Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 8/4/2009

Like trying to push a rope, the Obama Administration is having little luck getting banks to address troubled mortgages. The banks find more profit in other ventures and do not want the new rules that come with Federal dollars.

In Fort Worth, we see the city’s shakers and movers curtailing a program that might have addressed root causes of homelessness to become a maintenance operation that deals only with the worse symptoms.

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

Mortgage Default: Landlord Edition

By Adam Matthews   Mother Jones July/August 2009

Riverton Houses, a cluster of redbrick high-rises near Harlem River in Manhattan, is the sort of development where elderly parents pass apartments along to their children. Built to shelter families of black soldiers returning from World War II, the 1,230-unit complex has long been an affordable middle-class bastion. Edna Hunter, an 86-year-old widow and retired school librarian, tells me she’s spent most of her life there. She pays just $750 a month.

So Hunter and the other tenants were understandably concerned when New York real estate tycoon Larry Gluck purchased Riverton Houses for $131 million in late 2005. Nearly all of them lived in rent-stabilized flats, paying an average of $894, while one-bedrooms in nearby areas like Central Harlem rented for $1,400 and up. Gluck reassured residents, though: He was just a regular guy from the Bronx who only hoped to upgrade their buildings.

But Gluck told the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) the full story when he borrowed $250 million against the complex the following December. By 2011, his prospectus estimated, half the tenants would pay nearly triple the old, stabilized rates.

Feds push mortgage companies to modify more loans

By Alan Zibel and Daniel Wagner   Associated Press July 30, 2009

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, scrambling to get its main housing initiative on track, extracted a pledge from 25 mortgage company executives to improve their efforts to assist borrowers in danger of foreclosure.

In an all-day series of meetings Tuesday at the Treasury Department, government officials reached a verbal agreement with the executives for a new goal of about 500,000 loan modifications by Nov. 1 and stressed the program’s urgency.

Loan Servicers Work the Fine Print in Obama Foreclosure Plan

A Year After Calls for Reform, Borrowers Still Forced to Waive Legal Rights for Loan Modifications

By Mary Kane    Washington Independent July 31, 2009

Even as the Obama administration presses the lending industry to get more mortgage loans modified, the practice of forcing borrowers to sign away their legal rights in order to get their loans reworked is a tactic that some servicers just won’t give up on.

Waivers requiring borrowers to give up any legal claims related to their mortgages, even in cases where borrowers may be victims of predatory lending, are showing up sporadically in loan modification agreements under the Obama administration’s Making Home Affordable plan, consumer attorneys say. They were stunned to find the legal waivers still being used, despite more than a year of efforts – including calls from lawmakers – to get rid of them.

Countrywide Probe Puts Rep. Towns in Tight Spot

By Daniel Schulman Mother Jones July 29, 2009

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House oversight committee, has some deep thinking to do. By week’s end, he tells The Hill, he’ll render a verdict on whether his committee will launch a full-scale investigation into failed subprime lender Countrywide Financial. It’s an investigation the committee’s minority staff, under Darrell Issa, has been pursuing for more than a year, with a particular focus on the company’s “Friends of Angelo” VIP loan program. But in order to take his probe to the next level, Issa needs the backing of the full committee to subpoena records from Bank of America, which took over Countrywide following its epic collapse. And Issa has been pressing hard for Towns’ cooperation.

Report shows DFW foreclosure declines from a year ago, but it’s not all good news

By Sandra Baker    Fort Worth Star-Telegram July 30, 2009

Fewer homeowners in Dallas, Fort Worth and Arlington faced foreclosure in the first half of the year than they did in the same period last year, but numbers in a national report show that the region is still not out of the woods.

In all, 18,037 foreclosure notices were sent to Metroplex homeowners from January to June, a 16.5 percent drop from the same period a year ago.

Neighborhood groups, residents fear UT’s eastward encroachment

By Hudson Lockett    Daily Texan July 16, 2009

The UT System Board of Regents’ approval last week of a land purchase just east of UFCU Disch-Falk Field is one of the latest steps in a nearly two-decade-long dance around real estate policy a block east of the UT baseball stadium.

The UT-owned land, which is west of Leona Street, lies directly opposite the community of Blackland, which is east of Leona Street. In 1992, the community and UT agreed that the street would serve as a border for annexation by either side.

The agreement halted a 12-year battle over the eastward expansion of the UT campus into Blackland that started in 1980, and also effectively prevented the nonprofit company, formed by the community, from buying land to the west.

Vibrant Neighborhoods, Successful Schools: What the Federal Government Can Do to Foster Both

By Margret Turner   Brookings Institute July 28, 2009

Every parent recognizes the inextricable connections between where we live and the quality of our children’s education. In fact, for many families, the composition and quality of local public schools are primary factors in choosing a neighborhood and investing in a house or apartment. Families who can afford to choose where to live avoid communities where schools perform poorly, thereby fueling higher rents and property values in communities with highly regarded schools. In turn, local property values determine how much a jurisdiction can spend on teachers and school facilities. And as a consequence, schools in communities where lowcost housing is clustered often suffer from insufficient funding, obsolete facilities, and overextended teachers struggling to serve concentrations of needy students.

White Roofs Catch On as Energy Cost Cutters

By Felicity Barringer   New York Times July 30, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO — Returning to their ranch-style house in Sacramento after a long summer workday, Jon and Kim Waldrep were routinely met by a wall of heat.

“We’d come home in the summer, and the house would be 115 degrees, stifling,” said Mr. Waldrep, a regional manager for a national company.

He or his wife would race to the thermostat and turn on the air-conditioning as their four small children, just picked up from day care, awaited relief.

All that changed last month. “Now we come home on days when it’s over 100 degrees outside, and the house is at 80 degrees,” Mr. Waldrep said.

Their solution was a new roof: a shiny plasticized white covering that experts say is not only an energy saver but also a way to help cool the planet.

Detours Home

By Dan McGraw   Fort Worth Weekly July 29, 2009

A casual observer would never peg Debra Hurley as being homeless. Her hair is a mix of jet black and dyed blonde; she’s wearing clean black pants and a short-sleeved golf shirt. She carries a nice-looking purse. But this 23-year-old has been homeless for about a year now. She spends her days getting food and counseling in the East Lancaster Avenue homeless corridor and her nights sleeping under a freeway overpass. Hurley disdains the several homeless shelters along Lancaster, calling them “nasty and full of people who don’t care. Most of them are crack-heads.”

Hurley is also seven and a half months pregnant, expecting to give birth in September. She’s from a family where abuse was rampant and has no high school diploma.

It might seem that, in her world, hope for a normal life is just another thing out of reach. But sometime in August, Hurley will likely be moving into an apartment paid for by the City of Fort Worth. Furniture and kitchen equipment will be donated by private charities. A caseworker will help her apply for other government benefits, get her working on her GED, and, eventually, help her get a job.

The Fort Worth Directions Home project was approved by the city council in 2008. The aim of the plan, with an annual projected cost of $3 million, is to get the chronically homeless off the street within 10 years. And by chronically homeless, the city means those with alcohol and drug problems or serious health issues and those who have been on the streets for more than a year.

During the early years of the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development pushed cities to develop long-range plans to begin getting the homeless off the street and into housing and jobs. The move was based on studies that show such programs actually save cities money, compared to programs that simply help the homeless get by on the street.

Fort Worth was among the last of the major cities in the country to adopt such a plan. But just months after the first 47 people were moved into apartments, the city is thinking about cutting the program substantially. A projected $68 million budget shortfall is forcing the city to consider cuts in many departments. Mayor Mike Moncrief and city staffers have been pushing for a reduction of $1 million a year from the homeless program for the next fiscal year – a third of its funding.

Advocates for the needy have praised the city for the progressive nature of the 10-year plan – and Fort Worth doesn’t get all that much good press on social issues. The goal was to get about 100 homeless people into housing each year, or 544 within six years. But if the cuts are made, the city will likely be able to accommodate only about half that number.