Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 1/5/2010

The nation’s foreclosure rates are far outpacing federal efforts to modify loans. After nine months of efforts to restructure vulnerable mortgages, less than five percent have been salvaged.

Meanwhile, Congress has eased restrictions on federal emergency funds and is allowing cities to use the money to leverage funds from other federal and state programs. In Galveston, the housing authority has finally submitted a plan to HUD to rebuild devastated units. Many area residents remain unaware of federal assistance to rebuild their homes.

For a pdf version of the full stories, plus contextual articles in social, environment and legal areas, contact Bo McCarver at

Mortgage foreclosures still swamping federal efforts to help

By Chris Adams       McClatchy Newspapers        January 3, 2010

WASHINGTON — Banks and other lenders are still foreclosing on Americans’ homes at a rate that’s outpacing the Obama administration’s main effort to stem the crisis.

In fact, while the Treasury Department’s Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, has started the mortgage modification process on almost 760,000 homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes, less than 5 percent of those workouts have become permanent, government data show.

“HAMP has made only limited progress for nine months now, and the residential foreclosure crisis continues to mount,” said Richard Neiman, the superintendent of banks in New York state and a member of the Congressional Oversight Panel that was formed to monitor the Treasury bank bailout funds that support the mortgage program. He was appointed to the post by the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives.

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Mortgage rates end the year above 5 percent

Associated Press December 31, 2009

McLEAN, Va. — Mortgage rates rose for the fourth straight week, ending the year above 5 percent.

The average fixed rate on a 30-year mortgage was 5.14 percent this week, up from 5.05 percent last week, Freddie Mac said Thursday.

Mortgage rates are closely tied to yields on long-term government debt. The average fixed rate on 30-year mortgages has steadily risen since hitting a record low of 4.71 percent the week of Dec. 3.

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Bernanke Says Low Rates Didn’t Cause Housing Bubble

By Scot Lanman         Bloomberg January 3, 2010

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the central bank’s low interest rates didn’t cause the past decade’s housing bubble and that better regulation would have been more effective in limiting the boom.

“The best response to the housing bubble would have been regulatory, rather than monetary,” Bernanke said today in remarks to the American Economic Association’s annual meeting in Atlanta. The Fed’s efforts to constrain the bubble were “too late or were insufficient,” which means that regulatory actions “must be better and smarter,” he said.

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Indians buy back land, put it in federal trust

Timberly Ross         Associated Press January 3, 2010

Indian tribes tired of waiting for the U.S. government to honor centuries-old treaties are buying back land where their ancestors lived and putting it in federal trust.

Indians say the purchases will help protect their culture and way of life by preserving burial grounds and areas where sacred rituals are held. They also provide land for farming, timber and other efforts to make the tribes self-sustaining.

Tribes put more than 840,000 acres – or roughly the equivalent of the state of Rhode Island – into trust from 1998 to 2007, according to information the Associated Press obtained from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs under the Freedom of Information Act.

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Homeowners forced to buy flood insurance after FEMA redraws maps

It’s part of an ongoing effort to update the list of high-risk areas. But the changes have met with resistance from tens of thousands of Southern California residents now being forced to buy coverage.

Los Angeles Times January 4, 2010

Tens of thousands of homeowners in Southern California are being forced to buy costly flood insurance because new maps issued by a federal agency say they live in a high-risk flood area.

The federal government has informed property owners in more than 150 cities and unincorporated areas in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties about the new requirement. Most live near rivers and creeks, below dams or in low- lying areas that are at greater risk of flooding than previously believed, according to maps developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Premiums range from $500 to more than $1,700 a year. Insurance is mandatory for anyone with a federally backed mortgage, and lenders will typically buy policies, sometimes at a higher cost, for property owners who fail to do so on their own. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac own or guarantee more than half of all U.S. mortgages.

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Public housing plans go to feds for review

By Rhiannon Meyers        Galveston County Daily News January 3, 2010

GALVESTON — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will scrutinize Galveston Housing Authority’s plan to rebuild 569 hurricane-damaged public housing units to ensure public housing isn’t concentrated in one area, but the agency declined to comment further until it receives the agency’s redevelopment plans.

Like all reviews of redevelopment plans, the federal housing department will “want to see a housing plan that provides quality housing opportunities for all the residents, with good neighborhood amenities, and avoids concentration of the housing in any one area,” agency spokesman Brian Sullivan said.

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Ike victims unaware of home repair assistance

By T.J. Aulds        Galveston County Daily News January 3, 2010

SAN LEON — Gary Browning’s house always has been a work in progress. For more than 30 years, the Vietnam War veteran had been remodeling and expanding the two-story structure.

Even after Hurricane Ike pushed 6 feet of water through the lower floor where he was living as he was remodeling the top floor, Browning thought repairing the house was something he could tackle on his own.

Not any more.

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Law eases restrictions on federal recovery funds

By Rhiannon Meyers         Galveston County Daily News January 1, 2010

A new federal law will allow the city and county to use federal disaster recovery dollars to leverage other federal grants, potentially saving area taxpayers millions of dollars.

In the past, restrictions on federal Community Development Block Grant dollars prevented cities and counties from using those dollars as a local match for other federal money. The new rule, approved in the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act, lifts those restrictions for communities that were hard hit by Hurricane Ike and other natural disasters in 2008.

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HUD gives $1.29M to island homeless programs

By the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Special to the Galveston County Daily News January 3, 2010

GALVESTON — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it will renew grant funding to keep 222 Texas homeless assistance programs operating, including those in Galveston.

The department awarded $1.29 million to The Children’s Center Inc., the Gulf Coast Center and Women Opting for More Affordable Housing Now — or WOMAN Inc. — to fund transitional and permanent housing programs.

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Community neighborhood revival is under way in Abilene

By Emily Peters       Abilene Reporter January 2, 2010

A nonprofit organization is seeking four qualified families to purchase subsidized homes in the North Park subdivision of Abilene, where residents say the older neighborhood has bloomed with a new community spirit in recent years.

Connecting Caring Communities has plans to build as many as 10 new homes, a public park and a new neighborhood Friendship House on a centralized lot that used to hold Milam Elementary School just north of Hardin-Simmons University.

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Saving Texas Dance Halls, One Two-Step At A Time

By John Burnett        NPR January 3, 2010

Dance halls throughout Central Texas have been dying off from decay and disuse. The best way to save them? “Dance in them,” says Patrick Sparks, a structural engineer and president of Texas Dance Hall Preservation Inc.

“My view is that the dance halls are the most Texas thing there is,” Sparks says. “You get a look back at 19th-century Texas and the European immigrants that came and formed such a strong part of our character.”

Texas was home to an estimated 1,000 dance halls in their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. Today, there are about half that many; most are moldering away in rural areas.

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The Burj Dubai and architecture’s vacant stare

Los Angeles Times January 3, 2010

One of the odder, more complicated moments in the history of architectural symbolism will arrive Monday with the formal opening of the Burj Dubai skyscraper. At about 2,600 feet high — the official figure is still being kept secret by developer Emaar Properties — and 160 stories, the tower, set back half a mile or so from Dubai’s busy Sheikh Zayed Road, will officially take its place as the tallest building in the world.

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Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation 12/29/09

The nation continues to pay the price for the heady days of the housing boom as more homeowners walk away from their “underwater” houses and leave them to the banks. As the foreclosures soar, local news editors gloss the dismal market in rosy phrases such as: “not as bad as expected,” and “better than projected.”

In Galveston, the housing authority finally settles on a rebuilding plan that seems to please no one. Public hearings continue into January as factions press for their plans.

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

U.S. Treasury Ends Cap on Fannie, Freddie Lifeline for 3 Years

By Rebecca Christie and Jody Shenn        Bloomberg December 25, 2009

The U.S. Treasury Department will remove the caps on aid to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for the next three years, to allay investor concerns that the companies will exhaust the available government assistance.

The two companies, the largest sources of mortgage financing in the U.S., are currently under government conservatorship and have caps of $200 billion each on backstop capital from the Treasury. Under a new agreement announced yesterday, these limits can rise as needed to cover net worth losses through 2012.

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Slight Rise in Home Prices Masks Signs of Weakness

By David Streitfeld         New York Times December 29, 2009

Home prices rose modestly in October, mostly because of a flood of buyers seeking to take advantage of the government’s offer of a tax credit, data released Tuesday showed.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index, a widely watched measure of the housing markets in 20 metropolitan areas, rose 0.4 percent from September on a seasonally adjusted basis. It was the fifth consecutive month that prices were up.

Underneath this apparent good news were some disquieting signs of deterioration, however.

But seasonal adjustments tend to hide any weakness in the cooler months, when fewer houses are sold. On an unadjusted basis, the index was flat in October.

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Dallas-Fort Worth home prices dip slightly

By Steve Brown       Dallas Morning News December 29, 2009

Dallas-Fort Worth home prices were down by just a whisker in the latest gauge of the U.S. housing market.

D-FW homes prices fell 0.6 percent in October from a year earlier in the latest Standard & Poor’s/ Case-Shiller Home Price Index released Tuesday.

The dip in local home prices was the half the decline a month earlier and the lowest year-over-year drop since September 2007 in the closely-watched report.

The D-FW decline was also one of the lowest in the country and a fraction of the 7.3 percent overall price drop in the 20 cities Case-Shiller measures each month.

And on a seasonally adjusted basis, D-FW prices were flat in October.

While home prices statistics continue to improve in North Texas, that isn’t the case in some of the nation’s housing markets, Case-Shiller analysts said.

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Commercial real estate foreclosures more than double in Austin area

Group expects levels to remain throughout 2010

Austin American-Statesman December 29, 2009

Commercial real estate foreclosures more than doubled in the Austin metropolitan area in 2009, outpacing the rates of several other major Texas cities.

A study of foreclosure postings by Foreclosure Listing Service Inc. indicated a 108 percent increase from 2008 in commercial real estate foreclosures in the Austin area.

The service reported that 851 postings were filed on commercial properties in 2009. Last year, there were 410 listings.

George Roddy Sr., president of Foreclosure Listing Service, said he expects commercial foreclosures to remain at the current level — or perhaps higher — throughout 2010.

He added that the numbers do not mean necessarily that the commercial property market is in a dire situation.

“Residential foreclosure postings have been at the high-end of the foreclosure cycle for some time now, and the commercial market generally follows behind residential,” he wrote in a statement.

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Commercial foreclosures down in Tarrant County, up in Metroplex

By Sandra Baker          Fort Worth Star-Telegram December 29, 2009

Tarrant County saw commercial foreclosure postings dip 1.5 percent this year even as the four-county Metroplex saw an increase of nearly 27 percent, according to figures released Monday by Foreclosure Listing Service.

Tarrant was the only county to see a decline from 2008. Denton County posted a 109 percent increase from 2008, followed by Collin County, with a nearly 72 percent increase, and Dallas County, with a nearly 36 percent increase, the Addison-based firm said. Commercial foreclosures include apartments, office buildings, shopping centers, industrial buildings and land.

“In this case, a loss is a good thing,” George Roddy Sr., president of Foreclosure Listing, said of Tarrant County’s decline. “Over the past two years, Dallas-Fort Worth commercial foreclosure postings have climbed 67 percent,” but “the gain over the past two years does not mean that the commercial property market is in huge trouble.”

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Walking Away From The House She Can Afford

By Tamara Keith      NPR December 25, 2009

Many homeowners who are tens thousands of dollars underwater on their mortgages — meaning they owe more than the value of their homes — have decided it’s just not worth it. Some, like Heather Baker, can even afford their payments, but they’re walking away anyway.

Baker is done with being a homeowner. Last month, she stopped paying her mortgage.

“Who says that my American dream has to be a home with a white picket fence and all of that?” says Baker, sitting at her dining room table.

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Air Quality Guidelines Face Unexpected Critics

By Daniel Weintraub         New York Times December 26, 2009

California’s battle against greenhouse gases is likely to come to the Bay Area soon — with rules designed to reduce the carbon footprint of new housing and commercial development.

That is a concept you might expect to be welcome in a region known for its environmental advocacy and hostility to growth.

But some environmentalists and city planners fear that the new set of guidelines being considered by the region’s air quality regulators could have an unintended consequence, making it more difficult and more expensive for developers to construct buildings within already urbanized areas.

That would run counter to the notion that builders should be given incentives to shift future population growth from the car-dependent outer suburbs to places where public services are already available and public transit is a more viable option to get people out of their cars.

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Study: ‘Gated’ doesn’t equal ‘safer’

By Mary Newsome December 8, 2009

Chief Rodney Monroe had some other interesting things to say, in addition to spilling the beans about the Ritz-Carlton-EpiCentre noise issue.

After giving a short presentation Monday to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, planning commissioner Nina Lipton asked the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police chief whether he had any data on safety in gated versus nongated communities. “We looked at that,” Monroe said. The police and planning departments matched up communities as closely as they could, looking at income levels, multi-family, single-family and other factors. In terms of crime rates, Monroe said, “We saw no difference.” What matters in terms of neighborhood safety, he said, is who’s living there: Are residents looking out for their neighbors? Are they taking responsibility? If it’s a rental community, is there professional management? Are renters being screened for criminal records?

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In Katrina’s Aftermath, Still a Struggle to Help

By Shaila Dewan         New York Times December 29, 2009

NEW ORLEANS — When Renaissance Village, the vast trailer park that housed Hurricane Katrina evacuees outside Baton Rouge, was closing down in May 2008, Theresa August was one of the last to leave. Babbling, singing and wearing a baby’s onesie on her head, she had to be coaxed into packing up the clothes and trash that crammed the trailer she called home.

Now, Ms. August, 40, lives in a small apartment in New Orleans that she decorated with flowers and Christmas lights. A team of social workers ensures that she takes her anti-psychosis medication and gets treatment for H.I.V. infection. Still shy and fettered by a speech impediment, she can carry on conversations far more coherently than at any other time since the storm.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it nowhere,” she said. “But I have.”

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15 families home for 1st time since Ike

By T.J. Aulds       Galveston County Daily News December 23, 2009

GALVESTON — If you had asked Maria Huerta 15 months ago whether she ever would have returned to her Hurricane Ike-ravaged home, she admits the answer would have been no. But with a “Thank you, Lord” exclamation as she walked over the threshold, she joined 15 other Galveston County families who returned home just in time for Christmas.

Huerta’s house on Avenue R in Galveston was among the 154 that Galveston Restore and Rebuild, a partnership of 35 social service and charity organizations, had refurbished since Hurricane Ike struck in September 2008. The 58-year-old, who has called Galveston home since she was a child, had not been home since floodwaters engulfed the house.

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FEMA extends trailer deadline

By T.J. Aulds       Galveston Daily News December 25, 2009

The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted the state’s request to extend the deadline for Hurricane Ike victims living in mobile homes provided by FEMA, an agency spokesman said Thursday.

The March 12 deadline now has been extended to July 9, FEMA Regional Administrator Tony Russell said in a statement. That means the 896 Texas residents, including 362 in Galveston County, who are living in the temporary housing units will have more time to rebuild homes wrecked by the hurricane. However, in an unexpected twist, FEMA said it might start charging rent on the mobile homes.

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Opposition steeling against Magnolia plan

By Rhiannon Meyers       Galveston County Daily News December 26, 2009

GALVESTON — Among the decisions made recently about the future of public housing on the island, the plans for Magnolia Homes are causing the most distress.

Galveston Housing Authority commissioners agreed to replace the 56-year-old barracks-style public housing development, flooded during Hurricane Ike, with 80 mid-rise apartments for elderly and disabled people and up to 40 other houses spread across the three city blocks once occupied by the sprawling Magnolia Homes development, 1601 The Strand. The development had 133 apartments occupied by tenants before Hurricane Ike struck Galveston on Sept. 13, 2008.

Executive Director Harish Krishnarao said he plans to seek federal grants from a public housing revitalization program — called Hope VI — to redevelop Magnolia Homes and, potentially, connect it to the neighboring Cedar Terrace, 2914 Ball St.

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Planning commission sets public housing hearing

By Rhiannon Meyers         Galveston County Daily News December 29, 2009

GALVESTON — The planning commission on Jan. 13 will take public comment about the Galveston Housing Authority’s plan to rebuild public housing and allow groups other than the Galveston Housing Authority to present redevelopment plans. Under the city charter, the planning commission is required to approve or disapprove all public housing plans. The housing authority must submit its redevelopment plan to the planning commission, which is charged with making its recommendation to the city council for final approval.

Commission members, however, are charged only with evaluating the housing authority’s site plans to ensure they meet city codes, including restrictions on height, density and traffic, Planning Director Wendy O’Donohoe has said. Commission members also are charged with evaluating the new developments’ effects on the neighborhood.

Any concerns raised about the plan should be kicked back to the housing authority for revision, she said.

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Judges offer short reprieve to tenants facing eviction

By Crain Kapitan        San Antonio Express-News December 23, 2009

About 40 families down on their luck this holiday season were able to take solace Wednesday morning in the fact that at least their possessions won’t be carried out to the curb on Christmas or New Year’s Day.

The West Side residents, all facing eviction, showed up in Judge Steve Walker’s courtroom to discover what has been a quiet tradition among justices of the peace for decades. The concept: While eviction hearings must go on, sending constables out to help execute such unpleasant endeavors can wait, at least for a week or so.

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Mueller home sales set new bar for price

Pair of custom-built energy-efficient houses first hit market at about $1 million apiece

By Shonda Novak      Austin American-Statesman December 25, 2009

The first two of five custom homes showcased at the Parade of Homes at the Mueller development this year have been sold, setting a new bar for prices in that part of Austin.

Marshall Durrett, president of Durrett Interests LLC, has sold a 3,266-square foot home on Camacho Street. It’s the first house at Mueller, and one of the first in Central Texas, to earn a platinum rating, the highest available, from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy Design program.

Alan Muskin, president of the Muskin Co., sold a four-bedroom house with 3,600 square feet that was designed by Michael Hsu Design Office.

The five houses — which all face Mueller’s 30-acre Lake Park and were originally priced at $1 million and up — were designed as green-building showcases.

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Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation 12/22/09

The Obama Administration proposes a massive weatherization effort while Texas has yet to deploy stimulus funds already received for the same purpose. Only a handful of houses have been weatherized in North Texas while millions of dollars await the state’s bureaucracy to shuffle into action.

While the US housing industry freefalls further into disaster, the Chinese curtail a “housing bubble” by shutting down the flipping of luxury and secondary homes.

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

Housing starts rise less than expected

Reuters December 16, 2009

WASHINGTON – New housing starts rose but were lower than expected in November as construction activity for single family dwellings increased only marginally, a government report showed on Wednesday.

The Commerce Department said housing starts increased 8.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 574,000 units. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected housing starts to rise to 580,000 units. However, the percentage increase last month was the largest since May, indicating housing remained on a steady recovery path

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Obama’s next stimulus: More funds for home weatherization

By Renee Schoof       McClatchy Newspapers December 16, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama dropped into a Home Depot store in a Washington suburb on Tuesday and said he’ll ask Congress for new temporary incentives to encourage more people to weatherize their homes.

Energy-efficiency improvements such as better windows and doors, insulation in walls and roofs and new heating and cooling equipment can help people save money on their energy bills, “but the challenge for a lot of people is getting that money up front,” and that’s where the government can step in, Obama said.

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Texas slow to spend funds to weatherize homes

By James Drew        Dallas Morning News December 19, 2009

AUSTIN – The state received millions of federal dollars from the economic-stimulus package to help poor Texans cut their energy bills, but by the end of last month, just seven homes had been weather-treated under the program.

The state has spent $1.8 million of $163 million available over the past four months, with most of it going to administrative costs, such as the salaries of state workers.

The weatherization program was a key element of the federal effort to revive the economy, billed as a quick way to create jobs, save energy and cut utility bills.

In Texas, the task has been heaped onto a midsized agency that must figure how to hand out millions more in federal funds to local agencies and governments, but do it carefully enough to avoid wasting money.

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China Developers Fall as Government Targets Housing

Bloomberg News December 15, 2009

China Vanke Co. led declines by the nation’s developers after the official Xinhua News Agency said the government will target “excessive” growth in property prices in some cities.

Vanke, the nation’s biggest developer by market value, dropped 2.5 percent to 11.50 yuan at the 11:30 a.m. break in Shenzhen. Poly Real Estate Group Co., the second biggest, slumped 2.9 percent to 23.86 yuan in Shanghai, falling for a sixth day. China Overseas Land & Investment Ltd. dropped 4.5 percent to HK$17.52 in Hong Kong.

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More prime mortgages default in 3rd quarter

Also: Many homeowners with modified mortgages fall behind again. And the number of homes in foreclosure rises, though new foreclosures are steady, report shows.

By Jim Puzzanghera        Los Angeles Times December 22, 2009

Troubled home loans continued to mount in the nation’s banks in the third quarter as even once-solid borrowers increasingly fell behind on their mortgage payments.

For the first quarter ever, the number of homes in foreclosure with mortgages serviced by U.S. national banks and savings and loans topped the 1-million mark, according to figures released Monday by the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

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Bexar foreclosure filings at record high

By Jennifer Hiller     San Antonio Express-News December 22, 2009

Anyone hoping for a rebound in real estate next year will have to look somewhere other than the foreclosure auction on the courthouse steps to find it.

Mortgage lenders are moving to take back 1,652 Bexar County properties in January. It’s the highest monthly total on record and an indication that the foreclosure market in 2010 likely won’t see improvement over 2009.

“It’s like a fever,” said Gregg Stanley of, a local foreclosure tracking service. “We’re just hoping it will break.”

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How Cleveland aggravated its foreclosure crisis

By Mark Gillispie           Cleveland Plain Dealer December 13, 2009

The city of Cleveland has aggravated its vexing foreclosure problems and has lost millions in tax dollars by helping people buy homes they could not afford, a Plain Dealer investigation has found.

The city provided mostly low-income buyers with down payment loans of up to $20,000 through the federally funded Afford-A-Home program, but did little to determine whether the people could actually afford to keep their homes.

That lack of oversight persisted for years, even as hundreds of loan recipients defaulted on mortgages, many within two years, the newspaper found by analyzing property and loan records covering the period between 2000 and 2007.

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Short sales, long waits

Deals can stave off foreclosures but may take months to close

By Nancy Sarnoff        Houston Chronicle December 20, 2009

From the street, the three-bedroom house for sale on Serringdon Drive in Katy looks like many others in this tidy suburban neighborhood.

But a closer look reveals a no trespassing sign in the window, half hidden behind tree branches. The rooms are empty because the owner had to move for a job. In the backyard, the water in a swimming pool has turned green.

The property has been on the market for just over three months, but so far two contracts on it have fallen through.

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2 Austin condo projects face foreclosure

Developers of Sabine on Fifth, Star Riverside say they’re working on new financing

By Shonda Novak       Austin American-Statesman December 17, 2009

Two downtown-area condominium projects have been posted for foreclosure, but the developers on both projects say they are working out agreements with their lenders that should get the projects back on track.

The Star Riverside and Sabine on Fifth projects were posted for the Jan. 5 foreclosure auction, according to Real Estate Foreclosures Inc., a San Antonio company that tracks foreclosures for investors. The company listed loans for Star Riverside totaling $38 million.

Constellation Property Group, an Australian company, started Star Riverside in 2007 at Interstate 35 and East Riverside Drive, originally envisioning a high-end waterfront complex. Plans for the project were revised twice to lower prices as the economy went into a tailspin.

Construction was halted two months ago, with the underground parking garage about 80 percent complete, said Eugene Marchese , president of Constellation.

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Developer plans office/condo/retail tower east of Whole Foods

By Shonda Novak Austin American-Statesman December 18, 2009

Developers are seeking a zoning change to build an office, condominium and retail tower with 27 to 28 stories on the block east of Whole Foods.

Schlosser Development Co. is proposing a tower with 90 condominiums above the office space, plus a four-story building on the block. The smaller building would have three levels of office space above ground-floor retail.

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Austin Habitat, families celebrate new homes

By Steven Kraytak       Austin American-Statesman December 20, 2009

Volunteers, corporate sponsors and new homeowners stood in the late-day sun Saturday on East Austin’s Towbridge Circle and celebrated Austin Habitat For Humanity’s latest accomplishment the completion of six new homes for local families who needed a break.

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Jean Lafitte Hotel to become apartments

By Rhiannon Meyers       Galveston County Daily News December 22, 2009

GALVESTON — Owners of the historic Jean Lafitte Hotel in downtown Galveston plan to use federal dollars to renovate the rundown 82-year-old building into a mixed-income apartment complex with half the units set aside for low- and moderate-income tenants.

The state agreed to give Port Arthur-based developer Itex Property Management $5 million in federal disaster recovery money to help rehabilitate the historic hotel at 2101 Church St.

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It’s a time to move: Ike survivors move Friday into homes donated by Neil Diamond

By Sarah Moore         Beaumont Enterprise December 16, 2009

In the first few weeks after Hurricane Ike, Esther Nelson’s family stayed in tents, cars and for a brief period, in an RV in a cow pasture.

Nelson, 66, fondly remembered the cow pasture Tuesday.

“It was really nice,” she reminisced. “Quiet.”

For the last year, the family has lived in a small trailer on their Oak Island property.

It’s been a long road to recovery, but Friday, the Nelsons finally will move into their new home – one built for them by pop singer-songwriter Neil Diamond.

Esther and Edward Nelson will be the first of 12 Oak Islanders to move into houses donated by the music legend, who by chance visited the tiny fishing village shortly after it was devastated by Ike.

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Homeowners take Christmas lights to the extreme

By T.J. Aulds        Galveston County Daily News December 18, 2009

Published December 18, 2009

LEAGUE CITY — While most of us are doing well just preparing for this Christmas, Frank Rossi already is planning for the holidays in 2010.

For the League City resident and a handful of others in the Galveston County area, planning for the holidays is a 365-day passion — or admitted obsession.

Rossi is among a dedicated group of homeowners who do more than just slap a few strings of lights on their houses for the holidays. He uses a computer program, more than a mile of extension cords and hours atop a ladder stringing together 32,000 lights to turn his house into a spectacular holiday show set to music.

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Dallas-area shelters at capacity, turning some domestic violence victims away

By Lori Stahl        Dallas Morning News December 20, 2009

This Christmas, Casey and her son will be at what he calls “the home place.” That’s what the 6-year-old calls the domestic violence shelter where they’ve already gotten the gift of a solid night’s sleep.

“That first night, it was so peaceful,” said Casey, 29. “I didn’t want to come here because of the stereotype. [But] it’s nothing like what you see on TV.”

She had envisioned a makeshift, Katrina-style shelter where strangers would be as menacing as her former boyfriend. Instead, she wound up in a shelter, and now a transitional housing apartment, that were much nicer – and cleaner – than she expected.

But while Casey (a pseudonym to protect her identity) and her son were lucky enough to get beds at The Family Place in Dallas, many others are turned away because the shelter is operating at capacity. So far this year, more than 1,000 women and children have been turned away, said executive director Paige Flink. A few in immediate danger were temporarily put up in hotel rooms.

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