Just think...Tarp as signal and symbol

Replacing blue tarps with solid roofs and making other home improvements is good economic stimulus.

TARP, “Troubled Asset Relief Program” — that was the federal program that purchased “difficult to value” assets from banks. We had our own TARP program in that we had a “troubled asset” — a double garage that blocked the sun on the southeast side of our house and a poorly built mudroom that connected the garage to the house. The mudroom leaked so badly that various collection devices had to be installed during downpours. (None of those “collection devices” brought in money, however.)

After dismantling the southern half of the garage in order to create a new shop, our contractor friend Byron decided it was a conservative move to put a gigantic tarp over what remained of the garage so we could all work under partial cover as fall rains began.

Of course it was a blue tarp, the kind that alerts every passer-by that something is going on, hopefully not a private disaster of some sort. In town, a young woman newly back in the area asked if everything was okay. A neighbor who works at our favorite coffee shop said, “You guys must be cold in there,” assuming the blue tarp was over part of our living area — which it wasn’t. The blue tarp also was a signal that the Stoppiellos were up to something and aroused curiosity. What will Anthony, the architect known for including 45 degree angles whenever he has a chance — come up with this time?

But the blue tarp also represented a minor league urban renewal project —  no, make that rural. There were times last summer when there were so many trucks in our yard I thought we had created a mini economic stimulus package. With the glut of housing right now, new construction will be far and few between due to foreclosures, over-built capacity, and second homes being put on the market because their owners can’t afford two mortgages. It felt good to put so many people to work.

My husband, however, has done a lot of the remodelling work himself, especially the onerous task of dismantling the garage roof trusses and pulling and recycling what he thinks were thousands of nails. His architecture projects have slowed to the drip, drip, drip of a leaky faucet so he figured he might as well recover some lumber for our remodel.

Later he served as helper and go-fer for others with more sophisticated construction skills. Think of how many households were impacted by a few hundred or several thousand dollars coming their way: The excavator running a Bobcat; concrete contractor and his helper; waste hauler who delivered and picked up the drop box for demolition debris (mostly asphalt roofing); three different custom builders and one helper (three because we had to be shoehorned into their vacation schedules); a door company for both new and re-used doors put into frames; window company for several new windows; several lumber yards for insulation, tar paper, lumber, nails and miscellaneous other supplies; a five-man crew that re-roofed the entire house plus the remodel addition; a greenhouse supply company for polycarbonate roofing for the greenhouse part of the addition; a plumber; an electrician; a sheet rock contractor to hang, mud, tape and texture the interior; and finally, a three-man crew to install gutters on the whole thing. We even bought a few supplies at the re-use store at our transfer station. We still have to finish the exterior siding so there’ll be more lumber yard purchases, probably in the spring.

The Republicans seem to think tax breaks for the wealthy will stimulate the economy, but during the negotiations between President Obama and the Republicans, Democrats said, and I think they’re right, that extending unemployment benefits will stimulate the economy more effectively. When unemployed people are able to continue paying their mortgages or rent, buy food, medical care, gas for their vehicles, or make car payments, probably every dime in unemployment benefits gets circulated back into the economy and right away. On the other hand, people who have extra cash have been holding onto it and not loaning it or investing in major purchases, or if they’re employers, hiring additional workers. That money is getting stagnant. By contrast, we can all spend some of our relatively puny savings — yes, with trepidation — and put a few more people to work.            

Now here’s my question: What’s more useful in our local economy — sitting on our savings or spending the money now and enjoying a new shop, greenhouse and a mudroom that’s become so beautiful that it must be called a vestibule?


Victoria Stoppiello is a freelance writer who realizes that blue tarps often signal that a roof has blown off or leaks badly and the owners don’t have the capital to fix it. You can reach her at anthonyvictoria1@gmail.com.

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