Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 11/19/2008

Foreclosures continue to soar across the nation as housing starts dwindle. Cities are laced with vacant, unaffordable houses as the homeless population grows. The dilemma seems unsolvable by Washington or private corporations but HUD has finally owned that more could be done to educate low-income home owners about mortgages.

On the Texas coast, towns and cities still struggle to recover from Hurricane Ike. Many are permanently altered. A morass of bureaucratic rules impede rebuilding; the situation is worsened by tightened credit and the general recession.

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

Uncooperative Housing
Diary of a Mad Law Professor

By Patricia Williams The Nation November 13, 2008
This year is the fortieth anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. As we celebrate Barack Obama’s election and the extraordinary social transformations that the civil rights movement brought us, we should also review with fresh eyes some of the divisions that remain. One of the thorniest of these is housing segregation. There is no doubt that many suburbs are less monolithically white than they used to be, and that many neighborhoods in the Deep South have integrated at faster rates than in the urban North. Overall, however, national disparities in public schools, medical care and policing all flow from the fact that residential segregation by race remains a pervasive feature of American life–and that it exists in the United States at a higher rate than in just about any other industrialized country. This, in turn, allows for–and even rationalizes–separate and very unequal public policies exacerbating the social barriers between white citizens and those in communities of color.

HUD Unveils New Rules for Mortgages
By James Hagerty Wall Street Journal November 13, 2008
The rules update requirements of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, known as Respa, a 1974 law that sets standards for home-purchase transactions. HUD Secretary Steve Preston said changes were needed because “many people made uninformed decisions” in taking out loans. That, he said, contributed to a surge in mortgage defaults.

Stopping Foreclosures With the Right to Rent: One More Time
By Dean Baker truthout November 17, 2008
Politicians often prefer complex solutions to simple problems. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the long list of complicated and convoluted proposals to address the country’s foreclosure crisis.

Millions of people face the loss of their homes over the next few years. While the politicians in Congress have developed a wide variety of complex schemes in order to hold back this flood of foreclosures, including one passed into law last summer that provided up to $300 billion guarantees for new mortgages on homes facing foreclosure, none have had much impact thus far.

Real estate agents see bottom in early 2009, survey says
By Andrea Jares Fort Worth Star-Telegram November 13, 2008
Most real estate agents believe that the bottom of the national real estate market will hit sometime in the beginning of 2009, according to a survey by Campbell Communications released Thursday.

Fifty-two percent of agents said the country will see the bottom of the housing market in the first six months of 2009. Another 7.7 percent said prices have already bottomed out, and 16.5 percent believed the bottom will happen in 2010 or later.

Houston, Harris Co. making plans to buy foreclosures
Grants from Congress would fund program

By Liz Austin Peterson Houston Chronicle Nov. 13, 2008
Houston and Harris County soon could begin buying and renovating foreclosed homes and selling them to low- and middle-income families, using $28 million in federal grants aimed at tackling the subprime mortgage crisis.

They are among five counties and nine cities in Texas eligible for a piece of nearly $4 billion in grant money Congress allocated this summer for the redevelopment of foreclosed properties in its housing bailout bill.

Dallas-Fort Worth sees record home foreclosure postings
By Steve Brown Dallas Morning News November 13, 2008
A record of more than 50,000 Dallas-Fort Worth area homes have been posted for foreclosure in 2008.

That’s 17 percent more than in 2007 and more than double the number of foreclosure filings in 2002, Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service said Thursday.

Steadied by wartime economy, military towns around some bases sheltered from real estate bust
By Kristin Hall Associated Press November 11, 2008
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Sometimes Tim Wells felt like the only man left on his street.

Thousands of soldiers were deployed out of Fort Campbell, Ky., just a few miles away, and homes in Wells’ subdivision were sitting empty. But a few months later the soldiers began to return and, one by one, the homes were quickly purchased.

”They all started selling, boom-boom-boom, right down the line, as people rotated in,” said Wells, who was a civilian contractor working on the base. “It was a pretty clear pattern.”

While overall national home prices and sales are down, there are pockets in the U.S. doing well. Among them are military towns dominated by big bases, helped by steady wartime employment and by more moderate increases in values and less reckless lending than many boom areas saw during the bubble.

Residents miffed at builder’s plan
By Jennifer Huller San Antonio Express-News November 14, 2008
Residents of a new suburban community are fuming over their builder’s decision to add smaller, lower-priced homes to their neighborhood now that the economy has taken a turn for the worse.

Homeowners in KB Home’s Sundance Trails and Sundance Ridge communities, located off Potranco Road outside Loop 1604, say the cheaper homes will bring down their property values and ruin the aesthetics of the neighborhood.

From last resort to first choice
The state windstorm association’s rates may encourage unwise building

By Purva Patel Houston Chronicle Nov. 15, 2008
Lawmakers created the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association as a last resort for homeowners and businesses unable to find coverage elsewhere.

But in recent years, relatively cheap premiums, a shrinking private market and lenient eligibility requirements have caused the wind pool to swell and encouraged building in areas susceptible to hurricanes, those advocating reforms for the agency say.

“If we’re going to make this rational and have people face the consequences of building on the coast, we need to let TWIA charge higher rates,” said Bill Peacock, of the free-market-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Economic Freedom.

The state-created but privately run association long has complained it is underfunded and its policies underpriced, but staggering losses this year have brought the idea of reforms back to the forefront.

New high-tech FEMA maps redefine flood zones
By Jennie Coughlin and Jessica Durando USA Today November 13, 2008
New high-tech maps are forcing many U.S. homeowners to buy flood insurance for the first time, while others who have had coverage are being cleared to drop their policies.

The changes stem from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s multiyear plan to digitize its Flood Insurance Rate Maps to make them more accurate and easier to update.

Texas tent living still common 2 months after Ike
By Juan Lozano Associated Press November 14, 2008
OAK ISLAND, Texas – Truong Van Cao and two other fishermen share a cramped, muddy tent amid the wreckage of homes, including his own, destroyed when Hurricane Ike stormed across this tiny Southeast Texas town.

Seventy miles to the northeast, Bridge City retirees Ferrel and Jerry Ashby waited a month to get a mobile home from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the storm flooded their house.

Hardship lingers on Texas’ coast after Hurricane Ike
By Emily Ramshaw Dallas Morning News November 16, 2008
CHAMBERS COUNTY, Texas – When Hurricane Ike swallowed their beachfront home and all of their belongings, Darlene and Mark Pagels tried to hold it together.

They borrowed underwear and shoes. They slept in one-hour shifts at a local hospital. They ate free meals in a tent outside their church. And they waited, through September, then October, for a mobile home from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

When a FEMA trailer finally landed on the Pagels’ property last week, it came with a padlocked door – and orders that they not move in until inspectors gave them the OK.

Officials eyeing spots for FEMA mobile homes
By Chris Paschenko and Leigh Jones Galveston County Daily News November 14, 2008
GALVESTON – City and FEMA officials on Thursday announced 10 island locations where they hope to install mobile home communities to house residents displaced by Hurricane Ike.

Most of the sites are privately owned, but several of them belong to Galveston County and the Galveston Independent School District.

Neither county commissioners nor school board members have agreed to let the sites be used for the mobile home communities.

Tiny Shoreacres bares big burden
Two months after it was hit hard by the storm, the small coastal village in the ‘shadow of La Porte’ is still in ruins, with 88% of homes and half of its people gone

By Mike Snyder Houston Chronicle Nov. 12, 2008
Hurricane Ike’s storm surge slammed into the picturesque Shoreacres bayfront in the predawn darkness, turning houses into breezeways as it knocked out walls on its relentless push inland.

Today, exactly two months after Ike hit, the scene remains one of utter devastation. Chunks of the brick facade from one house are strewn across its driveway. A toilet lies upended on a front lawn.

Hundreds may be homeless with FEMA vouchers ending
By Leigh Jones Galveston County Daily News November 13, 2008
GALVESTON – Latina Vallery planned to stay in her Super 8 motel room until next week, when her landlord should be finished making repairs to her flood-damaged apartment.

But Tuesday morning, she found a note taped to her door saying she had to be out by 11 a.m. today.

Vallery is among hundreds of Galveston County residents checking out of hotel and motel rooms today because the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not extend their hotel vouchers.

Future of public housing depends on repair cost
By Rhiannon Meyers Galveston County Daily News November 16, 2008
Inspectors hired by the federal government are combing through the properties to determine the extent of the damage caused when Hurricane Ike slammed into Galveston on Sept. 13, flooding five of the island’s six public housing developments, and forcing hundreds of public housing residents from their homes. Four housing developments – Cedar Terrace, Palm Terrace, Oleander Homes and Magnolia Homes – remained closed after they were inundated with several feet of salty flood water. The units have not been cleaned or repaired.

Department of Labor probes blue-roof project
By Chris Paschenko Galveston County Daily News November 17, 2008
HITCHCOCK – The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating allegations that laborers in Galveston County weren’t paid for weeks of roofing jobs associated with the government’s blue-roof project.

Roofers from across the country, who spent weeks living in tents and hammering blue tarpaulins on homes damaged by Hurricane Ike, say they haven’t been paid and that the government-funded program left them penniless with no way home.

Houston to pay feds $15 million for misspent grants
By Mike Snyder Houston Chronicle Nov. 17, 2008
The city of Houston has agreed to repay $15.5 million over five years to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to settle findings that it misspent grants from three federal housing programs prior to December 2004.

Planning commission reaches impasse in move to restrict further Oaks development
By Dee Dixon Beaumont Enterprise November, 17, 2008
Having recorded a 4-4 vote, the Beaumont Planning and Zoning Commission will send the city council no recommendations regarding one of two proposed residential zone changes for the Oaks Historic District.
The one it could make no decision on was a new zoning classification that would have excluded any new businesses from the existing residential conservation and revitalization zone. Restaurants would be allowed in a second proposal, which passed easily.

Growth slows in suburbs
City governments have more time to plan but less new revenue

By Kate Miller Morton Austin American-Statesman November 16, 2008
For more than a decade, the amenities that accompanied Kyle’s rapid population growth seemed to come for free.

The city, which has quadrupled in size since 1998, lowered its tax rate 11 consecutive years while it simultaneously went on a $64 million building spree that included miles of new highways, a railroad overpass, a City Hall, fire station and municipal swimming pool.

This year, the free ride came to an end with the halt of the development boom that had made it all possible.

More lofts, retail spaces in works downtown; owner hoping for clothing shop
By Mike Copeland Waco Tribune-Herald November 13, 2008
Partners W. Leslie Long and Austin Brock have bought another building on Austin Avenue with plans to convert it to loft and retail space.

Their latest acquisition is 721-723 Austin Ave., a two-story building they acquired from Jeff and Honey Rader.
“We hope to put four two-bedroom, two-bath condominiums on the second floor,” said Long, adding: “In the absolute best-case scenario, they will be ready in six to eight months.”

Homeless hope to get off the streets with their art show
Purple zebra, rhinos, sea monsters decorate canvases for annual show this weekend.

By Claire Osborn Austin American-Statesman November 15, 2008
A purple zebra running through a field. A surfer making his way through a series of three waves in a huge canvas of blue. A red lizard slithering across a map of Africa.
The annual art show featuring paintings and drawings from Austin homeless artists this weekend includes anything but the streets where they live.