Bo McCarver’s weekly news compilation 3-23-2010

Tuesday Report, March 23, 2010

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

The press never quite gets it right, that’s why they print so often. The really gritty stories that are laden with bureaucratic policies and acronyms are relegated to cub reporters who must really hustle to please their city editors who in turn are always nervously looking over their shoulders at the volume of advertisements.

We call what they print “news.”

“Housing,” as a somewhat boring category, is difficult to draw much readership so it gets a peculiar pitch between social and business issues.

This spiel is a prelude to invite you to discern how different papers report the housing market: note in the articles below that the North Texas papers have focused on foreclosure stories while the rest tout rosy, “new home sales.”

For a leveling analysis, check out the final article announcing a new book.

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

House GOP calls for Fannie, Freddie phase out

Reuters March 19, 2010

Republicans in the House of Representatives on Friday recommended the country’s top two mortgage finance companies, the recipients of a massive government bailout during the height of the financial crisis, be phased out in four years in order to restore stability to the housing market.

The House Republicans offered five goals to guide the overhaul of Fannie Mae (FNM.N) and Freddie Mac (FRE.N), which were chartered by Congress with a mandate to provide liquidity to the U.S. housing market but are privately held by shareholders. The goals include reestablishing a housing finance market in which private capital is the primary source of mortgage financing.

The lawmakers put forward 10 principles, among them winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and cutting their mortgage portfolio holdings by 25 percent a year over four years.

Full story at: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE62I3HZ20100319?loomia_ow=t0:s0:a49:g43:r2:c0.061415:b32049914:z0

Microcosm of Housing Crisis on an Arizona Street

By Louis Story       New York Times March 23, 2010

CAVE CREEK, Ariz. — The uncertain line between hope and despair divides this exurb of Phoenix, where the trim stucco houses used to sell so briskly.

It winds around the swimming pools and the pebbled yards of East Montgomery Road like a slow-burning fuse.

On one side are people like the Setbackens, Gary and Cissie, who moved here from Washington State and, with prudence, have managed to pay their mortgage bill month after month. On the other side are those like Kelley Carter, who never dreamed that home prices would fall so hard, and got in over their heads.

Two in five homeowners in this sprawling development 30 miles northeast of Phoenix are underwater on their mortgages. And that reality is wearing away household budgets and people’s patience.

Arizona is one of five states that, with money from Washington, hopes to help at least some of these people hold on to their homes. Under a new, federally financed pilot program for the hardest-hit housing markets, state officials will decide who will get a homeowner bailout, and who will not.

Full story at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/23/business/23lend.html?hp

HUD scrutinizes ‘admin fees’

Charges on top of commission are illegal if no extra services are performed, the agency says.

By Kenneth Harney       Los Angeles Times March 20, 2010

Does it matter whether a real estate agent charges you a flat commission rate — say 6% — or quotes you a flat rate but adds hundreds of dollars on top of that as a separate charge labeled an “admin” or administrative fee?

A top federal housing official says it might matter a lot, especially when minimal or no separate services are performed to justify extra charges beyond the regular commission.

Helen R. Kanovsky, general counsel at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, clarified the government’s position on controversial add-on fees in a recent letter to industry lawyers.

During the last several years, many brokerage companies began adding extra fees onto their commissions to generate higher revenues.

The fees came with a variety of names — “processing” and “ABC” among others — and were charged to sellers and buyers, payable at closing.

But a U.S. District Court decision last year threw the industry into an uproar when a judge said add-on fees violate federal law when there are no specific services performed to justify the extra cost to consumers.

Full story at: http://www.latimes.com/classified/realestate/news/la-fi-harney21-2010mar21,0,5645437.story

Home sellers still asking too much for their houses

By Rachael Lee Coleman         Miami Herald March 19, 2010

MIAMI — Despite months of declining home prices, new data show that sellers are still asking too much for their homes, then slashing prices when the homes don’t sell — a sign that buyers and sellers are still struggling to define fair market value in the aftermath of a boom-and-bust market.

Nineteen percent of the homes on the market nationwide experienced at least one price cut in the last year, selling at an average of 11 percent lower than their original asking prices.

The trend is even stronger in South Florida where the price cuts are more drastic, according to data compiled by Trulia.com, a real estate search database.

In the past year, 23 percent of the Miami-Dade homes on the market had to undergo price reductions to sell. Seventeen percent of the homes in Broward County and 18 percent in Monroe County had at least one price cut.

In some cases, sellers needed to slash tens of thousands — even hundreds of thousands — of dollars off their asking prices.

[End of story: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/03/19/90735/south-florida-home-sellers-still.html]

Dallas-Fort Worth foreclosure filings for April top $1 billion

By Steve Brown        Dallas Morning News March 22, 2010

Commercial property foreclosure filings in the Dallas-Fort Worth area top $1 billion for the upcoming April sales.

That’s much higher than commercial foreclosure posting totals in recent months.

“It’s certainly the highest we’ve seen in this cycle,” George Roddy of Foreclosure Listing Service said Monday.

The Addison-based foreclosure-tracking firm counts 333 D-FW commercial properties scheduled for auction by lenders next month.

During the last few months, the auction totals have averaged about 250.

Full story at: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/stories/032310dnbuscommercial.3b4450f.html

Dallas-area foreclosure filings soar to a monthly record

By Maria Halkias       Dallas Morning News March 19, 2010

Home foreclosure filings soared to a new monthly record in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Foreclosure Listing Service Inc. said Thursday.

Lenders posted 6,168 foreclosure notices for the April auctions – only the second time the area has topped 6,000 in a month, said George Roddy, president of the Addison-based service.

The previous monthly record was 6,072, in July.

April’s postings are 18 percent higher than a year ago and set records for Dallas and Tarrant counties, Roddy said.

“This foreclosure storm is far from over. I expect home foreclosure postings to continue at a high rate for quite some time,” he said.

So far this year, 22,305 residential properties have been posted for foreclosure in Dallas, Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties. That’s up 21 percent from the first four months of 2009 and the highest Roddy said he has seen for the period.

For 13 consecutive months, Dallas County has exceeded 2,000 homes posted for foreclosure.

Fewer than half of the homes scheduled for foreclosure auction each month are sold by lenders. In many cases, the mortgage company is negotiating a debt restructuring with the homeowner and delays taking the house. In other cases, borrowers reach new debt terms or hand over their homes without foreclosure.

Auctions are held the first Tuesday of every month.

[End of story: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/stories/DN-Foreclosure_19bus.ART.State.Edition1.3cf03a9.html]

DFW foreclosure postings continue to soar, new data shows

By Sandra Baker       Fort Worth Star-Telegram March 18, 2010

Residential foreclosure postings in Dallas-Fort Worth continue to soar and Tarrant County is leading the way, a new monthly report shows.

For the April 6 auction, 2,078 postings are filed, a 22 percent increase from the 1,700 postings in April 2009 auction, according to the report issued Thursday by Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service.

In Dallas County, 2,606 postings are filed, a 16 percent increase from the same period a year ago.

“This foreclosure storm is far from over,” said George Roddy Sr., president of Foreclosure Listing Service. “April’s foreclosure posting activity set a new record monthly hight for the over all Dallas-Fort Worth metro, as well as new records in Dallas and Tarrant counties.”

In the metro area, which also included Denton and Collin counties, 6,168 postings are filed for April, an 18 percent increase from the April 2009 postings.

For the first four auctions of the year, 22,305 postings are filed, a 21 percent increase from the same period a year ago.

“This four-month level is the highest that I have ever seen for this period of time,” Roddy said.

[End of story: http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/03/18/2050282/dfw-foreclosure-postings-continue.html]

Austin area home sales up 3.5 percent in February

Austin American-Statesman March 18, 2010

Austin area existing home sales rose 3.5 percent last month from a year earlier, the sixth year-over-year increase in a row.

The Austin Board of Realtors said 1,145 single-family homes were sold last month. The median price was $189,500, unchanged from a year earlier.

There were 1,738 sales in the pipeline to close in March, 24 percent more than a year earlier.

In Central Texas and across the country, home sales have received a boost from a federal tax credit that include $8,000 for first-time buyers and $6,500 for others, with certain income limits.

To qualify, the house must be under contract by the end of April and the closing must occur by the end of June.

Full story at: http://www.statesman.com/blogs/content/shared-gen/blogs/austin/realestate/entries/2010/03/18/austin_area_existing_home_sale.html

Existing house sales improve

Consumers more confident, an expert says

By Lee Anderson         Wichita Falls Record-News March 20, 2010

Existing home sales here continued to improve in February and it appears consumer confidence is improving, an expert said.

The Wichita Falls Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service data showed that 91 existing homes were sold in February, up two from 89 in January — and the sales volume hit the $9,381,605 mark, up $430,151 from $8,951,454 in January.

“The February sales volume was surprisingly less that what I expected,” remarked Michael Detrick, owner of Nortex Realty. “While it was up over the previous month, it was off 25 percent from the same month in 2009.”

Full story at: http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/2010/mar/20/existing-house-sales-improve-the-february-sales/

American Dream in Decline?

By Chris Good        The Atlantic March 15, 2010

The “American Dream” means different things to different people, but according to a new poll from Xavier University Americans think it is increasingly harder to attain, even as they say hard work makes the dream possible.

When asked if it is now harder or easier to attain “the American Dream” than it was for their parents’ generation, 60 percent of Xavier’s 1,022 respondents said it’s getting harder; 68 percent, meanwhile, said it will be even harder for their children than it is for them.

The poll was conducted Feb. 14-21 by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3) for Xavier’s Institute for Politics and the American Dream, reaching respondents over 18 years old via land lines and cell phones. Margin of error was +/-3.1 percent. Xavier plans to release a similar poll every year–today’s was the first.

Full story at: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/03/american-dream-in-decline/37472/

Seattle’s last unnamed places

How the city could enrich and rejuvenate its urban landscape by naming its alleys. It’s a win for both heritage and sustainability.

By Knute Berger Crosscut March 18, 2010

A place isn’t a place until it has a name. As Seattle develops as a city, as neighborhoods get more dense, as the focus on urban design becomes more intense and targeted, what are the the opportunities for giving recognition to new, rehabbed or rediscovered spaces? Doesn’t everything in Seattle — the neighborhoods, the streets, the parks — already have a name?

It turns out, no. And I’d like to propose what I think is an incredible opportunity to link our changing, 21st century sustainable city with a chance to deepen our roots, reconnect with our heritage and further shape our sense of place.

The names of Seattle’s streets are mostly a done deal. Occasionally, we’ll change the name of one, as when Empire Way was renamed for Martin Luther King in 1983. We’ve also added a small assortment of others, like Mary Gates Memorial Drive in Laurelhurst, named for Bill’s mom who was a respected civic dynamo. Or in SoDo, we’ve honored a sportswriter with S. Royal Brougham Way and a former Mariner designated hitter with Edgar Martinez Drive (presumably a line drive double). But given that most of our street names have been in place for a century or more, doesn’t it seem a little odd that the last century or more of our heritage is largely unreflected on the city’s face, contours, and byways, and when it is, it’s left to a rather random assortment of worthies?

Full story at: http://crosscut.com/2010/03/16/mossback/19652/

500 still in FEMA trailers 18 months after Ike

Beaumont Enterprise March 19, 2010

Fewer than 500 families remain in Federal Emergency Management Agency housing about 11/2 years after Hurricane Ike struck Southeast Texas, agency records show.

As of Friday, 495 trailers still were in use, down from a peak of more than 3,700 after the storm which made landfall on Sept. 13, 2008.

About half were scattered across Southeast Texas counties, with a per county count of Chambers, 36; Hardin, 6; Jefferson, 48; Liberty, 12; Orange, 131; and Tyler: 1

The disaster housing program, extended after a state request last year, ends on July 9, FEMA spokesman Ray Perez said.

Trailer occupants will begin paying monthly rent on April 1, based on their finances.

Southeast Texas rents will average about $375, Perez said.

[End of story: http://www.beaumontenterprise.com/news/local/500_still_in_fema_trailers_18_months_after_ike.html]

1,000 sign up for county rebuilding program

By T.J. Aulds Galveston County Daily News March 18, 2010

More than 1,000 homeowners have applied for the county’s Hurricane Ike home reconstruction program, officials said Wednesday.

The pace of application filings has slowed to about 20 a week as the county nears starting construction on the first set of houses.

That rebuilding process should get a bit of a boost today when the county’s five primary contractors have a meet-and-greet session with potential subcontractors at the county courthouse.

Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=5c707b926c1177f7

Voucher plan not included in GHA rebuild count

By Rhiannon Meyers       Galveston County Daily News March 23, 2010

GALVESTON — The Galveston Housing Authority is moving forward with a pilot program that would provide 100 apartments and duplexes for low- to moderate-income residents to live in throughout the island, but the agency won’t be able to count those toward its pledge to replace 569 units of hurricane-damaged public housing.

Under the plan, called the Project Based Voucher Program, the housing authority would provide landlords with subsidies to set aside up to 25 percent of their apartment complexes, town houses or duplex developments for low-income people who qualify for Section 8 government-subsidized housing.

Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=78c975f5ca6fad18

GHA to seek Hope VI grant to rebuild Magnolia

By Rhiannon Meyers       Galveston County Daily News March 21, 2010

GALVESTON — A consultant has recommended Galveston Housing Authority seek federal grants from a public housing revitalization program — called Hope VI — to rebuild the Magnolia Homes development at 1601 The Strand.

Executive Director Harish Krishnarao said the agency would create a steering committee of community leaders to seek the grant to revitalize a site strategically located on the trolley route between The Strand historic district and the University of Texas Medical Branch campus.

http://www.galvnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=057e2e634743da85

Builder faces more lawsuits

Clayton Homes wrongly collected money, suits say

By Denise Malan        Corpus Christi Caller-Times March 20, 2010

CORPUS CHRISTI — A flood of lawsuits against the nation’s largest mobile-home manufacturer started years ago in a law office in Alice.

A woman and her father, under threat of foreclosure on their home, sought the help of the Gutierrez Law Firm. Javier Gutierrez was still in law school and serving as a clerk at his father Baldemar Gutierrez’s firm.

“I discovered there was no way for us to help her, and it was really frustrating for me as a young, idealistic law student,” Javier Gutierrez said.

So the Gutierrezes took a deeper look at the family’s documents. What they found kept their firm busy for years to come. They gleaned that the father, Ricardo Canales, could not recall signing a land deed that was put up as collateral for his daughter’s loan. But someone had signed his name.

Full story at: http://www.caller.com/news/2010/mar/20/builder-faces-more-lawsuits/

City could lower fees for apartment builders

By Sara Foley Corpus Christi Caller-Times March 17, 2010

CORPUS CHRISTI — The city may give developers a break on fees they say deter them from building apartments downtown and in other areas with high land values.

The proposal goes before the Planning Commission Wednesday and the City Council next week. For the past two years, apartment developers have been charged two types of fees aimed at creating park space before they could build. One fee charges them $200 per unit and the other requires them to either donate 1 acre of nearby property for every 200 units they build or pay the city a fee based on how much 1 acre of nearby land would cost.

The proposed change would cap nearby land values, so that the most developers paid per acre is $62,500.

Full story at: http://www.caller.com/news/2010/mar/16/city-could-lower-fees-for-apartment-builders/

Austin weighs how to spend remaining $13 million in housing bond money

Debate hinges on whether money should be spent on homes for low-income buyers or rental housing for homeless and very poor residents

By Sarah Coppola           Austin American-Statesman March 22, 2010

Following a divorce, Sylvia Rodriguez and her two children have lived in her parents’ three-bedroom house for six years. The three cram into one bedroom to sleep and store some belongings in the trunk of Rodriguez’s car.

Next month, Rodriguez and her children will move into a Habitat for Humanity home in Southeast Austin.

“I want that stability and that permanent place where we can feel settled,” said Rodriguez, 34, who works in data entry and will have a mortgage of about $60,000.

Rodriguez’s home was built partly with money Austin voters approved in a 2006 bond measure. The city has spent $42 million of the $55 million bond item, the first in Austin for affordable housing. The City Council is scheduled to set goals Thursday for how to spend the rest. Some housing advocates want the $13 million spent on building homes for low-income buyers; others, on rental housing for homeless and other very low-income people.

Full story at: http://www.statesman.com/news/local/austin-weighs-how-to-spend-remaining-13-million-424990.html

Property Outlaws

New book explores the constructive role of civil disobedience in improving property law.

By David Bollier     On the Commons March 21, 2010

The pantheon of property law generally honors the great virtues of private ownership — while making the case that the public benefits from such arrangements.

Unfortunately, the benefits to the public are often more nominal than real. Drug makers frequently use their patents to extract exorbitant prices for life-saving drug compounds. Tech companies claim exclusive rights to common “business methods” and mathematical algorithms embedded in software. The record and film industries have expanded their copyright monopolies in numerous ways at the expense of the public domain and fair use rights.

As practiced, in short, property law tends to expand private prerogatives and suppress public benefits. Its priorities — to turn ownership into money — often trump those of democracy, community, free expression and life outside of the marketplace.

Full story at: http://www.onthecommons.org/content.php?id=2672