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Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 9/3/2008

My friend and fellow houser Bo McCarver shares with the Texas housers blog the housing related stories from his weekly compilation of print media stories he calls “The Tuesday Report”. Bo’s report is posted here each Wednesday. If you want a pdf file of the articles that includes social, environmental and other contextual news stories, send me a comment with your email address and I’ll pass it on to Bo.

Note that sometimes you must register with a newspaper web site in order to read the full article.

Here is Bo’s report….

While Hurricane Gustav did not deal out the misery of Hurricane Katrina, it served to show how little has been accomplished in rebuilding New Orleans in three years. The last of Katrina’s dead were interned last week but much of the city remains demolished. Racist policies and attitudes still shape some of the redevelopments. See New Orleans Redraws Its Color Line.

Meanwhile, the inept Texas Residential Construction Commission undergoes sunset review and some very critical press. See the first two articles below.

Homeowners losing fights with builders
By Jennifer Hiller      San Antonio Express-News       September 1, 2008
Hoses twist and snake through Jonathan Steiner’s home.

The makeshift plumbing lines run beneath furniture, across the living room and into the garage, where they block that door from closing completely. Air conditioning leaks out while bugs crawl in.

The hoses were supposed to be a temporary fix when the plumbing system failed and sprung leaks all over the house.

That was more than two years ago.

After plumbers told Steiner the entire system needed replacing, the physical therapist couldn’t get his builder to make repairs in his four-year-old brick home, located in the Woodridge neighborhood near USAA. So Steiner turned to the state agency the Legislature created to resolve disputes between homeowners and homebuilders.
It didn’t help.

The Texas Residential Construction Commission agreed the builder is responsible for the plumbing fiasco, but the agency can’t force the company to fix it.

That disconnect is one reason the Sunset Advisory Commission staff this month recommended abolishing the agency.

Opinions mixed on the fate of TRCC
Many applaud panel’s suggestion to scrap home builder agency

By David Ellison        Houston Chronicle      September 2, 2008
Jeryl Bennett paid about $130,000 for her new home four years ago. The appraised value now: $77,000.

That dramatic decrease resulted from what Bennett says is a foundation problem, symptoms of which she started noticing shortly after she moved in. But the builder, Lennar Homes, and the Texas Residential Construction Commission have told her the foundation is solid.

“They are in denial, saying nothing is wrong with the floor,” Bennett said. “I said, ‘How in the world (are) rafters going to break if the floor is stable? How’s my frame going to break if the floor is stable?’ ”

Builders scrambling to lure buyers before down-payment help disappears
By Alex Viega         Associated Press       August 31, 2008
LOS ANGELES – Homebuilders are always trying to sell their houses, but these days they have an extra incentive – beating the clock.

In a few weeks, a financing option used by almost 20 percent of new-home buyers to help scrape together a down payment is going away, making it tougher for many people to become homeowners.

It’s a loophole in the Federal Housing Administration rules that lets builders and other home sellers channel money through a charity to help homebuyers cover their down payment.

But lawmakers axed the programs, effective Oct. 1, because almost 40 percent of FHA borrowers who went into foreclosure since October had down-payment assistance.

Worker Assets Shrink at Fannie and Freddie
By Vijas Bajaj and Tara Siegel Bernard      New York Times       August 29, 2008
Fannie Mae’s workers had $116 million in the employee stock ownership plan at the end of 2006. Today, it’s more like $17.5 million. Ouch.

The employees of Fannie Mae, and those of its counterpart Freddie Mac, are reeling from financial blows themselves as the mortgage finance companies lurch toward what could be a government bailout. Both firms ladled out hefty servings of stocks and options to reward and compensate employees – making them popular employers for years.

New Orleans Redraws Its Color Line
By Lizzy Rathner       The Nation      August 26, 2008
After she tried to rent out her home, Kiana Alexander found it burned to the ground.
The stories sound like strange echoes from another era, as if someone had wound up the old Victrola of history and let the Dixie tunes rip. They begin on a half-abandoned street in St. Bernard Parish, an aggressively white community on the southeastern edge of New Orleans. That is where Daphne Clark, 39, an African-American supervisor at a group home, rented a house with help from a rental voucher last year, and that is where the harassment began.

New Orleans spared a repeat of Katrina
By Ed Pilkington          The Guardian [UK]      September 1, 2008
New Orleans appeared today to have been narrowly spared a repeat of the devastation of Katrina three years ago when Hurricane Gustav weakened in power and veered away to the west of the city in a last-minute reprieve.

Uh-Oh: Gustav May Test Houston’s Poor Building Codes
By Olivia Flores Alvarez         Houston Press       August 28, 2008
The Institute for Business & Home Safety says Houston is dragging behind its Gulf Coast neighbors with regards to improving building codes following Hurricane Katrina.

Ruling final on illegal Farmers Branch rental ban
By Patrick McGee      Fort Worth Star-Telegram      August 29, 2008
DALLAS – A federal judge has finalized his ruling that a Farmers Branch ordinance forbidding illegal immigrants from renting apartments in the city is unconstitutional.

Developer drops plans for apartments, shops around Broken Spoke
Ardent Residential says it has too many other projects going; seven-acre site still for sale.

By Kate Miller Morton         Austin American-Statesman       August 27, 2008
A local developer has dropped plans to build 300 apartments and retail shops around the Broken Spoke, the famed honky-tonk on South Lamar Boulevard.

Travis agency opens 3 lower-priced apartment complexes
By Shonda Novak         Austin American-Statesman       August 28, 2008
The Housing Authority of Travis County recently opened three new apartment communities that are providing moderately priced housing to 470 families and individuals who earn household incomes less than the area’s median.

The projects include two complexes in Austin with a total of 262 units and the 208-unit Cambridge Villas in Pflugerville on Dessau Road.

Port, partnership in turf war
By Leigh Jones         Galveston County Daily News      September 1, 2008
GALVESTON – A new plan for downtown has reignited an old fight over the city’s waterfront.

Some members of the Historic Downtown Galveston Partnership are pushing for an economic study of the city center, including the financial feasibility of putting more retail, commercial and residential development on Port of Galveston property.
They say the city is leaving money on the table by not considering the valuable wharves as a place where mixed-use projects could benefit the port, downtown merchants and the city’s tax base.

I started my commitment to housing justice for people and communities with low incomes in 1975 in Austin's Clarksville community. These years of working side-by-side with dedicated community leaders to find solutions to housing and community development challenges have taught me some things and I’m learning new things every day.

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