Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 9/22/2009

The annual American Community Survey has been released and shows the pervasive effects of the recession. The meltdown of the housing industry and dramatic shifts in immigration patterns spark the data in the annual census.

Housing authorities in Corpus Christi and Galveston are in hot water this week: Corpus Christi’s agency failed to disclose complete information concerning contamination at one of it’s proposed projects and the Galveston HA released a call for Section 8 applications for victims of Hurricanes Rita and Ike. Some islanders worry that funds are being steered away from Galveston residents.

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

Census Data Show Recession-Driven Changes

By Sam Roberts   New York Times September 21, 2009

A smaller share of Americans married, drove to work alone, owned their own home or moved to a new residence last year than the year before.

More lived in overcrowded housing. Property values declined. And fewer immigrants arrived, which meant that for the first time since the beginning of the decade, the total number of foreign-born people in the country did not grow.

Those were among the findings released Monday in the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, a wealth of data comparing the nation’s profile in 2008 with that of 2007.

Several experts, including Mark Mather, associate vice president for domestic programs at the Population Reference Bureau, said a number of the changes could be attributed to the national recession, which began at the end of 2007. The result is an early statistical snapshot of the economic downturn and the housing bust.

Housing, jobless data point to a fragile recovery

Associated Press September 17, 2009

WASHINGTON — Housing construction rose in August and the number of newly laid-off workers seeking unemployment aid fell unexpectedly last week, adding to signs the recession has ended.

Still, the reports suggested a slow and fragile economic recovery. In part, that’s because the increased housing starts were due solely to a surge in construction of apartment buildings – while the much larger single-family homes sector fell for the first time in six months. And jobless claims remain far above the levels associated with a healthy economy.

Even as the housing industry begins to recover from its worst downturn in decades, a glut of unsold homes and record levels of home foreclosures are weighing on the industry.

Construction of single-family homes and apartments rose 1.5 percent to an annual rate of 598,000 units, the highest level since November, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That was slightly lower than the 600,000-unit pace economists had expected. And it remains more than 70 percent below the peak rate hit in 2006.

Homeowners who ‘strategically default’ on loans a growing problem

By Kenneth Harney   Los Angeles Times September 20, 2009

A study shows that people who abruptly and intentionally abandon their mortgages often have high credit scores, in stark contrast with most financially distressed borrowers

Reporting from Washington – Who is more likely to walk away from a house and a mortgage — a person with super-prime credit scores or someone with lower scores?

Research using a massive sample of 24 million individual credit files has found that homeowners with high scores when they apply for a loan are 50% more likely to “strategically default” — abruptly and intentionally pull the plug and abandon the mortgage — compared with lower-scoring borrowers.

To qualify for homebuyers credit for first-timers, act quickly

Some 1.4 million Americans have tapped the special tax credit, part of the stimulus spending. But time is running out on the program – unless Congress renews it.

By Mark Trumbull Christian Science Monitor September 18, 2009

This year 1.4 million Americans have tapped a special tax credit for home buyers. Is there still time to take grab this $8,000 benefit?

Maybe, but you’d need to act fast – although it’s also possible that Congress will extend this tax break, part of the economic stimulus plan, beyond its Nov. 30 cutoff.

The tax credit is designed to stimulate homebuyer demand during a historic housing slump. On that front, it has helped. Cities across the nation are showing signs of housing-market stabilization.

Now marked down: Dallas mansions

By Steve Brown   Dallas Morning News September 17, 2009

The French-style University Park house has limestone floors, a three-car garage, a swimming pool and guest quarters out back. But what’s likely to catch a buyer’s eye is the sign out front: “New Price.”Now offered at $4.45 million, the 6,788-square-foot mansion has been marked down by close to $1 million since it came on the market last spring.

“It’s one of those listings you are scratching your head,” said agent Joan Eleazer. “You know that the market is bad, but why hasn’t this great house sold?”

With the latest price cut, Eleazer, who works for Briggs Freeman, is finally getting some nibbles from potential buyers.

Rule change makes it harder for homeowners to learn about mineral rights

By Mike Lee   Fort Worth Star-Telegram September 21, 2009

Under a rule change approved by the Texas Department of Insurance, it will be harder for homeowners to know whether they own their mineral rights.

It’s still unclear, though, whether homeowners will get a discount on their title insurance for what critics say amounts to less coverage. The state insurance commissioner, Mike Geeslin, “wants to hear that issue in the future,” said Deputy Insurance Commissioner Robert Carter, who oversees title insurance.

The new rule, adopted Aug. 13, allows title insurance companies to take a “blanket exception” regarding their responsibility to determine whether a landowner owns the mineral rights for a piece of property. That relieves the companies from doing extra title searches and may protect them from legal action.

Site contamination verified

Corpus Christi Housing Authority did not include e-mail message in previous public information request

By Denise Malan   Corpus Christi Caller-Times September 17, 2009

CORPUS CHRISTI — The Corpus Christi Housing Authority withdrew from the D.N. Leathers Townhomes project because the land was contaminated, according to records released Thursday from a state agency.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, responding to a public information request by the Caller-Times, released an e-mail message from the Housing Authority disclosing the reason for abandoning the project. That e-mail was not included in a Housing Authority response to a similar request from the newspaper.

The Housing Authority has declined to answer questions about D.N. Leathers, a 130-unit public housing project near T.C. Ayers Park on the Northside.

Galveston Housing Authority ad causes a stir

By Leigh Jones   Galveston County Daily News September 20, 2009

GALVESTON — An advertisement placed by the Galveston Housing Authority in Sunday’s edition of The Daily News did its job attracting attention, but the buzz wasn’t necessarily the kind agency officials were hoping for.

The advertisement urged victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita to apply for the Section 8 program, which provides rental assistance vouchers to low-income families.

Readers questioned why the island’s housing agency was soliciting clients from other areas and whether the funds to pay for the vouchers were coming out of programs that could be helping Galvestonians still trying to recover from Hurricane Ike.

As Galveston Recovers From Hurricane Ike, Some Residents Feel Left Behind

By James McKinley, Jr.   New York Times September 20, 2009

GALVESTON, Tex. — There are many signs that this seaside town has revived a year after Hurricane Ike flooded more than 17,000 homes and businesses. The big resorts are humming again, and on hot days people throng the newly restored beaches. The port is open, and the cruise ships are back. Most of the businesses on the Strand, the island’s historic strip of shops and restaurants, have reopened.

Yet the progress has been slow, and officials say it may be several years before the city fully recovers.

With the debris cleared, the main thoroughfares appear now much as they did before the storm, but on the backstreets, thousands of residents — in particular the poor and elderly who lacked insurance — are still struggling with the lingering effects of the hurricane.

About 20 percent of the 58,000 people who lived in the city before the hurricane have not returned, and one-quarter of the families whose homes were damaged by floods — about 4,000 households — are still unable to live in them.

Panel restates need for development agency

By Leigh Jones   Galveston County Daily News September 17, 2009

GALVESTON — Island leaders have a great opportunity to use federal disaster recovery funds to revitalize the city’s neighborhoods, but they need to form an agency dedicated to that task, a group of real estate and development experts said Wednesday.

The Urban Land Institute presented its analysis of Galveston’s housing challenges and opportunities to a group of about 200 people at the end of a two-day workshop held at the request of the 300-member committee that drafted the city’s long-term recovery plan.

The institute’s volunteer panel urged the city to form a revitalization authority that could buy and sell land and broker deals with developers to create more housing for families that make between $25,000 and $75,000 a year.

Area to get $225M more in Ike funds

By T.J. Aulds   Galveston County Daily News September 17, 2009

Sometimes the squeaky wheel does get the grease — Or, in the case of federal funds for Hurricane Ike recovery, an additional $225 million.

Galveston County Judge Jim Yarbrough said Wednesday the governor ordered a change to the formula for distributing the second round of federal community block grant money for housing and infrastructure repairs and improvements.

Gov. Rick Perry’s office confirmed Wednesday that he instructed the Texas Department of Rural Affairs to change its funding formula. The agency’s original plan used a formula based on Ike’s winds, storm surge and flooding.

Council backs zoning request for halfway house

By Gilbert Garcia   San Antonio Express-News September 17, 2009

A highly charged, four-and-a-half hour zoning case ended Thursday with the City Council disregarding the pleas of East Side Councilwoman Ivy Taylor, and approving a local nonprofit’s bid to convert an East Side convent into a halfway house.

Crosspoint Inc. operates five local re-entry facilities for federal and state convicts, and it intends to purchase a historic building on Yucca Street, near Martin Luther King Drive, belonging to the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. The Sisters, who now live in a $10 million facility across from their old convent, have actively supported Crosspoint.

Developing Stories: Goodie Basket Development

The Grayco South Shore PUD proposal

By Katherine Gregor   Austin Chronicle September 17, 2009

Can it be? Austin’s urban design and planning processes actually seem to be working, at least for the South Shore planned unit development. The large mixed-use project proposed by developer Grayco Partners goes to City Council Sept. 24; Grayco is seeking PUD zoning for a 20-acre site between South Lakeshore Boulevard and East Riverside Drive, along a stretch of Lady Bird Lake. As the first test of council’s reasserted power to consider a PUD that trumps Waterfront Overlay Ord­in­ance provisions, the project has been closely watched. While not perfect, it’s darn good, thanks to all who have worked hard on raising Austin’s PUD, waterfront, and urban design standards.

Houston: Texas-Sized Sprawl, No End In Sight

By Steve Inskeep   NPR September 20, 2009

Houston is the latest stop on the Urban Frontier, Morning Edition’s occasional look at how cities change and grow.

Houston is a swiftly growing city; it has added a million residents this decade. No doubt, some of those newcomers drive on Interstate 10, which roars in front of Houston’s own version of Mount Rushmore — giant white busts of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and two founders of modern Texas, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin.

Since it overlooks the freeway, the spot is known as Mount Rush Hour. And it reminds visitors of a couple of things about Houston: one, that it’s a little quirkier than you might realize; and two, that it is huge.

The Green Case for Cities

By Witold Rybcznski   The Atlantic.com September 16, 2009

No where has the greening message had a bigger impact than in the building industry. Green or sustainable architecture is all the rage—as well it should be, because buildings use a lot of energy. The construction and operation of residential and commercial buildings consume as much as 40 percent of the energy used in the United States today.

The calculation of a building’s total environmental impact must factor in everything from annual energy consumption to how and where building materials are manufactured and the handling of storm water. This requires some sort of rating system, and there are currently more than 40 of them in use around the world. Most, like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), which has become the standard in the United States, award points based on a checklist—daylighting, water recycling, solar panels, bicycle racks, and so on.

Losing Touch with the Changing Definition of “Community”

By Owen McShane   newgeography September 20, 2009

Mathew Taunton opens his review of “The Future of Community – Reports of a Death Greatly Exaggerated” (Note 1) with the observation that:

“Community is one of the most powerful words in the language, and perhaps because of this it is frequently misused. A profoundly emotive word, it is also a coercive one, and a key political buzzword in modern times. That community is being eroded in modern Britain is a matter of cross-party consensus, and it is also widely agreed that one of the state’s roles is to devise means of counteracting the decline of communities.”

It is refreshing to see a writer prepared to use ‘community’ and ‘coercive’ in the same sentence. Taunton reminds us that practically all urban architecture now attempts to force social solidarity into existence, and, by definition, condemns those who do not conform for daring to exercise their choice.