Bo McCarver’s weekly news compilation 4/13/2010

Tuesday Report, April 13, 2010

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

The citizens of Farmers Branch will forfeit almost $4 million in legal fees that mounted as the municipality attempted to defend ordinances prohibiting renting housing to undocumented tenants. The city is also under fire for violations of the Open Records Act.

A new housing scam is originating in California where large tracts of vacant houses dot the landscape – goons posing as landlords demand cash for keys from prospective tenants who discover after moving in that they have bogus leases.

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

Travel swells cost of housing

Transportation found to offset savings on price

By Eric Mostowitz        Boston Globe April 12, 2010

People who move to an outlying Boston suburb to find affordable housing or to get more house for their money often sacrifice the savings to higher transportation costs, according to a study to be released today by a national planning and land-use organization.

The report, by the Urban Land Institute, is the first to quantify by community not only commuting costs, but the price of daily transportation around often-sprawling suburbs.

When driving costs are added to housing costs, the institute found that, for example, the average household spends more each year in Dracut ($35,643) than in Cambridge ($28,671), and more in Stoughton ($37,513) than in Brookline ($36,846).

Full story at: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/04/12/cost_of_long_commute_offsets_suburbs_bargain_housing_study_finds/

Suburban group reports high home vacancy

Associated Press April 11, 2010

It’s tragic. A house once filled with a family’s laughter now sits vacant with shattered windows among overgrown weeds. As time passes, the blight intensifies.

In these challenging economic times such a sight is all too common in the Southland. In fact, the south suburbs have the highest vacant home rate in the state, according to the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association.

Neglected houses depress property values and breed crime, which is why Southland leaders are tackling the problem head-on. It’s no small task given the numbers of vacant houses are among the highest ever.

Municipalities have adopted tougher laws, such as crime-free housing and vacant-building registration.

Also helpful is a new state law that became effective March 1. It requires that towns be notified when a foreclosure process has begun and when it’s completed. This allows communities to take action before problems arise.

Full story at: http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/04/suburban-group-reports-high-home-vacancy.html

More scam artists posing as landlords

San Francisco Chronicle April 11, 2010

The glut of vacant foreclosed homes has inspired con artists to concoct a new scam: posing as landlords to swindle prospective tenants out of rent and deposit money.

Cases of landlord impersonation have jumped throughout California in the past couple of years, according to sheriffs and legal aid clinics.

“With a lot of foreclosures, the property sits empty for a long period of time,” said Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco. “What we’re finding is that scam artists will come in, change the locks and advertise on Craigslist at a very enticing price. They tell people, if you want to get this deal you need to come back soon with cash for the deposit. People give them the money, sign a lease, get keys and a couple of days later the legitimate owner (an agent for the bank) comes and says, ‘What are you doing here?’ Then they’re out whatever cash they’ve laid out.”

Full story at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/04/11/BU4A1CMVNN.DTL

Home sales to remain unstable

By Carroll Wilson        Temple Daily Telegram April 11, 2010

When the housing bubble burst about two years ago across the nation, this area was affected, but only slightly.

Numbers updated by Texas A&M Real Estate Center show that mid-size Texas cities saw a drop in sales in 2008 and 2009 from 2007. But prices, both averages and medians, held steady.

In states like California, Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Michigan, home sales and prices plummeted in 2007, and they still haven’t recovered.

In Temple and Belton, the largest percentage of homes sold were in the $120,000 to $139,999 price range last year. But, almost the same percentage were sold for between $100,000 and $119,999. About 30 percent of homes sold for $100,000 to $139,999.

Real-estate experts say Texas is not immune to the economic conditions that have affected the rest of the country. But, Dr. Jim Gaines, research economist at the Real Estate Center, said that by avoiding the mid-decade home price bubble, the state also has avoided the end-of-decade home price collapse.

“Prospects for the rest of the year are not encouraging for any type of major improvement for the country or for Texas,” Gaines said. “But we should still continue to fare better than most of the rest of the country.”

[End of story: http://www.tdtnews.com/story/2010/04/11/65434]

Travis property values face first drop since 2003

5.3 percent projected decline would mean a $6.5 billion hit to tax rolls.

By Laylan Copelin and Shonda Novak        Austin American-Statesman April 11, 2010

The recession that wiped out thousands of jobs in Central Texas also erased $6.5 billion from the market value of Travis County properties.

The 5.3 percent drop in values from 2009 was the first decline since 2003, according to preliminary figures from the Travis Central Appraisal District.

The news means tough decisions for local government leaders, who must decide whether to raise tax rates, cut budgets or both to compensate for tens of millions of dollars in lost property tax revenue.

“It means more belt-tightening,” said Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, who presides over the Commissioners Court. “It’ll probably be some combination of cuts and small tax increases.”

Full story at: http://www.statesman.com/business/travis-property-values-face-first-drop-since-2003-545370.html

Dallas-Fort Worth housing starts rose 71% in first quarter from year earlier

By Sandra Baker      Fort Worth Star-Telegram April 9, 2010

Dallas-Fort Worth housing starts soared in the first quarter from a year earlier, signaling recovery in the local home-building industry as many production builders ramped up construction to meet demand spurred by the first-time home buyer tax credit, a Residential Strategies report said Friday.

From January to March, construction began on 4,124 houses, a 71 percent increase from the 2,413 starts recorded in the first quarter of 2009, the report said.

Full story at: http://www.star-telegram.com/

Farmers Branch legal fees could exceed $5 million over ordinance

By Dianne Solis       Dallas Morning News April 9, 2010

Legal fees continue to climb over the Farmers Branch ordinance regulating rentals to illegal immigrants.

The Bickel & Brewer Storefront law firm submitted a bill for $850,000 this week in federal court for its share of costs in the successful challenge to the constitutionality of the ordinance. A second legal team is expected to submit a bill for a similar sum this month.

Already, Farmers Branch has spent $3.2 million to defend itself since September 2006 when it launched the first of three ordinances. The city has budgeted $623,000 for legal expenses through the rest of the fiscal year related to the ordinance defense.

The city also has been sued in state court for alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act involving the crafting of the ordinance.

Full story at: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/040910dnmetfbordinance.22ef83871.html

Walker County CDC nears completion of home

By Scott Atnip       Huntsville Item April 11, 2010

HUNTSVILLE — The Walker County Community Development Corporation is nearing completion of its first home rebuilding project on Old Colony Road and is now working to create a list of possible applicants to purchase this home or participate in future projects.

 The Walker County CDC was created to help revitalize low and moderate income neighborhoods by fulfilling three goals, improving neighborhood safety, assisting with neighborhood cleanup, and improving the stock of low to moderate income housing.Full story at: http://itemonline.com/local/x1687704850/Walker-County-CDC-nears-completion-of-home

Georgia on My Mind

By Paul Krugman       New York Times April 12, 2010

As we look for ways to prevent future financial crises, many questions should be asked. Here’s one you may not have heard: What’s the matter with Georgia?

I’m not sure how many people know that Georgia leads the nation in bank failures, accounting for 37 of the 206 banks seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation since the beginning of 2008. These bank failures are a symptom of deeper problems: arguably, no other state has suffered as badly from banks gone wild.

Full story at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/12/opinion/12krugman.html