State of Florida loses yet another major homeowner’s insurance company

With hurricane season pressing down on Florida, yet more state residents are suddenly finding themselves without home insurance.

One of Florida’s largest home insurers is exiting the market, leaving thousands of homeowners scrambling to find new coverage as options continue to dwindle in the Sunshine State.

United Property & Casualty Insurance Company, based in St. Petersburg, announced Thursday that it filed a plan of withdrawal in Florida and also plans to exit three other states.

It comes right in the middle of hurricane season and amid an exodus of companies from the market.

Dr. Allen Lavina and his wife purchased a home in Sunrise back in 2019. The first-time homeowners were able to secure insurance and made their mortgage payments on time. But, recently, the couple was given a notice from their insurance company: “we’re reducing exposure in the area.”\

Homeowners said the state needs to do more.

“If they try to put some patches or Band-Aids on it, we still have an existential dilemma,” Quinones said. “Like, how are we going to live in Florida?”

Homeowner Neal Bloom also expressed disappointment in the government’s response.

“I’m very disappointed the Florida government refuses to acknowledge or do anything for relief,” Bloom said. “I’ve sent emails to my congressman but none of their replies was what I wanted to hear. We have a small mortgage on our home, very high credit scores, pay our bills on time. So I think it’s unfair that people in our situation are penalized because others decided to file fraudulent claims for new roofs from prior hurricanes, which was the excuse I’m getting as to why we were dropped just like that.”

These people might consider that hurricanes are the primary causative factor in the insurance dilemma, and not the roof repairs done after the hurricanes.

I know about 8 families personally who’ve moved to Florida in the last few years.

I get it. Sunshine and warmth in the winter.

But state and local governments seem unable or unwilling to stop rampant construction in large swaths of the state that should be development-free zones.

Guess the insurance companies are going to make those decisions for them.

Black professional couple finds that having whites stand-in as owners when appraising their home increases its value from $472,000 to $750,000

FFS, this is not the deep South. This is Baltimore.

Last summer, Nathan Connolly and his wife, Shani Mott, welcomed an appraiser into their house in Baltimore, hoping to take advantage of historically low interest rates and refinance their mortgage.

They believed that their house — improved with a new $5,000 tankless water heater and $35,000 in other renovations — was worth much more than the $450,000 that they paid for it in 2017. Home prices have been on the rise nationwide since the pandemic; in Baltimore, they have gone up 42 percent in the past five years, according to

But 20/20 Valuations, a Maryland appraisal company, put the home’s value at $472,000, and in turn, loanDepot, a mortgage lender, denied the couple a refinance loan.

Dr. Connolly said he knew why: He, his wife and three children, aged 15, 12 and 9, are Black. A professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Connolly is an expert on redlining and the legacy of white supremacy in American cities, and much of his research focuses on the role of race in the housing market.

Months after that first appraisal, the couple applied for another refinance loan, removed family photos and had a white male colleague — another Johns Hopkins professor — stand in for them. The second appraiser valued the house at $750,000.

This week, Dr. Connolly and Dr. Mott sued loanDepot, which is based in Foothill Ranch, Calif., as well as 20/20 Valuations and Shane Lanham, the owner of 20/20 Valuations. Mr. Lanham is the appraiser who conducted the first appraisal.

“We were clearly aware of appraisal discrimination,” said Dr. Connolly, 44. “But to be told in so many words that our presence and the life we’ve built in our home brings the property value down? It’s an absolute gut punch.”

The home appraisal industry, which relies partly on subjective opinions to translate home values into dollars and cents, has faced a firestorm of criticism over the past two years.

More than 97 percent of home appraisers are white, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and since the summer of 2020, when conversations on race and discrimination in America rose to the forefront following the murder of George Floyd, dozens of Black homeowners have alleged discrimination in the home valuations they received.

Of course, conservatives insist there is no systemic racism in America.

You can read the rest of Debra Kamin’s New York Times piece at this link.

Boris Johnson many be gone, but his party’s dependence on Russian oligarch money is likely to be even harder to get rid of

Just-resigned British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a show of his trip to Ukraine recently, showing support for the war torn country while lambasting Russia.

But Johnson’s Conservative Party has been like a pig at a trough when it comes to taking Russian oligarch money and allowing those same oligarchs to essentially run up real estate prices in the most fashionable London zip codes with dirty money linked to the Kremlin.

Writer Willem Marx has an article in the current edition of Vanity Fair that details how everyone knows that London, and much of the Conservative party, has been drunk on oligarch money while everyone looked the other way, from David Cameron, to Theresa May, and on through Johnson.

Proving Russian ownership of a London home is not always easy, never mind taking the legally binding action to seize such assets. The advocacy group Transparency International U.K. recently published an analysis of open-source data—including property ownership and court records, leaked information and journalists’ investigations—that shows around $2 billion worth of U.K. property has been purchased by Russians who either have links to the Kremlin or are accused of corruption. The majority of the properties are in just three central London neighborhoods, including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. “When people talk about it as being one of the world’s major money-laundering hubs, I think that’s quite right,” says Duncan Hames, who heads policy and programs for the U.K. arm of the organization. “This whole anonymous-ownership problem would have fundamentally undermined the sanctions which the foreign secretary is particularly proud of.” Various data leaks in recent years have been crucial for NGOs seeking to shine a light. And while admittedly British businesses that serviced Russian wealth—banks, accountants, lawyers, and real estate agents—seemed for a long time to have jettisoned their scruples, without better public information it will be difficult for such London service firms to avoid inadvertently falling afoul of sanctions in future. And that may in turn rely on those that understand such bad behavior best—other outraged Russians.

Like Roman Borisovich, a blond, barrel-chested Columbia University grad who’s worked as a senior trader at Merrill Lynch and an investment banker at Deutsche Bank. Raised in Moscow by Russian and Ukrainian parents, he returned to the Russian capital to help run a struggling Soviet-era insurance behemoth and became an early supporter of Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. Around the time Borisovich’s wife was held for an extended period at a Moscow airport while returning from a European vacation in 2012, Navalny cautioned him that he might face Kremlin accusations of spying for Western governments. The banker moved his family right back to London, where they subsequently lived for several years.

On their hunt for a new apartment there, a “young punk” of a real estate broker provoked his ire during a tour of a penthouse duplex next to Dormition Cathedral, seat of the U.K.’s Russian Orthodox diocese. “He was trying to endear himself by saying that his firm deals with Russians all the time,” Borisovich recalls of the broker, who told him they had recently sold a $32 million property to one of Russia’s regional governors. “That’s when I looked at him: ‘Would you be saying the same if this was a Mexican drug dealer? Would you be telling people with the same sort of pride that you’ve done it?’ ” The broker went quiet as Borisovich railed about how local officials in Russia were not paid nearly enough—at least not by honest means—to buy an apartment in Knightsbridge, where the most recent data puts average real estate transactions around $4 million. Since that encounter he has lobbied for transparency. Corruption, Borisovich says, is “the cement, and this is the concrete of the foundation” of Russia’s current government. “There is nothing else that holds it together.”

It has the power to metastasize. “The less probity or propriety we have in our system, the more open we are to manipulation and exploitation by ruthless or authoritarian regimes like the one we see in the Kremlin,” says Kinnock, who spent several years living in Russia during the mid-2000s. New rules he and others are advocating for would follow a U.S.-style registry of foreign agents and empower independent forensic accountants to perform due diligence on all party donors. “We can actually then start to clean up our politics, and to protect the integrity of our democracy.”

Conservative party leaders even arranged for some of the oligarchs to be given Lordships.

(And, for good measure, you can throw in the always oily neo-liberal Labor Party Prime Minister Tony Blair.)

The article details how Great Britain is starting — just starting, mind you — to close the giant loopholes that have made London the world’s capital of international dirty money.

This includes shuttering the so-called “golden visa” program, begun by psychopath Margaret Thatcher. The Vanity Fair article first addresses that exceedingly crooked program this way:

Many members of the Russian emigratsiya community in Britain are simply well-to-do people who chose to leave after the Cold War ended. London was convenient for its time zone, language, and private schools. But in 1994, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative successor, John Major, introduced a new immigration category for individuals who brought 1 million pounds into the country, investing at least 750,000 pounds of it in bonds, or stocks or loans tied to actively trading U.K. businesses. The rest they could use to buy property, for example, or deposit in banks. These “golden visas”—as they became known—encouraged the wealthiest demographic, Russian and otherwise, to go shopping. And because almost all of today’s great Russian fortunes are derived directly or indirectly from former or current state enterprises or assets, “that did pose a potential security risk,” says Dominic Grieve, the U.K.’s former attorney general. “It meant that there were people who are now integrated into the United Kingdom—some of them have taken dual nationality—who in fact have, because of their economic interests, ties to Russia, which can be exploited by the Russian state.”

They knew their pay-to-play visa program would be abused, but they did it anyway. Because that is how the small “c” conservative mind works. If you’re poor and need refuge from wars your country likely had a hand in starting, you can right well fuck off, can’t you? But if you’re rich, no matter how dirty your hands are politically and financially, you are welcomed with open arms and wallets.

You can read the rest of the interesting (and long) article here.

For another great read on this same subject, you might also read this article from The Economist. (Alas, this one is behind a paywall, whereas the Vanity Fair article is likely free if you’ve read no Vanity Fair articles on their web site recently.)

Some of the Russian oligarchs (from top left to bottom): Roman Abramovich, Oleg Deripaska, Alisher Usmanov, Vladimir Potanin, Mikhail Prokhorov, Gennady Timchenko, Vagit Alekperov, Petr Aven, and Arkady Rotenberg.(Source: Wikimedia Commons. See this link.)

Once again I ask: How is Adam Nagourney still writing for the New York Times?

New York Times writer Adam Nagourney, an openly gay man, has been awful for as long as I can remember.

One of his worst fuck-ups, in a long line of them, was when he co-wrote a June 16, 2015, article about a residential balcony collapse in Southern California during which six people were killed, and seven others injured.

Because the students were part of an Irish student exchange program, Nagourney decided that, instead of treating it as the straightforward tragedy it was, he was going to highlight the drunk Irish partier aspect. The relatives and friends of the victims were rightfully horrified.

Nagourney would later say, “[T]here was a more sensitive way to tell the story. I absolutely was not looking to in any way appear to be blaming the victims, or causing pain in this awful time for their families and friends. I feel very distressed at having added to their anguish.”

At least he apologized (sort of) for that fuck-up. He has rarely even admitted he was wrong even when he was spectacularly wrong. And he’s done stuff like this his ENTIRE career. And, yet, he keeps getting rewarded with jobs like LA bureau chief.

Anyway, Nagourney has an article in the New York Times (here via Yahoo) headlined: “Once a Crucial Refuge, ‘Gayborhoods’ Lose LGBTQ Appeal in Major Cities.”

“I walk around the neighborhood that encouraged me for so many decades, and I see the reminders of Harvey and the Rainbow Honor Walk, celebrating famous queer and trans people,” Jones said as he led a visitor on a tour of his old neighborhood, pointing out empty storefronts and sidewalks. “I just can’t help but think that soon there will be a time when people walking up and down the street will have no clue what this is all about.”

Housing costs are a big reason for that. But there are other factors as well.

LGBTQ couples, particularly younger ones, are starting families and considering more traditional features — public schools, parks and larger homes — in deciding where they want to live. The draw of “gayborhoods” as a refuge for past generations looking to escape discrimination and harassment is less of an imperative today, reflecting the rising acceptance of gay and lesbian people. And dating apps have, for many, replaced the gay bar as a place that leads to a relationship or a sexual encounter.

Many gay and lesbian leaders said this might well be a long-lasting realignment, an unexpected product of the success of a gay rights movement, including the Supreme Court’s recognition of same-sex marriage in 2015, that has pushed for equal rights and integration into mainstream society.

There are few places where this transformation is more on display than in the Castro, long a barometer of the evolution of gay and lesbian life in America. It is a place where same-sex couples crammed the streets, sidewalks, bars and restaurants in defiance and celebration as LGBTQ people in other cities lived cloistered lives.

It was the stage for some of the first glimmers of the modern gay rights movement in the late 1960s; the rise to the political establishment with the election of openly gay officials like Milk; and the community’s powerful response to the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

“Gayborhoods are going away,” Cleve Jones said. “People need to pay attention to this. When people are dispersed, when they no longer live in geographic concentrations, when they no longer inhabit specific precincts, we lose a lot. We lose political power. We lose the ability to elect our own and defeat our enemies.”

Cynthia Laird, news editor of The Bay Area Reporter, an LGBTQ newspaper based in San Francisco, said she was reminded of this transformation every time she walked through the neighborhood.

“I wanted to get a picture of people walking in the rainbow crosswalk at the corner of Castro and 18th Street, and there was nobody walking,” she said. “The Castro and San Francisco have changed a lot over the past 25 years. We have seen a lot of LGBTQ people move from San Francisco to Oakland — which is where I live — and even further out in the East Bay.”

This “younger gays no longer need old-fashioned gay neighborhoods” trope has been around a long time, so Nagourney is once again very late to this party.

But as Nagourney marvels at all the progress that has been made that is allegedly making gay ghettos obsolete, you’d think he’d mention one simple fact that should give everyone pause in the “post gay” celebrating: it can all be taken away, and very well might be.

Not once does awful Adam Nagourney mention that we have a Supreme Court that stands ready to kick out the foundations of every sexual orientation-related pro-gay decision ever handed down by SCOTUS. The same goes for GOP governors and legislatures and supreme courts in several states, all of whom are itching for test cases where Clarence Thomas might get his wish to overturn Lawrence, Obergefell and a host of other privacy-related decisions.

I see no reason to not do an article about the demise of “gayborhoods,” even if Nagourney downplays that real estate is the chief reason the most famous of them are less gay all the time. Even Cleve Jones, the anchor of this week’s Nagourney article, says he is leaving because his rent was jacked up.

But at least also mention the ever more powerful forces that are allying themselves against the LGBT community, instead of writing this shit article that makes it seem as if the chief reasons are that we simply don’t want or need those neighborhoods because we’ve moved-on to a LGBT utopia.

That would require a depth Nagourney has always lacked.

Awful Adam Nagourney.

New York City living sounds like it sucks for the average person

I used to romanticize living in New York City.

Broadway, the extensive subway system, the five boroughs, etc.

When I ended up living most of my life in Boston — a short car, bus or plane or train ride away from Manhattan — I got to spend a lot of time in NYC. And i was able to regularly visit any number of friends who lived there.

My friends who were professionals did pretty well in the city, especially Brooklyn.

Doctors, successful artists, people in the entertainment industry, etc. They had nice apartments and condos. Still relatively small compared to elsewhere, but not bad.

But regular people in New York had a choice: have roommates, sometimes lots of them, or live in a tiny studio apartment — if you can call apartments with two-burner stoves and a toilet in the living room “studios.”

So I was fascinated by this series in The New York Times in which a Manhattan woman was priced out of her West Village apartment and had to go looking for a replacement in today’s market for no more than $3000 a month. That turned out to be a pretty tall order. She finally settled on a rent-stabilized studio:

So when she learned that the apartment in the elevator building would definitely be available — at a stabilized rent of $2,140.98 — she jumped on it, taking it sight unseen.

“Amanda got lucky,” Ms. Vorobeva said. One tenant had lived there for many years, and the following tenant had moved in recently, after New York State passed the 2019 Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, which affords tenants extra protections and discourages landlords from turning rent-stabilized units into market-rate units.

The broker fee, though, was at a premium: 15 percent of a year’s rent, based on the market rate of $3,200 a month — or $5,760.

When Ms. Dauber finally saw the apartment in person, she was happy and relieved. “It was identical to the one I had seen,” she said, although the living area was furnished differently.

“The big thing was wrapping my head around moving from an apartment with four separate rooms to a box-style studio,” she said. “It’s not lacking storage space; it’s just lacking living space. I had to think strategically about how I could organize everything.”

She sold her furniture to the young couple who rented her former place — it was advertised as a two-bedroom and went for $4,600 — and bought the furniture that was in her new apartment from the outgoing tenant.

She cooks less now, because the kitchen is so small. “The dishwasher is a nice luxury, but I didn’t care either way,” she said. “I need the dishwasher because there’s no place to put a drying rack.”

She unscrewed one closet door and propped it up as a makeshift partition between the bed and the refrigerator. “Otherwise, the bed blocks the closet door, so to get into the closet you have to physically move the bed,” she said. This way, she can shimmy in sideways.


No, thank you.

I still love to visit. I still don’t want to live there.

A rent-stabilized $2,140.98 a month plus a $5760 broker’s fee gets you this studio in Manhattan.

Rentals in The Hamptons facing definite slowdown

Houses that typically went for $70,000 a month are now “only” going for $45,000 a month.

Boo hoo. I can only hope that it’s happening to speculators who bought at the top of our current real estate bubble:

The rental market in the Hamptons is facing an unexpected chill this summer.

After two years of strong demand and soaring prices, the supply of rentals in the Hamptons is surging, leading to a wave of last-minute price cuts. Median rental prices in the first quarter fell 26%, according to Jonathan Miller, CEO of Miller Samuel. Brokers say some owners are slashing prices by 30% or more just to fill their properties.

“There is a tremendous amount of inventory and people are not renting it,” said Enzo Morabito of Douglas Elliman. “And it’s across all segments, from the very low to the very top of the market.”

The weakness marks a dramatic and rapid reversal for one of the country’s highest-priced and most sought-after real-estate markets. In 2020 and 2021, renters were scrambling to find summer rentals and paying record prices months before the season for fear of missing out. Now, brokers say there are hundreds of rentals still available for the summer.

Morabito said he represented one waterfront rental that was asking $70,000 a month, but a potential renter offered just $45,000.

“We were hoping the renter would split the difference, but it’s a different market right now,” he said.

One of these days — not today, but likely not far in future — lots of these beachfront houses and condos are going to be selling for bargain-basement prices as buyers finally wise up to the fact that some basements will be filled with water and a powerful hurricane will wash many of these houses out to sea.

What happening right now in many beachfront communities appears to be more a function of greedy landowners who overpriced their rentals during the pandemic. It’s happening on the shores of Cape Cod, too.

The Hamptons (Wikimedia Commons:

Real estate is awash in Russian mob money. One congressman wants to do something about it. Just not here.

Ill-gotten Russian money is being washed through American real estate. Everyone knows it’s being done through New York real estate. It being done in plain sight of South Dakota’s conservative Gov. Kristi Noem. Delaware has been a shady money haven for so long that few really pay attention any longer.

One US congressman has had enough. But he is choosing to go after targets in Great Britain rather than in his own country. In an article in The New Republic titled “Representative Steve Cohen Wants to Build a New Weapon to Fight Kleptocrats,” we learn about how “British lawyers have long helped corrupt oligarchs protect their ill-gotten loot. The Tennessee Democrat wants to hold these enablers to account.”

Over the past few months, a new range of sanctions have begun rippling across the West, targeting a motley crew of Russian oligarchs, all of whom have profited from their relationship with the Kremlin and pushed Moscow’s interests abroad. But last week, in a little-noticed salvo out of Washington, a new class of scofflaws are suddenly feeling the heat of potential sanctions: the British lawyers who’ve spent years acting as handmaidens to pro-Kremlin billionaires.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Representative Steve Cohen called for the United States finally to “hold to account those enablers” behind the “unscrupulous work” benefiting oligarchs. Specifically, the Tennessee Democrat singled out the British barristers who’ve spent years helping Russian oligarchs smother the journalists poking into their illicit wealth—and helping turn the United Kingdom into the go-to jurisdiction in which to file frivolous lawsuits against anyone looking into their financing.

Ah, well, I suppose it’s a start that any politician from Tennessee wants to go after rapacious capitalists of any kind.

It’s an interesting story.