Entries in Cities (8)


Top 10 US Cities to Retire on $100 a Day

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Like millions of Americans, Judy and Leroy Snyder worried about whether they could afford to retire.  She is a former secretary; he worked cranes on construction jobs.

When they decided to quit working in their early 60's, the couple put down roots right where they'd already been living -- in Pittsburgh.  And it turns out they made a good choice.

Pittsburgh is one of 10 U.S. cities that offer what a new analysis calls a "rich retirement at a fraction of the cost."  The analysis, commissioned by AARP The Magazine, began with one key question: Where could you live well on $100 a day, or an annual income of $36,500?

At a 25 percent tax rate, that's $27,375 in spendable income, or about $2,281 a month.  If one spent about a third of that -- $720 -- on mortgage payments, one could buy a home that costs $192,000.

Housing costs though were just the starting point.

"Other criteria we used were crime, cost of living, climate," said Gabrielle Redford, editorial projects manager for AARP The Magazine.  "We of course wanted health resources, doctors and hospitals.  We looked at recreation, we looked at the arts."

A nearby college or university was a plus, so was easy access to an airport.  AARP also factored in the number of sunny days a year.

Combining the hard economic numbers, with the softer quality of life issues brought a broad array of choices from all parts of the country.

"These are not necessarily retirement meccas," Redford said, "they are just great places to live and great places to retire."

Besides Pittsburgh, the other cities that grabbed the brass ring are San Antonio; Omaha, Neb.; Grand Junction, Colo.; Gainesville, Fla.; Spokane, Wash.; Las Cruces, N.M.; Eau Claire, Wis.; Morgantown, W.Va.; and Roanoke, Va.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


World’s Most Expensive Cities for Travelers

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Americans have an average summer vacation budget of $1,180 per person, according to a recent survey by American Express.  That may sound like a lot but it may not be enough to foot the bill to one of the world's most expensive cities.

A new study from ranks the world’s priciest cities based on four criteria: The price of a hotel room, the price of cocktails and dinner for two and the price of a round-trip taxi ride.

London ranks as this summer’s priciest destination, and it’s no wonder.  As the host of the 2012 Summer Olympics and a barrage of recent media coverage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the city is on everyone’s hot list right now.

New York was the only U.S. city to make the top 10, coming in sixth.  Although the average hotel rate in Boston is actually higher than that in New York, it’s those added expenses, like a taxi and a night on the town, that can take a bite out of the budget.

“For American travelers planning city trips, it’s important to have an understanding of the day-to-day destination expenses,” said Brooke Ferencsik, director of communications for TripAdvisor.

So which other cities made the top 10?  Here’s the list:

1. London
2. Oslo, Norway
3. Zurich
4. Paris
5. Stockholm
6. New York City
7. Moscow
8. Copenhagen, Denmark
9. Sydney
10. Singapore

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Hiriko Electric Fold-Up: Car of the Future for Crowded Cities?

GEORGES GOBET/AFP/Getty Images(CAMBRIDGE, Mass.) -- The modern automobile sets us free and ties us down all at once.  It takes us wherever we want to go -- but it gets caught in traffic, is a pain to park if you live in a major city and pollutes the air.  Which is why a team at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) tried inventing a car for city use.

They call it Hiriko, meaning "urban car," and built a prototype with seven small firms from the Basque region of northern Spain.  They've now shown it off with help from European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.  The first two-seater production models should be on the streets in Spain next year.

"This is an electric vehicle that gets the equivalent of 200 mpg," said Kent Larson of MIT, who heads the Changing Places project at the institute.  "Combined with shared-use, it greatly reduces congestion, pollution, and energy consumption."

In cities where parking is at a premium, the Hiriko has an advantage over conventional cars: It folds up.  When folded, it is shorter than most cars are wide.  Three Hirikos can use a parking space ordinarily needed for one standard sedan.

How can a car fold up?  The Hiriko, with an electric motor attached to each wheel, does not need a drive train as a traditional car does.  And the wheels are mounted at the corners of the chassis, so the car can turn in place if necessary, or even move sideways.

There are also no side doors.  The entire front of the Hiriko opens for easy access, and the controls swing out of the way.

A car as small as the Hiriko may seem inherently unsafe, but its designers say they thought about that.

"This is designed for central cities, where the average speed is often below 20 mph," Larson said.  "It is not designed for highway use."

Larson said that while the Hiriko may be bought by people who want one, it may be better for the cars to be shared.  The sticker price would be about 12,500 euros, or $16,000.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Occupy Protests Take Toll on City Budgets

Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- It's unclear what the Occupy protests have accomplished, but police have received a bonanza of overtime, making up a large part of at least $10.3 million in costs incurred by nine cities since the protesters began gathering near Wall Street two months ago.

Occupy Wall Street catalyzed dozens, if not hundreds, of protests across the world. New York City alone has spent about $6 million on costs related to Occupy Wall Street, not including the eviction on Tuesday, according to Howard Wolfson, the mayor's deputy for government relations.

Philadelphia racked up $492,000 in unanticipated police overtime through last week, according to Rebecca Rhynhart, the city's budget director. Rhynhart said they're estimating that costs could reach $2.5 million if the protest lasts through the fiscal year, or June 30.

Oakland spent over $1 million to pay police overtime, according to the Washington Post.

Portland estimated $750,000 so far for police overtime, while damage related to its parks has cost $50,000 to $100,000, according to Amy Ruiz, communications director for Mayor Sam Adams.

In Seattle, protests will cost $625,999 from the week that ended in Oct. 14 to the end of Nov. 25. The largest portion goes to overtime for Seattle police: $580,468. The extra costs to Seattle's parks comprise $21,471 of the total.  The department of finance and administrative services, which just gave protesters permission for a permit to use part of city hall's plaza on Tuesday, made up the rest at $24,060.

The Boston police department estimated overtime costs related to the Occupy Boston movement to be about $575,000 so far, according to Elaine Driscoll, director of communications of the department.

In Atlanta, protests cost $451,691 from Oct. 7 to 25, with almost three-quarters going to overtime to police, said Mayor Kasim Reed on Nov. 2.

Occupy Denver led to overtime for various city departments during five days of protest in October at about $365,000, according to the Denver Post. The protests are estimated to cost $200,000 a week for the rest of the year. This week, the police department asked for an increase of $6 million in its budget, "citing Occupy as a small but unspecified portion of the cost," the Post reports.

Cincinnati has spent about $128,000 in police overtime, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer last week.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


How Did Most Desperate US Cities Fall into Bankruptcy?

Comstock/Thinkstock(VALLEJO, Calif.) -- The city of Vallejo, Calif., knows what it's like to go through desperate times -- a distinction it shares with similarly-blighted towns and counties around the U.S., including Central Falls, R.I., Harrisburg, Pa., Boise County, Idaho, and Jefferson County, Ala.

All these municipalities are either facing bankruptcy, have already declared it, or, like Vallejo, are now emerging from it painfully.

Few cities get so desperate as to seek bankruptcy protection.  Since 1937, when Chapter 9 filings first became an option for municipalities, there have been only 625 filings, says Chicago attorney James Spiotto, who has written books on the subject.  Only five communities this year have filed for bankruptcy, while six filed in 2010.

For some towns, bad times arrived slowly by a variety of roads.  For others, a single event tipped them into darkness.

The closing in the 1990s of a U.S. Navy base pulled the financial rug out from under Vallejo.

Boise was the victim of bad legal luck: A jury ruled in 2010 that the county had wrongly prohibited a developer from building a teen treatment center.  The developer won a $4 million judgment, which Boise has been hard-pressed to pay.

Harrisburg fell victim to the "incinerator from hell" -- a waste-to-energy incinerator whose renovation caused the town to go $310 million into debt, five times as much money as the city has in its general fund, according to the Stateline newspaper.  Pennsylvania in December declared the city -- its capital -- financially distressed.

Jefferson County in Alabama, home to Birmingham, has been suffering for three years from the collapse of a sewer bond refinancing.  As of mid-August, it stood poised to file the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, according to Bloomberg News.  It has since delayed filing to continue negotiating with its creditors.

Central Falls' economy declined over many years, starting in the 1970s, when local textile makers began moving plants overseas.  Some 1,400 jobs ultimately were lost, according to the National Council of Textile Organizations.  Crime increased to the point that Central Falls in 1986 was crowned the cocaine capital of New England by Rolling Stone magazine.

According to court papers, Central Falls ran out of money to pay its bills on Aug. 31.  It has a structural budget deficit of $5.6 million and an unfunded liability of about $80 million for retirement benefits and pensions.

To stave off bankruptcy, Central Falls now is trying to wrest back from its police and firemen some $2.5 million in promised pension benefits.  It has eliminated funding for its library, laid off staff, and has closed a community center.

All this pales, however, in comparison to what Vallejo has been through. Since filing for bankruptcy in 2008, the town has become overrun by crime and prostitution in the wake of budget cuts that have reduced the city's police force by almost half.  Prostitutes and pimps can be seeing plying their trade in the middle of residential areas.

In response, residents have taken matters into their own hands, instituting a neighborhood watch program, The Kentucky Street Watch Owls -- or, unofficially, the "Ho Patrol."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


City-Dwelling Landowners Get Paid Millions Not to Farm Secondary Estates

Ablestock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The government is paying hundreds of rich city-dwellers across the country hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars not to farm their rural secondary estates, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group.

"Unfortunately, people that live in cities like Manhattan or San Francisco that are absentee landlords and are very wealthy are taking our tax dollars and using them to help pad their bottom line," Don Carr, senior communications and policy advisor for the EWG, told ABC News.

According to the group, 290 people in New York City received farm subsidies in 2010 and raked in a total of $2,472,071; 734 "farmers" in Chicago got $2,173,344 in federal subsidies; and 203 people in Miami got $2,472,071 worth. On the West Coast, 179 people in San Francisco were paid $1,094,172.

One of those New York City "farmers" is Mark Rockefeller, son of Nelson Rockefeller and heir to one of the most celebrated fortunes in American history.

Rockefeller, who lives in a swanky Manhattan building, has received nearly $330,000 in taxpayer money over the past 10 years for his "farm" on the Snake River in Idaho. Rockefeller did not respond to an interview request made by ABC News.

The Rockefeller property is next to an upscale fishing lodge he owns where it costs $500 a day just for fly fishing.

"The EWG database has shed light on just how outdated and unfair our agriculture subsidies really are," said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., in a prepared statement Thursday. "The database has hugely impacted this long-running debate and been a critical tool in revealing how taxpayer dollars are spent."

The payments are made under several different programs and could be from direct payments, disaster payments, conservation payments, counter-cyclical payments or price support payments, according to EWR.

"It is time this to end," Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., told ABC News. "The more you find out about this government, the more absurd it is."

On May 31, the bi-partisan House Appropriations Committee voted to cut farm subsidies to pay for deficit reduction and other budget priorities, but a couple weeks later the House GOP members turned against the provisions that would have cut up to $167 million in direct payments to farmers, including some of the nation's wealthiest.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Public Pensions in America's Biggest Cities Face Underfunding Crisis

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(EVANSTON, Ill.) -- Two professors of finance are giving a sharp rap on the knuckles to Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and other major cities.  Their warning: better fix your pension problems fast.

An analysis by Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Rochester and Joshua Rauh of the Kellogg School of Management finds that public pension plans for America's 50 biggest cities and counties are underfunded by $382 billion -- or $14,000 for every household in those same cities.  Some of the biggest plans may run out of money to pay promised benefits in as little as five to eight years.

Michael Zuccht, general manager of the San Diego Municipal Employees Association, says the problem has been building for decades.  Year after year, municipalities have put off fully funding their pension obligations, just kicking the can down the road.  Now, though, with the Baby Boom retiring, that road is running out.

"For 30 years elected officials have failed to meet these 'boring' obligations," says Zuccht, referring to his city's and others' pension plans.  "They preferred to spend their money on 'exciting' things like parks and libraries and recreation.  Guess what?  It's come due now.  It's hit the fan."

Cities claim their liability is less -- only $190 billion, or $7,000 per household.  But Rauh and Novy-Marx say this lower figure is the result of government accounting that assumes too rosy a return on assets and underestimates the cost of pension promises.  The professors use private sector accounting standards, then calculate how long the assets in each fund (as of June 2009) could keep paying out the benefits promised, as of that same date.

Philly, by their reckoning, has just five years until it can't pay.  Boston, Chicago and New York, have eight.

Of the 50 cities in the study, 20 won't be able to pay their promised benefits after 2025.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Majority of Cities Saw Foreclosure Activity Increase in Third Quarter

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Sixty-five percent of the nation’s cities saw foreclosure filings increase in the past year.  That's according to new data released Thursday by RealtyTrac, which shows foreclosure filings for 200,000+ metro areas across the country during the third quarter of the year.

As has been the case for some time, the highest rates of foreclosure are in cities in California, Florida, Nevada and Arizona.

Ground zero for foreclosure activity continues to be Las Vegas, with one in 25 homes there subject to some type of foreclosure-related filing during the July to September time period.

Of note, nine of the top-10 metros for foreclosure activity saw foreclosure filings drop in the past year, but that trend is confounded when you look at the balance of the list.

In aggregate, more than 930,000 properties received some sort of foreclosure filing, down about one percent from the 2009 third quarter numbers, according to RealtyTrac. However, that slight reduction on the national level doesn’t mean the foreclosure crisis is abating.

The recent foreclosure sales moratoria are likely going to affect the broader residential real estate market in the fourth quarter, and possibly beyond.

Also, the underlying reasons for foreclosure have yet to be adequately addressed.  Unemployment and underemployment are at the root of many of the missed payments that are keeping millions of Americans from paying their home loans on time.

“The underlying problems that are causing homeowners to miss their mortgage payments -- high unemployment, underemployment, toxic loans and negative equity -- are continuing to plague most local housing markets,” said James Saccacio, CEO of RealtyTrac. “And these historically high foreclosure rates will continue until those problems are resolved.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio