Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation, 2-21-2012

A white paper released by the Fed that offered ways to revive the housing industry has drawn the ire of posturing Republicans in an election year. Among other treatments, the paper suggested reducing the principle on mortgages of “underwater” homeowners, and allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy-down mortgages they did not initiate.

Meanwhile, the Occupy Movement lingers and increasingly focuses on the impact of foreclosures on the 99 Percent. In the wake of the settlement between federal, state and big banks, a new report emerges that shows foreclosure abuse in the norm.

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

Fed’s housing blueprint is lost in din of politics

By Margaret Chadbourn        Reuters        February 21, 2012

WASHINGTON – In mid-2011, with the U.S. economy at risk of a new recession, top Federal Reserve officials began to explore a different way to shore up the recovery: looking for fixes for the battered housing market.

The central bank had just wrapped up $2.3 trillion in bond purchases in an unprecedented attempt to snap the United States out of its economic blues.

But its efforts were being frustrated. With nearly one in four Americans owing more on their mortgages than their homes were worth, millions remained locked out of credit markets and unable to reduce the cost of their loans.

The Fed’s board in Washington gathered a task force of around 30 staff and put them to work far from the public gaze on ways to turn around the worst housing slump in generations.

More than six months later, the central bank surprised lawmakers with a string of proposals, including deploying the firepower of the massive U.S. housing finance agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help struggling homeowners.

But rather than spurring fresh debate among decision-makers in Washington on how to fix the housing market, the Fed put itself in the sights of Republicans angry at what they saw as election-year meddling, an intrusion on Congress’ turf and a veiled attempt to further the Obama administration’s agenda.

“I was truly taken aback when just recently, as you know, the Fed issued an unsolicited white paper … on housing policy where, if you didn’t advocate for, you certainly mirrored much of the positions of this administration,” Republican Representative Scott Garrett told Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Full story at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/21/us-usa-fed-housing-idUSTRE81K06F20120221

Foreclosure abuse rampant across U.S., experts say

By Tim Reid       Reuters        February 16, 2012

A report this week showing rampant foreclosure abuse in San Francisco reflects similar levels of lender fraud and faulty documentation across the United States, say experts and officials who have done studies in other parts of the country.

The audit of almost 400 foreclosures in San Francisco found that 84 percent of them appeared to be illegal, according to the study released by the California city on Wednesday.

“The audit in San Francisco is the most detailed and comprehensive that has been done – but it’s likely those numbers are comparable nationally,” Diane Thompson, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, told Reuters.

Across the country from California, Jeff Thingpen, register of deeds in Guildford County, North Carolina, examined 6,100 mortgage documents last year, from loan notes to foreclosure paperwork.

Of those documents, created between January 2008 and December 2010, 4,500 showed signature irregularities, a telltale sign of the illegal practice of “robosigning” documents.

Robosigning involves the use of bogus documents to force foreclosures without lenders having to scrutinize all the paperwork involved with mortgages. The practice was at the heart of the foreclosure scandal that led to a $25 billion settlement between the U.S. government and five major banks last week.

Full story at:   http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/17/us-usa-housing-defaults-idUSTRE81G04M20120217

Housing and the 99 Percent

By Jonathan Massey        Places        February 14, 2012

They got bailed out, we got sold out! 

They got bailed out, we got sold out! 

They got bailed out, we got sold out! 

Chanted by protesters in Lower Manhattan and beyond during the early weeks of the Occupy Wall Street movement, this slogan captures the growing popular disenchantment with the federal government’s handling of the Great Recession and the foreclosure crisis. While the too-big-to-fail banks and government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have received substantial support in the form of low-cost loans, guarantees and toxic asset purchases, defaulting homeowners have received comparatively little government assistance. Mortgage foreclosures have become a flash point for populist anger over widening income inequality and a growing sense that the richest individuals and corporations are leveraging their wealth to consolidate economic and political power.

The We Are the 99 Percent Project manifests another side of the populist campaign that is challenging the distribution of resources and benefits, opportunities and risks. “We are the 99 percent,” proclaims this Tumblr blog, which started in August 2011. “We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything.” In the past few months, site administrators have uploaded a few thousand self-portraits of visitors to the site, along with images of printed or handwritten notes telling their stories and declaring their opinions.

Full story at: http://places.designobserver.com/feature/housing-and-the-99-percent/32308/

How Rent Control Subsidizes San Francisco’s Super-Rich

A law meant to help the poor and working class will benefit the latest tech boom’s new millionaires

By Scott James        The Bay Citizen        February 16, 2012

Thousands of people are expected to become rich in the latest Bay Area tech boom, and in San Francisco these newly minted millionaires will receive a benefit originally meant to help the poor and working class: rent control.

Not that they have a choice. The law applies to rental apartments built before June 1979, regardless of the tenant’s income. Rent increases are limited to less than inflation — last year the increase was 0.1 percent, an all-time low.

But with an estimated 30 percent of the city’s rental properties owned by mom-and-pop investors with four units or less, an unintended consequence of rent control is becoming more prevalent: people of relatively modest means subsidizing the housing of the extraordinarily wealthy.

Critics say it is just the latest failure of the city’s housing policies.

Full story at: http://www.baycitizen.org/columns/scott-james/how-rent-control-subsidizes-super-rich/

Lowe lone finalist for top GHA post

Galveston County Daily News       February 20, 2012

GALVESTON — Stanley Lowe, a former chief of public housing in Pittsburgh, Pa., has been named the sole finalist for executive director of the Galveston Housing Authority.

The Galveston Housing Authority board will interview Lowe, who is president and chief executive officer of Pittsburgh NeighborhoodPreservation Services, on Feb. 27. The interview will be conducted by housing commissioners in a session that is open to the public.

Lowe was executive director of the Pittsburgh Housing Authority from 1994 to 2001. He managed 450 employees and was responsible for a budget of more than $85 million.

Betty Massey, the chairwoman of the housing authority’s board, said Lowe had a variety of experience, including historic preservation and work in development.She said she thought Lowe’s experience in historic preservation was a good fit for Galveston. Lowe was vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Community Revitalization Department.

“Stanley Lowe was selected from a group of 44 applicants from across the country,” Massey said. “His background and skills developed during more than four decades of work in public housing, community redevelopment and historic preservation made him rise to the top of our list of candidates. Mr. Lowe is a good match for Galveston and the Galveston Housing Authority.”

End of story: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/294250

Leander council backs affordable housing project 

By Benjamin Wermund       Austin American-Statesman      February 16, 2012

LEANDER — The Leander City Council threw its support behind a new low-income housing development Thursday night, unanimously approving the developer’s application for tax credits and funds from the state and resolving to revitalize the area where the development will be located.

The housing development, which is planned for land the city is in the process of annexing at the southwest corner of South Bagdad and Old Quarry roads, will have 250 units, some of which will be reserved for individuals and families whose income is at or below 60 percent of the area’s median income.

Full story at: http://www.statesman.com/news/local/leander-council-backs-affordable-housing-project-2181288.html

Rezoning efforts take the first step

By Josh Baugh        San Antonio Express-News       February 19, 2012

After four hours of impassioned speeches, the City Council approved moving two controversial redevelopment projects — one on the North Side, the other on the Southeast Side — to the Zoning Commission for review.

In both cases, nearby neighborhoods are pitted against developers whose plans would change the local landscape. And in both cases, the councilwomen who represent the areas have sought to rezone the properties into categories that they say are more compatible with the current land uses.

The council listened to homeowners, developers and members of the city’s real estate community.

Several developers, brokers and others told the council that if it took action that ultimately “downzones” the two properties, the city would be sending a message across the nation that San Antonio isn’t a place in which to invest and that city action would represent a “taking” in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“This is a taking,” said Dean Bundrick, president of the Real Estate Council of San Antonio. “You’ve got to stop this now.”

Full story at: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Rezoning-efforts-take-the-first-step-3337820.php

Homelessness among children rises in Midland

By Kathleen Petty        Midland Reporter-Telegram       February 17, 2012

Homelessness in Midland decreased by nearly 18 percent between January 2011 and January 2012, according to the results of a recent survey.

While the Homeless Coalition’s point-in-time survey of Jan. 26 shows overall homelessness is down, nonprofit leaders said the number of children and families living in shelters has increased, indicating the need Midland has for affordable housing.

“We’re in good times around here, and in some ways it shows,” said Linda Hamblin, coalition chairwoman, in discussing the survey results at the group’s meeting on Thursday.

However, “right now the challenge in Midland is just housing,” she said.

Results from the homeless count showed there were 16 adults who were homeless and without shelter on the day of the survey, which is a decrease of 80 percent from 2011. A year ago, 81 individuals were found living behind motels, in parks, in tents or in other outdoor areas on the day of the homeless count.

A total of 85 adults and 83 children were counted as homeless but being sheltered at a nonprofit such as the Salvation Army or Safe Place of the Permian Basin, according to the survey results. In the 2011 count, 79 adults and 56 children were reported as living in shelters, which means there were 32.5 percent more children in shelters this year.

Full story at: http://www.mywesttexas.com/top_stories/article_eea8319c-58eb-11e1-aa8e-001871e3ce6c.html