Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 11/17/2009

The consequences of rampant, irrational home loans issued during in the false economic boom of George W. Bush’s presidency continue to fuel the prolonged recession. As more mortgage holders default, the FHA finds its coffers nearing empty. Meanwhile, hopeful homebuyers are finding more stringent rules as they approach banks to take advantage of stimulus funds generated by the Obama Administration.

HUD has rejected the state’s disaster recovery plan for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Dolly, stating among other reasons that it failed to address fair housing issues.

In Fort Worth, where the city powers forced public housing out of downtown to entice Radio Shack to keep its headquarters there, the redubbed “Shack” in now seeking to jump ship and relocate as profits and prospects for the struggling corporation sag.

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

Housing Agency’s Cash Reserves Down Sharply

By David Streitfeld   New York Times November 12, 2009

The Federal Housing Administration, the government agency whose loan-insurance programs have become a crucial source of support for the housing market, said on Thursday that its cash reserves had dwindled significantly in the last year as more borrowers defaulted on their mortgages.

The agency released an audit that spelled out the rapid deterioration of its finances. It is tightening loan standards in hopes it will not become another drain on the United States Treasury, but is reluctant to clamp down so much that it snuffs out the tentative recovery in housing.

How successfully the agency walks this tightrope could well determine whether the recovery gathers force, or whether home prices slide again — perhaps creating a fresh economic downturn.

Pace of mortgage help rising but still slow

By Alan Zibel   Associated Press November 12, 2009

PLANO — Shontaye Edwards spends her day in a gray cubicle at a Bank of America Corp. call center in this Dallas suburb. On the other end of the phone line are homeowners — anxious, exasperated and hoping for help.

They often call with questions about the Obama administration’s plan to help borrowers modify their mortgages, but many simply don’t qualify. They make too much money, or too little. They have too much debt. They don’t actually live in the home.

“I do get attached at times,” Edwards says during a momentary break in the office where she and about 350 colleagues sit under flat-panel monitors that display callers’ wait times. “But at the same time … we have to go by the procedures.”

Dallas-Fort Worth home foreclosure filings jump 30%

By Steve Brown   Dallas Morning News November 12, 2009

North Texas home foreclosure filings for next month have soared 30 percent from a year ago. The jump in foreclosure postings for December pushes totals for the year past 61,000 – a record for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

More than 5,200 homes are facing forced sale by lenders next month.

Uptown high-rise posted for foreclosure, but owners, lenders say it won’t be sold

By Steve Brown   Dallas Morning News November 12, 2009

One of Uptown’s most prominent residential towers is posted for foreclosure. But the owners and lenders of the 20-story Mondrian Cityplace apartment high-rise say it won’t be sold at next month’s foreclosure auction.

Built in 2003, the eye-catching rental building at McKinney Avenue and Blackburn Street is a landmark overlooking the West Village complex.

Fort Worth-based RadioShack may move headquarters out of town

By Sandra Baker   Fort Worth Star-Telegram November 12, 2009

Fort Worth-based Radio-Shack, which has about two years left on a rent-free lease at the riverfront headquarters it built and sold downtown, has reportedly begun looking for a new home, including sites outside the area.

While company and downtown leaders declined to discuss the search, sources say the big consumer-electronics retailer is shopping for at least 250,000 square feet. That could be hard to accommodate in downtown Fort Worth, where occupancy levels are high, but acceptable space could be found elsewhere in North Texas.

The Tampa Bay Business Journal in Florida reported this week that RadioShack was looking at several cities for a corporate relocation. The Journal said the hush-hush search has been dubbed “Project Prince,” and developers there were told that 300,000 to 350,000 square feet of Class-A office space is needed.

RadioShack is also considering staying in Fort Worth, where it has been based since it became part of Tandy Corp. in 1963.

Real estate antennas are up over possible RadioShack relocation

By Maria Halkias   Dallas Morning News November 12, 2009

RadioShack Corp. needs to find a new headquarters and might be scouting sites outside Texas.

When its sprawling five-building campus along the Trinity River in downtown Fort Worth was sold to Tarrant County College in 2008, the company was given a rent-free lease until 2011.

Now that RadioShack is beginning an active search, there are published reports of the company’s possible interest in Tampa, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., and Albuquerque, N.M.

Florida’s Tampa Bay Business Journal reported that developers there pitched proposals in late October to an unidentified Fortune 500 company looking for as much as 350,000 square feet for a corporate headquarters. It said the city’s commercial real estate sector was abuzz with speculation identifying the company as RadioShack.

Commissioner orders State Farm to issue refunds

By Purva Patel   Houston Chronicle November 16, 2009

State Farm Lloyds must pay home insurance policyholders $310 million in refunds and interest for overcharges stretchingback as far as six years, the state’s insurance commissioner ordered Monday.

The order completes insurance reforms state lawmakers started in 2003, Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin said in a written statement.

“There is evidence, there is law, and between the two you come up with $310 million,” he said.

Kevin Davis, a spokesman for State Farm, said the company was disappointed with the decision and insisted its rates have always been fair and justified.

Lawmaker, consumer group call for TWIA probe

By Laura Elder   Galveston County Daily News November 11, 2009

A consumer a group has joined some lawmakers in calling for a legislative investigation of the state’s largest windstorm insurer, accused of unleashing poorly trained adjusters on coastal policyholders and systematically underpaying or delaying claims after Hurricane Ike.

Texas Watch Executive Director Alex Winslow on Tuesday joined state Sen. Rodney Ellis in calling for an investigation of the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association after attorneys for some policyholders released what they assert are damning internal e-mails and documents showing policies of lowballing repair costs and denying claims.

But windstorm association officials call the allegations a diversion in a lawsuit through which a League City resident is demanding damages hundreds of thousands of dollars beyond his policy’s value.

HUD rejects state’s spending plan for Ike funds

By Rhiannon Meyers   Galveston County Daily News November 17, 2009

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rejected the state’s plan to allocate the second round of $1.7 billion in federal disaster recovery funding, sending Texas officials back to the drawing board.

According to a Nov. 10 letter from HUD Assistant Secretary Mercedes Marquez to Gov. Rick Perry, some of the federal government’s chief concerns were that:

• Texas did not provide enough opportunities for residents to comment on the plans to spend disaster money on housing and infrastructure;

• The state did not update its plan to promote fair housing;

• The state’s plan is too heavily focused on mitigating future disasters instead of restoring infrastructure and housing; and

• The plan did not describe how Texas plans to allocate funds to units of local government.

More importantly to Galveston, the federal housing department objected to the state’s failure to update its plan to promote fair housing, even though Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Dolly combined with a nationwide economic meltdown changed the landscape for low-income families.

City to hear public housing plans

By Leigh Jones   Galveston County Daily News November 11, 2009

GALVESTON — Galveston Housing Authority officials Thursday will try to persuade the city council to commit $25 million in federal disaster recovery funds set aside earlier this year to help rebuild the island’s public housing.

Harish Krishnarao, housing authority executive director, will present to the council the three rebuilding options offered by master plan consultants Civic Design Associates. Krishnarao has recommended to the housing authority board the option that includes the most housing scattered throughout Galveston neighborhoods.

The housing authority demolished all four of the public housing developments north of Broadway after Hurricane Ike filled the ground floor units with storm surge last year.

City quizzes GHA director’s plan

By Leigh Jones and Rhiannon Meyers   Galveston County Daily New November 13, 2009

GALVESTON — City council members Thursday quizzed Galveston Housing Authority Executive Director Harish Krishnarao about the agency’s operations and its plan to rebuild public housing, for the most part reserving criticism for the proposed scattered site units.

Although several council members said they liked the idea of putting public housing throughout the island’s neighborhoods, they urged the housing authority to use existing houses, not build new ones.

“I always wanted as much money as possible to go to fixing up old houses,” Councilwoman Susan Fennewald said. “We have lots of old houses. I’ve got to think a lot of low- to moderate-income people are living in them.”

Krishnarao’s rebuilding plan includes 229 scattered site units. Some of them could be rehabilitations of existing houses but some likely would be new construction, Krishnarao said.

Alternative housing proposal released

By Leigh Jones   Galveston County Daily News November 13, 2009

GALVESTON — The Galveston Alliance of Island Neighborhoods has released its own plan for rebuilding the city’s public housing.

The plan, which recommends replacing all 569 housing units demolished after Hurricane Ike, differs only slightly from that presented by Galveston Housing Authority Executive Director Harish Krishnarao.

The neighborhood organization wants to see less density at Cedar Terrace, 2914 Ball St., and Oleander Homes, 5228 Broadway, but recommends more density at Magnolia Homes, 1601 The Strand.

FEMA issuing eviction notices

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

The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday delivered what amounts to eviction notices to two residents who have been living in government-issued mobile homes after Hurricane Ike damaged or destroyed their homes.

Only two of Galveston County’s 482 FEMA mobile home residents were given 60 days to move out. The notices sent Tuesday were to former renters who had been placed in mobile homes.

More revocation letters could be sent to homeowners who have been in the FEMA mobile homes but who are not making progress in repairing their hurricane-damaged houses.

Few in county able to buy FEMA mobile homes

By T.J. Aulds   Galveston County Daily News November 16, 2009

HITCHCOCK — Fifteen months ago, Paul Ray and Donna Heinrich had a view of the water from the porch of their house in Gilchrist. These days, they overlook a row of rundown trailers and a pot hole-filled road in Hitchcock.

That suits them just fine.

Because for the first time since Hurricane Ike washed their house away — not to mention all of their belongings — the Heinriches are homeowners again. On Thursday, they became the 53rd family in the county to purchase their Federal Emergency Management Agency mobile home from the government.

Private/Public: Rethinking Design for the Homeless

By Terri Chiao and Deborah Katz   Urban Omnibus November 12, 2009

Designing Design
As designers weathering a recession, many of us spend a lot of time chasing work – clients, competitions, grants, teaching gigs – anything that might provide a way into an interesting project. The chase feels proactive, but in fact is fundamentally reactive: we end up allowing others to set the terms of our practice, spending a lot of time working on projects we’re not particularly excited about, just trying to stay afloat. What would happen if designers took a truly proactive position? What if we stopped pursuing pre-designed scenarios, and instead leveraged research as a tool to develop our own briefs? What if we took control of our work – not only serving clients and designing spaces, but working to design design itself?