Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 12/1/2009

The fundamental supply/demand axiom of capitalism seems undermined as America’s urban zones are increasingly characterized by the peculiar specter of new housing starts in green fields — while a vast backlog of unsold, defaulted homes languish in the inner-city. Suckered into bloated mortgage rates and oversized houses, thousands of foreclosed homeowners are now subjects for a different set of scam artists who prey on those still clinging to their American Dream.

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

Treasury gets tougher on home loan relief

By Glenn Somerville Reuters November 30, 2009

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration threatened on Monday to punish mortgage lenders with fines unless they speed up efforts to give hard-pressed homeowners a permanent break on monthly payments.

With foreclosures still rising and roughly 375,000 borrowers seen as eligible for permanent loan modifications by year end, the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development departments want to make sure that banks come through on the promise of lower payments.

“Banks should be moving more rapidly and more efficiently to decisions once documents are in and we will have more detailed metrics on that in coming months,” Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Barr said during a conference call.

Full story at: http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN3045185920091130

Housing Meltdown, Ground Zero: The American Home-Owning Dream on Life Support

By Andy Kroll    TomDispatch.com November 30, 2009

I.  Rescuing the Dream

At the end of a week in mid-October when the Dow Jones soared past 10,000, Goldman Sachs recorded “just another fantastic quarter” with a $3.2 billion quarterly profit, JPMorgan Chase raked in a cool $3.6 billion, and a New York Times headline declared “Bailout Helps Revive Banks, And Bonuses,” I spent a Saturday evening with about 100 people camped out in a northern California parking lot.  A passerby, stealing a quick glance, might have taken the crowd for avid concertgoers staked out for tickets.  There was, however, no concert here — just weary, huddled souls, slouched in vinyl folding chairs, covered by blankets, windbreakers, and knit hats against a late autumn chill.

A ragged line of them wound through the lot outside the entrance to the Cow Palace, a dingy arena decades past its prime on the southern edge of San Francisco.  These people, and thousands more like them who had streamed into the arena all day long from as far away as Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Las Vegas, were unemployed, broke, bankrupt, or at their wit’s end.  They were here waiting for help — for their chance to make it inside the warm arena to participate in “America’s Best Mortgage Program.”

Full story at: http://www.truthout.org/1130093

Kaptur Takes on Foreclosures

By Greg Kaufmann    The Nation November 24, 2009

Before President Bush left office, Representative Marcy Kaptur visited then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. and presented him with a list of all of the people in her district whose properties had been foreclosed. Although each page included four columns of names, the full list still stretched all the way down the steps of the Treasury Building to the street below when unfurled.

Kaptur was able to get the administration to form a task force composed of representatives from several agencies who were supposed to work with local stakeholders to address the foreclosure crisis.

“They came from all the agencies, and they talked,” she says. “It was like a car with four wheels and they are all going in a different direction. They were nice people and then they all left. So that task force didn’t really accomplish anything.”

In contrast, Kaptur hasn’t relented in her fight.

Full story at: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091214/kaufmann

Tax Credit Gives Temporary Boost to Sales/Prices

By Dean Baker    Center for Economic and Policy Research November 24, 2009

There continues to be enormous excess supply in the housing market; the overall vacancy rate is at an all-time high.

Existing home sales jumped 10.1 percent in October, while the Case-Shiller 20-City Index showed a rise of 0.3 percent for September, its fourth consecutive monthly increase. (The Case-Shiller data is a three month average centered on September.) Both increases were driven by the expiration of the first-time homebuyers tax credit at the end of November.

Full story at: http://www.cepr.net/index.php/data-bytes/housing-market-monitor/tax-credit-temporary-boost/

Condos look to leasing to fill units during sales slump

By Steve Brown    Dallas Morning News November 27, 2009

The Metropolitan condominium tower in downtown Dallas has a private theater, a rooftop pool and will soon overlook a new park.

More than 140 units have been sold at prices starting at just under $200,000. Still, almost half the 4-year-old project is unsold.

So, the Metropolitan has joined a number of condominium projects to offer units for rent.

“It’s a great deal for someone who is not sure if they want to be a downtown condo owner,” said Christine Lutz of Garrison Partners Consulting, a Chicago firm that’s marketing the Main Street project. “You can test drive the product.”

Full story at: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/stories/DN-Condos_27bus.ART0.State.Edition1.3c93ba1.html

Vancouver Redevelopment Project Doubles as Social Experiment

By Linda Baker    New York Times November 25, 2009

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – This city of elegant luxury condominium towers and grand public spaces won the right to hold the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in part because of a promise to create “the inclusive Olympics.” But critics have long complained about a blotch on the city’s self-image as an urban utopia: the Downtown Eastside, a notorious high-poverty neighborhood known for its concentration of homeless people and drug and crime problems.

The city, which has a population of 578,000, has long listed the area as a target for redevelopment, but some community groups have balked because of concerns about displacing low-income residents.

Full story at: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2009/11/25/realestate/commercial/25vancouver.xml

Lessons learned: Permanent housing finally debuts for those displaced by Gulf storms

By Eric Dexheimer    Austin American-Statesman November 26, 2009

If there was a lesson to be learned from the government’s response to the series of hurricanes that battered the Gulf Coast beginning with Katrina in 2005, it was how not to respond to large natural disasters — especially when it came to housing.

“There are poor people who more than four years after the storm are still not housed,” said John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service. “That’s ridiculous.”

Henneberger thought the state could do better. Now, following a wildly successful statewide design competition, Texas stands poised to learn from the early mistakes of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Full story at: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/2009/11/27/1127housingdesign.html

County racing against deadline

By T.J. Aulds Galveston County Daily News November 30, 2009

County leaders are working with federal emergency management officials to find a way to help Hurricane Ike victims who are facing a deadline for getting out of government-issued mobile homes but who might me eligible for federal block grants to help repair their houses.

People living in FEMA trailers are supposed to be out of them by March, but many are counting on help through the county’s share of community development block grants for housing. The county has yet to start taking applications for those funds.

Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=2139c39545aa3a53

GHA critics absent at last public hearing

By Rhiannon Meyers    Galveston County Daily News November 26, 2009

GALVESTON — Critics of Galveston Housing Authority’s plan to rebuild public housing were noticeably absent from a public hearing Tuesday, the last of a series of four about the housing authority’s controversial redevelopment plan.

Among the six people who talked, four people, including Barbara Crews, head of Galveston County Restore and Rebuild, said they supported the housing authority’s plans to rebuild the 569 units of public housing that were occupied before Hurricane Ike struck Sept. 13, 2008, flooding four developments.

Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=ee2f5a948cf6f448

Wide gulf in buyout values

By Leigh Jones    Galveston County Daily News November 26, 2009

GALVESTON — Sales contracts for the first 23 beach-front properties whose owners completed buyout agreements with the city show wide disparities between the values set by private appraisers and those listed by the Galveston Central Appraisal District. On average, the city paid 89 percent more for the houses damaged by Hurricane Ike than the appraisal district said they were worth before the storm.

The value disparities didn’t surprise the city’s buyout consultant, who said appraisal district values are notoriously below market values.

Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=10bb3f7c047def3c

Neighbors pay legal debt

By Lowell Brown    Denton Record November 30, 2009

Neighbors in Denton’s West Oak Street area won a major zoning battle against a planned apartment complex in 2003.

They’ve been paying for it ever since.

“We accrued this huge legal debt,” said Elise Ridenour, one of the homeowners whose fight wound up costing about $22,000 in attorney fees. “That was at half-price with us doing all of the research and legwork.”

Full story at: http://www.dentonrc.com/sharedcontent/dws/drc/localnews/stories/DRC_West_Oak_1130.306d9d876.html

Austin weighs joining cities making density deals with developers

Voluntary program would reward projects providing community benefits with extra space or height.

By Shonda Novak    Austin American-Statesman November 29, 2009

Seattle has a plan. So do Tampa, San Diego, Portland, Denver, Nashville and Calgary. Vancouver is the exemplar, a city that has used a developer bonus system to encourage density downtown while assuring that the city core doesn’t become a forest of bulky high-rises with a scarcity of parks, public amenities or places for moderate-income people to live.

Now it’s Austin’s turn.

Full story at: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/business/stories/realestate/2009/11/29/1129density.html