Bo McCarver’s weekly housing news compilation – 1/12/2010

The federal effort to stem foreclosures has failed as bankers and homeowners shun bad deals: bankers invest in more profitable ventures and former homeowners find more comfort in renting than trying to salvage “The American Dream.”

In Texas, record cold weather tests the state’s ability to house its homeless.

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

Delinquencies jump for home equity loans, lines of credit

The third-quarter increases to record levels contrast with an improvement seen with other consumer loans, the American Bankers Assn. says.

By Scot Reckard Los Angeles Times January 10, 2010

Delinquencies on home equity loans and lines of credit jumped to record levels in the third quarter, a banking trade group said Thursday.

Home equity loan delinquencies rose to a record 4.3% of such accounts from 4.01% in the second quarter, the American Bankers Assn. reported. Delinquencies on home equity lines of credit also hit a record, climbing to 2.12% from 1.92%. The troubles with housing debt contrasted with an improvement seen with other consumer loans, the bankers group said.

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Servicers, White House Point Fingers as Foreclosure Plan Fails

Few Borrowers Helped Under Plan Designed for 3 to 4 Million

By Mary Kane Washington Independent January 6, 2010

Only a year ago, hopes were high that a big push by the government to stop foreclosures would be a great success, living up to its billing as “Help for America’s Homeowners.”

Last January started out with a foreclosure moratorium, allowing time for the Obama Administration to put the final touches on Making Home Affordable — its $75 billion signature program aimed at helping 3 to 4 million homeowners. After bailing out banks and the financial system, the administration turned its efforts to borrowers on the verge of losing their homes. The program rolled out with fanfare in the spring.

But as 2010 begins, it is already clear that Making Home Affordable has fallen far short of its goals, with only 31,382 permanent loan modifications completed by Nov. 30. Last year, lenders were doing far more loan modifications on their own, before the Obama plan was launched.

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This Year’s Housing Crisis

New York Times Editorial January 4, 2010

The financial crisis and Great Recession have their roots in the housing bust. When it comes, a lasting recovery will be evident in a housing rebound. Unfortunately, housing appears to be weakening anew.

Figures released last week show that after four months of gains, home prices flattened in October. At that time, low mortgage rates (courtesy of the Federal Reserve) and a home buyer’s tax credit (courtesy of Congress) were fueling sales. That should have propped up prices. But it was not enough to overcome the drag created by a glut of 3.2 million new and existing unsold single-family homes — about a seven-month supply.

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Walk Away From Your Mortgage!

By Roger Lowenstein New York Times January 7, 2010

John Courson, president and C.E.O. of the Mortgage Bankers Association, recently told The Wall Street Journal that homeowners who default on their mortgages should think about the “message” they will send to “their family and their kids and their friends.” Courson was implying that homeowners — record numbers of whom continue to default — have a responsibility to make good. He wasn’t referring to the people who have no choice, who can’t afford their payments. He was speaking about the rising number of folks who are voluntarily choosing not to pay.

Such voluntary defaults are a new phenomenon. Time was, Americans would do anything to pay their mortgage — forgo a new car or a vacation, even put a younger family member to work. But the housing collapse left 10.7 million families owing more than their homes are worth. So some of them are making a calculated decision to hang onto their money and let their homes go. Is this irresponsible?

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Dallas-Fort Worth home sales swing to negative territory

By Steve Brown Dallas Morning News January 7, 2010

After two months of solid gains, North Texas home sales fell back into the negative in December – down 1 percent from a year earlier.

The best news in the monthly report on pre-owned home sales was that median prices were up 2 percent from December 2008.

Pre-owned home sales in North Texas fell below the 5,000 mark last month for the first time since February, according to figures released Thursday by the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University and the North Texas Real Estate Information System.

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New home market flat, but bottomed out

Houston Chronicle January 11, 2010

Housing starts are expected to be flat this year as skittish consumers, tight mortgage credit and weak job growth continue to squeeze the new home market.

While the worst is likely over, the local housing industry won’t rebound until the economy, employment and the financial markets improve.

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Home sales high despite low market

By Walt Nett Lubbock Avalanche-Journal January 9, 2009

Despite the softest December market in more than a decade, Lubbock existing home sales for 2009 were their fourth-highest in more than 40 years, according to the Lubbock Association of Realtors.

Figures released Friday show 2009 ended with 3,347 sales closed, with total dollar volume of nearly $447.08 million. The high-water mark was set in 1979 with 4,236 closings, according to records at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University.

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Farmers Insurance, state agree to cut ‘excessive’ rate hike

By Terrence Stutz Dallas Morning News January 12, 2010

AUSTIN – Farmers Insurance agreed Monday to scale back a double-digit rate hike for homeowners coverage in Texas. But the company will get to keep millions of dollars it has collected the past six months, even though the state declared those premiums excessive.

Farmers, one of the largest insurers in Texas, had proposed a statewide increase of 10 percent, with an 11 percent hike for the Dallas area, in June. The company said the rates were necessary because of increased property losses and a jump in the cost of reinsurance – which insurers buy to help pay claims after a catastrophic event such as a hurricane.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin, who called the initial rate plan “excessive and unfairly discriminatory,” signed a consent order Monday agreeing to a 4.5 percent increase for the 300,000 customers of Farmers’ largest home insurance subsidiary.

Who Has the Right to Shape the City?

By Philipp Oehmke Der Spiegel January 9, 2010

Hamburg has been trying to woo the much-coveted “creative class” for years in a bid to secure its future. Now the city has become the front line in a bitter conflict over gentrification, with artists squatting buildings in protest against investment plans and members of the far-left scene attacking private property — and even police.

The three pages, printed from the Internet, are lying on Richard Florida’s desk in his Toronto office. He begins skimming the document, but by the first sentence he has already had enough. It is, once again, an attack on his theories.

The sentence in question reads: “A specter is haunting Europe, ever since US economist Richard Florida came to the conclusion that only those cities prosper in which the ‘creative class’ feels comfortable.” The “creative class” is a term coined by Florida. He puts away the pages and smiles weakly.

Full story at:,1518,670600,00.html

Reinventing Airport Boulevard

Can ‘form-based zoning’ turn Austin’s suburban-style drags into walkable shopping districts?

By Katherine Gregor Austin Chronicle January 9, 2010

Drive Airport Boulevard from Lamar to I-35 – trying to see it with a newcomer’s eyes – and it’s hard to disagree with Council Member Chris Riley’s assessment: “We can do better than this.” Cruising along the street (there’s no way to walk it), you see no pedestrians except at bus stops – virtually no one out strolling to shop, no one walking or cycling to a neighborhood taco joint. Perhaps that’s because this corridor was never designed to be a place for people; it was built for cars, and an ode to the auto it remains. The unlovely streetscape is dominated by surface parking and chaotic signage, lots selling used autos and used tires, and generic strip malls – the classic Anywhere, U.S.A.

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Commission sends GHA back to the drawing board

By Rhiannon Meyers Galveston County Daily News January 6, 2010

ALVESTON — Planning commission members Tuesday deferred approval on the first phase of public housing redevelopment, sending housing authority staff back to the drawing board to redesign the layout and elevation of the proposed development.

Galveston Housing Authority commissioners have proposed replacing 104 units at the hurricane-damaged Palm Terrace development, 4400 Sealy St., with 20 duplexes divided into 40 one-bedroom units for elderly and disabled people. The subdivision would mirror The Oaks neighborhood next door. The new development — to be called The Oaks IV — is the housing authority’s first step to rebuild public housing on the island.

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FEMA to pay $200 million for infrastructure

By Rhiannon Meyers Galveston County Daily News January 8, 2010

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will spend $200 million to repair and improve roads, water plants, public buildings, parks and playgrounds damaged when Hurricane Ike struck Sept. 13, 2008.

The agency this week released a list of more than 1,000 projects it intends to subsidize in Galveston and Galveston County. The agency will spend $102.1 million repairing, improving and replacing damaged infrastructure in Galveston and $90.8 million improving damaged infrastructure in other parts of the county. That does not include projects by other cities in the county, or projects submitted by the University of Texas Medical Branch.

The federal government is footing 100 percent of the bill for debris removal and projects that classify as “emergency protective services,” such as the $2.4 million effort to recover human remains in the county.

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County seeks contractors for hurricane repairs

By T.J. Aulds Galveston County Daily News January 7, 2010

The county’s Hurricane Ike housing assistance program takes a significant step today in getting damaged homes repaired or rebuilt as it sets out to hire the contractors that will do the construction work.

Two mandatory meetings are scheduled for today for contractors interested in getting a part of the $85 million in federal dollars the county will spend repairing houses.

The county must take bids for projects funded by federal community development block grants.

=Housing program director James Wilson said the projects will be divided into two categories — new construction and repair.

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Oaks tenants may be forced to move

By T.J. Aulds Galveston County Daily News January 10, 2010

TEXAS CITY — About 60 residents of The Oaks apartments in Texas City may be forced to move because the city says the complex owner owes more than $50,000 on its water bill and the apartments are besieged by code violations.

Even if residents have to pack up, city officials said they won’t be kicked out on the street and the city will help make arrangements to find new places to live.

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City to help Oaks residents find new place to live

By T.J. Aulds Galveston County Daily News January 12, 2010

TEXAS CITY — Residents of The Oaks apartments in Texas City will be moving to new accommodations after the complex’s owners failed to pay a $50,000 water bill and address code violations.

On Monday, notices were posted on residents’ doors stating that the city would help them find new places to live, Community Services Director George Fuller said. Attempts to contact the apartment complex owners were unsuccessful. Listed phone numbers were disconnected. Fuller had given the owners until noon Monday to make good on the water bill and to clean up the trash that has gathered since The Oaks’ garbage pickup contract lapsed last month.

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Pastor’s faith-based project still rising

By Nancy Sarnoff Houston Chronicle January 7, 2010

More than a decade ago, Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell started looking for 20 acres near his Windsor Village United Methodist Church to build a 24-hour prayer center.

The center still hasn’t been built, but it’s not because Caldwell abandoned his plans.

He simply took them in a different direction.

Instead of buying 20 acres, Caldwell purchased 234 for $1.3 million and oversaw the development of more than 450 homes, a 200,000-square-foot community center, retail space, medical facilities, schools and a YMCA. A 124-unit senior housing project is under construction, and a new sanctuary and the prayer center are planned for 2010 and 2011.

His motivation for the project, he said, was biblical.

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Downtown loft-style condos ready for buyers

By Vic Kolenc El Paso Times January 10, 2010

EL PASO — Downtown’s first condominium project is done.

An 85-year-old, 24,000-square-foot, three-floor Downtown warehouse was transformed during the past 10 months into a loft-style condo project with nine upscale condo units selling for $245,000 to $290,000 and ground-floor retail space.

The Fst Ave Lofts, at First Avenue and Florence, is “about bringing a way of life to Downtown El Paso. There were no upscale-living opportunities,” said T.J. Karam, 34, who along with his brothers, Luke and Ben, both 31, developed the condos.

They operate The El Paso Project, a company aimed at developing housing in Downtown and Central El Paso.

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Homeless Czar Urges City Plan Commission to Increase Permanent Supportive Housing, Addresses Rumors of Possible Mayoral Run

By Sam Merten Fort Worth Weekly January 7, 2010

Mike Rawlings and Mike Faenza of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance briefed the City Plan Commission this morning regarding the city’s goal of diverting those living in homeless shelters into 700 new units of permanent supportive housing. Their appearance was timely after last night’s brutal weather caused the city to temporarily house overflow from local shelters in the Samuell Grand Recreation Center.

“It looks like between city outreach, The Bridge and the other shelters pushing their capacity, we kept people from freezing to death,” Faenza tells Unfair Park.

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For Odessa’s homeless

By Jim Mustian Odessa American January 10, 2010

As the freezing temperatures gave way to the life-threatening, Edward Baldwin and his daughter arrived at Faith Temple Fellowship in Odessa ready for battle.

Baldwin, an unassuming man who moved here years ago from Detroit, knows the plight of the homeless from his own travails. But on Thursday, he found himself on the serving side of operation Night Strike, scooping generous portions of hot chili into Styrofoam cups.

“I’ve been blessed, me and my family,” he said of his better fortune in recent years. “But I’ve been in the same situation as some of them. Now it’s time to give something back.”

As the mercury plummeted to its lowest point in more than 20 years, Baldwin and a handful of volunteers from Jesus House set out on a selfless mission to help Odessa’s homeless stay warm. On three consecutives nights this week, Pastor Donny Kyker loaded a retrofitted moving van with warm meals, clothing and willing volunteers and delivered necessities to dozens of the city’s homeless.

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A Fight for the Homeless and Against Authority

By Jesse McKinley New York Times January 12, 2010

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Burly, bearded and gleefully obscene, Dan de Vaul does not look the part of the bleeding-heart homeless advocate, sporting as he does a feather-topped cowboy hat, a large collection of guns and a bushel of hoary wisecracks.

But for nearly a decade, Mr. de Vaul has been housing dozens of homeless men and women in a farmhouse and a collection of tents, trailers and sheds spread around his 72-acre ranch here on the outskirts of this city in central California.

Mr. de Vaul says he is simply doing the work his county cannot or will not do. But officials say that the housing at Mr. de Vaul’s ranch, known as Sunny Acres, is substandard, often illegal, and rife with dangerous code violations, including missing fire detectors and faulty wiring.

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Two men make RV living hip

Bus contains kitchen, fireplace, shower and music studio.

By Asher Price Austin American-Statesman January 12, 2010

As temperatures dropped into the teens over the weekend, Dave Weaver and Thomas Ruble had no problem keeping snug by the fireplace in their East Austin school bus.

The 1979 Bluebird International, which can rumble up to 55 mph on recycled vegetable oil, sleeps six; contains a hot-water shower, kitchen, fridge and freezer; sports floor-to-ceiling wood paneling; and features a music studio with a stand-up piano.

In the galaxy of off-the-grid living, their pad is cooler than yours.

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