Weeks before 2016 drew to a close, the columns, think pieces, and memes took over.

"2016: Worst. Year. Ever?" asked a New York Times headline. "The year it all went to hell," NPR declared.

Merriam-Webster dubbed surreal its 2016 Word of the Year because "it was looked up significantly more frequently by users in 2016 than in previous years."

To be sure, 2016 had its problems. Our highly partisan nation grew more polarized in the midst of a bitter and scrappy election. Terrorist attacks erupted at all corners of the globe. There were Zika, Aleppo, Orlando, and Flint. Beloved celebrities passed on.

Yet to bemoan 2016 as the worst year ever is shortsighted - partially, of course, because countless years were worse. But mostly because a new year will not naturally make things better.

Certainly, 2017 is sure to bring big changes, from politics to technology, from finances to housing. Some will be slow and incremental, barely noticeable at all. Others will be seismic shifts in the ways policies and people affect how we live.

And that's where I can help. I'm your new residential real estate reporter at the Inquirer, taking over for Alan J. Heavens, who devotedly served you all for the last 28 years. Without doubt, I have some big shoes to fill. I'm excited to begin trying.

I'll be with you - writing this weekly column, a weekly Real Estate section cover story, and whatever other news breaks - attempting to unpack, explain, and keep you updated on housing-related stories that may affect your lives.

We assuredly have some big ones to keep our eyes on.

For starters, we have a real estate mogul in the White House, Donald Trump. And while he's been largely vague on real estate-related policies or proposals, his sheer presence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will surely send ripples through the real estate and financial sectors.

Already, his team has vowed to dismantle Dodd-Frank, the 2010 reform law signed by President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Repealing it could ease regulatory burdens on banks, making it easier for them to create loans for people like builders and developers, and could open up territory for the way mortgages and other debt payments are regulated.

Trump has picked Ben Carson, a former GOP campaign rival, for secretary of housing and urban development, and asked Steven Mnuchin - a former fund manager and bank executive dubbed the "foreclosure king" by Senate Democrats - to take the reins as treasury secretary.

But there's plenty to monitor here, too. This month, a national study found Philadelphia rents rose at the second-fastest rate in the nation month over month in 2016 - increasing average rent by hundreds of dollars in just one year.

Separately, a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found that the city had lost one-fifth of its low-cost housing.

And this all comes as home values nationally and locally have been rising rapidly.

Philadelphia and its suburbs are in the midst of a remarkable change. Sleek high-rises have been filling our skyline. World-class restaurateurs have been carving out havens in neighborhoods. Philadelphia is topping list after list as a destination to live and work.

But as the city and the suburbs quickly revitalize, it's important, too, to remember that the new Philadelphia doesn't always reconcile with the old Philadelphia - poverty, foreclosure, evictions and all.

Just as there's not one Philadelphia, there's not one Philadelphia story. I'm excited to begin trying to chip away at them all. But I need your help.

See something in your neighborhood, on the street, in the market, or in your government? Let me know.

cmccabe@philly.com
610-313-8113
@mccabe_caitlin