Homeless, Hungry, and In College

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It’s nice to have a rosy view of the college years–a time of personal growth and learning. Bright-eyed young people are figuring out who they are or want to be in a world full of opportunities. We often imagine that the stress of college life ends at too much homework or roommate drama. However, for many students, this view is far from reality.

Not only are the more fortunate among the growing number of homeless students ascending into college, we’ve also seen a troubling trend of middle-class students who become poor only by dint of the fact that they are attending college. Loans, grants, part-time jobs, and parents who are mortgaged to the hilt are just not enough for many students to manage the expenses that come with pursuing higher education.

We’ve grown sadly familiar with stories of struggling people having to choose between two basic needs, like medication and food, paying the rent and keeping their car. What happens when the choice is between paying for college and paying for an apartment? Paying for textbooks or paying for nutritious food? The immediate needs must be addressed, and educational pursuits are cut tragically short.

Over a third of college students lack stable housing and don’t always have enough to eat, according to a survey published by researchers at Temple University and the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. According to the same study, 9 percent are homeless. These numbers are more extreme for students attending community colleges than private universities.

In fact, a survey of students at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston found that 13 percent of BHCC students are homeless. Housing instability can mean a student is often evicted, living in a shelter, “couch surfing”, or sleeping in vacant buildings on campus. Students are also facing food insecurity–skipping meals, or eating unhealthy foods to save money. Both situations are detrimental to a student’s ability to focus or excel in classes, thus benefiting from the college experience.

Due to rising education costs, and the fact that many states do not extend food stamps benefits or public assistance to students unless they are working full time, more students than ever are forced to pile on the existing pressure of college with these tough, life-altering choices. The squeeze is on, and the extraordinary pressure is insurmountable to some.

As this growing crisis comes to light, schools, aid organizations, and charitable advocates are starting to take action. Often the schools themselves will address the needs of homeless and hungry students through grassroots fundraising and volunteer programs such as food pantries, cafeteria vouchers, and programs to match students with host families. More schools have started to keep dorms open over holiday breaks so students can stay on campus if they have no place to go. However, how many colleges and universities can be expected to also be charitable organizations? Is that really the solution?

In the face of these challenges, homeless students bravely continue to weather financial uncertainty and unsafe living situations because they believe in a higher goal: in elevating their own station in life. This is exactly the kind of action that raises the station of the homeless in this country and deserves the proper attention from those in a position to help. These students, especially, need a helping hand so they don’t fall through the cracks–garnering academic rewards instead of anemic ones.

This article was originally published on DanNeiditch.org

Forget Location — It’s Convenience, Convenience, Convenience

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It’s the classic real estate mantra, known as the guiding wisdom of our industry: location, location, location. Since at least 1926, this phrase has been a useful shorthand for what’s supposedly a concrete rule: that the immediate area where a property is situated is the overwhelming driver of its value.

I’ll never tell you that location isn’t a major asset when selling real estate, but its value is incredibly misunderstood by both the public at large and many in the industry. What it truly amounts to, in a practical sense, is a form of convenience. Conveniences, in the real estate business, are the little advantages that ultimately shape a buyer’s perception of what you’re selling. Location is a good thing, but it’s only one good thing among potentially many. It’s certainly not the only one, as the phrase implies.

A location can be convenient, as in centrally located and close to cultural centers, but convenience is also something you can cultivate no matter where you are. If the location of the house or apartment you’re selling isn’t particularly in your favor, there are countless ways you can still make it stand out. There’s a nearly unlimited amount of amenities that position your properties in a way that will be attractive to potential buyers, and the list is growing by the day.

If you’re not familiar with smart homes by now, you will be. It’s a revolution already underway, and savvy real estate leaders are already getting on board. This tech allows tenants and homeowners to manage all the comforts of home: lighting, appliances, even security with voice commands or remotely via Wi-Fi.

Scaling that idea upward, you’ll even find whole-house automation systemsthat provide the kind of futuristic home environment that existed only in the realm of science fiction not long ago, with HD touchscreens in every room and pre-programmed routines that promise a seamless way to live in comfort. Put yourself in a buyer’s shoes and imagine a house that you can control without lifting a finger. If that’s not convenience, I don’t know what is.

But cutting-edge tech isn’t the only useful accommodation that can boost a real estate listing. Intangible conveniences like expediting a closing or construction credits so the buyer can mold the unit to their liking both empower buyers and give them a reason to choose your offerings over those of the competition. Remember, the ultimate goal here is offering conveniences that make your properties distinctive, attractive and memorable.

There are a million and one ways to stand out in real estate. Believe me, as the seller of NYC’s most expensive condo with amenities aplenty, offering countless conveniences has proven a great attention-getter. You might not have the ability to send your buyer into space, but you can make convenience work for you and your customers in any location. Real estate agents in Melbourne have taken to hiring a feng shui expert to evaluate the property’s atmospheric character or “flow” — perhaps not the traditional form of convenience but a real aspect of it all the same. Part of convenience is the meeting of expectations in a subtle, barely noticeable way.

People often look at buying a home as an exciting but arduous process, one that’s costing them lots of money over a long period of time. They’re not necessarily wrong, but great conveniences or perks can soften any potentially negative feelings your customers may have, and get them excited about buying a new home or apartment. The quality of the experience goes a long way when selling real estate. That’s true whether you’re selling condos in Manhattan or ranch houses in Peoria.

I know what some of you may be thinking: It’s easy for someone in Manhattan real estate to claim that location is overrated. Yes, this island is home to some of the most attractive properties in the world, but having spent enough time in the luxury sector, I’ve seen plenty of big-time properties fall flat with potential buyers and lose out to buildings and homes with more added value than just an NYC zip code. Even the greatest location won’t find tenants if the amenities and conveniences that elevate a property aren’t there.

Don’t get me wrong: Location is important. But unless the most attractive area around is the size of a pinhead, customers will always have more options besides whatever you’re selling. Convenience takes many forms, and having it means more than having an impressive address. It means having something that people want to buy.

This article was originally published on Forbes 

Conflict Isn’t Rude, It’s Required

A disconcerting amount of young people today seem unwilling to ruffle feathers. On the one hand, this is perfectly understandable. When you’re an entrepreneur just starting to make your name, it can sometimes seem like any misstep will throw off your grand plans for success. If you’re worried about how you’re going to appear to potential employers, partners, or clients, never forget that success in business primarily comes not from making people happy, but from results. Achieving those concrete accomplishments and wins requires executing, not compromising, when it comes to your vision.

Conflict is inevitable when you’re building a successful business. It doesn’t mean blood feuds and high-tempered confrontations, but your interests will very rarely be 100% aligned with those of others around you and you need to be prepared for that. It’s all part of being a well-rounded business operator. An entrepreneur who’s never faced any kind of conflict or resistance is one that I’d rather not do business with, and I know I’m not alone.

Great as your ideas are, not everyone will necessarily see them that way. That doesn’t just mean your competitors, but also the people working alongside you, like business partners or investors who have seen and done more in the business world than you might have. Potential clients will even have some pressing questions before they decide to use your services. Navigating these and other inevitable conflicts can be intimidating at first, but it’s a necessity for every entrepreneur to at least have a willing and open attitude towards engaging in them.

It’s all about deploying your forthrightness and honest opinions in an intelligent and well-reasoned way. Disagreeing with someone, even someone more established than you are, doesn’t amount to disrespect if what you’re saying is logical and true. You best know the value of the product or service you’re selling, and if they don’t see that, it’s your job to communicate it thoughtfully.

The idea of resolving conflict with forthrightness and frankness has become a hot-button topic, exemplified with what former Google and Apple executive Kim Scott referred to in her 2017 book as radical candor. The idea of being completely candid about your thoughts, it seems, has become a revolutionary idea in a world where too many people are afraid of stepping on toes. Scott, also a CEO coach and multi-time entrepreneur herself, is part of the growing movement to build relationships through empathy and blunt honesty.

No matter your mission, the road to your goals is sure to present some obstacles. These take the form of people who may doubt your mission, are skeptical of your plans, or just simply aren’t pleasant to be around. These are big challenges, to be sure. Making your true feelings and goals known is a major part of overcoming them.

In the end, it boils down to your belief in yourself and what you’re doing. Never forget the reason you’re in that boardroom, office, wherever the venue. If you can demonstrate that your ideas are worth considering, that confidence needs to compel you to push back when your vision isn’t matching up with what others are offering you. There’s a balance to be struck between a pushover and a steamroller. Being ready and prepared for all the various challenges of entrepreneurship, including those coming from other people, is a necessity for business success. When you’re making big strides, it’s inevitable you’ll step on a couple of toes. When you realize this and are ready for it, you’ll be able to put your best foot forward.

This post was originally published on ScoreNYC

What Makes An Idea Great?

Every business runs on ideas. From the drawing board to their execution, ideas are the fuel that powers your operations, and hopefully you’ve got some great ones in the tank. But for the early-stage entrepreneur, this process can sometimes prove a little shaky. How will you know which ideas are great ones, and which ideas would be better off retooled or maybe scrapped altogether? Here are a few ways to gauge whether your ideas are worth carrying through to the next step.

Scalability

It’s important to remember that even the most bulletproof idea is only a few words on a piece of paper. Even once executed, you should never lose sight of the next step. Growing a business is just that, making it bigger in incremental stages, so a great idea is one that grows right alongside your company. Facebook is a simple example of this: they scaled up from a user base made up of a few select colleges’ student base, up to covering the entire world. Your scaling might not be that simple, but being easily adapted to growth is part of what makes an idea a great one. A pragmatic and realistic plan is a vital tool for any growing business.

Implementation

For years, flying cars were the next big idea. We’re still waiting. Sure, skipping the highway on your way to work every morning sounds like a dream to some, but it was an idea that had no meat to it. If your idea can’t be implemented–and hopefully soon–it’s better off staying in your head until it’s feasible. Rushing an idea to market before it’s time can be trouble: the annals of business history are littered with ideas that sounded great, but hit the market just a little too early. By the time the rest of the world caught up, they got swallowed alive by competition that took the time to execute the idea better. That doesn’t mean the idea was useless, just not implementable in its current state. if it’s not creating value in good time, your idea is less than great.

Disintermediation

While we usually picture great ideas as complete paradigm shifting, game-changing revolutions that turn our world upside down, the truth is that great ideas usually take a much simpler shape than that. Some of the greatest ideas in history are ones that cut out old middlemen and made formerly complex processes into simpler tasks. It’s called disintermediation, and it has led to huge profits for some bold companies. Take a look at Apple-they sell their iPhones primarily through their own website or dedicated stores. They didn’t need to cut deals with service providers, those providers came to them because the product was so appealing. More than one billion phone sales later, Apple’s disintermediation strategy was a clear winner.

Passion

Finally, the one ingredient that will make an idea great isn’t one that shows up in the business plan. I know I’ve hammered home the point that your idea should be realistic and practical, but that doesn’t mean you should be emotionally detached from it. A truly great idea is one that you believe in wholeheartedly–something you’re willing to stake your reputation on. Passion should always shine through in your business, especially in your ideas. That’s how you impress investors, bring on clients, and win over your market. Anyone can come up with an idea. It’s the truly passionate ones who take those ideas and make their business dreams come true through them.

This article was originally published on ScoreNYC

Why Solar Power Should Be Builders’ Next Step In The Real Estate Revolution

As president of the country’s tallest solar residence, located in Midtown Manhattan, there’s a lot I can tell you about the stresses and ins and outs of managing a 45-story skyscraper residence in the heart of the nation’s biggest city. Satisfying a luxury clientele can sometimes require outside-the-box thinking, to say the least. That’s why perhaps the most crucial decision I made in opening up the building had nothing to do with the amenities inside.

I’ve become an evangelist of sorts for solar power, because the benefits are there for the taking and too many of my peers seem to be dragging their feet. For a modest installation cost, any building under the sun can join the green energy revolution and save money at the same time. In an industry where being environmentally conscious is becoming more important and being money conscious has always been crucial, solar power is the easiest way to generate clean energy and excitement at the same time.

These are a few of the lessons I’ve learned since getting started in solar.

It’s easy to start small, but you don’t have to.

I can freely admit that I was somewhat skeptical when I began dipping my toes into solar power for my properties. My first experiment was on top of a four-story building in the Bronx, where I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give a potential new project a try. When I saw the energy savings happen, I knew I shouldn’t waste any time scaling up, and eventually that meant bringing solar to the top of a 45-floor Manhattan luxury high-rise. Just like in real estate, the higher you go, the better the view — only this one looks straight up.

Getting installed correctly is key. An accredited installer certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) can get you set up, and like any vendor, you’re free to shop around for the best quote. There are even leasing options if you don’t feel ready to make a long-term buying commitment.

It’s cheaper than you think, in both the short term and the long run.

The days of prohibitively expensive solar installations are long over. As the technology improves, the cost of switching to solar becomes lower by the day. Bloomberg New Energy Finance said the same thing, forecasting a drop of 60% in solar prices (registration required) over the next two decades. By 2040, their experts found, solar energy will be cheaper than coal and natural gas in metropolitan regions across the country. You won’t have to wait until then to enjoy the financial benefits, however.

In all, we save about $120,000 per year on energy costs thanks to the solar array. Not to mention the management team isn’t assuming these relatively meager costs alone. The Solar Investment Tax Credit will pay back 30% of my company’s investment in commercial solar between now and 2021, so getting started ASAP was crucial. But the ease of installation and the savings don’t paint the whole picture.

The benefits extend beyond myself.

In both residential and commercial real estate, making your tenants happy can take a lot of work and takes on an infinite number of forms. Adding solar is one of the few methods that saves you money while you generate goodwill for yourself and your building. My tenants are continually telling me how happy they are about the solar panels on the building’s roof.

They’re not happy because I’m saving on energy costs or because of my company’s solar tax credit. They’re happy because they’re proud to live in a place where innovation is embraced, not ignored. They’re happy because they can tell their friends and family that they’re living sustainably without sacrificing the amenities that make their building so attractive. They’re happy because living with green energy is the way of the future, and they can all take part just by taking up residence in this building.

I realize I must sound like a solar salesman at times here, but there’s no profit motive for me. If I seem very attached to the solar method, it’s because so many of my peers seem irrationally resistant to this easy way to improve their bottom line and lessen their environmental impact at the same time. I don’t think putting a solar installation on my roofs was a revolutionary act — only when the rest of my peers in real estate do the same thing can we call it a true revolution. With savings, ease of installation and goodwill to be had, why wait?

This article was originally published on Forbes

Is Eliminating Homelessness Possible? These Communities Say Yes

This article was originally published on DanNeiditch.org 

Eradicating homelessness in a community won’t protect some of its members from needing to spend a night on the streets. This seems counterintuitive; after all, doesn’t eliminating homeless hinge on ending the need for homelessness? In a perfect world, maybe — but we don’t live in a utopia, and we’re not likely to stumble into one anytime soon. The key to effectively combating homelessness lies in taking a ready and responsive approach; in some communities, a coordinated system for mitigating homelessness has already achieved net-zero success.

In December of 2015, Rockford, Illinois became the first town in the U.S. to achieve a “functional zero” state for veteran homelessness by implementing an efficient community system that could swiftly identify and connect homeless veterans with long-term housing. As the VA puts it in a 2015 report on the subject, a system that seeks functional zero aims to: “[ensure that] homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring and no Veteran is forced to live on the street.” Importantly, this system assumes that home insecurity will always exist and accounts for it. The goal isn’t to establish an absolute zero for the homeless, but enable a net zeroeffect to mitigate the impact of homelessness. VA-sponsored programs worked in tandem with other community housing providers to tailor their outreach programs and expedite rehousing efforts for veterans. Rockford was the first trailblazer of many; now, Arlington (VA)New Haven (CT), and countless other urban communities have joined the first city as functional-zero outposts.

Success didn’t come arbitrarily. The three cities mentioned above have more in common than their functional zero status: all were a part of the Built for Zero campaign against chronic and veteran homelessness. The project was launched in 2015 by the New York City nonprofit Community Solutions as a coordinated effort to eradicate homelessness in 71 participating cities. The national effort functioned primarily as a support to local efforts: it helped organizers on the ground track their progress, develop real-time data, strategize for the best use of existing regional resources, and apply tried-and-true strategies from other participating cities. Overall, the program’s approach distilled into two defining tenets: humanization and coordination.

Homelessness is often a faceless issue for those who haven’t worked against or experienced it firsthand. Sympathetic donors offer their money and time to the idea of aiding “the homeless,” rather than helping individuals find permanent housing. The Built for Zero project took the latter approach and achieved better results. Local organizers conducted intense outreach efforts, speaking with those living on the streets to learn more about their individual situations and what they needed to stay housed. In the process, they developed a By-Name List: a real-time database of unhoused individuals that took into account factors such as age, veteran status, chronic homelessness, whether a person is living on the streets independently or with a family, and more.

Every piece of information gathered helps Built for Zero organizers develop a strategy for finding individuals long-term housing, and the nature of their approach returns a personal element to a struggle that has long oriented towards an ambiguous group rather than distinct individuals.  As one organizer explains, “We go name by name […] They stop being ‘the homeless’ and become people we all know. And we become very vested in making sure John Smith is housed and safe and has the services he needs to stay housed.” Staying housed is no small feat. It’s all well and good if organizers manage to coordinate with local organizations and utilize available resources to get an individual into stable housing for a few days, a week — but can their case justifiably be considered a success if they end up back on the street in a month? Persisting homelessness after intervention indicates a problem in the system that organizers need to note and fix if they hope to avoid similar issues in the future. To achieve this, they need to maintain that personal connection — to check in and take the time to tinker with the system if they find flaws.

If the Built for Zero project proves anything, it would be that empathy and collaboration win out over sheer resources when it comes to social change. While additional funds will always be helpful, communities likely already have the structures and tools they need to achieve a functional zero state — they just haven’t pieced them together yet. The endpoint for homelessness comes at the intersection of empathy and coordination; we just need to implement a plan for getting there.

5 Ways to Fatten Your Bottom Line by Drastically Cutting Energy Costs

Save energy and you’ll save money, too. Here’s how.

This article was originally published on Entrepreneur.

Leadership often demands touch choices, but the decisions you make about your company’s energy usage shouldn’t require too much deliberation. Businesses squander an estimated 30 percent of their energy spending through inefficient practices. In a crowded marketplace, those wasted resources can make a world of difference.

You live by the fortunes of your company and spend a good deal of time looking for every possible edge. Why, then, should you waste money on inefficient energy practices? When the life of your business and the well-being of the world as a whole are at stake, the choice to save energy becomes a pretty easy one.

The good news is it’s easier than ever to make your business more energy-efficient. The green movement has hit the business world in a major way, and that means plenty of simple options can help you save on energy costs. Here are a few ways that a relatively small investment can reduce spending and lower your environmental impact.

Appoint an “efficiency czar.”

Naming an office “energy czar” gives your company the ability to correct efficiency issues as soon as (or possibly even before) they cost you money. An administrator already manages the ins and outs of the workplace, so putting him or her in charge of energy use is a natural extension of job responsibilities.

The office manager takes care of administrative tasks around the building and naturally has a finger on the pulse of your company’s day-to-day operations. This person or someone in a similar role may be best positioned to streamline your company’s energy use. No matter who you choose, she or he must be conscientious and motivated — someone who can identify potential areas for improvement with an eye on eco-friendly developments.

Practice out with the old, in with the new.

Your newly appointed energy specialist’s first order of business? A full audit of your fixtures and equipment. Energy-efficient electronics might seem an unnecessary purchase, but they’ll more than make up for the price difference after a year or two of regular use.

A multitude of energy-efficient electronics are labeled so you can check ratings when it’s time to replace your old computers, printers, copiers and other equipment. Even when you’re not using electronics, they’re consuming energy. This perpetual standby can account for as much as 10 percent of electricity costs, so devices with better ratings will reveal an immediate impact. Odds are you’re using a wide variety of equipment. Evaluate it all, from your phone to the server on which you store your data.

Keep your data cool.

If your business makes use of a data center or server farm, cost-cutting opportunities await. Such facilities represent an estimated 2 percent of theentire country’s energy use — equivalent to about 70 billion kilowatt-hours per year. You can reduce your data center’s footprint within this massive outlay. Even if you’re not directly in control of the center, you can make an informed choice to partner with a data provider that uses smart energy practices.

Powerful processors must be kept cool, and centers can achieve this without putting all the emphasis on expensive air-conditioning. For example, you can save a good deal of processing power by installing power-management software that puts servers on standby when not in use. Good air flow in your facility is vital as well, and the “hot aisle/cold aisle” layout has been shown to regulate temperature and reduce energy use by an estimated 20 to 25 percent.

Perform regular HVAC maintenance.

Working in an energy-friendly climate means having careful control over your heating and cooling systems. Many of the fixes here can be handled only by trained HVAC professionals, so invite one to assess your building’s performance and suggest needed changes. These intricate systems make your building habitable, and regular upkeep prevents waste while maintaining a pleasant work environment.

You might be surprised that complex systems often rely on simple procedures. Something as straightforward as replacing (or cleaning, depending on manufacturer recommendations) air filters can make a big difference. In fact, a regularly maintained HVAC system can provide a savings of up to 40 percent. Your HVAC system drains money when it runs at less than optimal efficiency, so be sure all components are in good working order and insulated to prevent energy loss. It might seem obvious, but you can’t afford to squander any small amount of care when up to 40 percent of your entire building’s energy use is at stake.

Integrate solar energy.

Incorporating solar power into your energy use is a significant energy-saving option for business operations of just about any size. For a negligible cost (plus, it’s tax-deductible), you can outfit your space with noninvasive solar panels capable of generating up to 100 percent of your electricity — without releasing environmentally destructive emissions.

When it comes to saving energy and money, there’s no clearer win-win than solar. Although many business owners seem overly hesitant to adopt solar energy, the array of business and environmental benefits should make this an easy transition. With solar, CEOs can cut energy costs nearly in half while reducing their company’s environmental impact. Of all the tough decisions you make as CEO, the choice to add solar won’t be one of them.