Bo McCarver’s housing news compilation — 8/11/2009

Years after Hurricanes Rita and Ike, FEMA has been ordered by a federal judge to publish rules for homeowners to apply for repair funds. The inept performance of an agency almost still-birthed under George Bush’s stewardship lingers-on. Meanwhile, federal funds idle as thousands of Texans living on marginal means are unable to repair their homes.

In Galveston where the city’s shakers and movers would prefer to not rebuild public housing destroyed by the hurricanes, HUD rules calling for one-for-one replacement find resistance from the same political forces that would like to ghettoize public housing residents rather than integrate them into neighborhoods throughout the island.

In Dallas, a corruption trial drags on that reveals systematic kickbacks to elected officials from developers who received contracts to build low-income housing.

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

Freddie Mac Reports Profit, Doesn’t Seek More Aid

By Dawn Kopecki   Bloomberg  Press August 7, 2009

Freddie Mac, the mortgage-finance company operating under a federal conservatorship, reported its first profit in two years, and didn’t seek more aid from the U.S. Treasury.

The second-quarter net income of $768 million stemmed partly from a decrease in provisions for future credit losses, Freddie Mac said in a filing today with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company said the results included one- time accounting adjustments and mark-to-market gains due to the rise in long-term interest rates and lower funding costs.

Economy looms large over quest for shelter

It took a while, but Houstonians are feeling the strain in real estate

By Nancy Sarnoff   Houston Chronicle August 8, 2009

Houston has been lauded in numerous national studies ranking housing markets across the country. While this area has, in fact, outperformed other big cities harder hit by the housing crisis, Houston is still participating in the slowdown. It just took us longer to feel it, as the soaring energy industry helped delay some of the pain.

Despite some recent glimmers of hope, rising defaults, slowing sales and falling prices have dominated the local headlines. Depending on where you live and what your goals are, your experience in the property market can vary drastically. Here are the stories of three Houstonians navigating their way through the sometimes choppy waters of Houston real estate.

Sales fall for existing single-family homes in North Texas

By Sandra Baker   Fort Worth Star-Telegram August 11, 2009

Sales of existing single-family homes in North Texas fell 7 percent in July from a year ago, but the median sales price rose 3 percent, monthly figures compiled by the Texas A&M Real Estate Center show.

In the more than two dozen counties that make up the region, 7,127 houses were sold last month. While less than a year earlier, that was up 5 percent from June, when 6,782 houses were sold.

The median sales price was $155,000 in July. Half the homes cost more than the median, and half cost less.

FEMA given deadline to develop rules on assistance

By Cindy Horswell   Houston Chronicle August 10, 2009

A federal judge has given FEMA 60 days to develop clearer criteria for who is eligible for home repair assistance after a disaster — and will also hear arguments about whether applicants denied aid after Hurricanes Dolly and Ike should be re-evaluated.

Thousands still wait for Rita money

Houston Chronicle August 8, 2009

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has spent about a third of the federal funds it received to help low-income residents rebuild homes damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Rita almost four years ago, the state auditor reported Friday.

As of June 5, the state housing agency had spent $135 million of $440.4 million in federal funds, auditor John Keel said. It had completed repairing or rebuilding 527 homes and had begun work on 422 more, his report said.

More than 7,300 Texans applied for help under the federal program, Keel said; 2,107 of them withdrew their requests or were deemed ineligible. The rest were approved or were awaiting a decision.

Another state agency, the Office of Rural Community Affairs, which received a smaller share of money to help local governments repair public infrastructure or remove debris, had spent 58 percent of its $77 million federal allocation, the report said.

Experts agree that funds for public services are easier to administer than those provided for housing repairs.

Testimony continues at Dallas corruption trial

By Jason Trahan    Dallas Morning News August 8, 2009

A veteran southern Dallas political consultant told jurors Friday in the City Hall corruption trial that she was shocked when former Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill suddenly began opposing a developer’s affordable-housing projects in his district, a swing prosecutors say is evidence of corruption.

Before Kathy Nealy took the stand, former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller finished testifying about how Hill had actively opposed her attempts to strengthen City Council ethics rules.

The testimony was a one-two punch in the government’s campaign to keep piling on evidence that Hill, his plan commission appointee, D’Angelo Lee and others shook down developers James R. “Bill” Fisher and Brian Potashnik for cash while threatening to pull their political support for those who didn’t pay up.

Defendant in Dallas City Hall trial says he, Hill, others sought kickbacks

By Jason Trahan   Dallas Morning News August 10, 2009

One of the defendants who has pleaded guilty in the Dallas City Hall corruption case testified Monday that he and a colleague worked with former Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill and others to pressure developers to hire more minority contractors from whom they could receive kickbacks.

Allen McGill said that in August 2004, he and Darren Reagan used their group, the Black State Employees Association of Texas, to call for a moratorium on affordable housing developers’ building in southern Dallas. They sought the delay to give themselves and others involved time to pressure developers Brian Potashnik and James R. “Bill” Fisher for contracts for themselves and certain minority firms, McGill told jurors.

Federal stimulus money to be used by homeowners to save energy

By Kim McStay   Sherman Herald Democrat August 8, 2009

As the economy tightens up, so to should houses. The Texoma Council of Governments will receive part of a $288 million award made by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

“The state has been given an extraordinary opportunity to make an enormous difference in the everyday lives of Northeast Texas residents,” Michael Gerber, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs executive director said, including “actions that will lower their energy consumption, create healthier surroundings and reduce the state’s overall demand for energy.”

Texoma Council of Government’s weatherization program, which serves homes in Grayson along with Bowie, Camp, Cass, Cooke, Delta, Fannin, Franklin, Hopkins, Lamar, Marion, Morris, Rains, Red River and Titus counties, could receive up to $2.9 million, from Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs’ Weatherization Assistance Program, with funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Officials, experts divided on housing

By Leigh Jones   Galveston County Daily News August 9, 2009

GALVESTON — Galveston Housing Authority early last week released plans to rebuild all 569 public housing units demolished after Hurricane Ike on the same sites as the old developments.

Advocacy groups pushed for the one-for-one replacement, saying former residents deserved to have a place to come home to.

But rebuilding so much public housing in one neighborhood goes against nationwide policies that say families who need assistance should be spread throughout a community whenever possible to improve their chances of rising above the poverty level over time.

Housing authority officials said the agency will get more bang for its buck by building a few large multifamily developments, but housing experts said that approach may not be what’s best for public housing residents.

Designers unveil new public housing layouts

By Leigh Jones   Galveston County Daily News August 6, 2009

GALVESTON — Three public housing developments to be built within two years will have more green space, more modern amenities and more units reserved for elderly and disabled residents than the complexes demolished after Hurricane Ike.

Consultants with Houston-based Civic Design Associates, the firm hired by the Galveston Housing Authority to create a master plan for the now vacant sites at Oleander Homes, Cedar Terrace and Magnolia Homes, unveiled designs for each property Tuesday night.

The firm’s goal was to create a quality environment for public housing residents and communities that would be good neighbors to the businesses and private homes that surround them, principal Jim Hill told a crowd of about 50 people who gathered for the presentation.

What’s Next for the ARA?

As the longtime director departs and an audit looms, does the Eastside nonprofit have a future?

By Lee Nichols   Austin Chronicle August 7, 2009

Controversy has dogged the Austin Revitalization Authority from the moment it was born.

That was probably inevitable, considering its official father was then-City Council Mem­ber (1994-97) Eric Mitchell. Seemingly, the entirety of Mitchell’s single term was dogged by headline controversy. Mitchell was known for abrasiveness, developed a most impolitic habit of literally saying “screw you” to his critics, was criticized for shady-looking financial dealings, and, when crossed, was extremely quick to claim racism. When voters ousted him in 1997, he bowed out characteristically by declaring that “I pulled a sheet off of Austin, Texas” and called his replacement on the dais a “house nigger.”

And that style provides some context for the creation of the ARA back in 1996. Mitchell got the nonprofit development company up and running with city money to clean up and bring back to life the East 11th Street and East 12th Street corridors, once the bustling hub of Austin’s African-American community. A laudable goal, but unfortunately, the ARA quickly acquired the appearance of Mitchell’s personal fiefdom, its board stacked with his personal appointees, none of whom were residents of the neighborhood.

Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?

By Barbara Ehrenriech   New York Times August 8, 2009

IT’S too bad so many people are falling into poverty at a time when it’s almost illegal to be poor. You won’t be arrested for shopping in a Dollar Store, but if you are truly, deeply, in-the-streets poor, you’re well advised not to engage in any of the biological necessities of life — like sitting, sleeping, lying down or loitering. City officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about the ordinances that afflict the destitute, most of which go back to the dawn of gentrification in the ’80s and ’90s. “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance,” a city attorney in St. Petersburg, Fla., said in June, echoing Anatole France’s immortal observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.”

In Ventura County, an increase in the mobile homeless

By Catherine Saillant   Los Angeles Times August 11, 2009

Ventura County’s newest and most reluctant vagabonds are hidden in plain sight.

They pass the night inside aging recreational vehicles at busy shopping mall parking lots. For privacy, they hang bedsheets in windows. They rumble away in the morning.

A knock on the door brings a round of barking or a wary face. They’re embarrassed — and tired of being told to move along. More than anything, they want to be left alone.”We’ve had some tough times,” said Mike, an electrician parked with his girlfriend, Denise, in his 1973 RV at a Sam’s Club in Oxnard. “We’re just trying to make ends meet without getting harassed.”

The couple, who didn’t want to give their last names, said they’ve been cited by police three times for illegal overnight parking in the month since they left their Oxnard rental home after Denise lost her job as a home health aide.