Bo McCarver’s weekly news compilation -7/20/2010

Tuesday Report, July 20, 2010
Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

The paradigm of unlimited growth is abandoned by Rust Belt cities that now cope with receding populations and “ghost neighborhoods.” City administrators ponder how to support over-extended infrastructures with shrinking tax bases.

In Dallas, posh mansions are added to the foreclosure phenomenon that is now fashionable among the nation’s rich.

And in Galveston, hurricane victims continue to languish as creative bureaucrats throw-up new hoops for them jump through to get federal and state help for shelter.

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

Fannie Mae to prohibit lenders from changing home appraisals

The mortgage giant addresses complaints that home sales have been sabotaged by arbitrary reductions in appraisers’ valuations.

By Kenneth Harney        Los Angeles Times       July 18, 2010

Washington — Picture this: You’ve signed a contract to sell your house. Your buyers say they’ve nailed down the right mortgage. All is well. But then the appraisal comes in low — $25,000 to $50,000 under what was agreed in the contract.
The buyers refuse to pay a dollar more than the appraisal, you decline to go that low and suddenly the whole deal is off. You, the buyers and the realty agents involved are all left sputtering over the appraisal that scuttled the transaction.
This scenario is not unusual in many markets across the country, say home builders, realty agents and appraisers. One little-publicized reason: Lenders unilaterally may be lowering the numbers on the appraisals submitted to them to avoid accusations that the loans they sell to giant investors Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac are based on inflated appraisals — even slightly inflated. Such value inflations can expose lenders to “buyback” demands, forcing them to repurchase loans at huge costs.

Full story at: http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/la-fi-harney-20100718,0,7456241.story

More million-dollar-plus homes in Dallas area in foreclosure

By Steve Brown        Dallas Morning News       July 16, 2010

The sales listing describes the place as a Tuscan villa. And with 11,536 square feet, that’s not too big a stretch – except it’s in North Dallas, not Italy.

There’s a swimming pool, a two-story guest house and a four-car garage – all on a 1-acre lot.

But what you won’t see is any indication that the posh address is a foreclosure. Earlier this year, lender Eastern Savings Bank took title to the property off Inwood Road after the owner defaulted on a $3.8 million loan.

Now the immaculate mansion is listed for sale with real estate firm Ebby Halliday Realtors at $3.9 million.

“They paid $5 million to construct it, so it’s a good deal,” said agent Cindy O’Gorman. “We’ve had several offers.”

Full story at:  http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/bus/stories/071610dnbusmillion.190c4cb.html

More homes up for auction
Denton County sees increase in homes posted for foreclosure

By Candace Carlisle        Denton Record-Chronicle       July 17, 2010

Denton County foreclosure postings led the pack of the four-county Dallas-Fort Worth area for the August auction and year-to-date.

A total of 561 homes were posted for the county’s foreclosure auction in August, up 5 percent from July, according to information released Friday by Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Services Inc.

Collin, Dallas and Tarrant counties all saw a drop in residential foreclosure postings for August. Overall, Dallas-Fort Worth postings dropped 17 percent for August, with 4,671 homes posted for auction, according to the data.

Full story at: http://www.dentonrc.com/sharedcontent/dws/drc/localnews/stories/DRC_Foreclosures_0717.14901cb65.html

The Incredible Shrinking American City
What Dan Kildee wants America to learn from the sorry tale of Flint, Mich.

By Gordon Young          Slate        July 16, 2010

Dan Kildee is driving with his knees and talking with his hands as his rental car pushes 80 mph on a stretch of Interstate 69 near East Lansing, Mich. But that’s not what scares me. What really gets me nervous is how he insists on eye contact as he discusses his plan for saving the rest of America from the sorry fate suffered by our shared hometown of Flint. “It really comes down to getting people to stop assuming that expansion is always desirable,” Kildee says. “The important thing is how people feel about their city when they stand on their front porch in the morning, not how many people actually live in the city. It’s just irrational to simply pursue growth.”

As we swerve around a familiar Michigan tableau—a dead deer on the side of the highway—Kildee previews the speech he is scheduled to deliver that afternoon on a familiar Michigan imponderable: “The Future of Michigan Cities.” For Kildee, the talk is yet another chance to trumpet what he sees as a common-sense approach to urban planning in an age of decline. Others view it as a radically un-American idea that embraces defeat and limited horizons.

Full story at:  http://www.slate.com/id/2260473/

New members take seats on housing authority board

By Rhiannon Meyers Galveston County Daily News       July 14, 2010

GALVESTON — Three new commissioners took their seats Tuesday on the housing authority board, bringing with them plans to prioritize self-sufficiency among public housing residents.

Paula Neff, James Dennis and Tom LaRue replaced the board’s chairman, Art Mabasa, and commissioners Ray Lewis and Juan Gonzalez. The three new members were appointed by Mayor Joe Jaworski, who replaced ousted District 1 City Councilman Tarris Woods as the housing authority’s ex officio member.

After Neff, Dennis and LaRue were sworn in, former housing authority Director Sharon Strain was elected the new board chairwoman. Neff was elected vice chairwoman.

All three new commissioners said they don’t intend to reverse any policies and projects already approved by housing authority commissioners, including plans to rebuild all 569 units of now-demolished hurricane-damaged public housing.

Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story/162534

Changes delay help for Ike victims

By Rhiannon Meyers and T.J. Aulds       Galveston County Daily News      July 18, 2010

After months living in a government mobile home, James Chance and his wife were looking forward to moving into a new modular house about now. In April, the county announced the Hitchcock couple was second in line to receive an “Ike house” built with federal disaster dollars.

Instead, the Chances remain in the mobile home with what’s left of their partially demolished house in the front yard.

Almost two years after Hurricane Ike, hundreds of area residents still are living in mobile homes and hurricane-damaged houses awaiting assistance from a federal recovery program that has been delayed by changes, red tape and new rules.

“When this all started, they said it would be three days before they started building the new house,” Chance said. “I am not a bit pleased at all. I was at first, but now I am very upset will all of them. I am almost to the point of saying, ‘Forget it.’”

Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story/163370

First Ike house is complete

By T.J. Aulds        Galveston Daily News       July 16, 2010

SAN LEON — There are a few spots that need some caulking, and the furniture isn’t in yet, but on Friday the state’s first Hurricane Ike house was complete.

Inspectors from the county’s disaster housing assistance program toured the house in San Leon with George Fowles and his wife, Laura Jane Weir, and handed over the keys 22 months and three days after Ike destroyed their original house.

It’s been a long wait for the Fowles, who were among the 3,100 applicants for the county’s two disaster housing assistance programs. They spent three months living in a horse trailer and 19 months in a Federal Emergency Management mobile home.

While they were thrilled to have their new house, the move in might not start until after the weekend. Relatives were on vacation, and Fowles said he didn’t feel right making them help with the move.

Officials with Oak Creek Homes, the modular home company that built the house, said it took just 57 days — including weather delays because of Hurricane Alex and a tropical system that struck Mexico — to get the house done.

Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story/163130

FEMA trailers get second use as fixer-uppers

By Anna Tinsely        Fort Worth Star-Telegram       July 18, 2010

FORT WORTH — They were a common and much-maligned sight in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city.
Now, some of the government-owned travel trailers are again serving as temporary living quarters, this time for workers trying to clean up the BP oil spill near Louisiana.

But others are showing up in auctions, on Craigslist or on RV lots nationwide, including at least one in Fort Worth, in some cases with a price of $2,995.

“We get a lot of people in to look at them,” said Doug Kacsir, general manager of McClain’s RV Superstores in Fort Worth, which has more than 30 of the trailers for sale. “People are interested in them.”

Full story at: http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/07/17/2342547/fema-trailers-get-second-use-as.html#my-headlines-default

Changing environment in East Austin?
Shifting demographics, stepped-up engagement from City Hall are raising expectations.

By Asher Price        Austin American-Statesman        July 20, 2010

Just about twice a year during the 1970s, as Israel Lopez grew up in his home on Vasquez Street in Southeast Austin, the front yard would flood with sewage. One Christmas Day in the early 1980s, he was not able to go outdoors until city workers cleaned up the mess, which the family blamed on decrepit city sewer lines.

His mother still lives in the house, which sits across the street from the weedy Montopolis Little League baseball fields \u2013 and Lopez bought a place of his own two doors down. The occasional flooding continued despite what he says were years of calls to the city to replace aging sewer pipes. So it was not much of a surprise to him one day this May when a pool of stinky water appeared in a storm outlet ditch by the ball fields.

“It smelled like dead fish,” said Lopez, 40, but he was dubious anything would be done.

As it happened, Stefan Wray and his wife, Pam Thompson, neighbors who had recently moved in as part of a larger demographic shake-up that has brought more whites and higher-income families to the area, walked by with two city officials whom they were persuading to support a proposed walking trail through a nearby trash-strewn creek. The city officials promptly directed the water to be sucked away by city vehicles.

Full story at: http://www.statesman.com/news/local/changing-environment-in-east-austin-812058.html

Impact of home energy audit rule less than expected
Number of upgrades far below city goal; fears about effect on sales appear overblown.

By Shonda Novak       Austin American-Statesman       July 16, 2010

A year after it took effect, Austin’s requirement that many homes undergo energy audits has not produced the dire effects that some in the real estate industry had feared.

But its impact on energy conservation is debatable.

In 96 percent of the 4,862 audits conducted, the energy auditors recommended at least one improvement. However, only 520 homebuyers or sellers followed through on any of the recommendations.

That is far short of the City Council’s first-year goal of 25 percent of all homes sold getting energy upgrades. More than 9,500 city homes served by Austin Energy were sold in the 11 months that ended in April.

Full story at:  http://www.statesman.com/business/impact-of-home-energy-audit-rule-less-than-807664.html