Resistance building in Central Jersey to GOP’s healthcare policies

A group of more than 50 protesters rallied outside Rep. Leonard Lance’s office in Westfield on Wednesday to call for the protection of the Affordable Care Act under President Donald Trump’s administration. Nick Muscavage/Staff Video

Protest

WESTFIELD – Armed with signs reading “Resist Trump,” “Down with Trump, Down with Lance,” “Medicare for All” and “Resist and Persist,” they gather every Wednesday on the sidewalk outside Rep. Leonard Lance’s (R-District 7) office on North Avenue to show they don’t like what’s going on in Washington.

This Wednesday, more than 50 people, most proud to be called “progressives,” braved a chilly wind during evening rush hour to protest the possibility of changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cuts of federal aid to Planned Parenthood.

Sometimes it was hard to hear what they were saying or, in some cases, singing because of the car horns being honked in solidarity.

The protesters ranged in age from the freshman president of the Westfield High School Young Democrats Club to those who took part in protests against the Vietnam War in their college days.

“This is amazing,” Christine Sadovy, advocacy director of Planned Parenthood of Central and Greater Northern New Jersey, said about the turnout. A rally was also scheduled at the same time outside Lance’s office in Raritan Township.

Sadovy said the Republican majority in Congress may remove Planned Parenthood from the Affordable Care Act, making birth control and other services of the organization unaffordable for women.

“Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition,” she said. “That’s not fair.”

“If Planned Parenthood is defunded, millions of people across the country would lose access to the vital preventive reproductive health care services they rely on,”  Sadovy said. “New Jersey residents do not want to see reproductive health care under attack, and that’s why we are making our voices heard loud and clear.”

“Women deserve access to health care no matter their insurance level,” said Mara Natale of New Providence.

Her friend, Plainfield resident Robert Sanchez who carried a sign, “Bad Hombre and Nasty Woman for Planned Parenthood,” said he came to the rally “to support Progressive values at a grassroots level.”

Mountain View Wesleyan Church Makes Mats For The Homeless

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Earlier this year, several women from their crochet club discussed making mats for the homeless out of plastic bags. Little did they know it would lead into a ministry of its own. Today they have a group that gets together every Tuesday morning from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the church to prepare the plastic bags for another group of crocheter’s, many who are a part of their crochet club that meets the fourth Tuesday of every month.

The process started with collecting bags, as each mat takes approximately 600 bags to complete. Next they started to prepare the bags- flatten, trim, cut, open, tie and roll into balls. When they soon realized the project was really in preparing the plarn (plastic yarn) and decided that we could involve others from the church in the project. So in July, they began meeting at the church every Tuesday morning to make the plarn. The ladies really enjoyed the time of fellowship and have now prepared enough plarn to complete ten mats (over 6,000 bags).

During the process we made contact with a few organizations that work with homeless people that we could donate the mats to. We quickly realized the need and for now, have no plans to stop making them.

It is with great honor that the first ten mats will be going to Franklin Homme, Commander of Disabled Veterans Lehigh Valley Chapter Seven (pictured below). Homme works for the Department of Veteran Affairs, helping vets get back on their feet.

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This project has gotten so many people involved, both inside and outside the church. They have several places that collect the bags for them. Lattemann’s Corner Store and Deli has a collection box as well with one of the mats on display. The Hair Hut in Walnutport has a young lady collecting bags for them as her service project. Several local stores allow them to collect from the recycled bag collection boxes as well.

Making the plarn has several steps and takes long to make, so recently another church, Bender’s Mennonite in Pen Argyl as gotten a group together to help make the plarn and plan to meet every other Monday from 12 until 3 p.m. at their church.

This project has branched out and become a blessing to so many and they haven’t even reached their intended destination yet. Perhaps the only thing better is they haven’t incurred any cost for this project. However, if the group continues to grow they may need to find a couple heavy-duty paper cutters.

As long as there is a need and the help is provided, the mats will continue to be made.

If anyone would like to help by collecting bags, prepping or crocheting a mat, call MVW Church at 610-759-7553 and leave a message for Gloria Koch.

Historic Northampton Street Fair Beat The Heat | 9/15

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by Justin Sweitzer

The historic Northampton Street Fair closed off Main Street on Saturday, September 10 for a day filled with food and festivities that brought many from the borough and beyond to the heart of Northampton.

The event was organized by the Northampton Area Chamber of Commerce and saw well over 60 vendors occupy the streets from 10 a.m. through 5 p.m.

There was something for everyone at the street fair, with homemade crafts and gifts available for collectors and shoppers alike, ranging from handmade glassware and custom crafted fishing rods to accessories for pets and accessories for the jewelry-lovers.

A basket raffle was also held with over 300 baskets up for grabs. They featured a variety of products including gift cards, kitchen supplies, sports-related products and other seasonal items.

Some groups used the opportunity to promote their causes and raise money, including area cub scout and girl scout troops, as well as the Lehigh Valley Tea Party.

Foodies had a variety of choices to pick from including slow-smoked barbecue, Rita’s Italian Ice and other food stands.

Children also joined in on the action, as many happily paraded through the street with painted faces and snow cone-stained-lips, showing their excitement despite the blistering heat that accompanied the fair.

The historic Roxy movie theatre opened its doors for self-guided tours, with access to scrapbooks and newspaper clippings retelling the theatre’s storied history since its inception. Owner Richard Wolfe was available for questions regarding the theatre, with many reliving and sharing stories from their youth with him.

A stroll backstage took fair-goers back to the dressing rooms previously occupied by some of entertainment’s biggest stars.

Not far outside the theatre doors was a stage featuring live music throughout the day, adding to the fulfillment of those in attendance.

Tony Pristash, president of the Northampton Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber was pleased with the sizeable crowd who came out in spite of the heat and humidity that joined them.

“We beat the heat,” Pristash said with a laugh, “We’re very happy for the crowd.”

The ‘Full House’ Reboot Is Coming Soon—Check Out the Home’s New Look

Full House cast

Many a fan of the ’80s sitcom “Full House” has made the pilgrimage to the San Francisco home where the three men and three young girls had their misadventures. (Actually four young girls, but that’s counting both Olsen twins who, you’ll recall, played one person. But you knew that, right?) Ah, the memories…. Remember when Stephanie got chicken pox and spread it to Jesse and Joey? Or when D.J. was freaking out about the SATs and Uncle Jesse stuffed a walkie-talkie into a breakfast burrito so he could feed her the answers? We’re still chuckling over that one.

The upcoming Netflix spinoff series, “Fuller House,” has reunited most of the cast (sans the Olsen twins, sadly) and, more importantly, brought the iconic home back into the spotlight—and with a new, colorful paint job, it looks better than ever. On Thursday, “Full House” and “Fuller House” star Candace Cameron Bure posted a photo of herself in front of it, with these words: “Welcome to my childhood home.”

A lot of viewers mistakenly thought the original house was one of San Francisco’s famous Victorian homes known as the Painted Ladies,” but the real house used for the exterior shots, at 1709 Broderick St., is a less elaborate building in Lower Pacific Heights. At the time of the show, it was painted all white, with a red door.

4 Fast Solutions for Last Minute Mortgage Problems

problem-solvingGetting a mortgage can be stressful, especially when last-minute issues crop up that can stop the process in its tracks. These surprises are unpleasant, but they don’t have to spell disaster for your mortgage if you act quickly.

Problem: Additional Documentation is Needed

Your lender calls you days before closing and requests additional documentation. This most often occurs when the lender needs to verify closing funds or requires proof that all conditions for approval are satisfied, such as settling a debt.

Solution: To rectify it quickly, take the required paperwork to the lender in person, if possible. If not, see if you can send it by email or other digital means. The final option is to send a fax directed to the attention of the loan officer who is working on your mortgage.

How To Avoid It: Contact your lender no less than one week before closing and make sure there’s no additional paperwork you need to turn in.

Problem: Paperwork Error

An error in your paperwork has brought the loan process to a halt. This issue can range from the misspelling of a name to erroneous financial figures.

Solution:Include all necessary supporting documentation when you submit the corrections to increase your chances of a timely closing.

How To Avoid It: Review all of your application and loan paperwork well ahead of closing and keep an eye out for errors, no matter how trivial. Be especially diligent about the loan amount, down payment, interest rate and closing costs.

Problem: Unavailable Payments

Lenders require you to pay the funds for your down payment and closing costs on closing day from certified funds, and this is often done by a direct bank transfer. However, bank errors and other delays can cause this option to fail, leaving you unable to close.

Solution: You can’t use personal checks for this purpose, so your only option to fix this situation fast is to request a certified or cashier’s check from your bank and bring it with you to closing.

How To Avoid It: Arrange for the transfer to happen a few days in advance of the closing date to leave room for possible hiccups.

Problem: Unexpected Problems During Final Walk-Through

Lenders require assessment of the property before signing off on a mortgage. This is often done near the end of the process, which can be trouble if the condition of the property has deteriorated since the first appraisal inspection.

Solution: After discussing the extent and costs of the repairs with the inspector, talk to your real estate agent about having the sellers pay for any necessary repairs. This is usually negotiated by requesting the seller’s escrow funds or by increasing their closing costs to cover the expenses.

How To Avoid It: Request the inspection a few weeks before closing to ensure that any problems are found and dealt with before you’re at the table.

mortgage applications drop 6.7% on interest rate swings

What goes up must come down, especially when it comes to today’s highly rate-sensitive mortgage borrowers.

Total mortgage application volume fell 6.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the week ending September 25 versus one week earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). This, after volume had jumped by double digits the previous week.

Why the volatility?

Because interest rates are swinging relatively widely day-to-day, due to volatility in the U.S. stock market and overseas financial markets.

A Bank of America branch in New York City.

This, however, does not show up in the weekly averages: The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 4.08 percent from 4.09 percent, with points remaining unchanged from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

“Once again, the weekly average mortgage rate is not telling the story regarding mortgage application volume,” said Michael Fratantoni, chief economist for the MBA. “The prior week included days with much lower rates due to volatility around the Fed’s announcement that drove refinance volume up. Last week, a more stable rate produced less volume, as rates at this level just do not provide an incentive for most homeowners to refinance.”

Refinance application volume decreased 8 percent from the previous week, on a seasonally adjusted basis. Applications to purchase a home, which are less rate-sensitive, fell 6 percent from one week earlier but are 20 percent higher than the same week one year ago, according to the MBA.

Lower purchase volume seems to indicate that the slowdown in home buying will continue. Both signed contracts to buy homes and closed home sales fell more than expected in August, according to the National Association of Realtors. Fall is traditionally the start of the slower housing season, but this year the signs point to a bigger slowdown than usual.

“While September and October look steady, there are early signs that point to a softening market in the final two months of the year,” according to a new report from Redfin, a real estate brokerage. “The number of Redfin customers touring homes held steady from July to August, but fewer people actually made offers.”

Next Monday lenders will face new regulations for disclosing loan information. While they have had considerable time to adapt their systems, some expect that could stall closings on some home purchases and even deter certain borrowers from applying for a mortgage refinance.

Choosing to crowdfund the real estate market

While high-technology and community ventures have dominated the headlines when it comes to crowdfunding, more challenging areas of investment, such as real estate, are also finding success, according to one industry executive.

More people are being drawn into this increasingly crowded space, with platforms like Realty Mogul, Property Moose and Fundrise leading a sector which globally raised over $1 billion in real estate during 2014. By the end of this year, that figure is expected to almost triple, up $2.57 billion worldwide, according to a Massolution report released this year.

“I always wanted to provide access to more investors and crowdfunding is a perfect way to do that. You can give access to tens of thousands of investors online, and make it as easy to buy stocks or bonds online.”

In the aftermath of 2007/2008’s global financial meltdown, people’s faith in traditional institutions became unsteady, so the rise of crowdfunding, pop-ups and unique ideas became increasingly attractive.

Consequently, investors have become more conscious with how they spend their money, and crowdfunding should provides opportunities suitable even during recession periods, which is a key focus of Helman’s company.

“Investors need a place to live in both good times and bad times.”

On Realty Mogul, investors are invited to pool together their money with other users to invest in a real-estate project, putting in as little a $5,000. The average return for the investments put out on Realty Mogul varies on risk level, however, Helman estimated it can range from 7 percent to as high as 20 percent.

As the latest S&P/Case-Shiller index showed U.S. house prices continued to rise this July, up 5 percent more affordable places to live are becoming more attractive, so Realty Mogul has got investors interested in the mobile home park space, where more than 20 million U.S. citizens currently reside.

Already over 17,000 active institutional investors have joined Realty Mogul’s community, having invested more than $80 million in over 250 estates, since the platform went live in 2013.

Defining itself as the “e-trade of real estate investing,” iFunding, a New York based investment platform, has fully funded multiple property developments worth over $1 million.

Across the Atlantic on Wednesday, residential property platform, Property Partner, listed a mortgaged investment for sale on its site – a European first– made up of three individual flats in Greater London, all of which were fully crowdfunded within 62 minutes of its launch.

Bulls Guard Jimmy Butler Nails Chicago Townhouse for $4.3M

Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls

Long after the heyday of Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls superstars are still treated like royalty in the Windy City. Latest proof: Bulls’ elite guard Jimmy Butler, who just purchased this stylish townhouse in city’s hot River North area for $4.3 million.

Butler has become an impact player with the Bulls ever since being drafted from Marquette University in 2011. Last year, he was selected for the NBA All-Star team and named the league’s most improved player.

Butler comes a long way from his teenage years, some of which he spent homeless in his native Texas. He signed a five-year, $95 million contract with the Bulls in July, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, which also broke the story of his townhouse deal.

Butler’s new living room

Butler's new living room

Butler’s new place, built in 2008, has 10,000 square feet of living space over four floors, three outdoor terraces, an elevator, and a 750-bottle wine cellar.

The home was listed for $4.6 million on Sept. 8, and the sale closed Sept. 15. The seller, reports Crain’s, was Greg Mutz, CEO of apartment development company AMLI Residential. Mutz had paid roughly $3.4 million for the home when it was built in 2008, Crain’s says. Randy McGhee was the listing agent for the property.

Housing today A ‘bubble larger than 2006’

Home prices are gaining steam again, fueled by tight supply amid growing demand.
Nationally, home prices were nearly 7 percent higher in August compared to a year ago, according to a new report from CoreLogic. That is a bigger annual gain than we saw during the spring market in May and June. Other monthly reports have shown the same phenomenon.

“It is clear that house price growth has picked up recently,” noted analysts at Capital Economics, comparing August’s annual gain to a 4.8 percent rise in February. “Indeed, with the months’ supply of homes close to a 10-year low, if anything, both CoreLogic and Case-Shiller are reporting slower growth than might be expected.”

Sold sign on house real estate

While home prices nationally have not yet returned to their peak of the last housing boom, some local markets have surpassed it. Now, some claim the housing market is in a bubble far worse than the devastating one in 2006. The argument: Housing is far less affordable today than it was back then, and the home price gains are driven not by healthy, end-user demand but by a lack of construction, artificially low interest rates, and institutional and foreign all-cash buyers.

“In the days of ‘anything goes,’ ninja financing caused housing prices to lurch higher, which forced people to rush in and buy, which in turn pushed prices higher, thus increasing volume more, and so on. But when it comes to the new-era, end-user buyer, that can’t happen any longer, as buyers actually have to fundamentally ‘qualify’ for the mortgage for which they apply,” wrote housing analyst Mark Hanson in a note to clients.

Hanson, often criticized for being a housing bear, points to the institutional and foreign buyers who have flooded the market since 2012, buying up distressed and lower-priced homes, as well as some new construction, all with cash. He calls it an exact replay of the last housing boom, “when unorthodox demand with unorthodox capital would pay any price it took to hit the bid.”

California-based real estate analyst John Burns, of John Burns Real Estate Consulting, called Hanson’s premise “ridiculous.” He said you cannot compare affordability today to the heady days of the housing boom when anyone could get a loan with no money down and artificial — now illegal — teaser rates.

“That was an awkward, unusual period that is not coming back,” said Burns, who claims 90 percent of the nation’s local markets are “affordable” when home prices are weighed against income.

He also pointed to low down payment FHA loans. “All you have to do is show up with that down payment and prove your income,” he said.

That said, rising mortgage rates are a concern, Burns said, admitting home prices have been inflated in part by artificially low rates.

“We will have a problem if rates go up,” he added.

First-time homebuyers, who are having a very hard time getting back into the housing market, say they are often outbid by all-cash buyers. In markets that were particularly hard-hit by the housing crash, like Phoenix, Las Vegas and Atlanta, they simply cannot compete with investors.

Investors put a floor on prices during the recession, but they also drove them far higher than expected. Institutional investors may make up a small percentage of overall homes purchased since 2012, but they make up a huge share of buyers of distressed, low-priced properties. Also, the impact of individual investors and foreign buyers is largely underplayed. They, too, come bearing cash.

“In short, end-users today are being handed a red-hot potato market already in a bubble larger than 2006,” noted Hanson.

The argument is founded in basic mortgage math. The majority of regular, owner-occupant homebuyers today need to get a mortgage to finance the purchase. Unlike during the last housing boom, when money was basically free, they have to have a down payment, good credit and enough income to qualify for the debt.

Even with interest rates today considerably lower than they were during the housing boom, housing today is far more expensive. Buyers can’t just pay interest on the loan, they have to pay principal as well. They have to put at least 3 percent down, and if they are using that low a down payment, they have to pay mortgage insurance. The income needed to qualify for a loan today is also far higher than it was then.

Wall Street appears to believe that housing is going gangbusters right now, because prices are jumping and demand is returning. Home construction, however, while improving from the depths of a pit, is still dramatically lower than it was not just during the housing boom but even during more normal housing cycles. That is the disconnect.

“Four years in, I would think the housing market would be further along. I think it means we’re going to have a longer, slower recovery,” said Doug Yearley, CEO of luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers,on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” last week.

In the same interview, Yearly claimed housing is more affordable today than it was during the last housing boom. That may be because prices have not returned to those peaks.

But as with everything in real estate, affordability often has to do with location. For young adults in big cities and hot real estate markets, homebuying can be a challenge.

A caller into C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” on Tuesday morning identified herself as Rachael, a married, working millennial who pays $1,600 a month to rent her one-bedroom apartment in Northern Virginia, but, “would love to buy a condo.” She said she cannot afford the sky-high prices.

“It gets really expensive for a first-time homebuyer,” she said.

Getting a mortgage may take longer under new rules

The goal is to make the mind-numbing mortgage process much easier for consumers to understand. It’s called Know Before You Owe, which sounds simple enough.

The means to that goal, however, is all-new paperwork and disclosure rules for lenders that went into effect this past Saturday and which some say could delay the mortgage process and cost consumers cash.

The standardized forms spell out exactly how much a borrower must pay for closing costs and how much each monthly payment will be as the loan ages and potentially adjusts, right up until its term ends.

Borrowers must get these new, standardized forms at least three days before closing on the loan, which is a shift from previous standards, which allowed changes to be made on a loan right up to and even during the closing.

Mortgage application process

“I think that’s a big one because consumers have been complaining about this left and right because they would get to the signing table and suddenly everything would change,” said Jason van den Brand, CEO of Lenda, an online mortgage refinance company operating in Washington, Oregon and California. “So you get quoted something and the loan gets locked, and you get to the closing table and suddenly the rate has gone up by a quarter percent, your fees have gone up $10,000 and you’re sitting there scratching your head going, what just happened?”

This is another outgrowth of the Dodd-Frank law, passed in 2010, designed to hold lenders accountable and protect consumers against what happened during the last housing boom. Back then, lenders offered borrowers loans with complicated terms, adjustments and penalties, without having to fully explain them.

Some borrowers didn’t even know their loans could adjust to higher payments or that the loans themselves were actually growing in size. Many of those risky loan products have been banned, but adjustable-rate loans are still perfectly legal and considered beneficial for many borrowers, as long as the borrowers know what they’re getting into.

The new rules (TILA RESPA Integrated Disclosure or TRID, if you really want to know) were completed two years ago, and the final date for implementation was even delayed three more months to make sure lenders could comply. At the heart of it are two forms, one providing the loan estimate and one the closing disclosure.

Those forms are designed to simplify the process for borrowers, but lenders have spent billions of dollars updating their systems to make sure they are complying, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, which has a TRID Resource tab on its website. Some worry that even now lenders and real estate agents are just not ready.

“I think if we see a significant slowdown, and it doesn’t have to be that significant 30 to 60 [days] is pretty significant, if we see that slowdown start to happen, we’re going to see deals fall through and lenders change in the middle, and that’s the cascading effect that we are most concerned about,” said Mark McElroy, CEO of Pavaso, a digital closing platform.

Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which is behind the new rules, reiterated in testimony to Congress last week that there will be something of a grace period for lenders to comply.

“Nobody believes that market participants are going to be trying to abuse consumers here; they’re trying to change their systems. So we’ll be diagnostic and corrective, not punitive, and there will be time for them to work to get it right and not be perfect on the first day,” said Cordray.

With the rules just 2 days old, Matt Weaver, vice president of mortgage sales at Finance of America Mortgage, a Blackstone Company, says it appears the sky has not in fact fallen, but he does expect to see delays, especially at the big banks, where closing time could stretch out to 60 or 75 days.

“There is a fee to extend rate locks. The question is, is that cost going to be passed on to the client. From an overall perspective, the market is saying slow down. It will all work itself out, but out of the gate we certainly are going to see some turbulence with the larger banks simply because of their volume,” said Weaver.

Independent lenders, like Finance of America, may have an easier time, as they control every aspect of the process. Weaver said his company hired additional staff and underwriters to be able to facilitate and narrow the time gap.

Realtors are most concerned, however, because the majority of those buying a home today are also selling a home, and time is always of the essence. Mortgage delays caused by the new rules could throw a wrench into some sales.

“When you are trying to brace them for a longer, drawn-out closing, that causes a panic,” added Weaver.

The best advice for borrowers is to prepare for delays, have all paperwork ready before even starting the process and possibly even spend the extra money upfront for a longer lock term.