Statistically Significant

Illustrations by Travis Foster


The current foreclosure wave in Massachusetts has knocked down a disproportionate number of multifamily homes, at least compared with the housing market crash of the early 1990s. That’s one finding in Subprime Facts: What (We Think) We Know About the Subprime Crisis and What We Don’t, a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. The four authors note that 28 percent of foreclosures in the Bay State in 2006-07 were on multifamily residences (which account for only 10 percent of all home purchases), up from 20 percent in 1991-92. And what the authors call “default hazards” are rising for purchasers of double- and triple-deckers: “In the current foreclosure wave, multi-family homes are defaulting more than three times more quickly than single-families and condos purchased at the same time.”

One reason is that the current foreclosure wave, tied as it is to the prevalence of subprime loans, is crashing over low-income and minority neighborhoods (where multifamily buildings are more common) to a greater extent than was true in the 1990s crisis. The Fed report also speculates that many “underwater” mortgagers had bought multifamily homes as investments, hoping that rental income from second and third housing units would cover mortgage payments, but market-rate rents have not risen as fast as they expected. And they can’t count on an influx of new tenants who have lost their homes in the more fashionable areas of the city: Condominiums accounted for only 13 percent of foreclosures in 2006-2007, down from 34 percent in 1991-92.

hotel revenue is very good to certain suburbs

Boston is in the middle of a hotel boom, and the state Department of Revenue recently estimated that the city raised $35.5 million last year from its local tax of 4 percent on room occupancies (separate from the 5.7 percent state tax). Cambridge was far behind, at $6.4 million, and from there the list of top hotel towns gets a bit unpredictable: Waltham at $2.0 million, Barnstable at $1.6 million, Yarmouth at $1.4 million, and Burlington at $1.3 million, with the Boston suburbs of Marlborough, Newton, and Woburn also topping the million-dollar mark. (Almost every community with a significant hotel or motel presence has enacted a 4 percent tax, the maximum allowed by the state.)

However, revenue for the state’s second-tier cities was not as impressive. Worcester realized $860,000; Springfield took in $940,000; and Lowell raised a lowly $260,000.

it takes a lot of practice to get through shampoo u

As reported by, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford recently vetoed a bill requiring 1,500 hours of training for hair-salon shampooers before they’re licensed to rinse. “What we want to do is avoid laws on the books that don’t pass the Comedy Central litmus test,” he said, referring to the cable home of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

But does Massachusetts pass the test? According to the state’s Division of Professional Licensure, a “hairdresser/cosmetologist” must log 1,000 hours of training in order to be licensed — but then can only work under the supervision of a veteran stylist. It takes another two years on the job before you can legally make someone blonde in your own shop, a requirement that might not seem funny to young entrepreneurs.

high-cost hybrids

The town of Amherst recently — and reluctantly — abandoned the idea of using green cars for its police fleet, reports the Amherst Bulletin. It turns out that Chevy hybrids would have cost $51,000 each, or more than twice as much as the $20,000 Crown Victorias that the department customarily buys.

coyote count

The state’s Division of Fisheries and Wildlife notes that a record 442 coyotes were “taken” by licensed hunters during the 2007-08 season, up from 222 the previous year. The next season runs from October 18 through March 9, 2009.

franklin county enjoys a (slight) rebirth

According to Census estimates released this spring, Franklin County achieved a turnaround, of a sort, last year. It recorded 702 births and only 632 deaths in the period between July 2006 and May 2007, making for a “natural increase” of 70 people. During the previous year, deaths outnumbered births by 667 to 645. Nevertheless, the county’s total population still declined by 104 last year, thanks to residents moving elsewhere.

The two counties at either end of the Bay State — Barnstable and Berkshire — were on the losing end of the “natural” scale last year, as they were in the previous year’s count. In the 11 remaining counties, births outnumbered deaths, but Nantucket was the only one where more Americans moved in than out.

wisconsin takes a torch to the “frankenstein veto”

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In Wisconsin, voters finally changed their Constitution this spring to eliminate the “Frankenstein veto,” which allowed governors to cross out words and numbers in order to create new sentences, thus completely changing the meaning of legislation before signing it. According to an Associated Press report, the push to change the Constitution came after the current governor, Jim Doyle, “crossed out more than 700 words and stitched together others to create one new sentence allowing his administration to transfer $427 million out of the transportation fund.”

The change to the state Constitution passed by a margin of nearly 3-to-1. According to the AP report, Wisconsin governors will still be able to cross out individual digits in legislation in order to create new, lower numbers. But they can’t cross out letters within words; the “Vanna White veto” was abolished by voters in 1990.