Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 1/27/2009

With the first round of bailout billions having rendered no progress in stemming foreclosures, the Obama Administration ponders where to best apply additional measures. Meanwhile, taxpayers are not pleased that the bank magnates have awarded themselves undeserved bonuses and have invested the stimulus money into ventures that do little to address job creation and retention of small businesses and homes.

As foreclosure signs sprout up along the nation’s streets and the ranks of the homeless swell, the specter of a popular revolt is contemplated by The Nation article below.

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

Resistance to Housing Foreclosures Spreads Across the Land
By Ben Ehrenreich           The Nation         January 23, 2009
“This is a crowd that won’t scatter,” James Steele wrote in the pages of The Nation some seventy-five years ago. Early one morning in July 1933, the police had evicted John Sparanga and his family from a home on Cleveland’s east side. Sparanga had lost his job and fallen behind on mortgage payments. The bank had foreclosed. A grassroots “home defense” organization, which had managed to forestall the eviction on three occasions, put out the call, and 10,000 people — mainly working-class immigrants from Southern and Central Europe — soon gathered, withstanding wave after wave of police tear gas, clubbings and bullets, “vowing not to leave until John Sparanga [was] back in his home.”

“The small home-owners of the United States are organizing,” Steele concluded, “tardily perhaps, but none the less surely.” It wasn’t just homeowners — three months earlier the governor of Iowa had called out the National Guard after farmers stormed a courthouse and threatened to hang the judge if he didn’t stop issuing foreclosures. They left him in a ditch, bruised but alive. By the end of the 1930s, farmers’ and home-owners’ struggles had pushed the legislatures of no fewer than twenty-seven states to pass moratoriums on foreclosures.

U.S. weighs strategies to stem home foreclosures
By Peter Y. Hong and Maura Reynolds         Los Angeles Times       January 26, 2009
Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles — The Obama administration is promising an aggressive fight against the rising tide of home foreclosures, but officials have yet to decide what strategy — or combination of strategies — they will use.

Among the possibilities being pushed by various interest groups are a six-month foreclosure moratorium, a doubling of the mortgage interest deduction, a tax credit for those who buy homes and a federally sponsored mortgage refinancing program.

But it’s been two years since foreclosures began to mount. And government and the financial industry have been unable to agree on a plan largely because they cannot resolve a central issue: How should losses be divided between borrowers and lenders?

Freddie Needs Up to $35 Billion More From U.S.
By Dawn Kopecki and Jody Shenn         Bloomberg Press       January 23, 2009
Freddie Mac, the mortgage-finance company under federal control, said it will ask the U.S. Treasury Department for as much as $35 billion more in aid.

Freddie, which took $13.8 billion from Treasury in November, said in a securities filing today that its fourth- quarter operating losses will again drive its net worth below zero. The McLean, Virginia-based company also said it settled a dispute over Washington Mutual loans with JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Flood of foreclosures: It’s worse than you think
Banks are moving slowly to list repossessed homes for sale, which could mean that housing inventory is even more bloated than current statistics indicate.
By Les Christi      CNN       January 25, 2009
NEW YORK — Housing might be in worse shape than we think.
There is probably even more excess housing inventory gumming up the market than current statistics indicate, thanks to a wave of foreclosures that has yet to hit the market.

The problem: Many foreclosed homes and other distressed properties that are now owned by banks have yet to be listed for sale. The volume of this so-called ‘ghost inventory’ could be substantial enough to depress already steeply falling prices when it does go on the market.

Housing Starts, Permits in U.S. Slump to Record Low
By Timothy Homan       Bloomberg News       January 22, 2009
U.S. builders broke ground in December on the fewest houses since record-keeping began as sales and credit dried up, signaling the real-estate slump will keep hurting economic growth.

Housing starts fell 16 percent last month to an annual rate of 550,000 that was less than forecast and the lowest since the government started compiling statistics in 1959, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. Building permits, an indicator of future projects, were also at a record low.

Builders, whose shares have lost 76 percent of their value over the last three years, are slashing prices to compete with a record number of foreclosed homes coming onto the market. Barack Obama’s advisers say the president will use up to $100 billion in financial-rescue funds to ease the mortgage crisis.

Jobless claims surge, housing starts tumble
By Lucia Mutikani         Reuters          January 22, 2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of workers lining up for state jobless benefits surged last week and home building slumped to a record low in December, data showed on Thursday, as the economy’s downward spiral accelerated.

The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s is forcing companies to slash jobs, creating a vicious cycle for an economy mired in a year-long recession.

This was the first major set of grim economic data to greet U.S. President Barack Obama, who took office on Tuesday, and analysts said it underlined the need for swift government action to heal the fractured economy.

“The young, new administration woke up to a pounding economic hangover. It’s a hangover that will likely last for some time since no one yet knows how to deal with it,” said Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group in Princeton, New Jersey.

Dust Mights
SAHA’s digging up coal ash at its old Swift site. Neighbors say they’re getting the blowback

By Greg Schwartz       San Antonio Current       January 22, 2009
Fred Perry knows something about environmental-health issues.

For five years he lived near Houston’s Brio Refining Superfund Site, where his wife suffered one of many local miscarriages, and where the entire Southbend subdivision he lived in was eventually razed. He also spent four years selling and servicing respiratory-protection equipment to the hazardous-materials industry. So when dust from the construction project next door to his used-furniture warehouse on San Antonio’s near West Side was followed by nausea and difficulty breathing, he started doing some digging of his own.

Lender seeks to foreclose on huge Trinity River corridor project
By Steve Brown       Dallas Morning News         January 21, 2009
One of the most ambitious real estate projects planned in Dallas’ Trinity River corridor might never get off the drawing boards.

A lender is seeking to foreclose on more than 50 acres on Industrial Boulevard where Irving-based developer JPI planned to build a $950 million apartment and retail complex.

The redevelopment of the former industrial site had been lauded as one of the most impressive real estate projects hoping to take advantage of the new Trinity River Park.

But lender Bank of The Ozarks has scheduled a Feb. 3 foreclosure sale of the property, which carries a $25.48 million loan, according to legal filings published by Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service.

Advocates push for more cash for homeowners
By Laura Elder       Galveston County Daily News      January 25, 2009
How local governments spend $814 million in federal funding meant to help communities recover from hurricanes will determine whether thousands of families return to some of the hardest hit areas, or simply walk away, leaving entire neighborhoods desolate.

Some advocates for low- and middle-income families, the elderly and disabled are calling on local governments to spend that federal funding on helping people repair or rebuild their houses in the worst hit areas, including Bacliff, Freddiesville, Galveston and San Leon, before earmarking any for pet public projects to improve streets, sewer lines and other infrastructure work.

Dallas program’s mentors help families prevent homelessness
By Kim Horner        Dallas Morning News      January 21, 2009
Andra Surney had fallen so far behind on her rent, she was nearly evicted from her apartment.

But an intensive financial makeover has helped the single mother figure out how to start paying off her debts, set a monthly budget and even plan to save money despite her very low income.

Surney has received mentoring and financial assistance through a new program created by the Interfaith Housing Coalition. Called Equip, the Dallas charity’s program aims to keep families from becoming homeless.

HOMELESS IN AMERICA: Southeast Texas homeless images are family portraits these days
By Dee Dixon and Emily Guevara       Beaumont Enterprise       January 25, 2009
Keon and Pamela Keys prepared chicken fajitas, rice and chips for 15 on Friday as part of their daily chores at the Port Cities Rescue Mission shelter.
“We have our ups and downs, but this program does help you,” said 36-year-old Pamela Keys.

They are among the 47 individuals living under the mission’s umbrella in Port Arthur, and represent what local service providers say is a growing number of homeless families and children.

Fatal grass fire broke out near Southeast Austin homeless camps
Man, 53, died in wooded area after suffering third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body.

By Suzannah Gonzales        Austin American-Statesman       January 24, 2009
A Friday-morning grass fire that claimed the life of a 53-year-old Hispanic man broke out in a large wooded area in Southeast Austin that’s littered with trash and populated by campsites of the homeless.

Donna Marie Chapman, a homeless woman who sleeps in a tent near where the fire occurred, said eight people have been living in the wooded area north of East Riverside Drive between Vargas Road and Frontier Valley Drive. She said some homeless people have camped in the area for as long as 20 years.