Category Archives: Consumer issues

Two assessments of issues behind the housing crisis

A couple of interesting articles looking at the issues in our current housing markets.

From Mother Jones: “Is Your City Being Sold Off to Global Elites?

That’s certainly a question that goes directly to our situation in Hawaii. The article digs into the situation in Vancouver, British Columbia, with a history of urban diversity.

It’s midmorning on a Saturday in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, and this is maybe the 20th example we’ve seen of what locals call the “empty-house syndrome”—homes purchased by foreign nationals, many of them wealthy Chinese, and left to sit vacant. Some will eventually have occupants; Vancouver is a top destination for well-heeled emigrants. But often, the new owners treat the houses as little more than vehicles for spiriting capital out of China. By one recent estimate, 67,000 homes, condos, and apartments in the Vancouver metro area, or about 6.5 percent of the total, are either empty or “underused”—an appalling statistic, given a housing market so tight that rental vacancy rates are below 1 percent.

We certainly see those empty houses in Kahala when we walk on the beach in the mornings. Just in the stretch of houses we walk past daily, there are probably two dozen large empty luxury homes. And I’m sure there are many more empty units hidden in high-rise condominiums.

Anyway, Vancouver is experimenting with how to respond. We should be watching.

And the New York Times looked at another aspect of housing: “How Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality.”

The culprit here is the mortgage interest deduction, which lets home owners deduct the portion of their mortgage payments that go to interest on their loans. It’s a financial benefit that renters don’t enjoy.

A friend has proposed a homeowner’s surcharge dedicated to funding affordable homes, and calls existing homeowners perhaps the largest impediment to expanding the housing base.

Complicated issues here.

North Shore Neighborhood Board considering tour limits

The following information just came in from North Shore activist Blake McElheney:

North Shore Residents Seek Commercial Tour Bus Ban at Special Meeting Tonight

North Shore residents have have watched with interest the success of Windward Oahu residents in protecting their quality of life and important public resources such as public parks.

For example, since February of this year, commercial tour bus activity has been prohibited at the most popular beach parks from Makapuu to Kailua.

The North Shore Neighborhood Board is hosting a special community meeting at Waimea Valley tonight, April 25, at 6:30 pm for the Board and residents to discuss the following Board Resolutions:

1. Requesting City Council member Martin and the City Council pursue measures to protect the community from the increasing utilization of public parks by commercial tour bus operators; and

Calling for the protection of rural Oahu in the General Plan.

Council members Ernie Martin and Ikaika Anderson (author of the Kailua and Waimanalo bans) will be in attendance to share their insights on how the community can approach these issues.

Proponents of the commercial tour bus ban are encouraging North Shore residents to contact the City Council to request that the City Council pass ordinances like those passed for Waimanalo and Kailua protecting public beaches from commercial tour buses.

The meeting is tonight, April 25, at 6:30 pm in the Pikake Pavilion at Waimea Valley.

Has Amazon changed its delivery to Hawaii?

I got this inquiry from a friend yesterday asking whether I’ve noticed a change in Amazon.

If there has been a change, I wonder if this due to the new collection of general excise tax?

I just wanted to check in and ask if you’ve used Amazon in the last week or two.

I’ve tried to order recently and only 1 of 11 items was shown as being deliverable to Hawaii at numerous addresses – including items I’ve purchased before.

I talked to Amazon a couple times (yes a phone call is possible) over the last week and finally got the answer that since their shipping infrastructure has changed many products which now ship direct from 3rd party sellers will not ship to Hawaii (or Alaska) due to those companies’ own policies.

Alibaba is known for this shipping system where they don’t warehouse nearly as much as Amazon has historically, incidentally.

Curious what your experience is in this, if any.

Anyone have personal experience to add?

BOH to cut 14% of its ATM network

A story of the business section of yesterday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser seems to be an early sign of a seismic shift in consumer banking.

S-A reporter Dave Segal reported yesterday that Bank of Hawaii is removing all of its ATMs from McDonald’s restaurants in Hawaii and Guam.

According to the story, the move is in response to changing market conditions.

“Today, consumer preference is trending toward the use of debit cards and mobile phones instead of cash to pay for food and drinks at McDonald’s.”

The 65 machines represent nearly 14 percent of Bankoh’s ATM network. It will still have 404 ATMs systemwide — the most of any local financial institution — after the removals.

The change was spurred by McDonald’s decision to modernize its restaurants and the incorporation of point-of-sale technology to accept electronic payments.

The story quotes senior executive in charge of “digital channels”:

“An important technological shift is happening,” Oyadomari said. “The role of the ATM as only a cash dispenser has changed to now include the ability to scan deposited checks, count bills of deposited cash and communicate with your mobile phone. As the role of the ATM continues to change, we’ll continue to assess where customers would find the most value in having an ATM.”

So banks themselves are having to adapt their services, and businesses also have to keep up with the increasing importance of digital phone technologies and software advances.

Where is this heading? How will it affect banks more generally? Merchants? Let’s hear your thoughts.