Bo McCarver’s Weekly News Compilation, 9-1 through 9-21-2010

Tuesday Report, September 21, 2010

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

Galveston’s shakers and movers have been informed by TDHCA that if they kill plans to rebuild 569 public housing units swiped out by Hurricane Ike, all the state’s federal recovery funds will be withheld. The notice underscores a legal agreement initiated by Texas Appleseed and the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service and approved by HUD.

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

Homebuilder sentiment unexpectedly flat in September

Reuters September 20, 2010

Homebuilder sentiment unexpectedly held steady in September, according to a survey on Monday that pointed to a still-weak housing market.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index was unchanged at 13, matching last month’s level, which was the lowest since March 2009. Economists polled by Reuters expected a rise to 14.

A reading above 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor. The index has not been above 50 since April 2006.

The NAHB survey showed the current sales conditions gauge for single-family home sales remained unchanged at 13 after August was revised down a point, which was the lowest level since April 2009. The sales expectations measure for the next six months remained unchanged at 18.

Full story at:

Home construction jumps 10.5 percent in August

Associated Press September 21, 2010

WASHINGTON — Home construction increased last month and applications for building permits also grew. But the gains were driven mainly by apartment and condominium construction, not the much larger single-family homes sector.

Construction of new homes and apartments rose 10.5 percent in August from a month earlier to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 598,000, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. That’s the highest level since April.

Pulling the figures up was a 32 percent monthly increase in the condominium and apartment market, a small portion of the market. Single-family homes, which represent about 80 percent of the market, grew more than 4 percent.

Full story at:,0,4926530.story

Expected rise in home sales may show a stabilizing market

By Courtney Schlisserman         Bloomberg News September 20, 2010

Home sales probably increased in August, a sign the U.S. real estate market is stabilizing after the expiration of a tax credit might have caused demand to plunge, economists said before reports on the housing market this week.

Purchases of new and previously owned homes rose 7.1 percent, to a combined 4.395 million annual pace, according to the median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey. A separate report could show orders for long-lasting goods, excluding transportation equipment, rebounded last month.

“Housing is in a fragile bottoming process,” said Aaron Smith, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pa. Projected gains in home sales and durable goods are “consistent with stabilizing growth, albeit it at a slower” pace than earlier this year, he said.

Broken HARP: The City’s Out-of-Tune Affordable Housing Program

By Matt Chaban       New York Observer September 13, 2010

Just over a year ago, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development began accepting applications for HARP, the Housing Asset Renewal Program. It was the brainchild of Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and was seen as a solution to two problems in the city—a desperate shortage of affordable housing and a glut of stalled or empty “luxury” housing created during the boom. The program was heralded by pundits and politicians alike as brilliant, gaining national attention in part for its novel, even ironic, twist—in which the luxury housing that had so battered affordable housing would be turned into it. The Bloomberg administration and the City Council set aside $20 million for a pilot program, with the hope of converting 400 units from luxury to affordable, with more no doubt to come, following the programs presumed popularity.

On HARP’s first anniversary, not a single unit has been converted, not a dollar spent.

Meanwhile, the program has been almost entirely ignored, except for the occasional story remarking on its ineffectuality.

Full story at:

Smart Decline in Post-Carbon Cities

By Deborah and Frank Popper           Post Carbon Reader July 112, 2010


Cities have always gained or lost population because of economic shifts, immigration, war, and environmental blessings or disasters. Settlements can dwindle and even disappear, as American western (and eastern) ghost towns and archaeological sites the world over show. Yet the United States has typically considered long-term urban population decline unusual—an anomaly that, should it occur in one place, has less significance than growth there and elsewhere.

Many American cities—mostly in the Midwest and Northeast—have, however, seen serious continuing
shrinkage in recent decades and are now beginning to face up to it. A few have tentatively tried to craft measures that accept the persistence, even permanence, of their smaller size. As these cities search for answers, one of the few models they can turn to comes from, of all places, the buffalo country of the Great Plains states. There, communities that fought population decline for decades are now preparing for the realities of a smaller, but not necessarily worse, future.

For the full report read

If Las Vegas is in decline, let’s make the most of it

By Scott Dickensheets Las Vegas Sun September 15, 2010

The other day I saw a U-Haul turtling down U.S. 95, toward Arizona, and not for the first time asked myself:

Is Las Vegas really in decline?

Of course, some have complained it has been in decline for years, because it couldn’t stitch together a decent social safety net, couldn’t sustain a museum, couldn’t even bring Ikea to the people. All signs of civic enfeeblement, I agree, and not only because I’m dying for an Ikea floor lamp.

But I mean “decline” in a more literal, arguably more urgent sense. Census and anecdotal evidence (for example, the number of outward-bound U-Hauls) indicates more people leave Vegas than arrive these days, and surely more would take off if they could unload their homes. By some estimates, as many as 60,000 houses sit vacant in the valley — ponder the monstrous nature of that number for a moment: an emptiness roughly equal to the population of Carson City.

Full story at:

Funding to state hinges on public housing

By Ian White Galveston County Daily News September 15, 2010

GALVESTON — Killing plans to replace 569 public housing units lost to Hurricane Ike could put an end to Community Development Block Grant funds for the whole state of Texas, one official said.

The senior counsel for a state agency confirmed Monday what he told Galveston City Council on Thursday — the federal dollars are awarded to the state under a legal agreement that binds it in the manner in which they are spent.

Kevin Hamby, of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said the block grant funds are awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to states and not to counties, cities or other entities individually.

Under a provision of federal law 42 USC, the state legally is bound to monitor the use of the funds and must ensure they are used entirely to “affirmatively further fair housing.”

That principle was reinforced by a conciliation agreement between the state and two fair-housing advocacy groups, Texas Appleseed and Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, which was approved by HUD on May 25.

Full story at:

Public housing smoking ban

Local authority following federal guidelines

By Rhiannon Meyers Corpus Christi Caller-Times September 18, 2010

CORPUS CHRISTI — The Corpus Christi Housing Authority will ban smoking in all public housing units starting Oct. 1 on the heels of a federal memo encouraging such action.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees public housing, strongly urged public housing agencies last year to implement no-smoking policies. Secondhand smoke can migrate between the densely packed units, causing respiratory illnesses, heart disease and cancer, the July 2009 memo stated.

More than half of the 1.2 million people living in public housing are older than 61 or younger than 18, populations that are considered especially vulnerable to the adverse effects of smoking, according to the memo.

Following that advice, the Corpus Christi Housing Authority board members in August agreed to ban smoking inside all 1,836 public housing units and common spaces at the agency’s 14 developments, Executive Vice President Joanna Moreno said. Smoking will be allowed outdoors.

The ban doesn’t apply to Section 8 units and the two developments built with low-income tax credits, Hampton Port apartments on Wooldridge Road and Sea Breeze Senior apartments on Derry Street, she said.

Full story at:

Tuesday Report, September 14, 2010

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

More horror stories surface this week as wannabe homeowners continue to take the bait and are screwed by a failing market and crooked realtors. Fine print and hidden fees shift money from the buyers pockets to brokers.

The second anniversary of Hurricane Ike finds Texas cities still rebuilding and rethinking their preparations for more disasters.

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

Pick The Better Investment: A Home Or Your Mattress

NPR September 11, 2010

“You need to invest in your future.” “A home is a great investment.” “It might be painful for a while, but it’s worth it.”

These are the refrains Dawn Crowell of St. Paul, Minn., heard over and over again from just about everyone.

The single mother of four eventually bought a house with the assumption that it would only increase in value. But like millions of Americans, Crowell has seen the value of her house plummet.

Over the past four years, Americans have lost more than $5 trillion in wealth tied up in their homes. Economists hold vastly different views on whether there are worse days to come, and whether the home was ever meant to be a nest egg.

Full story at:

Resale Fees That Only Developers Could Love

By Janet Morrissey          New York Times September 12, 2010

REBECCA AND TRENT DUPAIX of Eagle Mountain, Utah, spent a year searching for their dream home. The couple, who have five children, considered 15 to 20 houses before finding “the one.”

They were thrilled when they closed on a $227,000, rock-and-stucco home with five bedrooms and two and a half baths in March 2009.

But four months later, when a local television reporter was doing a story on housing taxes in their subdivision, the Dupaixs discovered that their sales contract included a “resale fee” that allows the developer to collect 1 percent of the sales price from the seller every time the property changes hands — for the next 99 years.

Mrs. Dupaix, 34, says she and her husband had no clue about the fee when they closed on the house. “Of course we were upset,” she says. “We didn’t know about it, and our closer at the title company didn’t know about it.”

Other buyers gutsy enough to venture into the battered housing market in the hope of scoring a bargain might be wise to check the fine print before popping open the Champagne and signing on the dotted line.

Full story at:

Dallas Rep. Jeb Hensarling wants to eliminate Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

By Dave Michaels         Dallas Morning News September 10, 2010

WASHINGTON – For years, conservatives inveighed against government-backed mortgage firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The complaints began with their dominance of the market and ended with a warning that taxpayers would bail them out one day.

Now that critics have been proven right, they’re on the spot to show they know what’s best for the future. Among the questions: Should Fannie and Freddie be privatized? Abolished? And how would government support the housing market without them?

Led by Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Dallas, House Republicans say they’re eager to curb government’s involvement in the housing market, starting with eliminating Fannie and Freddie. Hensarling has proposed legislation to do just that within five years; his ideas are most likely to matter if Republicans recapture the House in November.

Full story at:

Dallas-Fort Worth home resales fell 17% in August

By Steve Brown       Dallas Morning News September 10, 2010

North Texas home sales dropped 17 percent last month from a year ago, the third straight month of year-over-year declines in the pre-owned home market.

August’s slide was not as severe as July’s 29 percent plunge. And the 5,277 sales last month were up 5 percent from June, according to data from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University and the North Texas Real Estate Information Systems.

Prices continue to edge higher, but the decline in sales shows the local home market is still weak.

“We are showing a very gradual recovery,” said Ted Wilson of the Dallas-based housing analysis firm Residential Strategies. “We are going to continue that way until we see some more meaningful job growth.”

Full story at:

Local residents rebuild after Ike roars through Bolivar

By Michelle Marcotti        Nacogdoches Sentinel September 12, 2010

It was the area hit hardest by Hurricane Ike; receiving an estimated 90 percent of damage from the storm, according to several media outlets.

But, in the two years since Ike wreaked havoc on the Bolivar Peninsula, many of the Nacogdoches residents who own second homes along its stretch have been able to rebuild. And in the process, they’ve helped give a new face to a community some residents thought might not come back to life.

“It looks better than it did,” said Frank Still, who has had a house on the peninsula for the past six years. “To see what it looks like today, compared to what it did two years ago is just amazing. It’s improved that much.”

Still said part of the reason is because of a huge construction boom on the peninsula since the storm.

Full story at:

Officials say local response to Ike two years ago was shaped by previous storms

By Melissa Hayes          Lufkin Daily News September 12, 2010

It’s been two years since tropical storm force winds from Hurricane Ike raged through Lufkin.

Most of Angelina County remained in darkness for days as electrical crews worked to restore power. The State of Texas Division of Emergency Management stated it was one of the largest power outages in Texas history, according to a Lufkin Daily News article the day after Ike made landfall. Trees and limbs were scattered across roadways, and volunteers were all-hands-on-deck as 8,000 Gulf Coast evacuees poured into East Texas.

Officials with Angelina County and the city of Lufkin said they learned a lot from the devastating 2005 hurricane season and put that into practice when Ike hit Sept. 13, 2008. The shelter system had been worked out and the city of Lufkin wasn’t taking in more evacuees than it could handle.

Ful story at:

An overgrown mess

Run-down houses rot landscape

By Sara Foley Corpus Christi Caller-Times September 11, 2010

CORPUS CHRISTI — The random belongings left behind offer only a vague hint at why someone lived in a deteriorating house and then left it behind to rot.

Sometimes the taxes and mortgage were too high. Often the owners leave town, move into a nursing home or die, leaving no one willing or able to take over its upkeep.

But behind the doors, the scene is almost always the same.

A plate sits in a kitchen sink next to a half-full bottle of dish soap. Insulation pokes out between sheetrock seams. Scattered toys, soiled mattresses and a forgotten sweater litter the floor. Sunlight spills in the room from holes in the roof and siding. The floor shakes.

The houses can sit idle for months or years until neighbors complain, police notice transients breaking inside or a patrolling code enforcement officer spots the problem.

Because maintenance often has lagged for a long time, the houses frequently are beyond repair.

The city is addressing the expensive problem by demolishing as many houses as it can afford as quickly as the cumbersome process allows. Each case must follow several steps dictated by state law, including several inspections, numerous notices to property owners and a hearing before a city board. The entire process takes a minimum of 135 days but sometimes lasts years.

In the past six years, the city issued demolition orders for 241 houses and buildings. In most cases, the city paid to demolish the houses because owners couldn’t afford it or couldn’t be found.

Full story at:—code_house_demolition/

Area to lose $50 million if deadline passes

By Amanda Casanova Galveston County Daily News September 13, 2010

Social service agencies in Galveston County could lose millions in federal aid if the deadline to use Hurricane Ike recovery funds is not extended today in the Senate.

In an amendment backed by Sen. John Cornyn, agencies would have up to an additional two years to spend the social services block grants.

“This is one of those times where it will truly take an act of Congress,” Carolyn Rose, director of administrative services for the Gulf Coast Center, said.

Agencies in the Houston and Galveston area will lose about $50 million in federal aid Sept. 30 when the deadline lapses on funds.

“We’re all on tender hooks right now and trying to figure out what to do and whether that extension will become real,” said Ellie Hanley, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse House.

Full story at:

Fort Worth moves to buoy senior apartment complex after bond default

By Yamil Bernard      Fort Worth Star-Telegram September 13, 2010

FORT WORTH — Some reviewers laud the experience of living at Cobblestone Manor Apartments, which provides affordable housing for seniors.

“My mother-in-law loves it. It’s very neat and clean,” one person wrote in an Internet advertisement of the cottage-style complex. “There’s activities like arts & crafts, church on Thursdays, bingo and even a beauty shop.”

But Cobblestone, financed in part by bonds issued by the Tarrant County Housing Finance Corp., has struggled to generate enough revenue. As a result, it did not pay bondholders their Sept. 1 interest payment, according to a notice sent by the bond trustee.

That put the bonds into default.

Full story at:

Former housing exec faces embezzlement charge

By Guillermo Contreras San Antonio Express-News September 13, 2010

A former executive with the Housing Authority of Bexar County has been charged with embezzling thousands of dollars from the agency.

Lisa Ochoa, who was a HABC executive manager, was indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Austin. Her case was transferred this week to San Antonio.

Arraignment is pending for Ochoa, who is among a handful of former HABC employees accused of taking advantage of a policy that allowed them to sell back to the agency their unused time off and claim it in pay.

The indictment states Ochoa embezzled “at least” $5,000 between February 2000 and April 2006. A forensic audit found that she received $55,915 in questionable pay.

The audit also found two former executive directors wrongly received pay, including Laura Morales, 44, who cooperated with the FBI. She was sentenced in August to five years or probation for stealing $131,000 in employee leave she was not entitled to.

[End of story:]

Number of Families in Shelters Rises

By Michael Luo         New York Times September 12, 2010

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For a few hours at the mall here this month, Nick Griffith, his wife, Lacey Lennon, and their two young children got to feel like a regular family again.

Never mind that they were just killing time away from the homeless shelter where they are staying, or that they had to take two city buses to get to the shopping center because they pawned one car earlier this year and had another repossessed, or that the debit card Ms. Lennon inserted into the A.T.M. was courtesy of the state’s welfare program.

They ate lunch at the food court, browsed for clothes and just strolled, blending in with everyone else out on a scorching hot summer day. “It’s exactly why we come here,” Ms. Lennon said. “It reminds us of our old life.”

For millions who have lost jobs or faced eviction in the economic downturn, homelessness is perhaps the darkest fear of all. In the end, though, for all the devastation wrought by the recession, a vast majority of people who have faced the possibility have somehow managed to avoid it.

Full story at:

Tuesday Report, September 7, 2010

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

Federal programs to fix the housing market have flopped so the new cure is to simply let it fail. By doing nothing, the present underwater buyers will sink and future buyers will have to sober-up and cease buying and borrowing beyond their means.

Meanwhile, the federal clock is ticking off for aid for home repairs for victims of Hurricane Ike. Inept administration and bureaucratic red tape have stalled the flow of funds that are now nearing the deadline for allocation.

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

Housing Woes Bring a New Cry: Let the Market Fall

By David Streitfeld       New York Times September 6, 2010

The unexpectedly deep plunge in home sales this summer is likely to force the Obama administration to choose between future homeowners and current ones, a predicament officials had been eager to avoid.

Over the last 18 months, the administration has rolled out just about every program it could think of to prop up the ailing housing market, using tax credits, mortgage modification programs, low interest rates, government-backed loans and other assistance intended to keep values up and delinquent borrowers out of foreclosure. The goal was to stabilize the market until a resurgent economy created new households that demanded places to live.

As the economy again sputters and potential buyers flee — July housing sales sank 26 percent from July 2009 — there is a growing sense of exhaustion with government intervention. Some economists and analysts are now urging a dose of shock therapy that would greatly shift the benefits to future homeowners: Let the housing market crash.

Full story at:

A housing market out of sync

By Dina ElBoghdady Washington Post September 5, 2010

Jack Donnelly put off selling his Capitol Hill rowhouse for three years until he thought he saw glimmers of life in the housing market this past spring. At $950,000, he said, the red brick Victorian is a “solid deal.”

Jackie Wright sees it differently. The row house is one of many homes competing for her attention in uncertain economic times. She’s been looking to buy a home in the District since April but is in no rush to commit, partly because she thinks mortgage interest rates – and prices – could sink even lower.

As with many prospective sellers, Donnelly’s hopes for his rowhouse were forged in the past, before the housing bust, when homeowners assumed that real estate prices would inexorably rise. They expected to reap vast windfalls when their houses sold. But Wright’s eyes are turned to the future. She’s anxious about whether the coming months will bring more gloomy economic news and reluctant to gamble on a major purchase, especially if a flagging market might actually mean better deals ahead.

Full story at:

Grim Housing Choice: Help Today’s Owners or Future Ones

By David Streifeld         New York Times September 5, 2010

The unexpectedly deep plunge in home sales this summer is likely to force the Obama administration to choose between future homeowners and current ones, a predicament officials had been eager to avoid.

Over the last 18 months, the administration has rolled out just about every program it could think of to prop up the ailing housing market, using tax credits, mortgage modification programs, low interest rates, government-backed loans and other assistance intended to keep values up and delinquent borrowers out of foreclosure. The goal was to stabilize the market until a resurgent economy created new households that demanded places to live.

As the economy again sputters and potential buyers flee — July housing sales sank 26 percent from July 2009 — there is a growing sense of exhaustion with government intervention. Some economists and analysts are now urging a dose of shock therapy that would greatly shift the benefits to future homeowners: Let the housing market crash.

When prices are lower, these experts argue, buyers will pour in, creating the elusive stability the government has spent billions upon billions trying to achieve.

Full story at:

NYT Rides The “Foreclosure Express”

By Andy Kroll Mother Jones September 5, 2010

The New York Times’ Sunday Business section leads today with a smart story on the foreclosure crisis down in Florida—the woefully backlogged courts, the contentious tactics the courts are using to plow through the backlog, and the powerful law firms used by banks to handle those hundreds of thousands of foreclosure cases. Mother Jones readers should recognize the multimillionaire foreclosure attorney the Times spotlights, 50-year-old David J. Stern: A month ago, I broke the full story on Stern, his rise to become Florida’s Ferrari-owning foreclosure king, and his controversial and lawsuit-riddled past. Moreover, my story on Stern, and on a breed of law firms (including his) dubbed “foreclosure mills,” showed how America’s biggest (and most bailed out) banks, not to mention the taxpayer-subsidized housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, retain Stern’s sprawling operation and others like it to push through foreclosures using a high-pressure, assembly line-like process that’s often accused of steamrolling homeowners who get in the way. As it happened, not long after my story came out, in early August, the Florida Attorney General announced an investigation in Stern’s firm and two others like it.

Full story at:

Service agencies face aid deadline on Ike funds

By T.J. Aulds        Galveston County News September 5, 2010

GALVESTON — It wasn’t too long ago that Lucy Rangel-Click was embarrassed to let people see her house. After Hurricane Ike, she had only about $14,000 in federal assistance to replace the drywall and siding, fix the floor and repair the roof.

Replacing the walls and paying for her living expenses ate up that cash, leaving the lifelong Galveston resident with a blue tarp roof, a warped floor and an ugly exterior.

Work crews recently arrived at her house to finish the repairs, thanks to funding from a Social Services Block Grant managed by Catholic Charities.

“It looks better,” Rangel-Click said. “It doesn’t look like an eyesore anymore.”

Unless Congress takes action soon, the relief Rangel-Click and 59 other Galveston County residents are getting won’t be available for the many more who are living in houses damaged by Ike.

Full story at:

We’ve Banned Their Shopping Carts, Outlawed Panhandling, Provided Homes For The Homeless–And Nothing’s Worked. There May Be One Modest Proposal That Solves The Problem.

By Jim Schutze        Dallas Observer September 2, 2010

We need to put political correctness aside at least for the moment and have a frank discussion about killing the homeless. Can a case be made for it?

For the last couple weeks I have been talking to people about the homeless in Dallas, inspired first by the controversy over permanent homes for the homeless in North Oak Cliff, then by conversations with downtown property owners about The Bridge, the city’s homeless services center.

The lesson for me has been that the homeless situation is one of those fundamental manifestations of the human condition that can never be “solved” in the sense of making it go away, unless you make the humans go away.

Anything short of actually killing the homeless is going to fail to truly resolve the issue, for two reasons: 1) No matter where you move the homeless, they’re always somewhere, and 2) Nobody wants them “here,” meaning near them.

Full story at: