amandi Constructions and a subsequent contract has also been signed subject to a value for value audit which is almost complete. Once the audit is completed by the ministry, then approval can be given for the construction of another 17km,” said Dombo.

 
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Ethiopia sets US $2bn for integrated community development project

Ethiopia has set aside US $2bn for integrated community development project in its capital Addis Ababa which will entail 4,000 apartment houses, three star hotels and recreation centres.

The country’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed during the launch of the project  said that according to the master plan, 1,600 households whose current dwelling will be demolished and later on be absorbed in the proposed apartments.

The first phase of the project will have shopping malls which will be finalized in three years. It is expected to energize the economy by creating around 25,000 jobs for Ethiopians. The development project also aims to preserve the historical and communal values of the area, while ensuring the current dwellers are also beneficiaries of the development project through ownership of some of the apartment units, challenging the previous practice of displacement.

“Eagle Hills has given us US $65m that will allow us to provide housing for those 1,600 households in the new project without being displaced from where they have been living for long,” said Mr Abiy.

Anticipating an influx of foreign businesses and tourists, Eagle Hills, the United Arab Emirates firm said La Gare would be anchored by four and five-star hotels, supported by retail outlets, offices and residential buildings. La Gare will be a new commercial hub for the city offering Grade A offices and leasehold commercial property.

The projects is set to cover 360,000 square meters in the city centre, on the former site of the capital’s central train station, La Gare, from which the scheme takes its name, the development is the first foray into Ethiopia for Eagle Hills.

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One million low cost houses are set to be constructed in Kenya by the government, in the next five years. This is in a move to make housing affordable to the citizens and ease the current housing deficit.

800,000 affordable housing units over the planned one million will be delivered under public private partnerships (PPPS) while the remaining 200,000 will be social housing.

Principal Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Arch. Aidah Munano confirmed the reports during the Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) Awards of Excellence in Architecture 2017 at Villa Rosa Kempinski, Nairobi and said that the initiative is worthy and calls for involvement of all stakeholders.

She further said that housing is one of four sectors of focus in the country’s transformational journey and the project will eventually include coming up with innovative delivery models. “The implementation of the programme calls for involvement of all stakeholders and will encompass coming up with innovative delivery models,” said Arch. Aidah.

The event brought together members of the construction industry fraternity in Kenya including architects, quantity surveyors, engineers, construction project managers, landscape architects, environmental design consultants and town planners.

Kenya currently has a housing deficit of 1.85 million houses due to rapid urbanization. The ministry of infrastructure, housing and urban development is however fast tracking the enactment of the Kenya Building Research Institute bill that will create a research organization to spearhead innovation of the latest technology to lower the cost of construction in the country.

The Architectural Association of Kenya

Architectural Association of Kenya is Kenya’s leading Association for professionals in the built and natural environment in Kenya incorporating Architects, Quantity Surveyors, Town Planners, Engineers, Landscape Architects and Environmental Design Consultants and Construction Project Managers.

 
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The refurbishment works being done at the Nyayo National Stadium, Kasarani Stadium and the Kipchoge Keino Stadium in Kenya will be completed in the next 60 days; this is according to Sports Cabinet Secretary Rashid Echesa.

The stadiums have been under renovation since 2017 but the slowness of construction works cost the country dearly after Kenya was denied rights to host the African Nations Championship (CHAN) early this year by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). Morocco was eventually chosen to replace Kenya and host the games.

Confederation of African football cited lack of preparedness on the part of Kenya as their reason for moving the biennial tournament set aside for local based players only. The fifth edition of the continental tournament took place between 11 January and 2 February 2018.

Also, the renovations have led to the Kenyan Premier League matches to be played on some sub-standard surfaces such as the Ruaraka grounds hence inconveniencing the players and football fans.

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Zimbabwe is planning to construct low cost houses that will approximately cost US $182m. This will target civil servants and other low income earners across the country.

The Finance and Economic Development Minister, Mr. Patrick Chinamasa confirmed the reports and said that the Government will partner the Infrastructure Development Bank of Zimbabwe and the Urban Development Corporation in coming up with various financing strategies for housing development.

The planned strategies comprise of: Home Ownership Schemes, largely funded by beneficiaries; Loan Funded Schemes, where the Local Authority, IDBZ, and UDCORP identify suitable land and mobilize funding for servicing before selling the stands to beneficiaries.

This strategy will also include formalization of informal settlements, where the Government and the beneficiaries meet the cost of the required off-site and on-site infrastructure.

Additionally, In support of privately funded schemes that will eventually address the housing backlog, the Government will also create the necessary synergies with banks, genuine housing co-operatives, Councils and other stakeholders, with a view of ensuring the housing backlog is reduced.

The new houses

The new houses are set to cater for civil servants and other low income earners across the country and will go a long way in narrowing the housing backlog. This will also ensure that Zimbabweans have decent shelters now and in the future.

This project will come in handy since the potential to own a home is swiftly moving out of reach for the most part of the population. With house plan costs and building costs rising in struggling economies, it is difficult to afford a well designed and constructed home yet there is a desperate need for affordability.

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