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Thursday, August 25, 2005


NYTIMES: RENTS HEAD UP AS HOME PRICES PUT OFF BUYERS 



Rents are rising again across the country, squeezing tenants who are already coping with high gasoline prices and improving returns to landlords after a deep five-year slump.

The turnaround appears to be another sign that the boom in house prices and sales is finally slowing, as homes have become so expensive in many metropolitan areas that some people have decided to rent instead.

A government report yesterday also offered new evidence that the housing boom could be reaching a peak. The median price of a newly built home fell to $203,800 in July from $219,500 in June, after having risen in the winter and spring, the Commerce Department said.

Still, the number of new homes that were sold continued to grow, and economists cautioned that the recent housing slowdown could turn out to be a pause.

But rents have clearly changed direction, even if the increases have been relatively small. With the economy growing and mortgage rates inching up, more people are looking to rent apartments and homes rather than buy them. At the same time, many buildings are being turned into condominiums, reducing the supply of rental property.

"It seems like the tide has finally turned," said Michael H. Zaransky, co-chief executive of Prime Property Investors, which owns 15 buildings in Chicago.

Rents in about 85 percent of large metropolitan areas have climbed in the last year, according to Global Real Analytics, a research company in San Francisco. Late in 2003, rents were falling in 85 percent of markets.

Only in the hottest markets like New York, Southern California and South Florida have average rents been rising generally.

In Chicago, people who moved into a small brick building on the leafy corner of Sherwin Avenue and Paulina Street two years ago had it very good. They did not have to put down a security deposit, the $50 application fee was waived and, best of all, they got to live rent-free for two months.

By last summer, the enticements had shrunk to one month of free rent. Today, all that a new tenant receives for signing an $1,100-a-month lease are the keys to the front door.


Rents Head Up as Home Prices Put Off Buyers - New York Times

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ARIZONA BRACES FOR WATER WAR WITH OTHER STATES: ARIZONA REPUBLIC 

The state has the funds in place in the event of a regional water war with neighboring states.

ARIZONA REPUBLIC: Arizona has created a legal defense fund to protect its Colorado River allocation in the event a simmering dispute among other states flares into a regional water war.

The state hopes to raise at least $1.5 million in the coming months to prepare for possible lawsuits, though officials admit costs could climb many times higher if the dispute spills into a courtroom.

At stake is Arizona's ability to grow. A worst-case loss in court could force the state to give up half of the water that flows through the Central Arizona Project Canal and leave it in reservoirs to benefit upstream users or satisfy a treaty with Mexico.

Most of that water is now reserved for cities in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties or set aside to settle claims with Indian tribes.

Representatives from all seven Colorado River states will meet today in San Diego to consider a plan that might solve some of the issues without legal action. The plan is aimed at wringing every possible drop from the river even if it means punching holes in clouds.

The states hope to submit their proposals to Interior Secretary Gale Norton next week as part of a larger effort to create a long-term drought plan for the Colorado. Drought and growth have pushed the river past its limits and renewed tensions among the states, whose bickering dates back decades.

Without a workable plan, "litigation is inevitable at some point," said Herb Guenther, director of the state Department of Water Resources. "We've been staring at it for a long time. But we're trying to avoid the head-on collision and see if we can't work together on these issues."

Guenther's agency ponied up the first $200,000 for the defense fund, and the state will ask boards governing the CAP and Salt River Project to contribute similar amounts. Guenther said a fund-raising committee will then seek donations from others with a stake in the river, including cities and home builders.

The state has also retained a lawyer who specializes in water to help with legal research and planning.

The decision to begin raising money for legal action pushes Arizona further into a battle that it had largely avoided in recent years, though the state is certainly no stranger to river wars. Arizona vs. California, a landmark case that helped define the way the Colorado is managed, grew out of Arizona's refusal to ratify the original river compact.

"The Colorado River is extremely important to the state of Arizona," said John Sullivan, associate general manager of SRP's water group and a member of the fund-raising committee. "When other states begin to make noises about threatening Arizona's supply, I think the whole state needs to get involved."

The threat stems from arguments over how the river and its tributaries are divided among users. In states along the upper river, which include Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah, water taken from tributaries is counted against the states' shares.

Ariz. braces for water war

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EXOTIC TRAVELER, GO TO PERU: WASHINGTON POST 

The Pinquen River in Peru meanders through the isolated, barely touristed Manu Biosphere Reserve, which contains some of the world's most diverse flora and fauna. -Photo Credit: National Geographic/Getty Images Photo


The Manu Biosphere Reserve is a sort of buffer zone for the much larger Manu National Park, which is about as big as Switzerland but is off-limits to all but authorized researchers. Located along the eastern slopes of the Andes and sliced by a tributary of the Amazon River, Manu is one of the world's largest biosphere reserves, a U.N. designation for land that includes one or more protected areas managed by the government to promote both conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources.

As our tour operator's pre-departure guide pointed out, there is actually little "jungle" in the reserve. The vast lowlands of the Amazon Basin are correctly termed "rain forest," but they call it a jungle anyway. There are no herds of antelope sprinting by the Range Rover, either. A rain forest quest is one of tracking, listening, patience.

It boasts 1,000 bird species, 1,300 butterfly species and five different landscapes, each with its own climate, geography, flora and fauna.

Only 800 people visit Manu each year, according to the records at the Manu Wildlife Center, the park's visitors center. There are only three lodges and one tent camp in the buffer zone. All are privately owned concessions that operate within government rules on trash and human waste disposal. Tourists must come in with dedicated guides and are grouped with other small parties that have also hired an authorized guide. Ours was 29-year-old Edward Montalvo, and he was the key to our happiness. Edward's parents, he laughed, thought they were naming him "after an American president, Edward Kennedy."

Well, close.

With a master's degree in biology and a special interest in ethnobotany (the study of how plants are used in a particular culture), Edward could spot a flock of macaws two miles away and a rare bug or leaf inches beyond our footsteps. He heard birds long before he found them with his high-powered binoculars and tripod, which he carried on his back. He helped us find not just a couple of monkeys but enormous troops of monkeys swinging through the second layer of the triple-canopy rain forest.

If you're the kind of vacationer who likes to get up early and keep moving, but your husband and teenage son would rather crack the lodge door at 10, then Edward is your man. With a daily itinerary that began with breakfast at 5 a.m., Edward took the nagging out of the trip. No one wanted to disappoint him. And he didn't want us to miss even one sunrise, or one spider, or one moment of perfectly still bird-watching atop a 30-foot-high lookout.

"I love the nature, and the nature loves me," Edward told us over dinner, as we pried out his life story. A soft-spoken man with the broadest of smiles, Edward preferred, he said, to live mostly alone, in the jungle, than anywhere else in the world. He brought us up into a treehouse, constructed 100 feet up a graceful ceiba tree, and served us a pancake breakfast as the deep orange sun came up and the parrots flew by. Then he coached us, one by one, into actually letting go of the platform and dangling down with only a rope harness. Squeals of delight came from everyone--age 8 to 57--on their acrobatic descent.

Even more, Edward let us see the rain forest through his eyes. He found three-dimensional spider webs, see-through butterflies, the pseudo-suicidal fern (which goes limp when touched, to protect itself) and the amazing vine-tree that "walks" as it devours its host tree. With infectious wonder, he would stop suddenly and point to a hollowed-out tree trunk surrounded by the new tree. There, crawling up the moss, would be a rare primitive spider, with fangs that flex up and down, not to be confused with modern spiders that bite horizontally.

With his bird-watching help, we spotted the hoatzin, a unique prehistoric species; giant hummingbirds; the elusive, crimson-colored cock-of-the-rock; and two species of trogons. On the two occasions we climbed above the rain forest canopy, we discovered not only an elegant, gauzy sunrise but four species of macaws and their bright green parakeet cousins. Not quite beyond the range of his binoculars, we spied a huge crimson-crested woodpecker.

Just Wild About Peru

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