President Trump 'Wrong' To Call London Embassy Area An 'Off Location,' Residents Say

Jan 12, 2018
Originally published on January 12, 2018 4:39 pm

When President Trump announced Thursday that he was canceling his visit to the United Kingdom next month to open the new U.S. Embassy in London, he sounded less like the leader of the world's most powerful country and more like the real estate developer he once was.

On Twitter, he complained that the Obama administration (it was actually George W. Bush's) had traded an embassy located in one of the British capital's top districts, Mayfair, for a new one in "an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!"

Trump was referring to the London borough of Wandsworth, south of the River Thames, which is now home to a massive development known as Nine Elms. Once a logistical hub for distributing fruit and vegetables, among other things, Nine Elms today is dotted with cranes and includes multimillion-dollar waterfront apartments.

"I thought he got it wrong," said Ravi Govindia, leader of the Wandsworth Council, referring to Trump's implicit criticism of the area.

That may not be the only thing Trump got wrong. The embassy, in fact, cost about $1 billion, according to U.S. government officials.

In an extraordinary statement Friday, the embassy effectively defended itself against the president's criticisms. A spokesman said the new embassy was not financed through taxpayer dollars but through a property swap after the old embassy in Mayfair became too rundown and could no longer provide adequate security.

"The new Embassy in Nine Elms is one of the most secure, hi-tech, and environmentally-friendly embassies the United States has ever built," the statement said. "We are strongly committed in the Special Relationship between our two countries and we are confident the new Embassy will provide the necessary platform to continue our cooperation."

Besides the embassy, the Nine Elms development is anchored by the old Battersea Power station, a red-brick colossus with towering white smokestacks that was famously featured along with a floating pig on the cover of the 1977 Pink Floyd album Animals. After sitting empty for decades, the building — which also served as a shooting location for the 2008 Batman movie, The Dark Knight -- will become home to luxury apartments and Apple's U.K. headquarters.

"As a real estate person ... I think [President Trump] would see that there is always an opportunity in regenerating and redeveloping a site," said Govindia. "It may not look great to start with, but it is what you do with it that makes it great and that's where the opportunities and profit are."

It's not just government boosters who have nice things to say about the area. Residents are optimistic about its future as well.

Saina Behnejad moved into her mother's apartment in Nine Elms last year. The 25-year-old magazine editor says when her mother bought here in the early 2000s, the area was gray and quiet, without tall buildings or many people. Now, she says, Nine Elms — which has two Tube stops coming — feels more vibrant.

Behnejad says people in the neighborhood weren't offended by Trump's comments.

"We just find it very amusing," she said, standing in front of the embassy. "I just think he probably doesn't know anything about London at all. It's constantly evolving and changing."

Not everyone is enamored with Nine Elms. Some find the glass and steel architecture soulless. Since the U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union in 2016, new luxury property in London has seen significant price declines. Last year, Bloomberg reported that sales and falling values in Nine Elms drove some developers to sell units in bulk at a discount.

Jonathan Scobie, a real estate agent who sells property at Embassy Gardens, an apartment complex near the embassy, was excited for Trump's planned visit. He is also a big fan of the president and his blunt style.

"He speaks his mind and I think that's what the world needs," said Scobie, standing next to some decrepit houseboats beneath a luxury apartment block, which illustrates the area's evolving gentrification.

Scobie doesn't agree with Trump's characterization of Nine Elms, but he says the attention generated by his tweet won't hurt.

"It's only going to help us sell our property down here," said Scobie, "which is obviously great."

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The Trump administration has moved quickly to let states impose work requirements on some Medicaid recipients. Kentucky got the green light today. Indiana is likely to get approval soon. Some people consider the work requirement good politics, but bad policy. From Indianapolis, Side Effects Public Media's Jake Harper reports.

JAKE HARPER, BYLINE: Indiana submitted plans for a work requirement last year, and the approval letter could come any day now. Under the proposal, people would have to average 20 hours a week of work or another qualifying activity such as volunteering or education in order to get Medicaid. The goal - to increase employment among Medicaid recipients. But Sara Rosenbaum, a professor at George Washington University, says there's a problem with that - most people on Medicaid are already working.

SARA ROSENBAUM: Or they're looking for work. And if they're not working or looking for work, it's typically because they're either caring for very young children, or they're caring for a sick family member, or their own health is bad.

HARPER: Many of those people would be exempt from a work requirement, and states could make some allowances for people battling addiction. When you consider those exemptions...

ROSENBAUM: There is this very, very tiny slice of people who can work and simply choose not to work and, you know, apply for public assistance.

HARPER: But Rosenbaum says even if states create programs that help people find jobs and provide things like child care and transportation, there's no evidence that they lead to more employment. And those programs are expensive.

ROSENBAUM: If you do a work program, that costs real money. And the federal government has said, we won't pay any of those costs.

HARPER: So Rosenbaum says what's more likely is that states will basically say, get a job on your own or get off of Medicaid. So what that does is create a hurdle for everybody on Medicaid. People who are working are going to have to prove it, so even people with jobs could stand to lose their insurance due to red tape. In fact, Indiana's own projections show that with a work requirement Medicaid will cover fewer people and cost more. Adam Mueller is an attorney at Indiana Legal Services, which helps people navigate the state's Medicaid program. He says people already lose coverage because the program can be confusing and there are administrative errors.

ADAM MUELLER: Somewhere along the way paperwork gets lost, there's a miscommunication. Folks have sometimes had difficulty proving things that should be as easy as residency.

HARPER: And he says people on Medicaid often deal with crises. They may move a lot or change phone numbers, which makes it hard to keep track of paperwork.

MUELLER: There are a lot of things that could trip folks up. And that could lead to falling through the cracks.

HARPER: Judy Solomon of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out that expanded Medicaid helps some employers, too.

JUDITH SOLOMON: We have an economic structure where there are people whose employment doesn't provide health care.

HARPER: If people lose Medicaid, get sick and can't make it to work, she says that's bad for business. Seema Verma, who's in charge of Medicaid, said on a conference call yesterday the requirement is supposed to help people.


SEEMA VERMA: People moving off of Medicaid is a good outcome because we hope that that means that they don't need the program anymore, that they have transitioned to a job that provides health insurance so that they can afford to pay for health insurance on their own.

HARPER: But advocates say the main purpose of Medicaid is to provide health insurance, not increase employment. And until now, the federal government agreed. Susan Jo Thomas heads Covering Kids and Families of Indiana, which advocates for health coverage in the state. She says under new management, the philosophy surrounding work requirements has changed.

SUSAN JO THOMAS: I don't know that it jives with my view of Medicaid, but my view of Medicaid now is irrelevant. It's what Seema Verma and the administration decide.

HARPER: Thomas says the details of the work requirement have yet to be ironed out. She says if too many people lose insurance, she'll be raising concerns with the state. For NPR News, I'm Jake Harper in Indianapolis.


SHAPIRO: This story is part of an NPR partnership with WFYI and Kaiser Health News.