Bo McCarver’s weekly news compilation, 2-1-2011

Tuesday Report, Feb. 1, 2011

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

The Congressional Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission issued its report that echoes earlier analyses: shaky loans and a “gold rush” mentality in the housing market sparked the recession. Finger-pointing, indifference and ineptitude emerge from the collage of testimonies by bank executives.

The homeless count in Lubbock has been halved from a year go but it’s because they no longer count those in transitional housing.

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

Panel: Negligence, risk-taking fueled economy’s collapse

By Greg Gordon and Kevin G. Hall       McClatchy Newspapers January 27, 2011

WASHINGTON — A divided inquiry panel unveiled its final report on the U.S. financial crisis Thursday, providing the most authoritative account to date of the madness that gripped Wall Street giants packaging risky mortgage securities, the blunders of federal regulators and the contagion that nearly led to a depression.

Even after home prices began their long descent in early 2006, a hard-to-ignore stop sign, the U.S. financial industry created $1.7 trillion in home mortgage-backed securities and other exotic products tied to the loans’ performance, Phil Angelides, the Democratic chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, told a news conference.

Full story at: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/01/27/107546/panel-negligence-worse-fueled.html

Failed subprime giant’s ex-CEO: Company made country better

By Christina Rexrode         Charlotte Observer January 27, 2011

Former Bank of America chief executive Ken Lewis played hardball when the Treasury secretary called. Former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo lamented the “gold rush” mentality that influenced people to buy bigger and bigger homes, and admitted he got caught up in the mania. And former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld couldn’t get Lewis to answer the phone when Lehman teetered near collapse.

Those details and others emerged from a report filed Thursday by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a government-appointed panel meant to root out the causes of the financial crisis. Lewis, Mozilo, and former Merrill CEO John Thain all testified separately to the FCIC in private meetings, and Thursday’s report is the first release of any details of those interviews. Some other banking heavyweights, including current Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, testified at hearings that were open to the public and have already been scrutinized.

Full story at: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/01/27/107584/failed-subprime-giants-ex-ceo.html

Home prices fall again: Eight keys to the housing market future

By Mark Trumbull        Christian Science Monitor January 26, 2011

US home prices fell 1 percent in November compared with the previous month, according to a widely followed 20-city index released by Standard & Poor’s Tuesday. It’s the latest sign that, five years after home prices peaked, the housing market remains an important weak link in the economy. Still, housing experts say 2011 could be a pivotal year when home prices bottom out and a more stable environment begins to emerge. Here’s a look at the key issues.

Full story at: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2011/0125/Home-prices-fall-again-Eight-keys-to-the-housing-market-future/Is-it-going-to-be-a-buyer-s-or-a-seller-s-market

Mayors Fight to Save Block Grant Funding

By Ryan Holeywell        Governance January 24, 2011

Mayors from across the country met with President Obama last week to discuss issues facing their localities. While attendees were pleased to get handshakes and autographs from the president, a burning question lurked in their minds: Will he cut funding for Community Development Block Grants, the federal program that gives billions of dollars to cities to spend on low-income residents?

Such a move could slow down or even eliminate thousands of local and state projects, according to groups such as the National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which was hosting its annual winter meeting in Washington last week.

Full story at: http://www.governing.com/blogs/fedwatch/Mayors-Fight-to-Save-Block-Grant-Funding.html

Why Affordable Housing Matters

By Joel Kotkin         Forbes January 26, 2011

Economists, planners and the media often focus on the extremes of real estate — the high-end properties or the foreclosed deserts, particularly in the suburban fringe. Yet to a large extent, they ignore what is arguably the most critical issue: affordability.

This problem is the focus of an important new study by Demographia. The study, which focuses largely on English-speaking countries, looks at the price of housing relative to household income. It essentially benchmarks the number of years of a region’s household income required to purchase a median-priced house.

Full story at; http://blogs.forbes.com/joelkotkin/2011/01/24/why-affordable-housing-matters/

Green building

Are cities the best place to live? Are suburbs OK? A fight grows in urban planning, with Harvard at the center

By Leon Neyfakh Boston Globe January 30, 2011

A little over two months ago, some two dozen influential architects, urban planners, and academics from around the country gathered at a New Orleans cottage to spend a long weekend discussing strategy. The house belonged to 61-year-old Andres Duany, a leader in the movement known as New Urbanism, which originated in the late 1970s and has enjoyed decades as the dominant force in American city planning, urging Americans to reject suburban subdivisions in favor of denser, more diverse neighborhoods.

The purpose of the summit was to talk about an enemy. A rival faction of urban theorists had begun to publicly challenge them, and declare their approach to city-making obsolete. Calling themselves landscape urbanists, these upstarts were promoting themselves as environmentally conscious, ecologically sophisticated, and uniquely suited to bring sustainability to America’s suburbs. Instead of talking about buildings, street grids, and parks, they spoke seductively about “living processes,” “flows,” and the importance of respecting “ecological infrastructure.” Their ideas were being embraced in the architecture world as radical and new. Most disconcertingly, they were rising to power at one of the most influential architecture academies in the country: the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University.

Full story at: http://www.boston.com/yourtown/cambridge/articles/2011/01/30/green_building/

Will ‘intelligent cities’ put an end to suburban sprawl?

By Haya El Nasser        USA Today January 27, 2010

When the economy was roaring and housing booming, reining in suburban sprawl dominated the development debate under the name of “smart growth.”

Now that the economy and housing have tanked, prompting more people to stay put, growth is taking a back seat. But smarts still matter. The new buzzwords: “intelligent cities.”

“There’s a 15- to 20-year cycle on urban planning terms,” says Robert Lang, urban sociologist at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “Remember ‘urban renewal’? Smart growth is near the end of its shelf life.”

Full story at: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2011-01-28-cities28_ST_N.htm?csp=34news&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+UsatodaycomNation-TopStories+%28News+-+Nation+-+Top+Stories%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

Could El Paso become a model of thoughtful smart growth planning?

By Kaid Benfield       NRDC Switchboard January 26, 2011

If you’re looking for a good example of thoughtful, place-based planning for transit-oriented development (TOD) in a location not yet known for it, you could do a lot worse than Connecting El Paso, a 264-page tour de force vision for parts of the west Texas border city.  The plan was unanimously approved earlier this week by the El Paso city council and described by council member Beto O’Rourke as likely to “result in historic change” for the growing community.

It is certainly impressive.  Connecting El Paso emphasizes that TOD is actually not a new idea in the city, which once had a streetcar system supported by walkable neighborhoods along its corridors.  Now, with a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system and possibly a new streetcar in the city’s future, there is the opportunity to restore lost urban fabric and concentrate on a human-scaled smart growth strategy:

Full story at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/could_el_paso_become_a_model_o.html

Homeless count

By Kellie Bramlet Lubbock Avalanche-Journal January 29, 2011

After the Thursday morning count, organizers estimate Lubbock’s homeless population is less than half of the number accepted last year. Organizers counted 302 homeless people living in the Lubbock area, as of late Thursday afternoon.

Last year, more than 700 homeless people were identified in Lubbock. But this year different criteria was used to determine who was homeless.

Last year people living in transitional housing, including those in substance abuse recovery, were counted as homeless.

This year, they were not counted if they had a home before they entered transitional housing, said Captain Mike Morton, director of the Salvation Army and count organizer.

“”We’re extremely confident that that number is pretty accurate,” Morton said.

Full story at: http://lubbockonline.com/local-news/2011-01-28/homeless-count?v=1296267190

Common scam reaches the Permian Basin

By Trish Powell         Odessa American January 29, 2011

Real-estate scams are prevalent and are showing no signs of going away.

A common form of these scams involves a con artist advertising a house as a rental when it is not. In fact, it’s a house that is actually for sale and being advertised on a legitimate real estate company’s website.

The con artist takes the picture from the website and puts it on his fraudulent website. He advertises on craigslist that the house is for rent, asking for first and last month’s rent. A web address is given to view the house. The prospective tenant checks out the house online and sends the deposit. Many times con artists ask their victims to wire the money.

Once the money is gone there is no getting it back. The con artist is probably in another country and the website is gone. He’s moved on to his next victim.

Full story at: http://www.oaoa.com/articles/common-59396-scams-artist.html

Contractor Bulldozes Wrong House in Paris

KTEN Ada, Oklahoma         January 29, 2011

PARIS, TX–Human error may have caused the wrong home to be bulldozed on Fifth Street N.E. in Paris.

Stone Foster says a family member called him Tuesday after 11:00 AM to tell him that one of his houses was being demolished.

“When I got over there it was already torn down,” Stone Foster said, property owner.

“OMG–oh my God. Dad’s not going to be please with this,” Ronald Foster said, son of property owner.

Full story at: http://www.kten.com/Global/story.asp?S=13923596