Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 5/26/2009

John Henneberger note: I have fallen a bit behind in posting Bo’s excellent housing news summaries during the last weeks of the Legislature.  Here is last week’s posting.

More “doom and gloom” is forecasted for the US housing market as the recession has yet to bottom-out and more households find it impossible to pay mortgages. The financial strains have advanced from mortgage-holders who were victims of variable, high-interest loans to homebuyers whose wages have fallen while living expenses have risen.

Meanwhile, builders react and down-size structures while increasing energy efficiency.

In Texas, the legislature appears postured to finally kill-off the Residential Construction Commission that has acted as a lighting rod for sleazy homebuilders.

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

Job Losses Push Safer Mortgages to Foreclosure
By Peter Goodman and Jack Healy       New York Times      May 24, 2009
As job losses rise, growing numbers of American homeowners with once solid credit are falling behind on their mortgages, amplifying a wave of foreclosures.

In the latest phase of the nation’s real estate disaster, the locus of trouble has shifted from subprime loans — those extended to home buyers with troubled credit — to the far more numerous prime loans issued to those with decent financial histories.

With many economists anticipating that the unemployment rate will rise into the double digits from its current 8.9 percent, foreclosures are expected to accelerate. That could exacerbate bank losses, adding pressure to the financial system and the broader economy.

“We’re about to have a big problem,” said Morris A. Davis, a real estate expert at the University of Wisconsin. “Foreclosures were bad last year? It’s going to get worse.”

Home sizes change with the times
As lifestyles downsize and the economy suffers, developers are building smaller, cheaper models.

By Nicholas Riccardi         Los Angeles Times       May 26, 2009
Reporting from Yuma, Ariz. — The Terraces subdivision here contains rows of 2,000-plus-square-foot homes appointed with sunken tubs, granite countertops and tile floors that stare off into open desert.

But as the economy has contracted, so have the homes.

The development will soon be dotted with new 1,700-square-foot houses on narrower lots that retail for more than $100,000 less than their predecessors.

Residential condo proposed for Mineola transit hub
By Christina Hernandez       Newsday       May 21, 2009
In the ongoing effort to transform Mineola’s transit hub into a walkable downtown, the village board and local residents heard a proposal to replace an office building at 250 Old Country Rd. with a nine-story residential condominium complex.

Plans for the building, once used by KeySpan, were introduced at a public hearing Wednesday night.

The 257-unit building would stand about 100 feet high, including a penthouse, and have 397 below-grade parking spaces, a 24-hour concierge, a fitness center and rooftop terraces, project planners said. The condos, within walking distance of the LIRR station, would be aimed at young professionals and senior citizens.

”The proposed residences will breathe life into the area,” said Kevin Walsh, Garden City attorney for developers Michael Yeroush and Robert Kohan, who are under contract to buy the existing building from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Home panel faces uphill fight
Residential Construction Commission likely to be abolished

By Janet Elliott     Houston Chronicle        May 22, 2009
AUSTIN — The Texas Residential Construction Commission, highly criticized by the homeowners it was meant to protect, appears headed toward its demise because Senate lawmakers don’t have the votes to keep the agency alive.

The 5-year-old commission has been accused repeatedly of offering more protections for builders than it did for homeowners, who were required to enter its inspection process before they could file a suit against builders.

Survey: More buyers interested in foreclosed homes
By Steve Brown       Dallas Morning News     May 21, 2009
With home foreclosures soaring in most parts of the country, the number of interested buyers of these properties is growing.

More than half – 55 percent – of Americans quizzed for a new survey said they would consider purchasing a previously foreclosed house. That’s up significantly in the last few months, according to the survey which was done by Harris Interactive.

FEMA funding dispute still clouds Ike recovery
Galveston, other areas face mounting bills

By Stewart Powell       Houston Chronicle     May 21, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s homeland security chief is weighing whether to use arbitration to fix lingering federal-state disputes over millions of dollars in reimbursement for catastrophic damage along Texas Gulf Coast from Hurricane Ike.

The disputes, fueled by an ongoing struggle between Galveston and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have lingered behind the scenes as coastal residents try to recover from the storm eight months ago.

HUD encouraging hurricane-displaced to register for housing assistance
By Blair Dedtick Ortmann         Beaumont Enterprise       May 22, 2009
Families displaced by hurricanes Ike and Gustav are running out of time to apply for disaster housing assistance.

Since October, the Federal Emergency Management Association has made direct payments to displaced families to cover their rent payments, but those payments ended this month, a release from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said.

Instead, families needing assistance should register with the HUD’s Disaster Housing Assistance Program.

Council hears public on plan for spending $160M
By Bridget Brown        Galveston County Daily News      May 22, 2009
GALVESTON — During a public forum Thursday on the city’s plan for spending $160.4 million in Community Development Block Grant to help recover from Hurricane Ike, residents said they wanted flexible regulations and help for renters.

The council can approve the plan as it is or modify it. The final housing recovery plan will be approved May 28.

“Council has an opportunity to make a lot of talk happen for Galveston,” said Betty Massey, chairwoman of a community committee that drafted a 42-point recovery plan addressing issues including housing. “It’s an exciting time.”

Zoning panel denies request
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe        Denton Record      May 22, 2009
The Denton Planning and Zoning Commission sided with 20 people from the Northridge area who voiced their opposition to a developer’s request for a special-use permit that would bring town homes to the neighborhood.

After hearing 90 minutes of testimony Wednesday night, the commission recommended denying the permit request — which tied 46 “attached” homes and 54 “detached” homes to a specific site plan for a 30-acre site on the southwest corner of Hinkle and Windsor drives.

As commission member Patricia Lyke made the motion to deny, she cited neighborhood opposition to the request and problems with the site plan.

“The developer has said he wants the zone, and we don’t have enough of an idea of the plan to put conditions on an SUP [special-use permit],” Lyke said.

Lofts on Main draw another resident downtown, prepare for summer completion
By Kathleen Thurber
        Midland Reporter        May 21, 2009
The second of three lofts slated to be complete downtown this summer has been sold, proving while the Tall City hasn’t been one for upscale urban living before, there’s at least a few who are interested in seeing it become such a place.

After moving a tie to the center of a steel beam Thursday, crews lifted a long piece of metal to the roof so the necessary material to install crossbeams and other building support throughout the structure on Main and Illinois streets would be in place.

Austin home sellers to have new chore: energy audits
By Shonda Novak         Austin American-Statesman       May 26, 2009
Come Monday, many Austin home sellers will have one more chore, along with touching up the paint and sprucing up the yard, before putting their house on the market.

That’s when a new city ordinance kicks in that requires sellers of homes older than 10 years to get an energy audit and disclose the results to prospective buyers.

City leaders who approved the audits last year said it was one more way to reduce Austin’s energy consumption and make Austin greener, although sellers are not required to make any improvements as a result of the audit. The idea is to encourage sellers or buyers to make their houses more energy-efficient.

But with the requirement taking effect in a slower housing market, some real estate agents say it could delay or torpedo sales and will add costs for sellers.

Dallas homeless shelter measures success in jobs, homes found
By Kim Horner      Dallas Morning News     May 22, 2009
Like hundreds of others at Dallas’ homeless assistance center, LaShawn Hammond wants to get his own place as soon as possible.
“I’m ready to go. I want my life back,” said the 32-year-old man who has lived at The Bridge for nearly five months. Currently, he is working a full-time job. “I feel like I’m in limbo.”

Finding housing for Hammond and at least 600 others waiting for help will be the next major hurdle for The Bridge. The center, which opened one year ago this week, already has had to overcome other challenges such as crowding and initial safety concerns.

But after a bumpy start, the center is celebrating some impressive results: permanent residences for 414, surpassing its goal of 300, and jobs for 780.