Tuesday Report, Feb. 16, 2010
Baited by the “American Dream,” thousands of struggling families were suckered by back-loaded mortgages and bloated appraisals. Now that the balloon has burst, the mortgage holders shun reasonable loan terms for refinancing while sharks feed on the desperate who fault on their payments. Wall Street bonuses flow like champagne at Mardi Gras while the ranks of the homeless swell to include those who recently “stung their plastic” to buy the kids an iPod.
In Galveston, the battle over rebuilding public housing continues to boil as island racists file suits and petitions to expel those who work with their hands.
For a pdf version of the full stories, plus contextual articles on social, environmental and legal areas, contact Bo McCarver at firstname.lastname@example.org
Can Anyone Stop the Predatory Lenders?
Mother Jones January/February 2010
NO ONE TOLD Deanna Walters she was about to lose her home. Not when her mortgage servicing company foreclosed on it, nor when it landed on the county auction block and sold to the highest bidder. She realized what was happening only when a man taped a note to the front door of her well-kept house in a leafy corner of Stockton, California, last January. “My son went out and took it down,” recalls the 43-year-old single mother of two, “and that’s when he told me it was a ‘three-day or quit’ notice.”
Walters’ discovery that her home had been sold out from under her marked the low point of a four-year fiasco that began when Ocwen Loan Servicing became her mortgage servicer in late 2004. Through no fault of her own, Ocwen incorrectly processed or lost dozens of Walters’ payments and charged her more than $2,000 in late fees and thousands more in additional charges—all without notifying her. The Florida-based company tried to foreclose on her three times. After she paid more than $10,000, Walters figured things were settled. But Ocwen had other ideas.
Lawyer misconduct rises with foreclosure record
By Paul Elias Lufkin Daily News February 14, 2010
Warren Jacobs was desperate when he received a “robo-call” promising to help him stave off foreclosure of his home near Dallas.
The father of six had lost his construction job, lacked health insurance and couldn’t pay bills for his 17-year-old daughter’s cancer treatment, let alone his mortgage.
So on Jan. 21, he dialed the return number and was connected to the United Law Group. Minutes later Jacobs agreed to scrape together $2,000 to pay the Irvine, Calif. law firm.
He unwittingly became one of the many thousands of homeowners authorities allege have been taken in by unscrupulous or incompetent loan modification attorneys who rushed into a burgeoning legal niche: helping financially struggling homeowners re-negotiate their mortgages.
Ripoffs of homeowners have become so commonplace that state bar associations from Florida to Arizona are warning their members of the many ethical pitfalls awaiting those who exploit the mortgage crisis. The California State Bar launched a task force a year ago to examine thousands of homeowner complaints about foreclosure lawyers.
Foreclosure mystery: Why can’t conservative Utahns afford their mortgage?
Utah missed the big property run-ups in California and elsewhere, but it’s No. 5 in foreclosures, according to a new RealtyTrac study.
By Laurent Belsie Christian Science Monitor February 11, 2010
What is it about Utahns?
During the housing bubble, they led the nation in bankruptcies. Now that the bubble is bust, they’re among the top states in foreclosures. A RealtyTrac report released Thursday showed they had the fifth-highest foreclosure rate among the states, with 1 in 231 homes receiving a foreclosure notice in January. That’s nearly double the national rate and not far from No. 4 Florida’s rate of 1 in 187.
The US foreclosure rate actually fell 10 percent from December’s level – and Utah was down nearly 12 percent – but RealtyTrac suggested they could surge again in coming months if last year’s pattern holds true.
Dallas-Fort Worth home foreclosure filings jump 30%
By Brendan Case Dallas Morning News February 12, 2010
Home foreclosure filings jumped in the Dallas-Fort Worth area again after falling last month, Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service Inc. said Thursday.
Lenders posted 5,548 homes for forced sale in the March auctions, up 30 percent from the same month last year.
March filings also were 18 percent above the number of homes posted for this month’s auctions.
February postings were 4 percent below the level of February 2008, the first time monthly foreclosure filings had fallen on a year-over-year basis since October 2007.
“I said last month that it was welcomed news, but that I was not holding my breath,” said George Roddy, president of Foreclosure Listing Service. “And in fact, postings shot right back up, climbing 18 percent in just one month, to above the 5,000 mark this month.”
Dallas-Fort Worth commercial property foreclosures surge
By Steve Brown Dallas Morning News February 16, 2010
Foreclosure postings for several high-profile North Texas properties caused commercial real estate loan default filings to surge this month.
The properties scheduled for forced sale by lenders at next month’s foreclosure auctions in Dallas-Fort Worth represent a total of more than $900 million in debt.
About 250 properties, including office buildings, hotels, shopping centers, warehouses and commercial land, are posted for the March sale, according to statistics from Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service.
The two largest foreclosure filings were for the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas, with $183 million in debt, and the Mosaic apartment buildings in downtown Dallas, which had $66.5 million in original mortgages.
Houston area’s apartment market lags as rents sag
A glut means it’s a good time to be looking for an apartment, but maybe not to be a landlord or developer of complexes
By Nancy Sarnoff Houston Chronicle February 15, 2010
The sagging job market and a glut of new units have pushed down Houston-area apartment occupancies to their lowest levels in at least 15 years.
After two years of unbridled growth in which developers added more than 36,000 apartments to the market of more than 570,000, the number of occupied units has fallen to 84.2 percent, according to Apartment Data Services, a Houston-based real estate research firm.
With employment still weak — causing some renters to move back home or double up with roommates — landlords with new complexes are facing one of the toughest markets they’ve seen in years.
Full story at: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/6865596.html
Bulldozing the old East Side, predicting suicide problems at the jail
San Antonio Current February 11, 2010
The Mayor’s recently concluded set of Eastside investment summits took place against a virtual backdrop of boarded-up houses and empty lots, the legacy of decades of poverty, discrimination, and absentee landlords. Hundreds, maybe thousands, more buildings in the City’s historically black neighborhoods are in precarious shape, their roofs sagging, porches detached, windows broken.
“It’s old house, old house, empty lot; old house, old house, empty lot,” says Malcolm Monroe, who is fighting the City to save the home his parents built in the ’30s, a single-story woodframe house just north of Nolan and east of New Braunfels. “It was gun boxes — all kinds of wood; wood was hard to get.”
On this street alone, at least two houses have been demolished, and two more are boarded up.
Full story at: http://www.sacurrent.com/news/story.asp?id=70918
A Crack in the Near Southeast Shell
Fort Worth Weekly February 11, 2010
On Feb. 8, a Fort Worth neighborhood group pushed the latest effort at revitalization of the Near Southeast Side a little closer to reality. (“Tough Nut to Crack,” Feb. 3, 2010). The Historic Southside Neighborhood Association voted 13-3 in favor of a plan to build 54 rent-to-own homes there over the next year – with a couple of caveats.
The vote came with the understanding that the developer, the new-in-town NRP Group, will have to address several outstanding issues that have troubled many of the residents since NRP first set its sights on the deeply depressed inner-city neighborhood last year.
According to association president Al Piper, company reps agreed to sign a “memorandum of understanding” promising that there will be significant participation in the project by the residents, including the involvement of a local nonprofit organization in providing social services at a new community center. The group also wants a clarification as to “whether ex-felons of any type” would be allowed to rent and then buy one of the homes, he said. (Some residents worry that otherwise stable families, with one member who has a record, might be barred.) Piper called the vote a “win” for everyone involved, not only because it could bring a significant number of new houses to the area but also because the project could become, at long last, “a real catalyst for commercial development as we replace empty lots with people.”
Filling in S.A. not so easy
By Jason Buch San Antonio Express News February 11, 2010
The city expanded a waiver program to encourage development downtown and on the East and South sides. But developers say that those incentives will not be enough to launch a rebirth of these neighborhoods.
Building in the urban core is more expensive than building in other parts of town. But even if costs are somewhat offset by the incentives, it’s still a challenge to attract development to an area that has a lack of parking, a lack of public transportation and decaying infrastructure — issues not faced by new development across the northern reaches.
Housing petition likely won’t be on May ballot
By Rhiannon Meyers Galveston County Daily News February 13, 2010
GALVESTON — Voters probably won’t see a referendum on the ballot in May prohibiting the city from disbursing money to build public housing in Galveston without voter approval because petitioners are facing too tight of a deadline to force the issue onto the May election.
Jul Kamen, of the Galveston Alliance for Responsible Development — which is circulating the petition to change the city’s charter so voters have the final say before the city can spend any federal, state or local money to build or rebuild government subsidized housing — said she didn’t think the group had collected enough signatures, nor would be able to turn over signatures in time for the city secretary to check them, before the city has to call the election.
The alliance has to collect about 1,800 signatures from registered Galveston voters before putting the referendum on a ballot; so far, the group has counted 350 signatures on 12 of the more than 70 copies of the petition circulating throughout Galveston, Kamen said.
Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=fafd62bf21b3c7b6
Watchdog wants GHA funds frozen
By Rhiannon Meyers Galveston County Daily News February 15, 2010
GALVESTON — The Galveston Open Government Project, a watchdog group critical of the Galveston Housing Authority, has sent a direct appeal to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, urging him to freeze all federal funding to the agency and order officials to develop a countywide housing authority.
David Stanowski, cofounder of the group, wrote to Secretary Shaun Donovan that the housing authority is violating fair housing laws by concentrating public housing on the island.
Dispersing public housing throughout the more affluent areas of Galveston County, instead of concentrating it in Galveston, will give public housing residents a “better chance to escape from poverty,” he wrote.
Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=94d9ae7be216a700
Ike repair work steered at locals
By Rhiannan Meyers Galveston County Daily News February 12, 2010
GALVESTON — Local electricians, plumbers and other subcontractors and suppliers stand to get a large chunk of work from the $104 million in federal disaster recovery money the city plans to spend to rehabilitate and reconstruct hurricane-damaged houses in Galveston.
The city is investigating giving preference — within federal law — to general contractors who promise to use local subcontractors and buy supplies from companies owned and operated in Galveston and Galveston County.
Under federal law, the city cannot require general contractors to hire local businesses. Even if contractors want to hire locally, the city still must hire the lowest bidder.
Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=e039503b9571a4f1
City: Contractors can’t move buyout houses
By Rhiannon Meyers Galveston County Daily News February 13, 2010
GALVESTON — Contractors hired to demolish upscale West End beach houses the city acquired through a federal buyout program can’t pick up the houses and move them elsewhere, city officials announced Thursday.
At least one of the more than two dozen contractors hired by the city to remove houses acquired in the buyout said he intended to move the houses out of the floodplain, but city officials said Thursday that’s not allowed.
Lamson Nguyen, who owns Lamson Construction, bid $1, about 33 cents each, to move three high-end West End beach houses to locations he wouldn’t specify. City Manager Steve LeBlanc said the city still would award the bid to Nguyen if he agreed to only demolish the houses in Sands of Kahala Beach.
Full story at: http://www.galvnews.com/story.lasso?ewcd=a167ba2e9bdf448c
Ashby developers sue city of Houston
They seek more than $40 million over rejection of high-rise project
By Mike Snyder Houston Chronicle February 11, 2010
The battle over the Ashby high-rise moved to the courthouse Thursday as the project’s developers, rebuffed by city officials for 2½ years, sought more than $40 million in damages from Houston taxpayers.
A lawsuit filed by Buckhead Investment Partners Inc. argues that the city bowed to neighborhood pressure and exceeded its legal authority in its 11 denials of the company’s applications for permits to build a 23-story, mixed-use tower at 1717 Bissonnet.
Residences at risk: Willow Grove Lake wall collapses
Erosion chews up bank; backyards might be next
By Karen Smith Welch Amarillo Globe-Times February 10, 2010
Erosion caused by heavy winter precipitation has pushed the bank of a southeast Amarillo playa lake closer to the alley that separates the lake from South Lawn residential backyards.
“It’s really sheared off,” said Jon Underwood, whose home at 1007 S.E. 48th Ave. backs up to the embankment failure at Willow Grove Lake at 48th and South Washington Street.
“I’d really like to know what’s going on back there, or if this is going to keep going until I don’t have an alley,” he said.
Last week, runoff water washed away the dwindling dirt that kept in place an underground concrete drainage pipe and the concrete wall, called a head wall, where the pipe dumps water into the lake.
Full story at: http://www.amarillo.com/stories/021110/new_news1.shtml
Ex-Housing Authority boss charged with fraud
By Pink Rivera El Paso Times February 13, 2010
EL PASO — Former El Paso County Housing Authority Executive Director Tomas Rodriguez was arrested Friday morning on federal fraud charges, officials said.
A two-count indictment handed up this week alleges that Rodriguez misapplied more than $5,000 that belonged to the El Paso County Housing Authority from March 2006 through February 2008. Rodriguez is accused of using the money to remodel apartments he owns in Fabens.
Rodriguez allegedly paid a housing authority employee for work at the Del Valle Apartments and used housing authority money to buy household appliances for his apartments.
The case resulted from an investigation by the U.S. Department of Housing, the Urban Development Office of Inspector General and the FBI.
If convicted, Rodriguez faces a maximum of 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine per count. [End of story: http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_14393894?source=most_viewed]
A hand up, together: Housing charities use condos to boost urban homeownership
By Maryann Haggerty Washington Post February 13, 2010
They won’t get granite kitchen counters or exotic hardwood floors, but nine Northern Virginia families are about to become condominium owners.
The nine-unit Madison Ridge condo, off Lee Highway just west of Fairfax City, is the newest project of the Northern Virginia chapter of Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit developer best known for its volunteer-built single-family houses. The building is one of a smattering of condos built by nonprofit organizations around the region. While condo development may have embodied some of the worst excesses of the housing boom, these properties can provide a relatively low-cost entry to homeownership.
Stemming the Tide of Homelessness
Rapid re-housing might just be the answer to the nation’s growing homelessness problem.
By Zach Patton Governing February 2010
Last year, when the city of Raleigh, N.C., partnered with Wake County to announce a new program to help homeless families find housing, officials knew demand would be high. But the inundation of requests that poured in was shocking. At one of the two nonprofits administering the program, the call volume over the first weekend literally shut down the phone system, which maxed out at 999 voicemails. “They were flooded and had to shut down almost immediately, because they were so overwhelmed” says Joe Rappl, Raleigh’s special housing coordinator.
To hire more help, the vendor is now re-drafting its budget from three years to two. And fliers the city and county printed to increase program awareness haven’t been distributed — officials fear they’d generate an even greater increase in demand. “There’s just always more people than we can handle,” says Rappl.
What happened in Raleigh has been happening across the country in recent years. More and more families are becoming homeless, and local governments are struggling to meet their needs. Although the number of homeless individuals has held steady over the past few years, the number of homeless families is on the rise, jumping 9 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Full story at: http://www.governing.com/article/stemming-tide-homelessness