Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 11/12/2008

As the general economy sinks, foreclosures continue to soar and new housing starts dwindle. In California, foreclosures devastate whole towns. No evidence of the $700 billion bailout has reached Texas’ grassroots.

Meanwhile, FEMA’s terrible performance has fueled a Congressional investigation and possible corrective legislation. Two years after Hurricane Rita, less than 10 percent of the aid has been distributed. FEMA’s response to Hurricane Ike has been similar:  two months after Hurricane Ike, homeowners and tenants remain in tents while FEMA officials seek a place to park thousands of trailers.

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

Fannie Mae reports record $29B loss, massive writedown
Associated Press         Nov. 10, 2008
Fannie Mae posted a record quarterly loss as new Chief Executive Officer Herbert Allison slashed the value of the mortgage-finance provider’s assets by at least $21.4 billion and said it may need to tap federal funds next year.

In its first report since being seized by the U.S. government in September, Washington-based Fannie Mae said its third-quarter net loss was $29 billion, or $13 a share, the largest for any company in the Standard & Poor’s 500 this year.

Workers put down roots
A rough housing market gives rise to relocation resistance.

By Marilyn Gardner          Christian Science Monitor          November 3, 2008
As a resident of Philadelphia for 20 years, Scott Clinton has established deep roots. So when the transport company where he works as a mechanical engineer announced that it will relocate to Greenville, S.C., at the end of the year, he decided not to go.

“I’m very committed to our church, our family, our friends, our community,” Mr. Clinton says. “We’re just not interested in picking up and moving.” Instead, he is looking for a new job. Most of the firm’s 67 workers are doing the same.

In decades past, employees like Clinton were more willing to relocate, either to accept a transfer or to take a job with a different employer. Today greater independence prevails. People are more likely to say no to a move, citing a sluggish real estate market, a spouse’s job, or even a divorce settlement that restricts parental moves.

Few applied for Hope for Homeowners mortgage program
Los Angeles Times        November 10, 2008
The government’s Hope for Homeowners plan launched Oct. 1 was initially projected to help over the next three years as many as 400,000 struggling borrowers avert foreclosure.

But fewer than 100 homeowners applied to the program in October, and the Federal Housing Administration now projects that just 13,300 will be helped in its first year. An FHA official said recently that one large lender had reported that in a group of 23,000 troubled borrowers only 1,200 would be eligible for the program.

A Town Drowns in Debt as Home Values Plunge
By David Streitfeld        New York Times       November 11, 2008
MOUNTAIN HOUSE, Calif. – This town, 59 feet above sea level, is the most underwater community in America.

Because of plunging home values, almost 90 percent of homeowners here owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth, according to figures released Monday. That is the highest percentage in the country. The average homeowner in Mountain House is “underwater,” as it is known, by $122,000.

After Ike: Officials decry storm relief red tape
Texas so far has spent just 10% of Rita aid

By Mike Snyder and Lynn Cook       Houston Chronicle       Nov. 10, 2008
Congress should eliminate barriers that have forced Texas hurricane victims to wait years to rebuild their storm-damaged homes, state and federal officials said Monday.

Among the laws that should be reviewed are the Stafford Act, which controls many federal disaster recovery programs, and the statute governing federal Community Development Block Grant funds, which help low-income, uninsured homeowners rebuild their homes, the officials said.

Houston home starts sink by 29 percent
By Nancy Sarnoff 
      Houston Chronicle         Nov. 5, 2008
Houston-area home starts fell 29 percent in the third quarter, marking their steepest decline in more than a decade.

Dallas-Fort Worth home sales post steep decline
By Steve Brown        Dallas Morning News       November 10, 2008
North Texas home sales suffered a steep decline in October, falling 17 percent from a year ago.

The decline in home purchases was one of the largest so far this year and came as world financial and credit markets crashed.

Collin County experiencing increase in home evictions
By Ed Housewright       Dallas Morning News       November 9, 2008
Johnny Todd has a lousy job: The Collin County constable evicts people who don’t pay their rent.

With the battered economy, Constable Todd is busier than ever. He’s not just ousting renters. He’s also evicting homeowners who fall hopelessly behind on their mortgage.

He witnesses foreclosure fallout firsthand.

“You can’t stay for free,” Ms. Wright said. “We have to be fair and consistent.”

Builders still busy through new homes permits are down
By Heather Nolan       Beaumont Enterprise      November 9, 2008
Beaumont home builders have managed to keep busy these last few months thanks to Hurricane Ike, despite the fact that they’re not building as many homes as they were at this time last year.

“There’s a ton of money being invested from repairs,” said Richard Guseman, president of Guseman Homes and of the Home Builders Association of Southeast Texas. “That’s an infusion of cash we wouldn’t normally have had, and it’s still money being dumped into the economy.”

City records show the city issued 77 residential construction permits in September and October this year, down from 160 permits issued in the same period one year ago.

This time around, Beaumont homes did not receive nearly as much damage as during Rita, which home builder How-ard Nichols said allowed contractors to continue working.

Farmers Insurance plans big increase in Texas homeowners rates
By Terrence Stutz        Dallas Morning News         November 8, 2008
AUSTIN – Farmers Insurance plans to impose double-digit rate hikes for hundreds of thousands of its customers in North Texas and across the state, blaming the increase on rising costs for labor and building materials.

The higher rates, which would be reflected on insurance bills beginning Feb. 16, affect policyholders for two of the company’s largest subsidiaries. Farmers is the No. 3 home insurer in Texas.

Tax Hearing Focuses on ‘Appraisal Creep’
By Guillermo  Garcia     San Antonio Express News       November 5, 2008
Despite a state mandate that limits property tax rate increases, “appraisal creep” is causing a steady rise in property taxes for businesses and homeowners, a state panel meeting in San Antonio was told Tuesday.

Families falling through cracks with FEMA
By Leigh Jones       Galveston County Daily News      November 9, 2008
GALVESTON – Hurricane Ike left about a foot of water in Margaret Makupson’s 29th Street house.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency says she doesn’t qualify for rental assistance.

Ike also flooded the house on Heards Lane where Monica Diaz and her four children lived with her mother, destroying all the family’s belongings.

But because Diaz wasn’t named on the lease, the federal agency won’t give her assistance – not even money to replace her children’s clothes and toys.

City, FEMA formula discrepancy confusing residents
By Leigh Jones       Galveston County  Daily News      November 9, 2008
GALVESTON – Joe Enriquez spent the last 53 days worrying that his house on Bayou Shore Drive would have to be elevated.

Hurricane Ike pushed about 5 feet of water into the place when it came ashore Sept. 13, flooding 75 percent of the island’s houses.

Under the city’s floodplain regulations, any house with more than 50 percent damage must be lifted above the base flood elevation, which is at least 11 feet in most parts of the city.

Feds still looking for mobile-home sites
By Leigh Jones       Galveston Daily News       November 9, 2008
GALVESTON – The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not have a shortage of mobile homes for hurricane victims, David Paulison, the agency’s top administrator, said.

The problem is finding places to put them, he said.

Almost two months after Hurricane Ike made landfall damaging 75 percent of houses on Galveston Island and devastating communities all along the upper Texas coast, the government is installing only six mobile homes on the island and 44 in the rest of Galveston County.

Housing all locked up on isle
By Rhiannon Meyers        Galveston County Daily News       November 9, 2008
GALVESTON – More than 500 Galveston residents received housing assistance vouchers during the first week of a federal program designed to move hurricane victims into apartments and rental houses while their homes are repaired.

But some are having trouble finding places to live.

Available housing is limited. Some people are finding that the places they want to rent have yet to be repaired after Hurricane Ike slammed into Galveston on Sept. 13, flooding 75 percent of the island and rendering four of the island’s public housing complexes unlivable.

City brokers unusual takeover at apartment complex facing foreclosure
By Bradley Olson        Houston Chronicle      November 6, 2008
The city has brokered the takeover of a 600-unit apartment complex in north Houston that was vacated by its managers, who left residents fearing eviction as the property, badly damaged by Hurricane Ike, faces a possible foreclosure.

Hybrid homes become a selling tool
By Bob Keefe         Austin American-Statesman         November 09, 2008
First came the push for fuel-efficient cars. Are fuel-efficient houses next?
As builders look for ways to move homes in a lousy market, they’re increasingly taking their cue from carmakers and turning toward energy efficiency as a selling tool.

Austin developers planting homes in Mexican jungle
Warehouse District business owners cutting through foreign-ownership red tape to build eco-friendly subdivision.

By Jeremy Schwartz        Austin American-Statesman          November 10, 2008
TULUM, QUINTANA ROO – When everyone else was looking to the beach, the Schnurr family set its sights on the jungle.
About five years ago, the Austin family – which owns such Warehouse District haunts as Milaga and Cedar Street Courtyard – hit upon a vision of an eco-friendly development. Their plan called for a subdivision of solar-powered resort and retirement homes in the lush jungle two hours south of Canc?n.