Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 6/30/2009

Like a caboose on a wayward train, renters feel the brunt of the ongoing housing debacle. Their plights are largely undocumented by newspapers that cater to real estate advertisers and whose business stories feature flashy developments while glossing-over the grim truths of foreclosures.

In Galveston, FEMA finally responded to Hurricane Ike and placed emergency trailers on the island — but it was too little and too late: hundreds of the shelters sit empty as low-income residents have either left the island or found other shelter.

For a pdf version of the full stories, contact Bo McCarver at bmccarver@austin.rr.com

Renters Hit by Foreclosure Crisis Too

By Martha White   Washington Independent June 26, 2009

While the plight of homeowners affected by the real estate meltdown has been well-documented, renters too often fall under the radar. Although tenants’ advocacy groups credit recently passed national legislation for including some protections, they charge that the new law only scratches the surface.

The number of renters being forced from their homes is on the rise as foreclosures increase. “We’ve seen a mass increase. I would say it’s up by 50 percent,” said Arlene Bradley, housing advocacy director of Housing Rights Inc. in Berkeley, Calif., a group that provides legal advice and counseling to renters in the greater San Francisco Bay area.

Full story at: http://washingtonindependent.com/46844/renters-hit-by-foreclosure-crisis-too

KB Home chief says prices are stabilizing in some areas

Jeffrey Mezger, the CEO of KB Home, says he still sees challenging conditions ahead for builders. The company’s second-quarter revenue dropped 40% from a year earlier.

By Peter Y. Hong   Los Angeles Times June 26, 2009

The head of one of the nation’s largest home-builders said today that home prices are stabilizing in some parts of the country, but ongoing economic woes will continue to challenge the housing market.

KB Home chief executive Jeffrey Mezger said in a conference call with analysts that “in many markets we’re seeing a bottom form on price,” and that in some areas of Southern California where the company sells homes, monthly payments “are lower than rent today.”

The Los Angeles company targets first-time buyers, and in California many of its projects are in the areas hardest hit by foreclosures, where home prices have fallen most dramatically. KB Home’s average selling price for one of its homes fell to $216,200, down 4.6% from $226,600 a year earlier.

The company reported its fiscal second-quarter revenue dropped 40%, to $384.5 million from $639.1 a year earlier.

For the period ended May 31, KB Home’s loss narrowed to $78.4 million, or $1.03 a share, compared with a year-earlier loss of $255.9 million, or $3.30 a share. The company had been expected to lose 63 cents per share, according to a median estimate of 13 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

The company ended the quarter with $1.1 billion in cash.

KB Home has cut the size and prices of its homes to compete with low-priced foreclosed homes in many of its markets. Net new home orders were down 31% in the second quarter from the year-earlier period, to 2,910 homes. The total was up 59% from the previous quarter.

[End of story]

City’s home sales off from a year ago

By Chris Van Wagenen   Lubbock Avalanche-Journal June 25, 2009

It’s a tale of two sales and in Lubbock and it’s been all about the mending process since the depths of the recession swept through the Hub City last fall.

The bad news: sales of existing homes fell again in May when compared to figures a year ago. The good news: Lubbock-area Realtors have sold more homes each month since the year began.

Existing home sales down almost 15%

El Paso Times June 28, 2009

EL PASO — Sales of existing homes in El Paso declined almost 15 percent in May compared with sales a year ago, new data show.

Last month, 266 existing homes were sold through the El Paso Multiple Listing Service, down from 312 homes in May 2008, show data from the Greater El Paso Association of Realtors.

The median sales price of existing homes declined 10 percent in May compared to a year ago. The median sales price in May was $124,941, down from $138,841 a year ago.

[End of story]

Smart Growth Bill Vetoed

By Wendell Cox   New Geography June 25, 2009

Texas Governor Rick Perry has vetoed a bill that would have created a state level “smart growth” program. The veto message is below.

June 19, 2009

Pursuant to Article IV, Section 14, of the Texas Constitution, I, Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, do hereby disapprove of and veto Senate Bill No. 2169 of the 81st Texas Legislature, Regular Session, due to the following objections:

Senate Bill No. 2169 would create a new governmental body that would centralize the decision-making process in Austin for the planning of communities through an interagency work group on “smart growth” policy. Decisions about the growth of communities should be made by local governments closest to the people living and working in these areas. Local governments can already adopt “smart growth” policies based on the desires of the community without a state-led effort that endorses such planning. This legislation would promote a one-size-fits-all approach to land use and planning that would not work across a state as large and diverse as Texas.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have signed my name officially and caused the Seal of the State to be affixed hereto at Austin, this the 19th day of June, 2009.

RICK PERRY
Governor of Texas

Reference: http://governor.state.tx.us/news/veto/12632/

[End of story]

‘Smart growth’ begins to take root in El Paso

By Gustavo Reveles Acosta   El Paso Times June 30, 2009

EL PASO –For all their brainpower, school districts do not always plan for “smart growth.”

They have built schools on sites that are not connected to the neighborhoods they serve. This has forced parents in dozens of schools to drive their children to class, even though they live just blocks away.

“The cooperation between school districts and municipalities when it comes to developing smart communities has been lacking,” said Nathan Norris of PlaceMakers, an urban-planning firm helping the city develop better growth patterns. “Fortunately, these conversations are taking place now in El Paso, and we should soon see a change in the way our schools are built and designed.”

Mirasol suit: Complex debate over ‘complex designation’

By Carlos Guerro   San Antonio Express-News June 30, 2009

When I saw all the suits in Judge Antonia Arteaga’s State District Court on Monday — with most in spectator seats — I knew the second Mirasol lawsuit would be a doozie, pitting working-class San Antonians against some of real estate’s heaviest hitters.

But the main players were three plaintiff’s lawyers and four for the defense — led by Roger Kirstien, who faced an uphill battle against Frank Herrera’s motion to have one judge consider all the cases.

Mirasol is a 250-home project that the San Antonio Housing Authority contracted KB Home and Magi Realty to develop as affordable housing, some for sale and some for rent.

The 72 homes sold went for $60,000 to $80,000, but complaints arose almost immediately about poor design and shoddy construction, like the use of untreated wood for exterior walls, improperly anchored sole plates and missing felt and vapor barriers. There was also bad shingle work, improperly anchored brick and poorly installed roof decks.

Many FEMA trailers vacant

By Leigh Jones   Galveston County Daily News June 30, 2009

More than three months after it opened, the mobile home park at Schreiber Field in Galveston is still only half full.

And now that more apartments and rental houses are available on the island, the park’s occupancy rate is unlikely to rise, officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.

On Monday, only 27 of the park’s 54 furnished mobile homes were occupied by people displaced by Hurricane Ike, Erica Lopez, a spokeswoman for the agency, said.

After the storm, island officials begged the agency for months to open the park as hundreds of Galvestonians remained in hotels, unable to find any other place to stay.

But when it opened on March 13, only 20 families had agreed to move in.

Founder kept nonprofit’s structure ‘all in his head’

160 firms in Texas can be tied to nonprofit

By Karen Smith Welch   Amarillo Globe-News   June 29, 2009

At the heart of American Housing Foundation lies a tangle of companies wired together to build, buy and run affordable housing complexes.

Like the electrical circuitry of a home, multiple strands power separate projects.

But they run through a primary fuse box, where breakers can trip to isolate an overload and prevent the whole house from burning down.

A tiered network isn’t unusual in nonprofit housing and real estate development, according to legal experts familiar with the process, though none could speak specifically about AHF.

Establishing project-specific groups of companies could assure that “each property stands on its own – and lenders like it that way because they don’t want the property that they are financing to be harmed by its relationship to other projects that might be in trouble,” Dallas attorney Daryl Robertson said.

The one man who could sketch AHF’s blueprint appears to be Steve Sterquell, who died in an April 1 car crash ruled a suicide.

Add-ons vs. scrape-offs

Group pushes for zoning code change to OK carriage houses

Peter Marcus   Denver Daily News June 22, 2009

A group of Denver residents believe the city’s new zoning code should allow for the building of so-called carriage houses.

Following implementation of the old code 53 years ago, city officials did away with residents’ ability to build what are known as accessory dwelling units. The structures carry several different names, including carriage house and granny flats, named so because many families build them to house their aging relatives.

But as city officials are preparing to finalize the new zoning code — a draft was released at the beginning of June — a group called Friends of Granny are pushing for the right to once again build carriage houses.

Vancouver Mayor’s quick fix for homeless a long-term nuisance

Gregor Robertson’s big election promise has become a PR fiasco

By Greg Mason   Vancouver News and Globe June 26, 2009

No one said solving the world’s problems would be easy. Just ask Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.

When Mr. Robertson ran for mayor last fall, he said his top priority was the city’s homeless problem. He’s vowed to eradicate it completely by 2015. His plan is to build lots of social housing – or at least get the province to. Meantime, he’s set up emergency shelters as a temporary measure.

And it’s quickly turning into a PR fiasco.

Seeking solutions to city’s homeless population

By Sara Foley   Corpus Christi Caller-Times June 28, 2009

CORPUS CHRISTI — Joe Duran’s bedroom view is of Corpus Christi Bay. His bed is a concrete step near Memorial Coliseum. He’d rather not talk about the places around downtown that have been his bathroom.

Two years on the street have taught Duran that downtown and uptown Corpus Chrsiti are places he can sleep, eat and drink beer.

For the business owners who shuffle sleeping transients away from their storefronts and pressure-wash the stench of urine off their bricks, the accepted presence of the homeless is a frustrating, escalating price of doing business.

Now, after their complaints reached City Council’s attention, there is an attempt among the businesses and city to at least control the problems.

The Self-Service City

By Timothy Egan   New York Times June 29, 2009

First, they took away the cops parked at key intersections and replaced them with with mounted, overhead cameras. This idea didn’t start in my city, Seattle, but when it turned out to be a revenue-generator, even if it reduced safety, City Hall took to it with a vengeance.

Who needs a human being when you can write ten times as many tickets without overtime pay?

Then, they made us do detailed sorting of our garbage – not just paper and plastic, but all the melon rinds and apple cores favored by compost worms. Fine.

They asked us to put rain barrels under our gutters to collect runoff. Done.

Next up was a plan to force people to haul out their trash from certain city parks. These may be public spaces – the city’s shared living rooms – but the message was clear: you’re on your own.

I get it. And so do my neighbors. This spring, while planting tomatoes and squash in the terraced garden behind my house, I noticed the hillside was full of fellow urban horticulturists ripping up ornamentals to push the edges of their farmlets.