Thursday, July 29, 2010

Home Insurance Rates Based on Your Credit Rating?

OK, we've had our 5 minutes to celebrate passage of the anti-closure bill, H4595.  There is always more work to be done, and another issue had already come across my horizon. 

I received a phone call from a public advocacy attorney who wanted to know if we're seeing the problem she's working on.  It seems that some insurers are now using your credit rating to set your home insurance rates.  Yes, that's what I said.  If you have low credit, you may get a higher insurance rate on your home. 

I guess I don't understand what insurance is all about.  I know that when I insure my car,  my rate is based on what I choose for coverage, what city/town I live in (some places have higher car theft rates), whether my car is garaged, parked in a driveway, or on the street, and the replacement value of parts or the whole car.  Those things make sense to me.

So I stupidly thought that home owner insurance was based on similar factors -- the value of the home and its replacement, the crime rate in the area, ... I don't know the other factors.  Maybe someone will inform me. 

But why would my homeowner insurance rate be linked to my credit rating?  

Our credit rating is being used for a lot more than getting credit these days. Here's some examples...
  • Keeping credit:  If you have difficulty paying on one credit card, other lenders might reduce your credit limit with them -- you've become a risk.
  • Paying off old credit debt:  With credit card reform limiting how and how much lenders can adjust your interest rate, lenders have taken to raising the interest rate of consumers who have been faithfully paying off any old debt.  I'm working with 2 consumers who had low interest rates (9.9%) that suddenly jumped to 29.99% after "credit card reform" went into effect.  So, watch your credit rating; if it slips, I'm sure they'll find a way to increase your interest rate or lower your current limit -- despite credit card reform.
  • Getting a job:  Several industries flat out won't hire anyone with a poor credit rating.  I can understand not hiring someone for the finance department, but the janitors and others with limited or no access to client or patient information?  What's going on here?   A side effect I'm seeing is that hospitals in our area won't hire anyone with a poor credit record.  So what fields are the job training programs in?  Medical!  And the people who are put into these programs are low income folks trying to get back into the job market.  Guess what?  They've mostly got a poor credit history! 
Do you know how your credit rating is affecting your life?  Maybe you should check into it.

Mass Anti-Foreclosure Bill Goes to the Governor

The anti-foreclosure bill, H4595, which I discussed in my post this Tuesday, did pass the House this week.  The Senate did a quick notice that it will accept the House version and thus the bill moves to the governor's desk for signature. Governor Patrick is expected to sign the bill, as he's also a supporter. 

This is great news for Massachusetts homeowners and tenants.  And, as I said on Tuesday, it's also good for banks/lenders and the overall communities.  A win-win all around, we just wonder why it had to take such strong public pressure to get the bill moved to the House floor for a vote.

Let's take 5 minutes to celebrate and then move on to the next issue, because we know there's always something else around the corner!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Learning By Doing - It's Coming Along Pretty Well

Fro some time now, I've been teaching myself the web design tool, Joomla!, an open source, free content management system (CMS), in this case a web CMS.  I've benefited greatly from the advice and postings of other members of the Joomla! Boston User Group, the large community of Joomla! developers and web designers in the Joomla Community Forums and the Joomla! Official Documentation wiki.  Another great resource has been SiteGround's online tutorials, a provider where I have some other Joomla! websites.

Learning by doing is fine; I've learned 95% of my technical skills that way.  But it does not mean we have to do it alone.  When we go it alone, we may develop as many bad habits as good ones.  We miss the coaching that could improve our success and shorten our learning curve.  And it's more fun to work with others on something real to us; something that matters. 

There are many books and tutorials out there on web design and tools that can also help you learn how to use these tools.  The biggest hurdle I encounter with these is that I am missing some technical prerequisite and have to find another resource to bring me up to the level of the book.  I have to learn more than just the tool in my hand.  I have to learn other things that make that tool work.  On a very simple scale, it's a little like following written instructions on how to change a flat tire without knowing what a tire iron is, what lug nuts are, and what a car jack is.  You have to become familiar with the underpinnings of the job in order to do the job right.

I follow several blogs and am engaged with various discussion groups on web design, social networking, and social media.  Quite a few people fall into the trap of saying the task is easy or a particular tool is easy to use when they have not identified that at least some familiarity with other tools is helpful, if not a necessity.  But that does not mean it's impossible to learn or that you shouldn't try it.  We'd never grow out of our comfort zone if we adopted that philosophy.

Instead, I recommend that if you venture into some of these new areas (new to you, they're hardly new to many of the techies out there), get yourself into a user group related to the task or tool, use the online forums that are available, and don't be afraid to be a "newbie."  Admitting that you don't "hack" core code or know any programming skills may generate a negative response from some folks.  Remember, they weren't always programmers or coders; they were beginners once too.  Others will be very helpful to you.  They may want to share their knowledge, help others gain skill in a particular area, or just get a chance to go back to the beginning and remember what it was like when they started out. 

I am hardly done with the website.  There are some links to "placeholders" to get our volunteers to work on those articles for publication.  There are some documents ready that I need to put into place.  More features and functionality are also coming along.  Then I need to teach some volunteers how to add documents to the site, get more critiques on features and functionality, and see what else we want to do with it. 

But for now, the site has enough information to have its place front and center, pushing out the old site and making its debut "live" for our members/patrons and everyone else. 

Use the comment feature here to let me know what you think after you check out the Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Anti-Foreclosure Public Meeting/Vigil

Last evening a group of individuals and organizations from Worcester to Merrimack Valley to the South Shore met at Revere City Hall, joined by Revere Mayor Thomas G. Ambrosino, to urge the MA House of Representatives to pass H4595, An Act to Stabilize Neighborhoods, often called the "anti-foreclosure bill." 

Why a Vigil Now and in Revere?
With two weeks left to the current legislative session, and unanimous passage of a Senate version of this bill, people do not want to wait any longer for foreclosure assistance.  Every month means more homeowners and tenants face eviction.  Many claim that House Speaker Robert DeLeo, who represents Revere and the rest of the Nineteenth District, has blocked the bill from moving to the House floor.  The bill was favorably referred out of the Joint Committee on Housing and sent to the House Committee on Ways and Means back in April -- a committee that DeLeo chaired before becoming House Speaker.  Current Chair is Charles Murphy

Organized and attend by tenants, homeowners, and organizations such as City Life/Vida UrbanaMassachusetts Alliance Against Predatory Lending (MAAPL), and Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH), the public meeting/vigil attracted the eye of many passers-by, some of whom admitted to a sense of unease for their own neighborhoods even if their own homes were not in jeopardy.  Foreclosures turn banks into landlords and homeowners.  The result often is a tenant eviction, through no fault of the tenant, and an empty house that gets vandalized or used/abused by those with no right to be there.  With so many homes in foreclosure, these become abandoned properties that can devalue all the homes and increase crime in a neighborhood.  Communities lose good homeowners and good tenants.  Homes in these neighborhoods "automatically decrease in value by 1% and ... local housing prices by as much as 5.7%."**

Completed Foreclosures in May 2010 were Double the Number for May 2009!*
For anyone who claims that foreclosure prevention programs are "doing the job," the actual number of foreclosures in Massachusetts tell another story.  Year-to-date foreclosures increased a whopping 48% compared to the same period in 2009, and auctions posted for May 2010 were more than double those in May 2009.  This is a scary situation that is getting worse, not better.

Unemployment Increases the Risk
With Congress stalling on unemployment extensions while more and more homeowners face mortgage payments they cannot make, both homeowners and tenants are at risk.  H4595 could provide the relief that makes the difference, which is why it is described as "legislation to stabilize neighborhoods."

H4595 Helps Homeowners, Tenants, and Banks
Information prepared by UMASS Boston, McCormack Center for Social Policy points out that this bill works for everyone affected by foreclosures and the spillover effects of soaring foreclosure rates.  Remember, the Massachusetts Senate has already unanimously passed a similar bill, S2394

Former MAAPL Coordinator Grace Ross, a recent candidate for Governor of Massachusetts, recorded her reflections on the vigil and the issue and sent it to me for inclusion in this post.  I've added some slides to her audio recording and hope you'll take time to learn more about the problem and then call your state representative.  Urge him or her to demand that Speaker DeLeo present H4595 for a vote.  There's not much time left, so do it today!

You may want to press the "full screen" button in the lower right corner of the video screen for some of the slides.
Thank you! 

*Figures provided by MAAPL
**UMASS Boston, McCormack Center for Social Policy, June 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Networked Nonprofit - book review

I eagerly awaited the virtual launch of The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change, by Allison Fine and Beth Kanter and bought my copy during their virtual launch party two weeks ago.  I read it this week, when I could read it in one sitting.   It took patience to wait that long, but I am tired of starting something I really want to read and having to put it aside for days. 

Fine and Kanter are leaders in the social media (SM) movement for nonprofits.  They are the people that people like me go to for advice; we follow their blogs, tweets, FB pages...they are our virtual guides in this world of getting our non profit organizations connected to clients in a meaningful way beyond the borders of our organizations' walls.

Beth Kanter introduced me and the Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square, back in 2005, to how easily SM tools can be used for various purposes.  A tool designed for blogging quickly became our Community Resource Guide, giving us a powerful way to share many resources among staff, volunteers, clients, and...the world.  She doesn't just think outside the box; she thinks beyond the box.  The box does not exist -- there is no barrier.

Straightforward, Practical, and Proven
Both Fine and Kanter are energetic, knowledgeable, and engaging.  The Networked Nonprofit is what you'd expect from them.  Straightforward advice, tested and with proven examples, on how nonprofits need to change their view of the world to survive and flourish in the digital world.

I won't say compete in the digital world because one of the points they make is that nonprofits have to stop seeing other nonprofits as competitors.  Networking is not about competition; it is about collaboration.  I think this is one reason I have never liked the chamber of commerce meeting model, where businesses in the same industry are not supposed to sit together because they are competitors.  Even when I was consulting a lot in the for profit world, my "competitors" were my colleagues.   We often worked collaboratively because it made more sense; my skill set would complement a colleague's from another organization and vice versa. 

I have one foot in the networked nonprofit world at the Cyber Cafe.  I have another foot in the not-so-networked world with my major organization.  They do network with other organizations, but they are not so ready for the digital foray.  (Young padouan must practice patience daily while straddling this dichotomy.)

What's in the Book?
The Networked Nonprofit introduces and defines this concept of the networked nonprofit, describes the social media revolution, and examines the myths surrounding it.  These myths, along with lack of a comfort level (shall we say skill?) with SM, is what prevents many non profits from embracing a set of digital tools that could help them with their mission.  Fine and Kanter then examine the challenges and trends that non profits face, which creates an urgent need to confront their own lack of understanding in this area and make the transition into becoming a networked nonprofit.  The remaining book is divided into how organizations can become a networked nonprofit and how they would operate as one.

Why is this so important?  
...because doing so will help them achieve their mission. 

Kanter has set up a wiki for The Networked Nonprofit where people can share ideas on how put this book into action.  You can help them develop curriculum and instructional materials to help nonprofits learn at a pace that makes sense for them.  Several years ago, I developed a simple model and then a presentation based on the premise that community building in the nonprofit world is like creating a jigsaw puzzle.  Collaborations are enabled and enhanced when you view each organization like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle.  To find the right fit, turn it around and over - examining all the angles - until you see how there might be a fit between your organization and others.  Naturally, I call this the JigSaw Puzzlin' Approach (c).  I'll work on adding that to the wiki later.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

New Template - Hope You Like it

I settled on this template, Watermark, after playing around with another one that just didn't seem right.  The photos didn't set right, layout options weren't available as promised, etc.  But this one required almost no tweaking to look right to me.

Let me know what you think.  Is it easy to read and to find what you are looking for?  Is it aesthetically pleasing?

...comments appreciated,

Playing with New Template Today

If you visit me today, 7/8/10, you may find some items not quite as visually pleasing or somehow out of synch.  I'm playing with a new template and finding out what I like or dislike about its features.  Bear with me; I should be settled on something by this afternoon.