Tuesday Report, Dec. 27, 2011
Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service
Corruption in the nation’s banking industry is profoundly illuminated by the current mortgage debacle that came more in focus as one of the themes of Occupy protesters. As the Occupy Movement retreats in the harsh winter, new information reveals that federal officials stuffed cotton in their ears and blinders over their eyes to avoid prosecuting bankers.
For a pdf version of the full stories, plus contextual articles in social, environmental and legal areas, contact Bo McCarver at firstname.lastname@example.org
Special Report: The watchdogs that didn’t bark
By Scot Paltrow Reuters December 22, 2011
Four years after the banking system nearly collapsed from reckless mortgage lending, federal prosecutors have stayed on the sidelines, even as judges around the country are pointing fingers at possible wrongdoing.
The federal government, as has been widely noted, has pressed few criminal cases against major lenders or senior executives for the events that led to the meltdown of 2007. Finding hard evidence has proved difficult, the Justice Department has said.
The government also hasn’t brought any prosecutions for dubious foreclosure practices deployed since 2007 by big banks and other mortgage-servicing companies.
But this part of the financial system, a Reuters examination shows, is filled with potential leads.
Foreclosure-related case files in just one New York federal bankruptcy court, for example, hold at least a dozen mortgage documents known as promissory notes bearing evidence of recently forged signatures and illegal alterations, according to a judge’s rulings and records reviewed by Reuters. Similarly altered notes have appeared in courts around the country.
Banks in the past two years have foreclosed on the houses of thousands of active-duty U.S. soldiers who are legally eligible to have foreclosures halted. Refusing to grant foreclosure stays is a misdemeanor under federal law.
Foreclosure Relief? Don’t Hold Your Breath
By Gretchen Morgenson New York Times December 25, 2011
THROUGHOUT the foreclosure crisis, Washington has done little to help people hang on to their homes. All those programs that were supposed to help — HAMP, HARP, Hope for Homeowners — have mostly failed.
So many were skeptical when the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency announced yet another program in April. This one was intended to provide reparations to homeowners who’d been hurt financially by foreclosure abuses at banks.
As the details trickle out, the program looks like more of the disappointing same. “This is just the next program that’s getting people’s hopes up,” said Alys Cohen, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center in Washington. “Not only will it not help people, it could easily harm them.”
The program arose out of a regulatory review in late 2010 of loan servicing practices at the nation’s largest banks. The review followed the robo-signing scandal that erupted after consumer lawyers — not regulators, mind you — identified numerous apparent forgeries and other improper foreclosure documents filed with courts by banks and their representatives.
Bank of America to pay $335 million to settle mortgage discrimination case
By Pallavi Gogoi and Nedra Pickler Associated Press December 22, 2011
Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million to resolve allegations that its Countrywide unit engaged in a widespread pattern of discrimination against qualified African American and Hispanic borrowers on home loans.
The settlement with the U.S. Justice Department was filed Wednesday with the Central District federal court of California and is subject to court approval.
The Department of Justice says it’s the largest settlement in history over residential fair lending practices.
According to the U.S. complaint, Countrywide charged more than 200,000 African American and Hispanic borrowers higher fees and interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers with a similar credit profile. The complaint says that these borrowers were charged higher fees and rates because of their race or national origin rather than any other objective criteria.
Calif. AG Sues, Seeks Answers From Fannie, Freddie
NPR December 20, 2011
California’s attorney general filed lawsuits against mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac on Tuesday, demanding that the companies that own some 60 percent of the state’s mortgages respond to questions in a state investigation.
Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose office filed the lawsuits in San Francisco Superior Court, is investigating Freddie Mac’s and Fannie Mae’s involvement in 12,000 foreclosed properties in California where they served as landlords. She also wants to find out what role the companies played in selling or marketing mortgage-backed securities.
The essentially identical lawsuits ask the mortgage firms to respond to 51 investigative subpoenas that call on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to identify all the California homes on which they foreclosed. They also want the mortgage firms to reveal whether they have information on the decreased value of those homes due to drug dealing or prostitution, as well as explosives and weapons found on those vacant properties.
“Foreclosures not only affect the families who lose their homes, but also the safety, health and welfare of the entire community,” the lawsuit said.
Analysis: U.S. rental demand lifts housing sector
By Margaret Chadbourn Reuters December 27, 2011
Brian Keith is busier than ever as the architecture firm he works for rushes to wrap up work on a 300-unit apartment complex in Dallas.
The project is one of dozens the firm, JHP Architecture, has on its hands — a surge of business driven by a rise in demand in the United States for rental properties.
The increased demand has forced JHP to expand, and it expects to keep hiring at least through the first quarter.
“We’re seeing overall work come back and there’s a backlog of contracts to go through,” said Keith, director of urban design and planning at JHP. “There’s strong interest in multi-family units and plenty of pent-up demand.”
With U.S. unemployment at a lofty 8.6 percent, home foreclosures rising and property prices under pressure, more and more Americans have given up the dream of owning, opting instead to rent, a shift that is remaking the face of the U.S. housing industry.
The percentage of Americans who own their home dropped from a peak of 69.2 percent in late 2004 to a 13-year low of 65.9 percent in the second quarter. It edged up to 66.3 percent in the third quarter of this year.
On the flip side, the percentage of rental properties that are empty fell to 9.8 percent in the third quarter from 10.3 percent a year earlier.
Home sales hint at recovery after deep slump
By Lucia Mutikani Reuters December 21, 2011
Homes sales surged in November, adding to hints of recovery, but revisions to data for the last four years showed the housing recession was much deeper than previously thought.
The National Association of Realtors said on Wednesday that sales of previously owned homes increased 4 percent from October to an annual rate of 4.42 million units.
At November’s sales pace, the 2.58 million unsold homes on the market represented a 7.0 month’s supply, the lowest since February 2007 and a sign a backlog of inventory that has been weighing on the market was slowly clearing.
The rise in sales and drop in inventory was the latest sign the housing sector, which triggered the 2007-09 recession, was on the cusp of a recovery. Data on Tuesday showed housing starts scaled a 1-1/2 year high in November.
“The housing market is finding its bottom, and that will translate into more growth in GDP and less of a drag on consumer confidence,” said Robert Dye, chief economist at Comerica in Dallas. “But we still have a long, long way to go.”
2011 Shaping Up As Worst Year Ever For Home Sales
Associated Press December 24, 2011
Americans bought slightly more new homes in November, but 2011 will likely end up as the worst year for sales in history.
The Commerce Department says new-home sales rose 1.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 315,000. That’s less than half the 700,000 new homes that economists say should be sold to sustain a healthy housing market.
It’s also below the 323,000 homes sold last year — the worst year for sales on records dating back to 1963.
New homes account for just a fraction of the housing market, but they have a big impact on the economy. Each new home built creates roughly three jobs for a year and generates about $90,000 in taxes, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Economists say housing is a long way from fully recovering. Builders have stopped working on many projects because it’s been hard for them to get financing or to compete with cheaper re-sale homes. For many Americans, buying a home remains too big a risk more than four years after the housing bubble burst.
Central Texas home sales up 11 percent in November
By Shonda Novak Austin American-Statesman December 21, 2011
Sales of existing homes in the Central Texas region rose about 11 percent in November, and the area’s median home price was up 3 percent compared with the same month last year, the Austin Board of Realtors said Tuesday.
Year to date, home sales are up 7 percent over the same period in 2010, and the median price for the year remained unchanged at $194,000, according to the Board of Realtors data, which cover 18 counties in and around Central Texas.
The board said 1,358 homes were sold in November, compared with 1,225 in November 2010. The median price for last month’s sales was $189,300.
Cities Face Tough Choices as U.S. Slashes Block Grants Program
By Michael Cooper New York Times December 21, 2011
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It is no secret that these are hard times for cities, with tax collections down, state aid dwindling, unemployment high and foreclosures pitting many blocks. So, as he sat in his office here, Mayor Ed Pawlowski of Allentown echoed the question mayors around the country are asking: Why has Washington cut one of the main federal programs for cities by a quarter in the last couple of years?
“It’s just insane,” an exasperated-sounding Mayor Pawlowski said.
The shrinking federal program, called Community Development Block Grants, was devised by the Nixon administration to bypass state governments and send money directly to big cities, which were given broad leeway to decide how to spend it. This year the federal government is giving out just $2.9 billion — a billion dollars less than it gave two years ago, and even less than it gave during the Carter administration, when the money went much further.
New homeowner association laws in Texas designed to curb abuses
By Bill Hanna Fort Worth Star-Telegram December 27, 2011
The latest wave of legislation targeting homeowners associations takes effect Sunday, though it remains to be seen whether the new rules rein in the power of some groups. Watchdog groups largely praise the new rules, some of which went into effect earlier this year. They include requirements for associations to obtain a court order before foreclosing, establish payment plans to prevent foreclosure when homeowners cannot pay dues and send additional notices before turning over an account to an attorney or collection agent. Other laws restrict associations from banning solar panels, ensure voting rights for all members and require open records and open meetings. How the 4.8 million Texans who live under the rules of associations will be affected may not be known until all the laws take effect. “Was it effective? Yes. Was it perfect? Oh, no,” said Beanie Adolph of Houston, a spokeswoman for Texans for HOA Reform. “They still have loads of loopholes. But I think it has jolted HOAs, and I am most grateful to the Legislature for finally recognizing a need to change. “Associations and the companies that manage them say they have been scrambling to prepare for the new rules, holding seminars and briefing association boards about the effects.
Housing authority gets its $25M
By Amanda Casanova Galveston County Daily News December 21, 2011
GALVESTON — The Galveston Housing Authority will receive a direct allocation of $25 million in federal funding to help build public housing on the island. The Houston-Galveston Area Council voted Tuesday in favor of adding the housing authority as a sub-recepient for the money. Only three of the 29 members of the board of directors who were present voted against the motion. The funding originally was given to the city and then returned to the state after the city council voted in early November to release the funds with restrictive stipulations. The council stipulated that construction start within six months and finish in 18 months and that the funds would not be used to build public housing units in a mixed-income community. The housing authority has pushed to rebuild some of the 569 public housing units destroyed in Hurricane Ike in mixed-income neighborhoods developed with a private partner. Under the Texas Open Meetings Act, the housing authority could not call a public meeting in time to meet a state deadline to accept the changes to the contract.
Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/280718
3 years after Ike, many CDBG projects still going
By T.J. Aulds Galveston County Daily News December 23, 2011
As county officials wrestle with what to do with the next round of federal Hurricane Ike disaster aid funds, about half of the projects funded through the first round of federal dollars are complete or near completion, county records show. Some, including a $7 million joint fire and EMS center in Crystal Beach, are just getting started. The county is funding 16 projects with $34.6 million in Community Block Development Grants earmarked to harden or rebuild key infrastructure that failed when Ike made landfall in 2008. The county’s list includes generators for utility districts to keep water-processing plants going, drainage studies and the construction of four fire stations. The most ambitious project on the list is a $16 million to $19 million proposal to centralize wastewater infrastructure on the Bolivar Peninsula. The state hasn’t been given the OK to proceed with that project. Initially, county commissioners hoped the first round of Ike CDBG funds could be spent on raising state Highway 87 on the peninsula, but that ran into problems on the state and federal level. Federal officials said while the county could spend dollars on drainage and flood control for the road, the state had to take the lead because it owns the highway. The Texas Department of Transportation then said it didn’t have the money to do the project but recently indicated some funds were available.
Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/281554
NPR December 23, 2011
Sixth Street in downtown Austin, Texas, is one of the city’s premiere live music districts. Guitar-shaped Christmas decorations hang on light poles, and the street is alive with bands and bars. Tonight you can hear Austin Heat at the Thirsty Nickel, Mike Milligan and the Altar Boys at Maggie Mae’s, or you could catch Misbehavin’ at the Dizzy Rooster.
Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Young people are moving there in search of its plentiful sunshine, freewheeling lifestyle, hi-tech jobs and vibrant music scene. However, more and more musicians find they cannot afford to live in the self-styled “Live Music Capital of the World.”
In Austin, music seems to bubble up like an artesian spring. Yet many musicians cannot make a reasonable living wage in this town, which is why they need cheap rent. Hence the moment of silence last week when the Wilson Street Cottages were boarded shut.
“Everyone’s moved out of town, out of state, across town. Yeah, this is the last place. South Austin just got uncool,” says Jacob Rocha as he loads his belongings into a pickup truck.
Merced Housing Texas provides range of low-income services
Merced Housing goes beyond providing shelter assistance.
By William Pack San Antonio Express-News December 24, 2011
Merced Housing Texas is a low-income housing provider that takes the fight against poverty beyond the housing arena.
The nonprofit organization teams with other service groups to provide Merced residents with an array of services, from emergency food donations to after-school programs for children and high school equivalency classes for adults.
“It stems from the vision the founding (Catholic) sisters had,” said Sue Flynt, Merced’s communications manager. “The vision was low-income people need more than a roof over their head. They need assistance in keeping their families stable.”
Merced is one of the area’s nonprofits that are being showcased this holiday season as part of the San Antonio Express-News’ 17th annual Grace of Giving series.
The world — or at least her house — is falling to pieces around a troubled East Fort Worth resident.
By Jeff Prince Fort Worth Weekly December 21, 2011
The old house and the woman inside it have shared a downward spiral for years. Sharon Baker is a recluse, breathing air through a tube hooked to an oxygen tank, sometimes sleeping in her closet when anxiety overwhelms her.
Rotted wood dooms her East Fort Worth house. Floor and ceiling beams sag. Walls lean. Windows won’t shut. Dead tree limbs rest atop a brittle, leaky roof. Trash bags piled high behind a crumbling privacy fence draw flies. The odor of cat urine is strong.
The house on Louise Street threatens to fall even as the woman inside struggles to rise.
“I have been trying since 1999 to get some assistance to get my roof fixed or to move,” she said. “It’s been a brick wall.”
In actuality, Baker has been offered help in the past that she wasn’t able to take advantage of. Now she knows time is running out for her house — but she has also found something to be hopeful about.
Pastor Harold Kuykendall heard Baker pleading for time with the Fort Worth Building Standards Commission during a Dec. 5 hearing. Kuykendall was seeking more time on his own construction project — he’s renovating a vacant property on East Lancaster Avenue with the hopes of starting his own church.
Veterans Affairs claims progress in ending homelessness among vets
By Steve Vogel Washington Post December 27, 2011
Halfway into an ambitious five-year campaign to end homelessness among veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs says it has made enough progress that the goal is within reach, even as a new generation of veterans returns from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Making aggressive use of a voucher program, Veterans Affairs has housed more than 33,000 veterans in the past 2 1 / 2 years. It did so by changing its longtime policy of requiring homeless veterans to be successfully treated for substance abuse and mental ailments before being given apartments.
The shift in approach means that there is “a better opportunity to end veterans’ homelessness by 2015 than at any time in the past,” said Susan Angell, VA’s director of homeless initiatives.
Although many agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, have adopted a housing-first strategy, Veterans Affairs had resisted. “Folks were initially concerned about the safety aspects of it,” Angell said. “We wanted to make sure they were clean and sober.”
VA and HUD want enough funds to issue 60,000 vouchers at the rate of 10,000 a year through 2014.
Tuesday Report, Dec. 20, 2011
Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives who jumped ship when the market sunk are now in the crosshairs of the SEC for deceptive practices. The executives are charged with under-reporting risky loans and misleading investors.
In Galveston, the state is taking action three years after Hurricane Ike to buy damaged homes of low and moderate-income families and relocate them to higher ground.
For a pdf version of the full stories, plus contextual articles in social, environmental and legal areas, contact Bo McCarver at email@example.com
SEC Charges Ex-Fannie And Freddie CEOs With Fraud
By Jim Zarroli NPR December 17, 2011
Ever since Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were taken over by the government in 2008, questions have swirled over who was responsible for the collapse. Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission weighed in, filing fraud charges against former Fannie Mae CEO Daniel Mudd, Richard Syron — ex-chief executive at Freddie Mac — and four other former executives.
Federal officials say the companies lied to investors about the number of subprime loans they had on their books at the height of the credit boom. They also say the executives knew what was happening and even encouraged the deception.
The SEC says both companies loaded up their balance sheets with many billions of dollars in risky subprime mortgages. By 2007, investors were starting to ask questions, says Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance.
“If investors knew that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were effectively engaging in risky behavior, they would have theoretically reduced their holdings of their stock,” he says.
So, the SEC says, both companies took pains to conceal their holdings from the public. SEC enforcement director Robert Khuzami said Freddie Mac reported in its 2006 annual report that its subprime holdings were not significant.
Payroll tax cut bill boosts cost of new mortgages
By Alan Fram Associated Press December 18, 2011
WASHINGTON — Who is paying for the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut working its way through Congress? The cost is being dropped in the laps of most people who buy homes or refinance beginning next year.
The typical person who buys a $200,000 home or refinances that amount starting on Jan. 1 would have to pay roughly $17 more a month for their mortgage, thanks to a fee increase included in the payroll tax cut bill that the Senate passed Saturday.
The White House said the fee increases would be phased in gradually.
The legislation provides a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment benefits that would otherwise expire on Jan. 1. It would also delay for two months a cut in Medicare reimbursements for doctors that is scheduled to take effect on New Year’s Day. The House is expected to act on the bill early next week. Two more months of the Social Security tax cut amounts to a savings of about $165 for a worker making $50,000 a year.
U.S. housing heals even as its damage widens
By Stella Dawson Reuters December 18, 2011
The U.S. housing market, once the epicenter of the global financial collapse that spawned today’s European debt crisis, is on the verge of delivering some positive news.
For the first time since 2005, U.S. residential construction looks set to expand a little next year, and it could add one- or two-tenths of a percentage point to GDP growth in 2012 — a mere sliver, but one that would add to the picture of a slowly healing U.S. economy.
Every scrap of extra support would help the United States withstand the spreading damage from the crisis in the euro zone, which threatens to push a global slowdown into a deeper and more dangerous recession.
China is slowing quickly as its red-hot property market cools and exports to the European Union, its largest trade partner, sink after years of double-digit growth. Its factory sector has contracted for two months in a row and foreign investment in China is falling.
Brazil also has stalled and India is contracting sharply. Worldwide, 48 central banks have cut interest rates in the last three months to counter the slump. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde last week called economic prospects “quite gloomy.”
Housing starts hit 1.5 year high in November
Reuters December 20, 2011
Housing starts and permits for future construction jumped to a 1-1/2 year high in November as demand for rental apartments rose, suggesting the housing market was starting to recover.
The Commerce Department said on Tuesday housing starts surged 9.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 685,000 units, the highest since April last year.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast housing starts rising to a 635,000-unit rate. Compared to November last year, residential construction was up 24.3 percent.
“It is positive for the housing market, which is picking up from rather subdued levels. Demand is coming off the lows, so that is healthy,” said Sean Incremona, an economist at 4CAST in New York.
U.S. Treasury debt prices briefly extended losses on the data, while the dollar fell against the euro. U.S. stock index futures held their gains.
Although the overall housing market remains weak, rising demand for rental apartments is boosting the construction of multifamily homes.
Falling house values and stringent lending practices by banks are pushing Americans away from homeownership.
Why are rock-bottom mortgage rates so hard to get?
By John Wasik Reuters December 16, 2011
With home mortgage rates still hovering around record lows – and they may fall further still – this should be the perfect time to lower your borrowing costs.
Yet with tough standards and more people in a home-equity hole due to the housing slump, it’s difficult to get the best rates. There are some ways to improve your odds and a revamped government program might help, but you’ll have to jump through some hoops to sweeten your loan application.
Mortgage applications are surging, largely due to refinancings. Weekly applications climbed 4.1 percent through December 14, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The share of refinancing loans was the highest recorded rate this year.
Since there aren’t too many home buyers around, some 80 percent of mortgage activity is refinancing, according to the Mortgage Banker Association. But up to half of those applying for refis may not qualify, according to LendingTree.com, an online lending exchange.
If you’re looking for a loan and have a low credit score or are buying anything but a single-family home, the odds are you’ll pay higher rates, not the phenomenally low average rate of 3.9 percent for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage as of December 15.
De-annex process to begin for group
By Christopher Smith Gonzalez Galveston County Daily News December 14, 2011
LEAGUE CITY — The North wins again. A group of residents in the northern portion of the League City Historic District won an initial victory in their fight to secedeD from the rest of the district at a city council meeting Tuesday night. The council voted 6-1, with Councilwoman Joanna Dawson against, to direct staff to write an ordinance pulling the residents in the Township subdivision and along Seventh Street out of the historic district. Neighbors clashed once again over the fate of the neighborhood before the council took their vote. A group of homeowners in the northern part of League City’s Historic District have asked to be de-annexed and have said they no longer want to be under the Historical District Commission’s oversight. “I think it is just wrong for one neighborhood to be able to use government power to control another,” said Jim Weibling, a partner in the Township development. Weibling has said the oversight of the historic district commission, which is able to comment on projects proposed for the district and give certificates of appropriateness for architectural plans in the district, has been a hindrance and caused him to lose business. But Peter Guglielmo, chairman of the historic district commission, said the historic district commission was being vilified.
Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/279218
State to buy isle homes
By Amanda Casanova Galveston County Daily News December 19, 2011
GALVESTON — A new housing program under Round 2 of federal funding could help low- to moderate-income homeowners whose houses were destroyed in Hurricane Ike move to another location in a 13-county region. Earlier this month, the city council approved $4 million of housing Community Development Block Grants for the Homeowner Opportunity Program, where the state will buy out a homeowner’s house destroyed in Hurricane Ike and move the household to another spot in the Houston-Galveston Area Council, a 13-county region. The program is a requirement of the Conciliation Agreement, which governs how the state and sub-recipients spend recovery dollars. Under the program, up to 25 low- to moderate-income families will be able to move their homes out of a flood zone or poverty concentrated area to a “safer and higher opportunity neighborhood,” state officials said. The house must have been destroyed in the storm, but households can elect to decline to move and rebuild in the same area. Options include buying a vacant lot to build a new home, moving a home or buying a home. Any outstanding liens or mortgages are the responsibility of the homeowner, according to state guidelines. Other program guidelines will be set by the city. “This is a new program required by the Conciliation Agreement,” Alicia Cahill, public information officer for the city, said. “There is no historical data to help the city project interest in the program.” The city submitted an application to the state for Round 2 of housing federal funds. After the state approves the application, the city can set eligibility requirements and begin taking applications for the program.
End of story: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/280310
Form, Function, Neighborhood
Fort Worth Weekly December 15, 2011
Zoning laws are a major tool used by cities to keep neighborhoods together and give residents some control over what they have to live next to. But it’s never been a perfect implement: Normal zoning laws don’t keep McMansions from being built in quiet older areas or force developers to build attractive structures.
What’s more, as cities have attacked the problem of urban sprawl, it’s clear that traditional zoning has created less livable cities, because shops and restaurants are often nowhere near within walking distance of homes.
In the last few years, however, a different kind of zoning has been gaining support in cities across the country. In Fort Worth, the new system, called form-based zoning, already used successfully on the Near South Side, is now being applied to one of the city’s longtime retail areas: Camp Bowie Boulevard, between I-30 and Loop 820.
177-acre housing development planned near Circle C
By Farsad Mashood Austin American-Statesman December 14, 2011
City and county officials have given the go-ahead on a preliminary plan for a 177-acre residential development near the intersection of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and Texas 45 Southwest about two years after a controversial mixed-use project at the same site fell apart as developers sought City Council approval.
The Greyrock Ridge development, formerly known as Wildflower Commons, will be built near Circle C Ranch in an environmentally sensitive area that is partly within Austin’s city limits. Environmental groups oppose the project’s construction over the recharge zone of the Barton Springs portion of Edwards Aquifer and say it will create traffic problems on the southern end of MoPac.
Representatives for the 386-house subdivision’s developer, Hanna MaGee LP No. 2, or the land’s owners, Wildflower Commons I LP, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday gave the project’s transportation and engineering requests unanimous approval, including a waiver to have just one entrance from an external street — MoPac, just north of the development.
Tuesday Report, December 13, 2011
Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service
The California Occupy movement had spread to foreclosed homes as protestors focus on more than a million houses seized by banks last year. The story, published by the British Guardian, targets subprime lenders operating during the “housing bubble.”
Texas no longer leads the nation in homeless children. A new study ranks the state 38th, up from 50th, but the number of homeless children continues to rise.
For a pdf version of the full stories, plus contextual articles on social, environmental and legal areas, contact Bo McCarver at firstname.lastname@example.org
Occupy Targets Foreclosures
By Judith Scherr InterPress December 7, 2011
OAKLAND, California – Five months ago, Gayla Newsome was at work when she got the call. A sheriff had come to her home of 15 years and put her two pajama-clad daughters out on the curb of her West Oakland street. Newsome knew the bank was about to foreclose, but thought she still had time to fight it.
On Tuesday, she marched in triumph back to her former abode – along with some 75 supporters. It was Occupy Our Homes Day across the nation, feted by Occupy organisations in more than 20 cities; it was a day to condemn the bank seizure of more than one million U.S. homes in 2010.
Newsome’s home will be occupied 24/7 by volunteers from Occupy Oakland and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.
“I’m here to reclaim what belongs to me and to the community,” Newsome said, standing in front of the home, as a masked man affixed a “Save Gayla’s home” banner to the front of the two-story townhouse.
Full story at: http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=106134
Goodbye House, Hello Pot Plantation
By Catherine Rampell New York Times December 11, 2011
A MAN’S home is his castle — except when it becomes someone else’s marijuana plantation, crack den, movie set, homeless shelter, farm or public park.
Such opportunities for conversion present themselves in the United States, which now has about 1.2 million more vacant homes than there would be in normal economic times. In fact, the depressed housing market has become a case study in how an economy adapts — if only in an early transitional phase — when one of its pillars suddenly collapses.
Foreclosures, home abandonments and devalued houses have helped to inspire creative thinkers, political protesters, opportunists and civic leaders who envision new uses for homes besides nesting.
Loans for Multifamily Homes
By Vickie Elmer New York Times December 11, 2011
THE rental market’s strength may be enticing some buyers to look at multifamily properties, but qualifying for a mortgage on rental units is often more difficult than on a single-family residence.
Borrowers should be prepared to gather more documentation, and the interest rate and required down payment will very likely be higher.
“It looks a lot easier than it is,” said Neil B. Garfinkel, a partner in charge of the real estate practice at Abrams Garfinkel Margolis Bergson, suggesting that anyone new to this subject work with a real estate professional experienced in rental properties.
But the extra effort may be worthwhile for some people looking for income, or at least help with covering monthly expenses.
Fort Worth OKs rules to fight crime in apartment complexes
By Bill Hanna Fort Worth Star-Telegram December 7, 2011
FORT WORTH — With apartment owners opposed to amending the city’s multifamily-housing ordinance and neighborhood groups fed up with crime, the Fort Worth City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved new rules intended to help give authorities another way to clean up the worst apartment complexes.
The crime-free multifamily housing ordinance requires leases to include a prohibition against tenant criminal conduct, making it far easier to evict tenants who commit crimes or permit them. City officials said they have found it difficult to remove tenants who bring drugs or other crime-related activity into run-down complexes.
Residents in some neighborhoods complain that apartment complexes are incubators of crime and drag down nearby businesses and homes.
Wanda Conlin, vice president of the East Fort Worth Business Association and an officer in the West Meadowbrook Neighborhood Association, said the problems at apartments have grown worse in recent years.
City misses deadline to receive $400,000 in low-income assistance
By Mark Toohen Austin American-Statesman December 9, 2011
The City of Austin missed a deadline to receive $400,000 in federal stimulus money to fix up old, energy-inefficient homes largely because of poor communication among city departments.
Early last month, state officials sent Austin Energy a letter asking if, in a few days’ time, the city could be ready to begin using $600,000 in federal stimulus money available for weatherizing low-income homes. Austin Energy began working up the contracts and put a proposal on the agenda for the next City Council meeting.
But a few days later, City Manager Marc Ott dropped the proposal from the agenda at the last minute — resulting in Austin losing $400,000 of the $600,0000.
The loss infuriated advocates for the poor, who say the federal money — the city has received millions in stimulus money for weatherization projects over the past couple years — is increasingly important as the city plans to raise its electric rates early next year. And on Thursday, council members looking for answers gave city staffers a rare, two-hour dressing-down that laid bare a series of miscommunications, miscalculations and passings of blame within the city bureaucracy.
Landlords among most ardent housing opponents
By Michael A. Smith Galveston County Daily News December 11, 2011
GALVESTON — Housing the poor is a fiery issue in Galveston. Debate has been especially hot and caustic since 2009 as the Galveston Housing Authority formed plans to replace 569 public housing units destroyed by Hurricane Ike and add about 400 more of various types. Arguments against the authority’s plan have mostly been along lines typical of such debates waged across the country for two or three decades. Public housing is bad for the community in general and for the poor in particular; it drags the schools down, and drives the crime rate up. But some public housing authority commissioners argue the most powerful and organized opposition is driven by more prosaic concerns. They say it’s coming from landlords, some of whom are operating slum properties, worried about having to compete with new, moderately priced housing. “I would estimate that 50 percent or more of our opposition comes from landlords,” housing authority Commissioner Tom LaRue said. “However, our landlords obviously have much more resources and political connections than the other opponents.”
Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/278498
CDM gets extension for disaster housing program
By Amanda Casanova Galveston County Daily News December 13, 2011
GALVESTON — City officials and homeowners are hoping that a Massachusetts-based firm hired more than two years ago to manage the disaster housing recovery program will complete the program within a year. According to an amended contract, CDM has until Nov. 10 to complete the $160 million Community Development Block Grant program meant to repair and rebuild homes hit by Hurricane Ike. Originally, CDM’s contract with the city was set to expire Dec. 31. The housing program has been dogged by accusations of delay and shoddy construction. Earlier this year, state officials warned the city that failure to meet state benchmarks could mean loss of funding. The state then agreed to extend the program’s end date from September 2011 to September 2012. City officials have said they are disappointed in CDM. In March, a divided council narrowly voted to keep CDM in charge. Last week, the council voted 5-2 to extend the contract. Councilmen Steve Greenberg and Rusty Legg voted against the extension. The council will consider the CDM contract with “construction management enhancements” in January, interim City Manager Thomas Muehlenbeck said.
OKeeffe concerned about Fair Housing Act statement
By Christopher Smith Gonzalez Galveston County Daily News December 12, 2011
LEAGUE CITY — Like all other municipalities in the state, League City is in the process of filling out a Fair Housing Activity Statement that answers a series of questions about fair housing opportunities in the city. The city receives about $250,000 a year in grant money to be used on housing or infrastructure projects that meet an urgent need, are used for individuals classified as lower to moderate income or are used for areas considered blighted, Tony Allender, the city’s director of planning and research, said The statement is a new and expanded form and, Allender said, city staff took it as an opportunity to show off League City’s “own brand of what we consider to be affordable, available and accessible housing.” But at a workshop last week, at least one city council member had reservations about the answers on the form. Looking at the statement, Councilman Dennis OKeeffe said it seemed as if more was included in the answers than was necessary. “I’m trying to minimize the impact of inviting additional protected-use housing in League City,” OKeeffe said. “The more we advertise, the more we get.”
Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/278690
Housing program helps Katrina evacuees get back on their feet in Fort Worth
By Alex Branch Fort Worth Star-Telegram December 9, 2011
FORT WORTH — Latoya Lyons and her children arrived in North Texas in 2005, Hurricane Katrina evacuees from New Orleans who were soon living in an apartment off a subsidized housing voucher.
Lyons was uncomfortable letting the kids play in the neighborhood, and the family members usually crammed themselves into their small living space.
So after she bought her 2,000-square-foot home with a fenced back yard this year, she has had to occasionally remind her three children that they can use the yard.
“I’d say, ‘Out — everyone out,'” Lyons said. “It’s our first real house, so it took us a little while to adjust. But they love it.”
Lyons said she bought the home with the help of two Fort Worth Housing Authority programs designed to put residents with vouchers on a path toward homeownership and self-sufficiency. With housing vouchers, also known as Section 8, residents pay 30 percent of their adjusted gross income on rent.
City of Abilene uses federal funds to help repair, build homes for low-income residents
Programs fund home repairs and rebuilding
By Brennan K. Peel Abilene Reporter December 11, 2011
Marlen Martinez’s three sons no longer have to hope water emerges from the faucet when brushing their teeth before school. Nor does Martinez have to hope enough water snakes its way through curled pipes to allow her to wash dishes.
In October,Martinez and her sons moved into a new brick home built by the city of Abilene and paid for, in large part, by federal funds.
The three-bedroom, two-bath home, about 600 square feet bigger than their old house, provides the family with “more room to stretch out” and keeps the kids “from smashing against each other all the time,” Martinez said.
The Martinez family is one of 10 households for whom the city helped repair or rebuild houses between Oct. 1, 2010, and Sept. 30, 2011, the city’s fiscal year. Those families participated in one of three city-run housing services programs aimed at helping low- and moderate-income households find safe, decent homes.
Apartments to get fresh start
By Nathaniel Miller Odessa American December 10, 2011
It’s easy to ignore the old Stadium Apartments at 2405 Kermit Highway.
Sitting across from Odessa College, the paint-chipped exterior and entrance sign with letters missing from the word “stadium,” the complex can almost be written off as just another rundown eyesore in Odessa.
However, Angel Nabarrette looks at the easily forgotten property and sees a new start — and a business opportunity.
The owner of A N Homes said he took on renovations of the property less than a year ago with the purpose of fixing the entire complex and using the rooms for what they were originally built for: housing people.
With a planned name change to “The Blue,” the Stadium apartments will soon be ready for a fresh start.
Full story at: http://www.oaoa.com/articles/apartments-77304-fresh-.html
$3.7 million in HUD money to help five Central Texas communities with city planning, design
Austin American-Statesman December 11, 2011
A $3.7 million U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant awarded to the Capital Area Council of Governments will provide five Central Texas cities with planning and design consulting services through February 2014.
The money, through HUD’s Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grants program, will go to Austin, Dripping Springs, Elgin, Hutto and Lockhart.
“It would be up to the city to apply for other grants or funding to implement whatever is recommended,” Lockhart City Planner Dan Gibson said. “There will be a product from this, some recommendations and some means to implement it.”
The money does not cover the installation of any recommended plans or improvements, Gibson said.
After economy stalls it, development again revs up at the Domain
By Shona Novak Austin American-Statesman December 10, 2011
After being stalled during the economy’s downturn, Endeavor Real Estate Group’s ambitious mixed-use Domain project in North Austin is again moving forward.
Construction is under way on a 55,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market and on 315 apartments — the first phase of 543 planned rental units at the project off North MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and Burnet Road. The apartments are being developed in a joint venture composed of Dallas-based Columbus Residential, Austin-based Endeavor and RREEF, Endeavor’s capital partner in the Domain.
In January, construction will begin on the other 228 apartments, along with a 9-acre park.
A 140-room Aloft hotel, a Starwood brand, opened in 2009. The three office buildings on the 176-acre site are fully leased with tenants, including OneWest Bank, Convio, Electronic Arts and the Texas Culinary Institute. In addition, Endeavor recently wrapped up work on another mile of roads and utilities to serve future development.
Report: Texas 38th, up from last, in homeless kids
By Linda Stewart Ball Associated Press December 13, 2011
After Angelic Davis was laid off from her job as a collections agent last year and could no longer afford a small Dallas apartment, her 3-year-old daughter Kourtney often became confused about what it meant to be homeless.
“Mom, are we going to (grandma’s) house, are we going to auntie’s house or are we going to our house?” Davis, 23, recalled the girl asking almost nightly.
A study released Tuesday by the National Center on Family Homelessness shows the number of homeless children continues to rise in Texas, though the state no longer ranks dead last in how it deals with the problem, as it did two years ago.
Texas improved from 50th to 38th in part because of what Dr. Ellen L. Bassuk, president and founder of the national center, calls “a manmade disaster” that has pushed more than 1.6 million children — one in 45 nationally — into homelessness. All but five states have seen a steady climb, she said.
Tuesday Report, Dec. 6, 2011
Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service
As the mortgage industry puts a $100 billion price tag on resetting crooked mortgages, the Obama Administration remains paralyzed to prosecute banks for sleazy practices. Thus far, no federal or state incentives have induced banks to voluntarily correct bad housing loans.
Adding one crime to another, North Texas scam artists find ingenuous ways to sell and rent more than $8 million in vacant, foreclosed homes.
For a pdf version of the full stories, plus contextual articles in social, environmental and legal areas, contact Bop McCarver at email@example.com
Investor sees huge cost to settle mortgage mess
By Svea Herbst-Bayliss Reuters December 6, 2011
NEW YORK – Vincent Fiorillo, a prominent mortgage investor, on Monday put at least a $100 billion price tag on cleaning up America’s mortgage crisis.
That figure is four times the $25 billion that has been widely bandied about in ongoing settlement talks involving several dozen state attorneys general and a handful of large U.S. banks with large mortgage servicing operations.
Fiorillo, a portfolio manager with Doubleline Capital Management, said $25 billion would not be sufficient to end private litigation against the banks over faulty mortgages or keep at bay other state attorneys generals mounting their own lawsuits.
“I like the idea of a big settlement because it gives everyone a clean start,” Fiorillo, who oversees a $20 billion bond fund, told the 2012 Reuters Investment Outlook Summit. “We need to clear things out.”
George Zornick Mother Jones December 5, 2011
One of the most important questions to arise out of Washington over the past three years, and one that Democrats and defenders of the administration often dance around, is why big financial institutions haven’t been punished for their role in the mortgage crisis: for pushing bad loans beforehand and for engaging in shady foreclosure practices afterward. There has not been a single prosecution of a high-ranking executive nor Wall Street firm for playing a part in the meltdown.
Much of the analysis about the administration’s response to the global financial crisis focuses on the Dodd-Frank reforms, but that was a process in which the administration didn’t have total control—the legislation was subject to massive lobbying campaigns and horse-trading between members of Congress.
But the administration could have acted unilaterally to punish the big financial firms who helped create the crisis and push people out of their homes afterwards—and in large part, it hasn’t. We’ve noted before the pressure that the administration is placing on New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to join a wide-ranging settlement with major banks over dubious foreclosure practices—one that would ask the banks to pay the meager sum of $20 billion to homeowners and investors, while granting them immunity from further prosecution. (Schneiderman has not yet relented).
Did banks illegally foreclose on active-duty troops?
By Franco Ordonez McClatchy Newspapers November 30, 2011
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The U.S. Treasury Department is investigating whether Bank of America, Wells Fargo and eight other major banks may have illegally foreclosed on about 4,500 active-duty servicemen and women.
Bank of America has agreed to review more than 2,400 foreclosures of homeowners who indicated they were eligible for relief under a federal law called the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, according to the Treasury’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
Wells Fargo has agreed to review 871 foreclosures of homeowners who indicated they were eligible under the act. The law is intended to postpone or suspend certain civil obligations to allow active-duty servicemembers to devote their full attention to their military duty.
The other banks being investigated are Aurora Bank, Citibank, EverBank, HSBC, MetLife Bank, OneWest, Sovereign and U.S. Bank.
Massachusetts sues major banks over unlawful foreclosure practices such as robo-signing
Associated Press December 1, 2011
NEW YORK — Massachusetts sued five major banks Thursday over deceptive foreclosure practices such as the “robo-signing” of documents, potentially undermining negotiations between lenders and state prosecutors across the nation over the same issue.
The lawsuit named Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc., and GMAC. It was filed in Massachusetts by Attorney General Martha Coakley.
“We have two clear goals with this lawsuit — one is to provide for real accountability for the role the banks have played in unlawful and illegal foreclosures, and secondly to provide for real and enforceable relief for the harm that the misconduct has caused,” said Coakley in a press conference to announce the lawsuit.
Austin woman sues Bank of America over foreclosure procedures
By Barry Harrell Austin American-Statesman December 1, 2011
An Austin woman filed suit Thursday against Bank of America Corp., alleging the company fraudulently sought to foreclose on her home. The suit claims that the bank wrongly invalidated a loan modification agreement because it wasn’t signed by her husband even though he died in 2007, more than three years before the agreement was made.
Filed in state District Court in Travis County, the lawsuit by Maria Gonzales comes on the same day a Massachusetts lawsuit accused five of the nation’s largest banks — including Bank of America — of deceptive foreclosure practices.
Gonzales’ lawsuit accuses Bank of America’s mortgage servicing arm of breach of contract, negligent misrepresentation and violations of the Texas Debt Collection Act. The suit requested an injunction preventing Bank of America from listing Gonzales’ home for foreclosure, and seeks unspecified damages.
Higher Loan Limits, Again, for Pricey Markets
By Marc Santora New York Times December 5, 2011
LESS than two months after lowering the maximum loan amount that could be backed by the Federal Housing Administration, lawmakers in Washington reversed course just before the Thanksgiving holiday and once again raised that limit, offering home buyers more financing options in a tight credit market.
Under the new guidelines, the F.H.A. would be able to back loans up to $729,750 for the next two years in the nation’s most expensive real estate markets, including New York City and the surrounding metropolitan area.
Before the change, according to rules that went into effect on Oct. 1, the maximum loan the F.H.A., Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could back was $625,500. Congress decided to leave the lower loan ceilings for the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac untouched.
Last year, there were 1,541 loans from $625,500 to $729,750 issued in New York City, all backed by the federal government, according to data analyzed by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University. Fannie and Freddie accounted for the vast majority, with about 11 percent insured by the housing administration. Private lenders underwrote 1,737 loans above $729,750 with no federal backing.
Nightmare: squatters claim more than $8 million in Fort Worth properties
By Yamil Berard Fort Worth Star-Telegram December 4, 2011
While county officials were asleep at the wheel, Tarrant County became a magnet this year for an odd assortment of squatters claiming other people’s houses all over the area. The cast of characters includes a homeowner who scooped up a dead neighbor’s house; a woman who came to Fort Worth from Memphis to lay claim to a $2.7 million mansion; people who cited Bible verses as legal justification for taking properties; and career criminals who grabbed homes to lease to tenants.All told, county records show that squatters and their associates claimed more than $8 million worth of properties, from Grand Prairie, Mansfield and Arlington to Fort Worth, Haslet and Keller, according to a Star-Telegram examination of county documents. Some of the squatters’ elaborate schemes have stumped law enforcement officials. One Tarrant constable has even asked the Texas attorney general’s office for help in straightening out the mess.
Isle council to discuss Round 2 funding
By Amanda Casanova Galveston County Daily News December 1, 2011
The city council will choose a list today of about $122 million in housing programs to be funded with Round 2 Community Development Block Grants. Cities in the county are preparing for the second round of grants earmarked for Hurricane Ike recovery. The application for the federal funds is due Dec. 9. For the second round, the island’s disaster recovery housing program, which rehabilitates or reconstructs homes damaged in Ike, will get an additional $72 million and help another 700 families. In November, city staff recommended an $87 million allocation for the disaster recovery housing program, but the council asked to redirect funding to rental housing programs. Under Round 2, only low- to moderate-income home-owners can be in the reconstruction and rehabilitation program.
Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/276162
Island to pick CDBG Round 2 program administrators
By Amanda Casanova Galveston County Daily News December 6, 2011
GALVESTON — By the end of the week, city staff will choose and rank three possible program administrators — one of which will oversee $122 million in federal housing funds. After concern last week about political moves to position firms for the multimillion-dollar contract, the city council met Monday with representatives from five companies. The five firms, preselected by the state to oversee the second round of Community Development Block Grants, were Dallas-based Affiliate Computer Services; Massachusetts-based Camp, Dresser, McKee; Virginia-based Science Applications International Corp.; Louisiana-based Shaw; and California-based URS. CDM already is managing the island’s disaster housing recovery program from Round 1 and whether the company is chosen for Round 2 housing projects, CDM will finish the Round 1 housing program. Under new state guidelines for the federal funding, the city can choose up to three possible program administrators. The state will make a final selection. The city’s ranking is due to the state Friday.
Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/277426