Bo’s housing news clips: National home foreclosures and Galveston housing woes are top stories in recent weeks

Tuesday Report, April 17, 2012

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

Wrangling between the Galveston Housing Authority and the General Land Office continues after the authority posited a new plan that would potentially fund market-rate units. The land office now threatens to pursue its own options for rebuilding public housing destroyed three years ago by Hurricane Ike.

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

US home building dropped 5.8 percent to 654,000 in March but permits hit 3 ½ year high.

Associated Press       April 17, 2012

WASHINGTON — U.S. builders started work on fewer homes in March, especially apartments. But builders requested the most permits for future projects in 3½ years, suggesting that many expect the housing market to improve over the next year.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that builders broke ground at a seasonally adjusted annual pace of 654,000 homes last month. That’s down 5.8 percent from February. Apartment construction, which can fluctuate sharply from month to month, fell nearly 20 percent. Single-family homebuilding was mostly unchanged.

Building permits, a gauge of future construction, rose 4.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 747,000. That’s the highest level since September 2008.

Jonathan Basile, director of economics at Credit Suisse, said the increase in permits is a “good sign for broader economic activity” and should lead to increase in construction in the coming months.

Full story at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/us-home-building-dropped-58-percent-to-654000-in-march-but-permits-hit-3–year-high/2012/04/17/gIQADjFpNT_story.html?hpid=z4

One Roof, Three Generations, Many Decisions

By Marilyn Geewax     NPR      April 17, 2012

The Great Recession slammed into all age groups, flattening the career dreams of young people and squeezing the retirement accounts of middle-aged savers. It financially crippled many elderly people who had thought they could stand on their own.

To cope with the hard times that began five years ago, millions of families pulled together — stacking two, three, even four generations on top of one another. Between 2007 and 2009, the total number of Americans living in multigenerational households shot up more than 10 percent, from 46.5 million to 51.4 million.

That’s the largest number of Americans living in multigenerational households in modern history, according to the HYPERLINK “http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/10/03/fighting-poverty-in-a-bad-economy-americans-move-in-with-relatives/”Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research group.

Now, even as the recovery gains steam, record numbers of people are still living under a roof where adult children, middle-aged parents and elderly grandparents must learn to live together.

Full story at: http://www.npr.org/2012/04/17/150365158/one-roof-three-generations-many-decisions

Healthier Eating Starts on the Roof

By Alison Gregor        New York Times       April 17, 2012

WHEN Yarittzi Estevez and her 8-year-old daughter, Aaliyah Rivers, planted collard greens, zucchini, lettuce and strawberries in their HYPERLINK “http://topics.nytimes.com/top/classifieds/realestate/locations/newyork/newyorkcity/brooklyn/?inline=nyt-geo”Brooklyn garden last year, they did not quite know what to expect. But one thing they never anticipated was competition from the native fauna.

“Whatever was outside chewed up those zucchinis,” said Ms. Estevez, who lives in East New York and speculated that the culprit might be a squirrel. “When I went to pull them up, they were all bitten up.”

Hearing a tale of wildlife destroying crops is certainly unusual in HYPERLINK “http://topics.nytimes.com/top/classifieds/realestate/locations/newyork/newyorkcity/manhattan/?inline=nyt-geo”New York City. But opportunities for urban gardening are growing as developers, particularly those building subsidized housing, provide land or roof space for herb and vegetable gardens.

One development is Liberty Apartments at 119 Fountain Avenue in East New York, where Ms. Estevez lives. The low-rise complex, developed by the HYPERLINK “http://www.dunndev.com/”Dunn Development Corporation of Brooklyn, has 43 affordable apartments and, at ground level, seven raised cedar planters, each shared by two tenants.

Full story at:  HYPERLINK “http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/realestate/healthier-eating-starts-on-the-roof.html?_r=2” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/realestate/healthier-eating-starts-on-the-roof.html?_r=2

Is The Era Of Smart Growth Over?

By Bill Fulton      California Planning and Development Report      15 April 2012 – 2:28pm

Is the era of smart growth over?

Not exactly, but a group of panelists at the American Planning Association conference in Los Angeles suggested Sunday that we may be moving past the 2000-era concept of what smart growth is – and into a new era that combines managing growth, placemaking, climate change, demographic change, and the need for economic growth.

“We are truly at the cusp of the next big thing,” said presenter Tim Chapin, a planning professor at Florida State. “We are living in a time when planners and economic development are much more together than they have been in, gosh, decades.”

Shelley Poticha, head of the Office of Sustainable Communities at the Department of Housing & Urban Development, agreed that economic development is a vital part of the emerging new trend. “We need to turn this around to a place-based ED strategy that is very multi-layered,” Poticha said. “Many communities we are working with had economies based on one or two strong sectors and one or both crashed. And so they don’t have much to stand on.”

Full story at: http://www.cp-dr.com/node/3172

GLO concerned about GHA plans to pay for rebuild

HYPERLINK “http://galvestondailynews.com/contact/casanova”By Amanda Casanova        Galveston County Daily News        April 11, 2012

GALVESTON — The Texas General Land Office could recapture millions in federal funding earmarked for the Galveston Housing Authority’s plan to rebuild public housing on the island if the state doesn’t approve a rebuilding and financing plan, a spokesman for the General Land Office said.

But in a meeting this month, Stanley Lowe, executive director of the housing authority, said an amended plan for the rebuild meets the Conciliation Agreement, which dictates how recovery dollars can be spent, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development wouldn’t allow the state to rebuild concentrated public housing.

A spokesman for HUD declined to comment.

The General Land Office, the agency managing the release of federal funds, is concerned about housing authority plans to pay for the rebuild, which includes building mixed-income developments of public housing, tax credit and market rate units, Jim Suydam, press secretary for the General Land Office, said.

Suydam said the state would not consider rebuilding public housing units in Galveston outside of a partnership with the housing authority, but if a “financially sound plan” isn’t approved that meets the Conciliation Agreement, the land office could “consider a number of different options that may or may not keep the funding in Galveston.”

Before the end of the month, the land office will receive a plan and budget for an amended master plan to rebuild 529 public housing units damaged in Hurricane Ike, but state officials said they are worried the housing authority will use taxpayer dollars to pay for the tax credit and market rate units.

Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/305642

Tuesday Report, April 10, 2012

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

The big banks have held-off on foreclosures while they negotiated at $25 billion settlement with the federal government for shafting homeowners. With that behind them, they are set to launch another round of foreclosures that are predicted to exceed those last year.

The Galveston Housing Authority has floated a voucher program to quell critics of their efforts to rebuild public housing destroyed in hurricanes three years ago. The critics are not satisfied, however, nor is the General Land Office that charges the authority with putting public funds in private endeavors.

For a pdf version of the full stories, contact Bo McCarver at bmccarver@austin.rr.com

Federal judge approves $25 billion mortgage pact

By Aruna Viswanatha        Reuters      April 5, 2012

A federal judge approved a $25 billion mortgage settlement with five top U.S. banks over allegations of foreclosure abuses and misconduct in servicing home loans, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer signed the previously announced series of settlements on Wednesday but the approval was not made public until Thursday.

The civil allegations were brought by 49 states and the federal government. The banks did not admit to the accusations.

The five banks: Bank of America; Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase; Wells Fargo and Ally Financial agreed to pay around a total of $5 billion in cash to the federal and state governments.

They also agreed to cut mortgage debt amounts and restructure troubled loans from the pool of loans they service, to meet the rest of their monetary obligations under the settlement.

The government had said its intention was to “remediate harms allegedly resulting from the alleged unlawful conduct.

Full story at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/05/us-mortgage-settlement-idUSBRE8341C820120405

Americans brace for next foreclosure wave

By Nick Carey         Reuters       April 4, 2012

Half a decade into the deepest U.S. housing crisis since the 1930s, many Americans are hoping the crisis is finally nearing its end. House sales are picking up across most of the country, the plunge in prices is slowing and attempts by lenders to claim back properties from struggling borrowers dropped by more than a third in 2011, hitting a four-year low.

But a painful part two of the slump looks set to unfold: Many more U.S. homeowners face the prospect of losing their homes this year as banks pick up the pace of foreclosures.

“We are right back where we were two years ago. I would put money on 2012 being a bigger year for foreclosures than 2010,” said Mark Seifert, executive director of Empowering & Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP), a counseling group with 10 offices in Ohio.

“Last year was an anomaly, and not in a good way,” he said.

In 2011, the “robo-signing” scandal, in which foreclosure documents were signed without properly reviewing individual cases, prompted banks to hold back on new foreclosures pending a settlement.

Full story at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/04/us-foreclosure-idUSBRE83319E20120404

Consumer watchdog proposes crackdown on mortgage companies

By Tony Pugh      McClatchy Newspapers       April 10, 2012

WASHINGTON — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Tuesday will consider a host of new rules that would force the nation’s mortgage servicers to provide greater accountability and transparency in their dealings with borrowers.

Responsible for collecting payments on behalf of mortgage lenders, mortgage servicers typically calculate interest rates on adjustable-rate loans and handle customer service requests about taxes, escrow accounts, foreclosures and loan modifications.

But in the housing meltdown that preceded the Great Recession, mortgage servicers were strongly criticized for providing faulty information to struggling borrowers, failing to correct errors in a timely manner and generally not providing enough assistance to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

New rules being considered by the bureau would make it easier for borrowers to get information from and communicate with their loan servicers.

Full story at: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/04/09/144637/consumer-watchdog-proposes-crackdown.html

In foreclosures, Occupy groups see a unifying cause

By Nick Carey      Reuters        April 9, 2012

Mercedes Robinson-Duvallon turned 83 in February, but there was little time for celebration.

On her birthday, as she sat in a wheelchair recovering from surgery, sheriffs’ deputies arrived to evict her from the Miami home where she has lived since 1966. A year earlier her property had moved into foreclosure after she defaulted on a refinanced loan.

Robinson-Duvallon says she would be homeless now but for the intervention of about 40 members of Occupy Fort Lauderdale, a Florida branch of the national movement that is protesting income inequality and corporate greed. The group took over her lawn and house and even baked her a birthday cake.

The deputies decided to let her stay.

“I owe the Occupy people,” said Robinson-Duvallon, who is now challenging the eviction in court. “This has all been so horrible, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried and cried.”

What happened in Miami is also occurring in Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Minneapolis, as local Occupy groups pursue an issue they believe has emotional resonance among America’s struggling lower and middle classes.

Full story at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/09/us-usa-occupy-foreclosures-idUSBRE8380NO20120409

Investors Are Looking to Buy Homes by the Thousands

By Motoko Rich       New York Times      April 5, 2012

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — At least 20 times a day, Alan Hladik walks into a fixer-upper and tries to figure out if it is worth buying.

As an inspector for the Waypoint Real Estate Group, Mr. Hladik takes about 20 minutes to walk through each home, noting worn kitchen cabinets or missing roof tiles. The blistering pace is necessary to keep up with Waypoint’s appetite: the company, which has bought about 1,200 homes since 2008 — and is now buying five to seven a day — is an early entrant in a business that some deep-pocketed investors are betting is poised to explode.

With home prices down more than a third from their peak and the market swamped with foreclosures, large investors are salivating at the opportunity to buy perhaps thousands of homes at deep discounts and fill them with tenants. Nobody has ever tried this on such a large scale, and critics worry these new investors could face big challenges managing large portfolios of dispersed rental houses. Typically, landlords tend to be individuals or small firms that own just a handful of homes.

Full story at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/business/investors-are-looking-to-buy-homes-by-the-thousands.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2

Homebuilding increases for third straight quarter in North Texas

By Sandra Baker      Fort Worth Star-Telegram     April 4, 2012

The number of new homes under construction was up in the first quarter compared to a year ago, the third straight quarter that new home builders have increased the number of homes they are building, the result of strong sales orders, Metrostudy said Wednesday.

“The increasing sales should lead to larger increases in starts over the next two quarters as backlogs are beginning to build for homebuilders,” said David Brown, director of Metrostudy’s Dallas-Fort Worth office. Metrostudy tracks home-building activity in North Texas.

“The first three months of the year are reinforcing our forecast that 2012 will be the first year of recovery in the Dallas-Fort Worth housing market,” he said.

Full story at: http://blogs.star-telegram.com/dfwjobs/2012/04/homebuilding-increases-for-thrid-straight-quarter-in-north-texas.html

Housing authority amends master plan

By Amanda Casanova         Galveston County Daily News      April 5, 2012

GALVESTON — An amendment to the Galveston Housing Authority’s plan to rebuild public housing will change the scope of work on the debated mixed-income development project and could shift the long-running fight over public housing on the island.

The housing authority board of commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday for the change, which would incorporate housing choice vouchers, eliminate a scattered site initiative and slash about 250 total units from the original plan. 

Commissioner Teresa Banuelos was absent.

Under the amended plan, 170 families of the original 569 public housing residents who lost their homes in Hurricane Ike and have transferred to a housing choice voucher program will stay in the program that allows residents to choose where they live and use vouchers to subsidize their rent.

The 170 families, which the board is requesting the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development approve as permanent tenant or project-based vouchers, will count toward the housing authority’s commitment to rebuild the 569 units, thus cutting the number of total units proposed in a controversial mixed income development plan by about 250.

Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/304498

GHA critics: Change is not enough

By Amanda Casanova      Galveston County Daily News      April 8, 2012

GALVESTON — Amid changes to the Galveston Housing Authority’s plan to rebuild public housing, critics of the housing authority said the change isn’t enough, while the state is concerned the federal funds could be improperly used to pay for the developments.

The discussion comes after the housing authority board of commissioners voted last week to amend the master plan to incorporate housing choice vouchers, eliminate a scattered site initiative and cut about 250 total units from the original plan. 

Within a few weeks, the Texas General Land Office, the entity managing the release of federal funds, will receive a plan and budget for the amended plan, but Jim Suydam, press secretary for the General Land Office, said Thursday the housing authority cannot use “taxpayer dollars and give them to subsidize a private development, built by an out-of-state developer.

“It is important to remember the whole idea here is to replace the public housing units that were destroyed by hurricanes Ike and Dolly — years ago now — not turn public money into private profit,” he said.

But officials with the housing authority said financing mixed-income developments is complex, and while the housing authority has amended the master plan for the rebuild, federal money will be used only to build public housing units.

“Mixed income developments have complex financing,” Betty Massey, chairwoman of the board, said. “You’ve got private debt, CDBG disaster money, insurance funds, private equity created by the sale of low income tax credits.

“For the GLO to think we’re using CDBG money to build market rate units is not true.”

Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/305130

Advocates question affordable housing plans for Green redevelopment downtown

By Sarah Coppola and Shonda Novak      Austin American-Statesman       April 4, 2012

The Austin City Council is slated to decide today whether to sell a valuable downtown block to the firm Trammell Crow to redevelop into shops, offices, apartments and more — one of the biggest projects ever built downtown.

But housing advocates say the affordable housing Trammell Crow plans to include — 87 out of 826 apartments rented at low rates for seven years — is inadequate. They say it falls short of other city housing policies and of the offer Trammell Crow made in 2008, when it won the right to negotiate a development deal for the 4.4-acre site, once home to the now-dismantled Green Water Treatment Plant.

Full story at: http://www.statesman.com/news/local/advocates-question-affordable-housing-plans-for-green-redevelopment-2284048.html

Bond funds have yielded more affordable housing in Austin

By Sara Coppola       Austin American-Statesman       March 31, 2012

Six years after Austin voters approved $55 million in bond money for affordable housing, 1,000 apartments, condos and single-family homes offered at below-market rates have been built, renovated or repaired. An additional 1,400 units are under construction or in the planning stages.

When all of it is completed, Austinites — who pay off bonds through their property taxes — will have spent nearly $22,000 per housing unit.

The 2006 bond election was the first in Austin to include money for housing alongside typical bond projects such as new parks and sidewalks. The housing measure passed with 62 percent of the vote.

Housing advocates said that the money has begun to curb a shortage of low-income housing but that the need continues to grow.

Full story at; http://www.statesman.com/news/local/bond-funds-have-yielded-more-affordable-housing-in-2273199.html

City unanimously approves ban on panhandling

By Steve Knight      Lufkin News      April 4, 2012

The Lufkin City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the final reading of an ordinance prohibiting panhandling and solicitation of vehicle occupants on city roadways.

City officials have been citing an increase in solicitation by individuals from vehicle occupants in traffic on public streets, which could threaten the safety and welfare of vehicle occupants and pedestrians, as a reason for introducing the measure.

“This is simply an attempt to provide better protection to our driving public and also the pedestrians that are in the medians or areas of danger,” City Manager Paul Parker told council members.

“We went through all the aspects of this while we’re still trying to protect the First Amendment rights of everyone and protect those in the driving lanes and the driving public. We believe this ordinance does that.”

Full story at: http://lufkindailynews.com/news/local/article_2671e220-7e04-11e1-a9f5-0019bb2963f4.html

Tuesday Report, April 3, 2012

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

Edward DeMarco, the interim regulator over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is referred to as a “random idiot” for not instructing the quasi-governmental lending agencies to lower principles on distressed mortgages. The regulator is targeted as the single, most influential official impeding the housing recovery.

Meanwhile, Galveston residents whose homes were rebuilt with federal assistance find the rehabilitated houses come with stacks of liens from contractors who remain unpaid.

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

Federal regulator stands by his principles on principal reduction

Edward J. DeMarco, who oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has infuriated many by refusing to tell the home loan giants to reduce the amounts owed by distressed homeowners.

By Jim Puzzanghera        Los Angeles Times        March 29, 2012

WASHINGTON — A little-known career bureaucrat temporarily filling a key government job has emerged as the person with the most impact on the nation’s battered housing market — and is rapidly making enemies.

As the regulator over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which own or back 60% of the nation’s mortgages, Edward J. DeMarco is considered by a growing number of people to be the single biggest obstacle to the housing market recovery for opposing the use of a major foreclosure prevention measure.

DeMarco, interim director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, won’t instruct the government-owned companies to lower loan principals for distressed homeowners, as many banks nationwide have been doing.

Kamala D. Harris, attorney general for California, the nation’s largest distressed real estate market, and many congressional Democrats want DeMarco replaced. Some have been especially sharp in their criticism. “Here’s some random idiot who ends up in charge of this agency, who is doing actual damage to the housing industry and my constituents,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). “He is intransigent, incompetent and should be removed.”

Full story at: http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-demarco-mortgages-20120330,0,4740514.story?page=2

Forecast Upbeat on Housing Recovery

By Stefonos Chen        Wall Street Journal       March 29, 2012

The housing market may finally be on the path to a sustainable recovery, according to a new report, but it’s not the cork-popping celebration many under-water homeowners may have hoped for.

The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit land-use think tank, released on Wednesday its real-estate forecast for the next three years, which shows some encouraging trends in both the residential and commercial sectors through 2014.

The survey, which compiled the opinions of 38 real-estate economists and analysts, many of whom are members of ULI, reflects the panel’s median forecast on 26 economic indicators dating back to 2009. Projections are based on data from 2009 to 2011.

Most heartening for builders, the panel predicts that single-family housing starts will jump by 2014, from 428,600 in 2011 to a projected 800,000 in 2014. As demand improves, home prices may rise as soon as 2013 and prices could tick up by 3.5% after the third year.

Full story at: http://blogs.wsj.com/developments/2012/03/28/forecast-upbeat-on-housing-recovery/

Austin housing market on upswing, Industry expert says

By Shonda Novak        Austin American-Statesman       March 28, 2012

Thanks in part to healthy job growth, the Austin area’s housing market is on the upswing, an industry expert said Wednesday.

The optimistic local forecast from Eldon Rude also included encouraging signs for other metro areas around the country.

“In the last six to nine months, we’ve seen a turn not only in Austin, but in other markets in the U.S.,” said Rude, director of the Austin market for Metrostudy, which tracks about 40 markets in the United States. “We’re beginning to see a pulse in the housing market.”

Rude’s comments were made to a group of real estate developers and other businesspeople at an event on residential housing trends sponsored by the Urban Land Institute’s Austin chapter.

Locally, Rude said, “very strong” job growth — 26,800 net new jobs were added from January 2011 to January 2012, a 3.5 percent growth rate — has been a key driver of demand for housing, Rude said.

Full story at: http://www.statesman.com/business/austin-housing-market-on-upswing-industry-expert-says-2268365.html

Homeowners in Ike program facing liens

By Amanda Casanova        Galveston County Daily News       April 1, 2012

GALVESTON — Months after moving out of their home, Ramona and her husband, Gary Cammarn, are settling back into their house — a reconstructed home in the city’s disaster housing recovery program. 

Their front yard doesn’t drain properly and some pipes still are exposed, but Ramona Cammarn said she’s more worried about the liens on her house and the thousands of dollars in bills she’s received from subcontractors.

Documents show about $22,000 in bills from a construction supply store, about $4,000 from a window company and another $8,000 due to an aerobic septic system company. 

“It’s scary to get these letters,” Cammarn said.

For months, the multimillion-dollar disaster housing program, which is meant to rebuild or rehabilitate homes damaged during Hurricane Ike in 2008, has been criticized by residents long displaced from their homes. While homeowners said their houses weren’t getting built, contractors and suppliers said they weren’t getting paid.

Nearly 200 payouts to contractors and their subcontractors were behind in January, said Mark Howard, senior program manager at URS, which is the new program administrator, and by early March, about half of those outstanding bills had been paid.

Subcontractors mailed out thousands of dollars in bills to homeowners to collect, and some homeowners in the program, mostly low-income residents, who haven’t been able to pay the bills have received notice of a lien being placed on their home.

Full story at: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/303470