Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compliation – 10/22/2008

This week we learned how Freddie Mac administrators thwarted a bill that would have provided the oversight to possibly avoid the present mortgage mess. Republican senators and other party leaders were able to derail the corrective legislation.

Meanwhile, FEMA continues to putter and fumble in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Coastal residents are still camping in tents and cars while FEMA mobile homes set idly hundreds of miles away.

Faced with an estimated $8.5 billion in storm damages, coastal residents hoping to rebuild are running into a myriad of obstacles: rules forcing them to built above the flood plain which requires substantially more money than what the insurance damages total.

And the future of public housing in Galveston looks bleak as officials fence off damaged properties from families trying to return to their homes.

For a pdf file of the full stories, plus contextual articles in social, environmental and political areas, contact Bo McCarver at

Mortgage firm arranged stealth campaign
By Pete Yost        
Associated Press       October 18, 2008
WASHINGTON  — Freddie Mac secretly paid a Republican consulting firm $2 million to kill legislation that would have regulated and trimmed the mortgage finance giant and its sister company, Fannie Mae, three years before the government took control to prevent their collapse.

In the cross hairs of the campaign carried out by DCI of Washington were Republican senators and a regulatory overhaul bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. DCI’s chief executive is Doug Goodyear, whom John McCain’s campaign later hired to manage the GOP convention in September.

Millions of Homeowners Are in Desperation Mode — Help Them, or This Crisis Gets a Lot Worse
By Joseph Nocera          New York Times       October 19, 2008
Now that the government has “saved” Wall Street — at least for the moment — hasn’t the time finally come to save Main Street too?

The Treasury Department just pumped $125 billion into the country’s largest financial institutions, and it promises to use another $125 billion — more, if necessary — to recapitalize regional and community banks. They are vital steps. This week, at long last, the credit markets thawed, at least a little, and the global recapitalization of the banking system is the reason.

But the job isn’t done yet. The government now needs to tackle what R. Glenn Hubbard, the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Bush, calls “the elephant in the room”: the continuing decline of housing prices. That decline means more and more homeowners are saddled with “impaired mortgages” (to use the current lingo), meaning their homes are worth less than what they owe on them. They didn’t necessarily do anything wrong; they just bought a house near the peak of an unsustainable bubble. Now they have little economic incentive to keep making mortgage payments.

Ike toll on county homes $8.5 billion
Report indicates it will be far costlier than any other recent storm in the area
By Mike Snyder      Houston Chronicle     October 21, 2008
Hurricane Ike caused about $8.5 billion in damage to Harris County houses, apartments and mobile homes, according to a preliminary estimate being released today.

The report by the Harris County Housing Authority indicates that Ike will be far costlier than any other Houston-area storm in recent memory.

FEMA blamed for slow housing response to Ike
Associated Press       Oct. 19, 2008
HOUSTON – Thousands remain homeless weeks after Hurricane Ike lashed the Texas coast because of what the state calls a federal “bureaucratic logjam” slowing the delivery of temporary housing.

Frustrated officials in areas flattened by Ike are also piling blame on the Federal Emergency Management Agency as families continue living in tents and sleeping in cars more than a month after the storm.

Public housing loses its place
Isle hasn’t said whether it will rebuild complexes hit by Ike

By Rom Khann         Houston Chronicle        Oct. 18, 2008
GALVESTON – For 27 years, Sarah Horn anchored her life at Oleander Homes, a hulking public housing project that dominates several city blocks on the island’s east end with its stark, low-slung buildings and fenced-off courtyards.

She knew its pulse and patterns, which neighbors to trust, which city buses to board. Even when she went blind in February, she lived on her own, her means modest but her determination to be independent strong.

Hurricane Ike forced her out, along with hundreds of other people like her.
“I can’t even see what I have lost,” the 51-year-old said last week from her sister’s wind-damaged apartment, where she is staying for now. “I just want to go back to something that is familiar.”

About 2,200 Galveston families live in public housing or subsidized apartments, according to the Galveston Housing Authority. Hurricane Ike scattered them to hotels, cramped quarters with family members and the Red Cross tent city on the island.

But with the search for longer-term housing comes a larger question: What part, what place, will Galveston’s poor have in the city’s revival – if any?

Scant help to rebuild houses
By Leigh Jones       Galveston County Daily News     October 19, 2008
GALVESTON – Federal, state and local officials have little comfort for property owners who will not get enough money from insurance companies to rebuild their houses and make them comply with the city’s current floodplain management rules.

The National Flood Insurance Program will only pay for damages caused by Hurricane Ike, which left just 25 percent of island homes untouched when it came ashore on Sept. 13.

But many property owners will need much more money to start rebuilding.

Those who can qualify for federally backed, low-interest loans will have to take on more debt to cover the difference.

Damaged properties still taxed
By Rhiannon Meyers      Galveston County Daily News      October 18, 2008
Owners still will owe taxes this year on homes and commercial buildings that were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Ike.

Tax bills, which will start arriving next week, won’t reflect changes in property value since the hurricane made landfall a little more than a month ago.

Some homes in devastated communities unscathed by Ike
By Christine Rappleye          Beaumont Enterprise        October, 12, 2008
When Carl and Cheryl Snider of Sabine Pass came back after Hurricane Ike last month, they found their home standing, with no signs of storm surge inside.

Their ground-story garage was damaged, and the water line on their pilings was 2 feet from the home, which sits 17 feet above sea level.

But the home was one of a few high enough to avoid the flood water relatively unscathed.
It’s a stark contrast to other homes in the community, which Ike washed away, muddied or damaged in some way on Sept. 13 with its 14-foot storm surge.

Realtors hope Ike spikes home sales
By Heather Nolan        Beaumont Enterprise         October, 16, 2008
Home sales may be dwindling across the country, but Beaumont Realtors are hoping a Hurricane Ike effect will help the city avoid the same fate.

Diane McNelis, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Southern Homes, said Beaumont saw an increase in home sales following Hurricane Rita, and Hurricane Ike might have a similar affect.

Ike unemployment aid deadline extended to Nov. 12
By Ryan Clark      Beaumont Enterprise       October, 15, 2008
BEAUMONT – The Disaster Unemployment Assistance deadline has been extended to Nov. 12, the Texas Workforce Commission said in a release today.

Flood damage causes buyouts, new regulations
By David Tewes          Victoria Advocate      October 19, 2008
The Olvera family felt like it was slapped in the face twice in 1998.
First the record Guadalupe River flood destroyed nearly everything they owned when it soaked their home at 504 S. Victoria St.

Then the city of Victoria showed up and wouldn’t let them repair the damage until they elevated their house above the floodplain to lessen the flood threat.

Robert Olvera remembers his mom, Maria, being upset.

It was tough enough financially losing her possessions, but then she had to dig into her pockets again to pay for raising the house.

Unwanted subdivisions are our modern-day ghost towns
By Danny Westneat        Seattle Times       October 14, 2008
STEVENSON, Skamania County – They’re so behind the times down here there’s not one stoplight in the entire county. And that’s a big point of pride.

So a couple of years ago, when developers started building two new subdivisions – the kind where the homes have granite countertops and price out north of $600,000 – it seemed like a mirage.
Prosperity, long a stranger here, was moving into one of the poorer counties in the state.
“We thought: If we build it, they will come.”

That’s David Bennett, an exuberant 56-year-old builder who figured the Columbia Gorge was a can’t-miss opportunity.

He’s now out a quarter-million bucks. He built 22 homes, out of 73 planned, before the project collapsed, a victim of the housing and banking meltdown.

Vigil puts focus on Lubbock’s homeless problem
By Jeremy Henderson       Lubbock Avalanche-Journal      October 19, 2008
The citizens of Lubbock who call the sidewalks of the Mahon Library home had company over last night. Many brought sleeping bags and stayed until morning.

Starting just after 8 p.m. and lasting until almost 10 p.m. – nearly an hour longer than scheduled – leaders of several local ministries and agencies, as well as hundreds of concerned citizens, offered prayers and laments for the city’s homeless population during a vigil intended to raise awareness of what organizers see as a rising problem.