Bo McCarver’s Weekly Housing News Compilation – 10/13/2009

Having exhausted the over-sold mortgage ruse, predators now set their sights on reverse mortgages and the elderly. As the scams spread, consumer advocacy groups press for tighter rules with the usually sandbagging by the banking industry.

In Galveston, homeowners still wait for the city and county to set up programs to spend $90 million to rebuild and repair houses damaged last year.

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

Obama declares small victory in war on home foreclosures

Half a million at-risk homeowners now are less likely to default, thanks to HAMP, the Obama administration’s foreclosure-relief program.

By Mark Trumbull Christian Science Monitor October 8, 2009

The Obama administration announced Thursday that its foreclosure-relief program reached a key milestone sooner than expected.

Call it a small victory in what could be a long war on foreclosure. Federal policies are helping to ease strains in the US housing market, but the challenges remain formidable.

Consider Thursday’s news: Half a million at-risk homeowners have had their mortgages modified since this spring, making them less likely to default, the Treasury Department said. That’s ahead of target, since the agency’s aim had been for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) to hit that mark by the beginning of November.

Foreclosures mark pace of enduring U.S. housing crisis

By Tom Brown   Reuters October 8, 2009

MIAMI – Every 13 seconds in America, there is another foreclosure filing.

That’s the rhythm of a crisis that threatens to choke off hopes for a recovery in the U.S. housing market as it destroys hundreds of billions of dollars in property values a year.

There are more than 6,600 home foreclosure filings per day, according to the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonpartisan watchdog group based in Durham, North Carolina. With nearly two million already this year, the flood of foreclosures shows no sign of abating any time soon.

Reverse mortgages ripe for abuse, consumer group says

By Tony Pugh   McClatchy Newspapers October 7, 2009

WASHINGTON — Consumer advocates say a growing number of older homeowners and a new crop of eager lenders could steer the reverse mortgage industry down the same financial course that toppled the subprime mortgage market and left taxpayers footing the bill.

In order to avoid a repeat occurrence, a new report by the National Consumer Law Center urges Congress to enact new consumer protections to curb shady marketing tactics, deceptive advertising and other potential abuses in the popular reverse mortgage program.

Some of the problems include television advertisements that market the loans as a “government benefit” and financial incentives for loan processors known as “yield spread premiums.”

“These are financial kickbacks that make loans more profitable for lenders and loan brokers, but more expensive for borrowers,” Tara Twomey, the NCLC attorney who authored the report, said Tuesday.

Dallas-Fort Worth new home sales drop 34% in 3Q

By Steve Brown   Dallas Morning News October 7, 2009

New-home sales in the Dallas-Fort Worth area continued to fall in the third quarter – even with the help of tax incentives that brought out more buyers.

Home sales by builders dropped by almost 34 percent in the quarter compared to year-earlier numbers, housing analyst Residential Strategies said Wednesday. The 4,163 new-home sales number was virtually unchanged from the previous quarter.

Reclaiming Pioneer Square Alleyways for Community Gatherings

By Julia Levitt   Northwest Hub October 7, 2009

What can a downtown alley be used for? More than you think—and a group in Pioneer Square has been working to prove it. The network of businesses connected to the historic Nord building, located near First Avenue and Main Street, has created a vibrant and charming social space in an unlikely locale: the alleyway behind their offices.

Todd Vogel of the International Sustainability Institute bought two floors of the Nord in 2007, and began using it for his own office space as well as renting space to a number of for-profit and non-profit tenants. When he moved in, he began doing small things to clean up the adjoining alley, wanting to send a signal to others to respect the space.

HISD plan offends neighborhood

District wants to take over 11 properties to expand elementary

By Jennifer Radcliffe   Houston Chronicle   October 11, 2009

The Houston ISD is forcing Fifth Ward residents out of their homes for a school expansion that wasn’t vetted by the neighborhood, community leaders said Sunday.

The school district is threatening to use eminent domain to acquire 11 properties near Dogan Elementary School without offering the homeowners fair purchase prices or any details about why their land is needed, Council member Jarvis Johnson said.

Austinites fear for future of neighborhood plans

By Patrick Brendel   Community Impact October 9, 2009

As the City of Austin embarks upon the formation of a new comprehensive plan to replace the 1979 Austin Tomorrow Plan, neighborhood association leaders fear that meticulously crafted neighborhood plans—that exist as amendments to the 1979 plan—will be swept away, along with years of collaborative effort among Austin residents and the city.

Each neighborhood plan involves about two years of meetings among residents and city staff, Austin Neighborhoods Council President Cory Walton said. The plans are citizens’ prescriptions for the zoning of individual plats of land and are intended not to be overridden by the city (or developers) without residents’ approval.

County looks to purchase 500-plus Ike homes

By T.J. Aulds Galveston County Daily News October 10, 2009

County commissioners are expected within the next month to decide whether to push ahead with buyouts of about 560 homes or properties — mostly on the Bolivar Peninsula — that were destroyed or severely damaged by Hurricane Ike.

More than 1,200 homeowners applied for the county’s buyout program.

The homes included in the Phase 1 buyout proposal are within a 300-foot buffer zone from the shore.

Rebuilding grant delays frustrating homeowners

By T.J. Aulds Galveston County Daily News October 11, 2009

Nona Trussle attended a recent Hurricane Ike recovery meeting sponsored by Galveston County hoping to hear details of the $99 million program aimed at repairing and rebuilding houses.

No details were available, and all she heard from officials was “be patient, and it’s a long, complicated process.”

In February, the Houston-Galveston Area Council announced Galveston County would receive $165 million in federal community block development grant money, while the city of Galveston was awarded $267 million. About 60 percent of that money is to be set aside to help homeowners like Trussle.

To date, not one single dollar has been spent. In fact, the city of Galveston and the county are just in the early stages of getting their housing programs up and running.

Federally funded Ike case managers step up efforts

By T.J. Aulds and Rhiannon Meyers Galveston County Daily News October 11, 2009

Case managers charged with finding and helping Hurricane Ike victims are stepping up their outreach efforts.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, which has received federal dollars to help hurricane victims find help, has launched a door-to-door campaign to find “those hidden cases,” such as Manuel Chavez Jr., of Kemah, and Mark Holland, of Clear Lake Shores, who risk losing their homes if they don’t repair them soon.

“We know there are people who need help, we just don’t know where they are,” Harold Fattig, of Catholic Charities, said.

Catholic Charities is among a handful of area charitable organizations that received funding from Recovery for Ike Survivors Enterprise, called RISE, to pay case managers to canvass the county and find people who need help.

Hunt for Housing: More low-income renters looking for assistance

By Jeremy Roebuck   McAllen Monitor October 11, 2009

McALLEN — With no job, five young mouths to feed and an income earned by his wife that barely breaks $19,000 a year, Chris Valle still considers himself lucky.

He has a place his family can afford to call home.

But for more and more of the Rio Grande Valley’s low-income renters, the basic need is falling out of reach. According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates, more than half of Hidalgo County’s renters spend more than one-third of their income on housing — the benchmark by which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determines affordability.

Longtime ‘mayor’ of homeless village under I-45 in Dallas moves into new townhome

By Kim Horner   Dallas Morning News October 7, 2009

Mack Choice may have stepped down as the “mayor,” but he moved up in the world.

Choice, who has lived in a cardboard box under a Dallas bridge for 15 years, moved into his own townhome Wednesday, thanks to the kindness of a local charitable organization.

David Timothy, who runs the SoupMobile, a nonprofit that serves food on the streets, handed Choice the keys to his new home about noon.

Choice was so overwhelmed and thankful that he wept openly.

Faces of Homelessness

Another Downtown attempt to find answers

By Marc Salov   Austin Chronicle October 9, 2009

First, the good news.

Depending on where in Austin you live, the entertainment district’s ongoing woes – among them a slaphappy, punch-drunk summer that just barely missed doing the Berkowitz shuffle and enough radiant heat to make last month’s filming of local action auteur Robert Rodri­guez’s hyperviolent Machete both look and feel like a viva la raza!-themed remake of Do the Right Thing – appear considerably less intractable than they did when we first took a look at Downtown crime earlier in the year (“Crime and the City Solution,” Music, June 26).

Make no mistake, it’s still a smart idea to keep a can of Mace or pepper spray in your purse, pocket, or high-stylin’ D&G messenger bag when you’re out and about Downtown. Despite a visible uptick in Austin Police Depart­ment bicycle officers and both marked and unmarked patrol cars in the area bordered by Congress Avenue and I-35, 11th Street and Cesar Chavez – and a string of arrests – the situation persistently teeters between friendly, albeit drunken, Sixth Street chaos on a good night and outright assaults (or worse) on a bad one.