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Homes for the homeless...inside billboards
billboards for homeless main
Billboards that double as homes could help solve homelessness in cities.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Billboard ads are expensive to construct, maintain and rent, but they don't serve any functional purposes -- so Michal Polacek redesigned them to house the homeless.

His concept, called "Project Gregory," would create wooden billboard structures fitted with noise and thermal insulation. They'd have two rooms: One with a table, two chairs and bed, the other with a toilet, sink and shower -- all in less than 200 square feet.

Polacek, 26, came up with the concept as part of his master's dissertation at the Academy of Art in Banksa Bystrica, Slovakia, about three years ago. He brought on Matej Nedorolík to help with communications (Polacek doesn't speak English). The two also head up an architecture and design firm.

Related: Urban infrastructure gets a second life

This week, they've launched a formal effort to turn their billboard concept into a reality. Project Gregory launched as a Kickstarter campaign to raise 41,000 euros (roughly $50,000) to build a prototype for the billboard homes.

They hope to complete the prototype by next spring. After that, they plan to secure permits to start building the first 10 homes in Slovakia. Advertisements on the homes would go for 150 euros a month, according to the project's Kickstarter page.

billboards for homeless interior
An interior view of the billboard living space.

The homes will be fully functioning and connected to the city's water and electricity grids (since billboards are already wired to stay lit at night, they'd be able to optimize energy use).

"We'd like to spread it to other countries," Nedorolík said of Project Gregory. "The whole idea is that after [the funding is raised], the project will be able to develop itself."

And there's certainly a need. The European Union estimates that roughly 4 million people are homeless during the course of a year. The homeless population in the U.S. is declining, but there are still 578,000 homeless people, according to the census.

Related: Greatest urban projects of all time

"First, we tried to ask for sponsorship from companies," said Nedorolík. When they didn't get responses, they decided to go the crowdfunding route.

Because Kickstarter only accepts projects from nine countries (Slovakia is not one of them), they brought on friend Martin Lee Keniz (who has a U.K. driver's license) as an external partner to get the campaign up and running.

Nedorolík said ideally, cities and countries with high rates of homelessness would invest in the billboard homes and offset the cost with advertisements.

And there's more innovation to come: They're currently designing a billboard home layout for two people.


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Will this get millennials to buy homes?
student debt homebuyer Wall Street
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

One Wall Street firm has an idea that's raising eyebrows: forgive some student debt for first-time homebuyers.

It's too early to say exactly how the stimulus measure BlackRock (BLK) suggested would work, but it would take Congressional action because the federal government administers the majority of student debt.

The move could be a creative way to ease student debt, which has quickly become a $1.2 trillion Achilles heel in the American economy.

Millennials aren't buying many homes. Mounting student debt may be part of the problem.

"Fiscal policy initiatives targeted at young workers with high levels of student indebtedness might, perhaps surprisingly to some, have an outsize impact in supporting the housing recovery and financial markets," Rick Rieder, co-head of Americas Fixed Income at BlackRock, wrote in a recent commentary.

BlackRock estimates there are about seven million people in the U.S. that would be eligible for an FHA-approved mortgage but are burdened by student loans. The thinking is that because they are devoting a large chunk of their income to pay down student debt, they probably aren't saving for a down payment on a house.

If just one million of them are converted to homebuyers through some form of student debt forgiveness, more than three million jobs could be created, Rieder recently told CNNMoney.

Related: Why people still feel the economy stinks

"That then becomes productive debt. There is a real velocity to that. Those people have jobs, they start spending, they are taxpayers and essentially you self-fund" the program, Rieder said.

He hopes such a proposal could get bipartisan support given that it boosts the housing sector and jobs -- and tax revenue.

Related: Is student loan debt hurting the housing recovery?

The huge debt obstacle: Student loan debt has surged by over 350% since 2003, while mortgage debt is up just 50% over that span, BlackRock said.

A recent National Association of Realtors survey revealed that almost half of Americans pointed to student debt as a "huge obstacle" to homeownership.

For every $250 a month in student loans that a household owes, it reduces their power to purchase a home by $44,000, according to estimates by John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

These struggles can also trickle down to the rest of the real estate market. Lower levels of first-time buyers "makes it more difficult for existing homeowners to sell and trade-up," New York Fed President William Dudley said in a recent speech.

student debt
A much larger portion of personal debt for people aged 20 to 29 is devoted to student loans than in 2005.

To look at it another way, stats from Bloomberg and BlackRock show that student loans now account for 36.8% of personal debt for people aged 20 to 29. It was only 12.9% in 2005. Mortgage debt, however, has fallen. It now makes up less than half of personal debt, down from nearly two-thirds in 2005.

Is this good policy? Despite these points, academic economists are still debating the relationship between student debt and the real estate market.

"The arguments that student loan debt causes a decline in first mortgage rates are extremely weak," said Mark Kantrowitz, an expert on college financing and publisher of Edvisors.com. He said it's more likely that first mortgage rates are being dragged down by the sluggish economy.

"The solution to helping someone with too much debt isn't to let them put on more debt," Kantrowitz said.

Related: 40 million Americans now have student loan debt

Beth Akers, a fellow in the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy, said that while it's a "reasonable hypothesis" that student debt is preventing first-time home buys, it's still "not substantiated."

She said the fraction of take-home pay that households are devoting to student loans is actually flat or even declining over the past two decades.

Forgiving student debt for first-time homebuyers "probably would make a difference, just as writing checks to people, regardless of their student debt, would make a difference. But it isn't necessarily good policy," Akers said.

Related: Dirty tricks of the student loan industry

Will Congress act? There are already some programs on the books for loan forgiveness, though most of them focus on aiding health-care professionals or public service jobs.

The White House and others have proposed to ease the student debt burden by extending the terms of the debt and lowering rates, but BlackRock's idea would go a step further.

"It's all helpful but the problem is those programs don't have any velocity to it. You need to turn it into something that is productive," said Rieder.

Representatives from the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, an outspoken proponent of easing the student debt burden, declined to comment for this story.

"I commend them (BlackRock) for offering an idea, but wonder whether it might be met with some skepticism by the average person (or elected officials) simply because it is coming from what people perceive to be 'Wall Street,'" Russell Price, senior economist at Ameriprise Financial, wrote in an email.


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Baby Boomers say they aren't moving out of their homes
The sandwich generation
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Instead of flocking to sunny beach havens or downsizing to a condo in the city during their retirement years, a majority of Baby Boomers say they're just going to stay put in their old home.

In a survey of 4,000 Baby Boomer households conducted by the non-profit Demand Institute, 63% of Boomers plan to stay in their current home once they retire.

Much of that has to do with the recession. The financial crisis put an end to years of rapid wealth accumulation, causing the typical Boomer household's net worth to fall to $143,000 in 2013 from just over $200,000 in 2007, according to Federal Reserve data.

Related: Why everyone is moving to Texas

Not only that, but this generation is also carrying a lot more mortgage debt. The survey found that the median outstanding mortgage balance for 50- to 69-year-olds was $118,000 in 2013, up from $48,743 in 1992.

"Boomers' nest eggs have shrunk dramatically in recent years," said Jeremy Burbank, vice president at The Demand Institute, the non-profit think tank run by the Conference Board and Nielsen. "Financially, this generation is not necessarily ready for retirement, and half of their assets are tied up in their homes."

boomers move

Not everyone is planning on staying put, however; 37% of the Boomers surveyed said they were planning to make a move.

Nearly half of the movers said they wanted to get a bigger place -- and that they intended to spend more money on it. But with a median net worth of just $40,000, this group was among some of the least wealthy surveyed. In fact, the report found that many of those who were looking to "upsize" were also looking to switch from renting to owning.

Those who said they plan to move into a smaller home were much more affluent, with a median net worth of $322,000, the Demand Institute found.

Related: How to avoid homebuyer remorse

Whatever the size of the home, Boomers seemed generally unconcerned about whether or not it would be "aging-friendly" -- even though a whopping three-quarters of them reported having significant health issues, such as cardiovascular conditions, arthritis, obesity and high blood pressure.

And only one-in-five of the movers said they intend to live in senior housing.

Instead, many of those surveyed said they plan to use their money to remodel things like kitchens and bathrooms in order to increase the value of their existing homes.

More than 17% of the 76 million Boomers are already retired and about 10,000 will reach the traditional retirement age of 65 every day for the next 15 years. And even though many Boomers plan to stay in their current homes, the Demand Institute estimates that this generation will purchase about $1.9 trillion in homes over the next five years.

"Their choices will have a real impact on the housing sector in the next several years," said Burbank.

Related: Asset allocation; fix your mix



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Dirty tricks of the student loan industry
student loan servicers
Graduates cheer during the Bowie State University graduation ceremony in May 2013.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau put student loan servicers on notice this week with a report detailing industry practices it found suspect.

These companies help collect on the $1.2 trillion in student debt, but the report didn't name names of shoddiest actors.

Related: Do any of these practices sound familiar? Tell us about it.

The agency found that some companies would charge borrowers late fees on all their loans when payments for one fell short — even if the rest were paid in full.

Related: These nine people are drowning in student debt

It spotted lots of other little tricks, too: minimum payments were overstated and late fees got charged even if borrowers made payments within a grace period. Servicers failed to provide information borrowers needed to deduct student loan payments from their taxes. They called borrowers 5,000 times at odd hours during the CFPB's 45-day examination period.

Related: Abolish my debt too, Occupy Wall Street!

In more serious cases, some borrowers who fell behind on payments were told they couldn't dismiss their student loans in bankruptcy even though there's a slim possibility in cases of "undue hardship".

Sen. Warren cites CNNMoney story in hearing

The agency, born of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, said in a statement that firms with questionable practices are contacted for corrective measures. In particularly severe cases, it opens investigations.


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Game 7 standing room only tickets: $800
game 7 world series
Kansas City won big on Tuesday, sending ticket prices skyrocketing for Game 7.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

People are paying about $1,000 to see Kansas City play San Francisco in Game 7 of the World Series Wednesday night.

Even standing room only tickets are going for as much as $800 on StubHub.

Ticket prices started spiking Tuesday night during Game 6, when it became apparent that the series would go seven games for the first time in three years. Kansas City fans scrambled for tickets.

"Prices started rising in the 2nd inning as K.C. scored seven runs, and they peaked in the 6th after that ninth run scored in the bottom of the 5th," said Connor Gregoire, analyst with ticket search engine SeatGeek.

Kansas City beat San Francisco 10-0.

Game 7 average ticket prices are $1,077 according to SeatGeek. That's nearly twice as much as what St. Louis Cardinals fans paid when their team forced a seventh game against the Texas Rangers in 2011.

Related: World Series strikes out with lowest Game 1 ratings in history

Kansas City is a small markets for professional sports, but its fans haven't seen the team make it to the World Series in 29 years. That drought has pushed up ticket prices throughout this year's series.

Kansas City Royals return to World Series

The only recent baseball game that was more expensive was Game 6 of the 2013 World Series, when the Boston Red Sox won its first World Series at home in 95 years. The average price for that game: $1,175, according to SeatGeek.

Related: LeBron tickets soar to $800


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