Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 11/5/2008

The consequences of an unregulated housing finance industry continue to hammer the American middle class: soon a quarter of the nation’s homeowners will owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. While the government bailout focuses on preventing more foreclosures, the finance barons who authored the debacle remain rich and unhampered. The damage is done and the next administration will inherit the same corrupt system.

Meanwhile, Galveston continues to struggle with inept government agencies that seem to have learned little in the two years following Hurricane Katrina. The housing authority is just now getting around to assessing the flood damage while displaced residents are shuffled from tent to tent.

For a pdf version of the full articles, plus contextual stories in social, environmental and political areas, contact Bo McCarver at bmccarver.rr.com.

One in Five Homeowners With Mortgages Underwater
By Jonathan Stempel      Reuters      October 2008
New York – Nearly one in five U.S. mortgage borrowers owe more to lenders than their homes are worth, and the rate may soon approach one in four as housing prices fall and the economy weakens, a report on Friday shows.

U.S. mulls up to $600 billion in home loan guarantees
By Rachelle Younglai and Karey Wutkowski        Reuters        October 29, 2008
WASHINGTON – U.S. regulators are working on a new federal program that could provide government guarantees for up to $600 billion of home mortgages to help prevent foreclosures, a source familiar with the discussions told Reuters on Wednesday.

FEMA admits Ike response slow
Agency plans to speed mobile homes to areas hard hit by storm and review rules
By Mike Snyder          Houston Chronicle        October 31, 2008
A top Federal Emergency Management Agency official acknowledged Friday that the agency’s response to Hurricane Ike has been sluggish, vowing to review procedures and “box some ears” to pick up the pace of recovery.

Island’s poor, homeless wonder where they’ll live
By Rhiannnon Meyers       Galveston County Daily News        November 2, 2008
GALVESTON – Turned away at the shelter gate, Monique Day stormed across the road. Four children wearing school uniforms trailed behind her. She clutched a piece of white paper so tightly that the edges crumpled.

After Hurricane Ike flooded her apartment at one of Galveston’s federally subsidized housing projects, Day moved her son and three grandchildren to a tent city behind Alamo Elementary School, 5200 Ave. N1/2. After three weeks, Day was weary of sleeping in a tent with hundreds of strangers. When a friend offered a place to stay for a while, Day and family left. That was three days before the shelter closed.

The decision cost Day and the children cots when a new state-funded shelter opened at Scholes International Airport. Shelter officials wouldn’t let them inside Tuesday night because they weren’t at the original tent city Oct. 26 when residents moved. She can’t go home because Oleander Homes, an island housing project, is condemned. She tried to find a hotel but was told she needed to put down a $600 deposit, she said. She was approved for Federal Emergency Management Agency rental assistance but doesn’t know where she will live because low-income housing on the island is scarce.

Housing dwindles as rent skyrockets
By Rhiannon Meyers      Galveston County Daily News      October 31, 2008
GALVESTON – Residents booted from hotels as their federal assistance ends will have trouble finding apartments and rental houses on the island.

Stuck in long lines to obtain permits, many Galveston landlords have been unable to repair buildings damaged when Hurricane Ike roared ashore Sept. 13, flooding 75 percent of the island, said Buzz Elton, of the Galveston County Apartment Association. Had the city fast-tracked permits for landlords, more rental units would be ready, Elton said. Instead, most of the island’s 12,000 vacant apartment units aren’t ready to accept tenants, he said.

Housing authority to issue rental vouchers
By Rhiannon Meyers      Galveston County Daily News      October 29, 2008
GALVESTON – The Galveston Housing Authority has started issuing Disaster Housing Assistance Program vouchers, which will pay for families displaced by Hurricane Ike to live in apartments or rental homes beginning Saturday.

Not everyone qualifies for hotel voucher extension
By Leigh Jones      Galveston County Daily News      October 29, 2008
GALVESTON – Emily Stieren thought Tuesday would be her last day at the Moody Gardens Hotel, where she’s lived since Hurricane Ike filled her house with 3 feet of floodwater.

Although officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced last week that the transitional housing program would be extended for another month, Stieren was told she didn’t qualify.

She spent hours on the FEMA help line last week trying to find out why.
It wasn’t until Monday afternoon that she learned, from the hotel’s front desk, not FEMA, that the government would pay for her room for another two weeks.

Feds finish first inspections of public housing
By Rhiannon Meyers      Galveston Daily News      October 29, 2008
GALVESTON – Inspectors hired by the federal government completed inspections of the island’s federally subsidized housing units and will start inspecting each unit individually to determine which can be reopened and which must be demolished, a federal housing spokeswoman said.

Local officials to testify about reappraisals
By Rhiannon Meyers       Galveston County Daily News       November 4, 2008
In 1998 – a month after 22 inches of rain fell on the small town of Cuero and flooded one-fourth of the city’s houses with more than 4 feet of water – two people reappraised all the city’s properties, providing tax relief to owners of damaged houses and businesses.

The reappraisal was historic.

It was the only time in recent Texas history that a taxing entity took advantage of a state law allowing local governments in disaster areas to call for property reappraisals.

The largely untested law will come under scrutiny Friday during a House committee meeting, when state and school leaders are expected to discuss the effects of a reappraisal on property values in areas damaged by Hurricane Ike. The hurricane came ashore Sept. 13 over Galveston Island and damaged much of the upper Texas Gulf Coast

Poll: Fewer to ride out next storm
Residents laud White, Emmett but cite power loss and potential damage
By Mike Snyder       Houston Chronicle        Nov. 1, 2008
More than eight in 10 Harris County residents responding to a survey for the Houston Chronicle heeded local officials’ advice to ride out Hurricane Ike at home, but only 56 percent said they would stay home if another hurricane threatened the area.

The survey also showed that 78 percent of respondents rated local government’s handling of the hurricane recovery as excellent or good. Respondents weren’t asked about the performance of federal agencies, which are providing most of the recovery money.

Potential government buyouts of flooded homes seen as progress to some in LaBelle
By Kyle Peveto        Beaumont Enterprise      October 31. 2008
LaBelle homeowners on Friday got some hope they’ll stay above water – at least financially.

Jefferson County commissioners, in a Friday afternoon vote, agreed to apply for government money to buy flood-damaged homes.

HUD session offers hope of increased Orange County housing
By Maragaret Toal       Beaumont Enterprise      October 29, 2008
Orange County should “see a dramatic increase in trailers in driveways” in the next 10 days, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady said Wednesday evening in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

Brady said he met Wednesday afternoon with U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Steven Preston. Also attending the meeting were Brian Newby, who is coordinating Hurricane Ike recovery for Gov. Rick Perry, and Mike Gerber, director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, Brady said.

High-rise developers aren’t backing down
By Nancy Sarnoff      Houston Chronicle       November 1, 2008
Nov. 1, 2008Though it’s been more than a year since developers proposed a disputed 23-story residential tower near Rice University, yellow and black signs of protest still dot many lawns in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The city still hasn’t approved the project. In fact, it has rejected the developers’ permit application seven times.

But even if the high-rise were given a green light, could the developers get financing to build it with today’s unstable credit markets?

Dumb Growth
The smart-development movement has made sprawl worse, not better

By George Kresovich       Washington CEO       October 21, 2008
Nearly 20 years after its inception, Washington’s Growth Management Act (GMA) is a dismal failure. Instead of reducing sprawl by limiting development to designated urban areas, as the Legislature intended, we have subdivisions from Arlington to Tumwater housing people who work in King County. Instead of affordable housing resulting from a more intensive use of land, a median-income family cannot afford a median-priced home anywhere in King County. In Seattle, GMA based growth regulations have added 45 percent — about $200,000 — to the cost of a median-priced home.

Despite these and other unintended consequences, we have yet to recognize the problems created by the GMA.

Homeowners go greener with do-it-yourself jobs
Justin Berton,      San Francisco Chronicle        November 3, 2008
Like a lot of Bay Area homeowners, Alissa Hauser and husband Steve Brown have already done the small things to save on utility bills and pursue a green life: lower the thermostat, install energy-efficient lightbulbs, use old T-shirts for rags instead of paper towels.

Cat house controversy in Blossom
By Mary Madewell        Paris News      October 29, 2008
BLOSSOM – A set of cathouses located in close proximity to the city’s business section is causing quite a stir in this small community east of Paris before a single cat moves in.

The issue is expected to come to a head at a Nov. 11 meeting when Blossom City Council is set to discuss a permit the council issued several months ago to allow Dorothy Sanders to move a mobile home on a lot she purchased behind Front Street to be near her aging mother.

At the time, Sanders obtained the signatures of about 15 neighbors in support of her move.

Now that a couple of structures resembling “cat apartments,” which could house more than 30 cats, have been placed on the property inside a chain link enclosure, most of the original supporters have signed a petition to rescind their support.