Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 1/14/2009

The rental housing market begins to feel the recession as vacancy rates increase and rents drop. Analysts cite unemployment as the major catalyst, a speculation that seems supported by the increasing number of homeless persons. Newspapers focus on the business side of the story while the social consequences go largely unreported.

Texas continues to dither on policies to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. Local governments have largely impeded efforts to house persons left homeless by the storm, a performance that suggests a class bias against low-income residents.

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

Apartment rents show first decline in over 5 years
Reuters        Jan 7, 2009
BOSTON – Average rents for U.S. apartments fell in the fourth quarter, as a sharp economic downturn and rising unemployment left Americans unwilling to pay higher prices, according to data released on Wednesday.

Rents fell 0.4 percent in the final quarter of 2008, the first decline since early 2003, the study by real estate research firm Reis Inc found.

The vacancy rate rose to 6.6 percent, a level last seen in the first quarter of 2005, and up from 5.7 percent a year earlier.

North Texas’ new home starts fall 37.8 percent in fourth quarter
By Andrea Jares        Fort Worth Star-Telegram      January 8, 2009
New home starts in North Texas fell 37.8 percent to 3,727 in the fourth quarter.

The fourth quarter had been regarded as the time when the market might stabilize, said David Brown, director of the Dallas-Fort Worth region for MetroStudy. But negative news about the economy late in the year took its toll on consumer confidence, he said.

“It pushed out the time that we thought it would recover,” he said.
New home construction in 2008 ended the year with 20,334 home starts, according to MetroStudy. That’s a 34.8 percent drop from the year before.

Dallas-Fort Worth new home sales drop 30%
By Steve Brown        Dallas Morning News       January 8, 2009
Dallas-Fort Worth new home sales slid by 30 percent in the final months of 2008.
And the decline for the entire year pushed new home sales to the lowest point in a decade, according to statistics released Thursday by housing analyst MetroStudy Inc.

Last year builders in the area sold 26,754 homes – down 31 percent from 2007 and 43 percent fewer than the peak year for sales in 2006.

Responding to the drop in home purchases, builders in the fourth quarter trimmed starts of new houses to the lowest level in 17 years. Only 3,737 homes were started in the final three months of 2008.

Analyst: Area housing starts could fall 29 percent
By Nancy Sarnoff        Houston Chronicle       January 12, 2009
Houston-area home starts could fall up to 29 percent in 2009, leaving builders bracing for another tough year ahead, Housing analyst Mike Inselmann said today.

Developers are expected to build between 20,000 and 25,000 homes this year, the president of Houston-based Metrostudy at his annual forecast presentation to the Greater Houston Builders Association said.

The ‘McMansion’ trend in housing is slowing
Economic hard times, plus shifting neighborhood and urban values, are key factors.

By Patrik Jonsson           Christian Science Monitor       January 6, 2009
ATLANTA – Complete with an Oval Office and Lincoln Bedroom, the Atlanta White House became a symbol of developers reshaping the urban landscape by tearing down modest ranches and bungalows and plopping McMansions in their place.

The religiously themed mini-White House – which required the razing of three brick ranches – is now up for sale, facing foreclosure this week if the builder, an Iranian-born entrepreneur, can’t get a $9.88 million selling price.

Singles Use More Energy?
Urban Land Institute        January 6, 2009
Changes in household size and home construction have been the main causes of over-consumption of energy by American consumers, according to a new study released by SMR Research Corporation.

Based on interviews of with more tha 27,000 households, the SMR’s study, Consumer Enegery Spending and the Gemographics of Over-Consumption, calls for a new approach to the engery-savings message.

An Urban Neighborhood on the Rise
By Mary Ellen Slayter        Washington Post        January 3, 2009
A hundred years ago, life in Eckington was all about the streetcar.
Now it’s all about the Metro, with stations anchoring the north and south ends of the Northeast Washington neighborhood.

Often lumped in with nearby communities such as Shaw and Brookland, Eckington is increasingly becoming a requested area in its own right, real estate agents say. But more often, it draws people who were attracted to other, better-known neighborhoods with easy Metro access — but found that they didn’t suit their budgets.

Advocates for poor challenge plan for storm aid
Houston-Galveston area could reap $814 million if HUD approves proposal

By Mike Snyder         Houston Chronicle       January 9, 2009
The Houston-Galveston region would receive more than three-quarters of $1 billion in federal funds under a preliminary plan to help Texas recover from Hurricanes Ike and Dolly.

The plan by the state’s Office of Rural Community Affairs leaves most decisions about how to spend the money to local councils of government, including the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

Advocates for poor and working-class families said this structure creates a risk that too little of the money will be spent on housing and too much on public works projects favored by local politicians.

Blown Over: Galveston and Texas Gulf Coast Struggle After Hurricane Ike
Forgotten and overlooked, Galveston residents try to put the pieces back together

By John Nova Lomax          Dallas Observer        January 7, 2008
Sean Penn did not patrol Galveston’s streets in an airboat. Kanye West didn’t offer unscripted barbs about George Bush’s opinion of black people on live television. Since Galveston has no native-born analogues to people like Dr. John or Harry Connick Jr., there were no televised musical specials.

Glen Campbell’s “Galveston” was no match for Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927” in providing backdrop music to poignant, slow-motion CNN hurricane montages. There’s no slow-burningly irate Spike Lee Requiem in Four Acts forthcoming.

Granted, there weren’t the thousands of shirt-waving souls stranded on Galveston’s rooftops as we saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but nevertheless, Hurricane Ike signaled the end of a storied American city as we knew it.

While Katrina’s destruction of New Orleans monopolized the eyes of the country and the world for weeks in 2005, Galveston had the misfortune to have Ike fall in the TV-watching dead zone of late night on Friday, September 12, three years later, and then to be eclipsed in the news cycle by even larger national and international events almost immediately.

Hotel bill for Ike tops $350 million
By T.J. Aulds        Galveston Daily News      January 9, 2009
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said more than 2,000 Galveston County residents displaced by Hurricane Ike still were living in hotel or motel rooms four months after the storm struck.

The agency had paid out more than $397 million to house storm victims thus far, and the bill for temporary accommodations continues to rise, a spokesman said.

FEMA botches hotel figures
By T.J. Aulds         Galveston County Daily News       January 10, 2009
Federal disaster aid officials acknowledged they “made a huge error” when they reported to The Daily News and the Galveston City Council that about $400 million had been spent to house county residents displaced by Hurricane Ike in hotels. The actual bill is closer to $29 million, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday.

“Nobody did the math until y’all did,” FEMA spokeswoman Bettina Hutchings said.

FEMA mobile home site may open by next month
By T.J. Aulds        Galveston County Daily News     January 7, 2009
BACLIFF – Construction on the county’s first Hurricane Ike mobile-home park could begin as early as next week, FEMA officials said Tuesday.

If things go smoothly, the first few units should be in place by Feb. 1.

Also on Tuesday, officials revealed the federal government would pay $12,270 a month to lease the 64 acres that will serve as the temporary home site for up to 209 individuals or families displaced by Hurricane Ike. In its agreement with landowner Max Teer, FEMA has agreed to lease the property through Dec. 7, 2010 at a rate of $147,240 a year.

Council wants to reconsider mobile home site
By Leigh Jones      Galveston County Daily News        January 9, 2009
The Galveston City Council wants to move forward with a stalled plan to put mobile homes on land in front of the Galveston County Justice Center.

County commissioners were less than enthusiastic about the plan when it was first brought up as the most logical site for a mobile home community.

But county commissioners have agreed to put the site back on the table for consideration if the Federal Emergency Management Agency tells them it’s absolutely necessary, Gerry Stolar, head of the agency’s Galveston operations, told the council Thursday.
Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=a486f573f1b68a50

Officials issue lead warning
By Leigh Jones       Galveston County Daily News       January 9, 2009
Todd Decker didn’t think anything of scraping paint off a 100-year-old house without a mask covering his nose and mouth.

In Galveston’s sweltering summer heat, masks and long-sleeve shirts are uncomfortable, Decker said.

He didn’t know the paint dust and scrapings that covered his arms and fell into his face were filled with lead, an environmental toxin that causes neurological damage and, in severe cases, death.

A month later, after a doctor recommended a lead test, Decker was checking into a hospital with a blood lead level of 122, three times the amount considered dangerous in adults.