Zillow takes on housing worries with $5M pledge to The Home Project, its first social impact program

Seattle housing
(Flickr Photo / Harold Hollingsworth )

Zillow Group is leveraging its position as a leading real estate technology company to try to do something about the insecurity some people feel about their ability to stay in their homes as costs rise and incomes don’t across the country.

The Seattle-based company announced Thursday that it was pledging $5 million in cash and in-kind contributions over the next five years as part of its first social impact program called The Home Project.

Zillow points out in a news release that many people can find themselves just one medical bill, job loss, or rental increase away from losing their homes these days. The company cites its own research for cities such as Seattle, where a 5 percent average rent increase in 2016 would have translated to adding 258 people to the homeless population for a total of 12,498.

The Home Project identifies several pillars that Zillow says it can address thanks to its people, platform and products:

  • Community Partners: Non-profits in the regions where the company has offices will receive $25,000 in addition to in-kind contributions such as product development, marketing resources, economic research and volunteer time. This year, these groups are: Women in Need (New York); Habitat for Humanity of Orange County (Irvine, Calif.); and three in Seattle — Mary’s Place, Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) and Seattle Housing Authority. Additional partners in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Denver, Lincoln, San Francisco, and Vancouver B.C., will be named next year.
  • Neighborhood Ambassadors: Employees can assume this role by nominating local non-profits whose missions align with the project. Selected organizations receive $1,500 and coordinated volunteer support office-wide.
  • Product Development: Zillow is already doing this for the dedicated audience that uses its brands each month. In 2016, Zillow Group announced a new rental search filter “Community Pillar and Income Restricted,” which enables renters who qualify as low-income, or with imperfect housing history to connect with a landlord who is willing to rent to them. An employee cash prize was also introduced to encourage those who create such products as part of Hack Weeks and Innovation Weeks.

“At Zillow Group, our mission every day is to help millions of Americans find the place they call home, and we are uniquely positioned to understand the challenges some face and impact their housing outcomes,” Amy Bohutinsky, COO of Zillow Group, said in a statement. “Focusing on housing security is a natural extension of our work, and we will tackle it with all the resources we have to offer — shining a light on information through economic research, mobilizing our employees, contributing to organizations, and building products and features across our real estate and rental brands. We believe everyone deserves a home where they can thrive, regardless of their economic circumstances.”

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Study: Seattle is the nation’s top real estate market thanks to tech giants like Amazon and … breweries

Amazon office buildings and cranes dot the Seattle skyline. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

As if the forest of cranes dotting the Seattle skyline weren’t evidence enough of the city’s transformation to a region on par with New York and San Francisco, real estate and financial insiders named Seattle the top real estate market in the U.S. in a new report from PwC.

Seattle lept to the top of the annual Emerging Trends in Real Estate report on the back of its strong roster of tech employers, educated workforce and vibrant recreational opportunities. Seattle broke Texas’ stranglehold on the top spot in the report as a city from the Lone Star State was number one each of the last three years.

To build the report, now in its 39th year, PwC interviewed 800 people in the real estate and finance industries and received survey responses from another 1,600.

Real estate pros rated Seattle, which is in the midst of an unprecedented building boom juiced by the rapid expansion of Amazon, as the number one development market and the number two investment market, behind only Salt Lake City.

There are plenty of cultural draws as well, according to the report. Seattle is among the top rated microbreweries with one per every 19,000 people, which still doesn’t seem like nearly enough. Seattle is also a top five culinary market, and 93 percent of residents have a park within walking distance.

Seattle, along with New York and Chicago, accounted for half of all new downtown office buildings in the U.S. in the past year, according to the report. And the construction boom is not just in the city, as the Seattle area was one of eight regions representing half of all suburb office buildings completed in the last year.

The report quantifies just how fast Seattle will grow as our largest employers continue to truck in people from all over the world. Close to 150,000 people are expected to move here over the next five years, or roughly the equivalent of Seattle’s neighbor to the east, Bellevue, or cities like Syracuse, N.Y. or Dayton, Ohio. And the city is getting younger all the time, with the population of 15- to 34-year-olds expected to rise 17.3 percent over the next five years.

These people are moving to Seattle work for homegrown tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft as well as the more than 100 out-of-town tech companies that have established engineering outposts here. A whopping 12 percent of workers are employed in a STEM job, according to the report, with 4.5 percent of people working in computer programming related occupations. Seattle is also churning out a lot of new ideas, with 6.63 patents awarded per 1,000 residents.

Seattle cranes
Cranes dot the neighborhood around Amazon’s South lake Union campus, with its Doppler and Day 1 towers and Spheres visible at top right. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Rising populations are leading to problems for cities across the West Coast. Along with Seattle, cities like San Francisco, San Jose and Honolulu are facing affordability problems that could slow down growth. Even secondary areas on the West Coast like Sacramento and Orange County are struggling with affordability.

All the new people coming to town are also jamming up streets in places like Seattle, Portland and
San Francisco. Several West Coast markets identified new transportation projects as a top priority in the coming years.

As these issues have mounted, investors are looking down the road from major cities. This could lead to greater investment and development in places like Tacoma, Sacramento and the Inland Empire outside of Los Angeles.

“Emerging Trends interviewees have repeatedly mentioned the attractiveness of looking at investments in these markets that are adjacent to major markets in a region when the primary market becomes too competitive,” according to the report.

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President Trump, a frequent Amazon critic, may have just helped the retail giant on its pioneering drone delivery quest

President Donald Trump (BigStock Photo)

Tech giants are not always on the same page with President Donald Trump. But they might have found some common ground — or perhaps should we say common airspace — when it comes to drones.

President Trump today announced a new initiative to make “American aviation great again” through a series of initiatives to boost the usage and integration of unmanned aircraft systems with the national airspace system. The move could be a huge boon for companies such as Amazon and Google, which have hit regulatory headwinds in the past around their efforts to implement technologies that would allow for drone deliveries.

Amazon has tested some of its drone delivery efforts in England, in part due to the friendly regulatory environment. “We’re getting really good cooperation,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said in Seattle last year.

Bezos famously announced its drone delivery program in an episode of 60 Minutes nearly four years ago.

Drone landing in England
Amazon’s delivery drone comes in for a landing over an English field near Cambridge. (Amazon via YouTube)

“The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need to say, ‘Look, this thing can’t land on somebody’s head while they’re walking around their neighborhood,” said Bezos, predicting at the time it could take four to five years for the program to take flight in the U.S.

Now, Trump — a frequent critic of Amazon and Bezos — may be opening doors to Amazon and others to spark drone delivery, among other UAV activities.

“Our Nation will move faster, fly higher, and soar proudly toward the next great chapter of American aviation,” said President Trump in a statement issued today.

One key component of the proposal set forth by President Trump’s administration is the ability to allow drones to fly beyond visual line of sight, which is important for drone operators that want to fly drones to residences or businesses to deliver goods from warehouses that might be miles away.

Amazon appears to like the new steps.

“Amazon supports the administration’s efforts to create a pilot program aimed at keeping America at the forefront of aviation and drone innovation,” Gur Kimchi, vice president of Amazon Prime Air, said in a statement provided to Bloomberg News.

Here’s the full press release that the White House issued today:

BRINGING AMERICAN AVIATION INTO THE 21ST CENTURY: President Donald J. Trump and his Administration are creating a new drone Integration Pilot Program that will accelerate drone integration into the national airspace system.

• With the increase in the number of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly called drones, America’s aviation pioneers need a regulatory framework that encourages innovation while ensuring airspace safety.

• America’s regulatory framework for aviation is outdated, limiting the integration of drones into the national airspace system and driving American technology companies to seek commercial testing and deployment opportunities overseas.

• Under this pilot program, the Department of Transportation (DOT) will enter into agreements with State, local, and tribal governments to establish innovation zones for testing complex UAS operations and to attempt different models for integrating drones into local airspace.

o Using existing Federal authorities, the program will accelerate testing of currently restricted UAS operations – such as beyond-visual-line-of-sight flights and flights over people.

o This program will open the skies for the delivery of life-saving medicines and commercial packages, inspections of critical infrastructure, support for emergency management operations, and surveys of crops for precision agriculture applications.

o The pilot program will also allow testing of new UAS traffic management systems and detection and tracking capabilities, which are needed to fully integrate UAS operations into the national airspace system.

o The pilot program will increase the number and complexity of UAS operations across the Nation, and will help in the development of a future national aviation regulatory framework that can fuel American leadership in unmanned aviation.

o Jurisdictions eager to participate in the program are strongly encouraged to work closely with industry partners and technical experts to draft proposals for participation.

THE NEXT GENERATION OF AMERICAN AERONAUTICS: Drones are a critical, fast-growing part of American aviation, increasing efficiency, productivity, and jobs.

• UAS, commonly called drones, present opportunities to enhance the safety of the American public, increase the efficiency and productivity of American industry, and create tens of thousands of new American jobs.

• The dramatic increase in UAS deployment in the United States is unprecedented.

o Over one million UAS owners have registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

o The number of commercial UAS are projected to increase fivefold by 2021.

• The FAA UAS Integration Office is coordinating Federal efforts to integrate UAS into the national airspace system

• Through its “Know Before You Fly” educational campaign, the FAA has developed relationships with almost 150 partners, including drone manufacturers, law enforcement agencies, retailers, labor organizations, and institutions of higher education.

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Cutting-edge Microsoft data center fuels a new vision for global energy efficiency

Gov. Jay Inslee — flanked by leaders at Microsoft, Cummins, and McKinstry — cuts a cable to mark the official launch of the Advanced Energy Lab. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

In an industrial Seattle warehouse with plywood walls and exposed pipes, a group of about 60 people gathered Wednesday to mark a breakthrough that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee believes “we will look back on and be very proud.”

The innovation — developed by Microsoft, McKinstry, and Cummins — isn’t as sexy as the smartphone or surprising as the voice-controlled speaker but it could have big implications for the future of cloud computing and sustainable energy. Today, those three companies unveiled the Advanced Energy Lab, a pilot program designed to prove that energy-hungry data centers can be powered by fuel cells.

In a gleaming white room in the warehouse sits a 20-rack data center concept with fuel cells mounted above. Natural gas is pumped directly into the fuel cells and then converted to power to run the racks. The goal is to replace the traditional way data centers are powered, by moving energy over long distances from power plants through substations before converting it into the right voltage at its final destination. The fuel cell technology could herald a big shift away from that method, reducing the energy loss that occurs by transporting and converting the energy.

“This is small but it can grow into very, very significant industrial applications,” Inslee said.

Gov. Inslee delivers the keynote at the opening of the Advanced Energy Lab. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Microsoft and other tech giants have been working to develop more sustainable ways to operate their massive and growing data centers, which hold everything from your employer’s shared documents to your kid’s homecoming photos.

As information increasingly moves to the cloud, companies like Microsoft are forced to expand their data centers to keep up, which butts up against the company’s energy efficiency goals.

Fuel cells sit on top of the 20-rack data center pilot at the Advanced Energy Lab. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

“This is a necessary challenge for us to surmount,” Inslee said during the presentation and unveiling ceremony. “Because we like our data, we like it in gigabytes, and we also like to breath clean air and we insist on both of those accomplishments at the same time.”

Sean James is running Microsoft’s fuel cell program. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

If the fuel cell technology proves viable and cost-effective, it could extend beyond data centers. It would be particularly useful for facilities that require electricity and water heating, like apartment buildings, restaurants, and hospitals, according to Microsoft Principal Sean James, who is managing the data center program.

James also said the fuel cells could be powered by renewable energy sources but that isn’t currently feasible for data centers.

“Unfortunately, if you need a lot of gas right now your choice is really, practically, natural gas,” he said. “We’re not satisfied with that. We’re going to be really pushing the industry.”

Funding for the Advanced Energy Lab comes from Microsoft, McKinstry, Cummins, Siemens, and the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Clean Energy Fund. The concept data-center isn’t online yet but engineers will use it to run tests and prepare the technology for real-world deployment.

James is staying mum on the timeline but “whenever it is, it’s not going to be fast enough for me,” he said.

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OpenStack’s public cloud dreams are still dreams, but emerging tech trends offer new hope

OpenStack, an open-source project that early backers once thought could provide an alternative to Amazon Web Services, has fallen decidedly short of that goal. Still, the foundation behind the development of the cloud computing platform thinks the software might find new life as edge computing starts toe emerge.

Mark Collier, an early leader of the project and now chief operating officer of The OpenStack Foundation, acknowledged the reality of cloud infrastructure computing in 2017 in a recent conversation. The public cloud has gone from an experiment to a part of almost everyone’s IT strategy, but Amazon Web Services dominates this market. Microsoft is a strong second, and there is a pretty crowded group of others below them fighting for relevance.

First introduced in 2010 by RackSpace and NASA, OpenStack was intended to be an open-source way for enterprise tech companies to provide something competitive with AWS through a collection of services, including compute, storage, networking and a lot of other cloud essentials. After years of its vendor partners running amok scrambling to catch up to AWS, buyers took their business elsewhere, and the project settled into a role as the go-to product for private clouds — cloud-native philosophies put into practice on self-managed infrastructure — and the basis for several niche public cloud providers around the world.

Half of the Fortune 100 companies are running OpenStack, Collier said. Because anyone can download OpenStack and set it up on their own, “we don’t really have precise numbers, but we certainly believe there are many, many thousands of OpenStack clouds out there,” he said.

The project has caught on inside the media and retail industries, he said, and CERN is also using it to power an internal cloud that manages the Large Hadron Collider. AT&T uses it for its DirecTV streaming service, and Walmart is actually running its online store on OpenStack, Collier said.

An overview of the OpenStack model for infrastructure management. (OpenStack Image)

While it’s pretty clear OpenStack isn’t going to be an AWS killer any time soon, there are new places emerging where Collier thinks OpenStack might make sense.

Edge computing is one of them. As more large multinational companies start to realize the size and quality of the data they can get from placing sensors around their assets, they’re going to buy more of those sensors. And over time a lot of people — including Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella — think that those sensors will need to more and more computing themselves because of latency concerns in sending that data back to a centralized cloud provider.

“I think that the notion that (workloads are) just going to go to three or four massive companies that’s just going to run all the infrastructure in some centralized location is not going to come true,” Collier said. The big cloud providers are certainly aware of the edge computing trend, and will deploy services around it to try and grab that business, but services built around OpenStack at least have a chance of competing for that business before the market matures, he said.

There’s also still some opportunity among companies that would like to adopt a hybrid cloud strategy but realize their on-premises infrastructure could use a face lift.

“I think we kind of reached this point where people know that in order to really manage infrastructure at scale, you’ve got to do it through software,” Collier said. “I think OpenStack has come a long way, in terms of being reliable and scalable.”

OpenStack is something of a cautionary tale among cloud computing veterans, and it’s illustrative of challenges faced by industry standards groups.

The OpenStack Foundation tried to be Switzerland among its base of tech vendors when it came to how the software would actually run in data centers, and that resulted in vendors like Rackspace, IBM, and Red Hat competing fiercely to offer the “best” OpenStack implementation. Several members of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which is driving the conversation around modern cloud computing practices, made it very clear to me earlier this year that they had no intention of repeating the mistakes OpenStack made in trying to manage the demands of tech vendors.

Collier acknowledges that the project might do a few things differently if it could hit refresh, but, as you might expect, isn’t ready to give up on OpenStack.

“We’re basically a collection of people — 85,000 members of our foundation, thousands of developers in 180 countries — that are trying to build open infrastructure so people have an alternative for when it makes sense,” he said. If emerging technologies like containers and serverless really do allow users to move their workloads between clouds, Collier thinks OpenStack could play a role as one of those destinations.

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Tenement Museum’s New Exhibit Tells Stories of Families Who Immigrated to the Lower East Side in Recent Decades

The Tenement Museum, housed in an 1863 building at 97 Orchard St. in Manhattan, has always shared stories about life on the Lower East Side in days of yore. Visitors can see an 1870s saloon run by German immigrants, step inside the apartment of a turn-of-the-century Jewish garment-shop worker, check out an Italian Catholic family’s home as it looked during the Great Depression. You can even take a tour with a costumed interpreter, 14-year-old Victoria Confino, an emigrée from the Ottoman Empire who lived at 97 Orchard in 1916. (When I took my 6-year-old daughter on the Confino tour, Victoria promptly put her to work doing laundry with a scrub board and tin tub, and showed us how to fool the gas meter by creating fake tokens out of ice. We were rapt.)

Now the museum has launched a brand-new exhibit in a new (but still old!) location at 103 Orchard Street. It’s called “Under One Roof,” and it’s the first time the museum has told the stories of relatively recent immigrants. Over the course of a 90-minute tour (as with 97 Orchard apartments, tours are the only way to look inside the building), visitors get a glimpse into the lives of three families who actually lived there.

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Drinking Vodka With Zhukov, Talking Basketball With Khrushchev

On July 4 Khrushchev arrived at Spasso House, the Moscow home of the American ambassador, as if he did not have a care in the world. He had begun to make a habit of dropping in on national-day receptions, his way of telling the world that a new day was dawning in the Soviet Union. Ambassador Bohlen had been informed the night before that Khrushchev and several other top government officials would be attending America’s national-day celebration, and Bohlen alerted the embassy’s three other Russian speakers, me among them, that each of us would be responsible for a Soviet leader, meaning we had to make certain that he was enjoying himself. The ambassador, of course, would get Khrushchev, and I got … Marshal Zhukov! Why I don’t know, but there was something wildly incongruous about my new responsibility. Zhukov was a 60-year-old marshal in the Soviet Army, a World War II hero who had led troops into battle at Kiev and Stalingrad, a minister of defense in charge of nuclear weapons. I was a 26-year-old ex-PFC (private first class) in the U.S. Army, a translator who happened to have learned enough Russian to get a job at the American Embassy in Moscow.

Zhukov was as short as he was wide, his chest was adorned with a forest of medals, all richly deserved, and he loved his vodka. I was tall and thin and indulged in a glass of wine once every week or two, if that. I decided almost immediately that if I was to do no harm to U.S.-Russian relations, I had to find a way to drink with Zhukov without consuming any vodka. Early on July 4 I raced to Spasso House and conferred with Tang, the ambassador’s Chinese-born butler-waiter-handyman, who I always thought was in the employ of at least six secret services. He was short, wiry, and imaginative. More important on this special July 4, he was a master of conspiracy. How, I wondered, could Tang serve vodka to Zhukov and water to me? That was the challenge, rivaling in importance, I imagined, the U.S.-Russian competition for influence in the oil-rich Middle East. Thinking for no more than a minute, Tang, with a broad smile on his face, exclaimed, “Got it!”

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Today on Jewcy: A chat with the very interesting star of a new short about Jewish pirates.

The Pirate Captain Toledano, a ten-minute short from Modern Orthodox director Arnon Shorr, is making the festival circuit with screenings in New York and Los Angeles over the next few weeks. Jewcy had the chance to talk to star Stephen DeCordova about the many things that led him to get involved with this memorable project.

Click here to read the full post on Jewcy.

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The Knesset Goes All ‘Mean Girls’

What do you do if you drive into work one morning and find someone else parking in your spot? The spot that’s so clearly yours? The one that has your name written on a large sign in clear, big letters? Maybe you honk. Maybe you shrug your shoulders and go park elsewhere. But if you’re an Israeli parliamentarian, you might as well take out your lipstick and go crazy on the offending cars.

This is what happened in the Knesset yesterday. The drama, worthy of an overwrought teen comedy, began when Leah Fadida, a newly sworn-in MK with the Zionist Union party, arrived at work. This being her first day and all, she wasn’t exactly clear on where she should park, so she ended up accidentally taking the spot of Ksenia Svetlova, another Zionist Union MK. When Svetlova arrived at the Knesset a short while later, she was furious to find someone else in her spot.

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