Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 12/2/2008

Eight years of mismanagement and corruption have left the nation’s top agencies gutted: the bright and ethical left early as the Bush-appointed brain-trusts ignored and bent law and policy. The EPA, HUD, FEMA, the SEC and all the major federal organizations will have to be re-oriented and re-staffed, an effort that will take longer than any president’s eight years.

In this week’s articles, we see FEMA recast as FEEBL by the Fort Worth Weekly, and victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Ike realize that the only helping hands for them are at the end of their own arms.

For the full pdf articles, and contextual stories in environmental, social and political areas, contact Bo McCarver at bmccarver@auston.rr.com

Fed throws fresh lifeline to stressed households
By Mark Felsenthal         Reuters       November 26, 2008
WASHINGTON  – The Federal Reserve threw a massive life-line to consumers on Tuesday with two new programs aimed at making it easier for them to obtain loans for homes, cars and on credit cards.

Under the new mortgage program, the Fed will buy up to $100 billion of debt issued by government-sponsored mortgage enterprises Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks. It will also buy up to $500 billion of mortgage securities backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Ginnie Mae.

Financial scammers target homeowners facing foreclosure
By Michael Doyle      McClatchy Newspapers         November 26, 2008
WASHINGTON — The foreclosure sharks are circling the San Joaquin Valley.
Homeowners beware. Just ask Fresno resident Patricia Ireland.

A temporarily laid-off Internal Revenue Service employee, Ireland was scrambling to meet her mortgage payments recently. Out of the blue, a company called to offer help. For a $2,500 fee, Ireland was told, the company and its Irvine-based lawyers would renegotiate the mortgage. Desperate, Ireland paid a $500 down payment.

Then she found the fine print.

Community-Based Progress in Post-Katrina New Orleans
By Roberta Grandes Gratz       Planetizen       November 26, 2008
With meager resources, donations in funds and materials from foundations and thousands of individuals, local activists are battling destructive governmental policies while also doing the jobs that need doing, step by small step.

All you had to do was attend a recent one-day conference produced by a coalition of groups to not only gain confidence that New Orleans is rebuilding better — not just recovering — but also to recognize that this is exactly how devastated cities regenerate authentically, whether the South Bronx or New Orleans.

“New Orleans Speaks: We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For” these citizen builders titled their gathering. The energy, determination and savvy was overflowing. As one speaker noted: “There is no other cavalry coming over the hill. We are the cavalry.”

Study: Many Kids in Katrina Trailer Park Anemic
Associated Press       November 26, 2008
New Orleans – Dozens of infants and toddlers who lived in Louisiana’s biggest trailer park for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina were anemic because of poor diets, at a rate more than four times the national average.

About 41 percent of 77 children under the age of 4 suffered from the condition this year, according to a study released Monday by the Children’s Health Fund. Most, and possibly all, lived in the Renaissance Village trailer park in Baker.

Texas to get $1.3 billion in hurricane help
Associated Press      November 26, 2008
WASHINGTON — Texas is to receive $1.3 billion in federal money to help with recovery from Hurricane Ike.

The money is the largest portion of a total $2.1 billion that the Housing and Urban Development Department is dividing among 13 states and Puerto Rico. The money comes from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Program.

Congress approved $6 billion for 2008 storm recovery.

Ike slammed into Texas shores on Sept. 13.

Texas’ Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn announced the money in a news release Wednesday.

30-mile debris pile becomes symbol of FEMA delays
By Michael Graczyk        
Associated Press        December 1, 2008
SMITH POINT, Texas  — A 30-mile scar of debris along the Texas coast stands as a festering testament to what state and local officials say is FEMA’s sluggish response to the 2008 hurricane season.

Two and a half months after Hurricane Ike blasted the shoreline, alligators and snakes crawl over vast piles of shattered building materials, lawn furniture, trees, boats, tanks of butane and other hazardous substances, thousands of animal carcasses, perhaps even the corpses of people killed by the storm.

Residents at rundown complex seek shelter before holiday
By Bill Murphy        Houston Chronicle        November 26, 2008
Talk to Virginia Ramirez these days, and she’ll tell you why the Pasadena apartment she looked at recently was no good.

It wasn’t on a bus line. And she needs to take a bus to get to her psychiatrist’s office.

As she goes on, one subject never comes up – where she’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving.

“There’s no Thanksgiving,” she says, slightly dismissively, “but we’ll do what we can. Maybe we’ll get a bunch of people (from her apartment complex) and share.”

She and other remaining residents at the Vista Bonita complex in southeast Houston are understandably focused on matters other than celebratory dining this year. Ramirez, like others there, are forced to look for a new home just days before Thanksgiving.

We’ve been FEMA’d – Again
Fort Worth Weekly        November 26, 2008

We’ve been FEMA’d – Again

Put it down for posterity: Static agrees with Gov. Rick Perry – and is even applauding him. In print.

The momentous occasion for this confluence of Good Hair and Weekly wit? Perry’s decision last week that he could no longer wait for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to get around to cleaning up the debris left – in September – by Hurricane Ike or to provide housing for those literally left out in the rain.

Problems delay mobile homes for evacuees
By Mike Snyder      San Antonio Express-News       November 26, 2008
TEXAS CITY – Inside the standard-issue plastic garbage can in their new mobile home, two Hurricane Ike evacuees found hidden treasure.

They lifted the lid and saw towels, sheets, cups and other household items, including a Mr. Coffee. For L.J. Shosty and his wife, Mary, who had lost everything they owned when Ike’s storm surge flooded their San Leon home, these items and the mobile home were a godsend.

“FEMA has been nothing but wonderful,” Mary Shosty, 58, said of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Gov. Rick Perry and other officials have criticized for deploying mobile homes too slowly. “They busted their chops to get us in here.”

FEMA flooded with complaints
By Trish Choate
      Wichita Falls Times-Record         November 26, 2008
The Federal Emergency Management Agency hasn’t been winning any popularity contests in flood-stricken Wichita County or parts of Texas hammered by Hurricane Ike.

The announcement Tuesday from two Texas senators that FEMA will fund Ike debris removal at 100 percent for six more months did not temper Gov. Rick Perry’s views of FEMA or change his mind about what he sees as a broken agency.

Business leaders say island needs unified focus
By Laura Elder        Galveston County Daily News       November 28, 2008
GALVESTON – Island businesses face many and varied obstacles recovering from a catastrophic hurricane, but restoration of the city’s hobbled economy needs unified vision that so far has been elusive, some leaders say.

Not since the 1900 Storm, which killed 6,000 people and leveled an economy so vibrant Galveston was nicknamed the “Wall Street of the South,” has the city been at such a crossroads, officials say.

Hurricane Ike, which struck Sept. 13, caused such massive flooding that about 75 percent of the island’s 2,500 businesses are closed or working in limited capacity.

Galveston Housing Authority to emulate Biloxi
By Rhiannon Meyers       Galveston County Daily News       November 30, 2008
GALVESTON – When Harish Krishnarao talks about the future of public housing in Galveston, he points to Biloxi, Miss., a city of 44,000, that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Krishnarao, executive director of Galveston Housing Authority, said he’s obtained Biloxi Housing Authority’s “game book” and fully intends to emulate it in rebuilding public housing on Galveston Island.

Beach-front homeowners may not qualify for buyout
By Leigh Jones       Galveston County Daily News      November
GALVESTON – One hundred and fourteen West End houses are now on the public beach, based on the tentative line of vegetation set by the Texas General Land Office two weeks ago.

Sixty-five more houses were destroyed when Hurricane Ike came ashore Sept. 13, chewing away the island’s shore and leaving a trail of destruction along much of the upper Texas coast.

Those property owners are counting on federal Hazard Mitigation Grant funds to buy their houses, but state officials say structures on the public beach might not qualify for the program, which is designed to save taxpayers from paying for future flood claims.

Mainland communities struggling after Ike
By T.J. Aulds       Galveston County Daily News       November 29, 2008
FREDDIESVILLE – It has been more than two months since Hurricane Ike slammed into Galveston County, but Georgia Leyva’s neighborhood looks as though the storm came ashore just days ago.

“We had 8 to 9 feet (of water) in the house,” said Leyva, whose Freddiesville home sits a foot off the ground on cinder blocks. “It took away everything.”

Judges seek to expedite insurance lawsuits
By Rhiannon Meyers        Galveston County Daily News      November 29, 2008
Judges in Galveston County’s district courts, predicting an influx in lawsuits against insurance companies in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, are devising plans to fast-track cases to avoid some of the lengthy legal battles fought in Mississippi, Louisiana and Southeast Texas in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane season.

East Austin land-trust plan comes to County Commissioners
By Marty Toohey       Austin American-Statesman        November 26, 2008
Now that the City of Austin has its house in order, it’s pushing Travis County to participate in a plan to combat gentrification in parts of East Austin.

On Tuesday, Council Member Mike Martinez pushed the County Commissioners to decide by the end of the year whether to participate a land trust that would reduce the property tax burden of some residents by buying the land beneath their homes. The residents would continue to live in and pay taxes on their dwellings. But presumably their tax burden would be lower even as land values increased – allowing them to continue living in their neighborhoods.

Homeowners increasingly splitting property tax bill in two
By Anthony Spangler       Fort Worth Star-Telegram November 28, 2008
FORT WORTH _ The number of property owners in Tarrant County splitting their tax bill into smaller payments is up 38 percent compared with last year, a sign that taxpayers are increasingly wary of tough economic times.

To participate in half-payments, the first installments are due Monday. As of late Wednesday, 13,680 property owners chose to pay in smaller increments, up from 9,914 last year, according to Tarrant County tax office data.

Homeless vets find refuge
Another Chance gets 12th house, 10 more beds

By David Pittman        Amarillo Globe       November 29, 2008
On any given night, 200,000 veterans are homeless, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Those who have worn a uniform in the armed forces account for nearly a quarter of the nation’s homeless.

That problem doesn’t escape Amarillo.

“The mentally challenged veterans, there really wasn’t a place for them in Amarillo,” said Sandy Fenberg, executive director for Another Chance House, the area’s only homeless shelter solely for men.