Bo McCarver’s weekly news compilation, 3-15-2011

Tuesday Report, March 15, 2011

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service

The horror stories of screwed homeowners continue to surface as Congress prepares to stifle any relief programs. The cuts are now extended to veteran’s with a proposal to cut housing vouchers by 10,000 annually.

In Fort Bend, NIMBYs protest an affordable housing complex while Lubbock’s shakers and movers seek ways to move homeless shelters away from a downtown area designated for upscale housing.

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

House looks to cut $62 billion for distressed homeowners, properties

The House voted this week to end two programs to help certain homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages. More housing aid is on the chopping block, as lawmakers decry ‘ineffective’ programs.

By Gail Russell Chaddock         Los Angeles        March 11, 2011

Washington — Is it worth spending $50 million in taxpayer dollars to help 42 families refinance their underwater mortgages? House Republicans said no – opening a new front this week in their bid to rein in deficits by cutting funds from programs they deem to be failing.

“One reason Republicans have been willing to be so aggressive on getting rid of these programs is that they haven’t helped a lot of people,” says Mark Calabria, director of financial regulation studies for the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Eighteen fiscally conservative House Democrats joined all but one Republican in voting Thursday to terminate and rescind unobligated funding for the FHA’s Refinance Program. On Friday, the House voted to rescind funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s $1 billion Emergency

Mortgage Relief Program, which aims to help unemployed homeowners facing foreclosure. The measure passed 242 to 177, with eight Democrats joining all but two Republicans to defund the program.

Full story at:

Federal cuts could hit US housing agencies

Associated Press       March 13, 2011

Kevin Gaines and his family got rashes soon after they moved into their new apartment. His son kept getting nosebleeds. The dust made it hard to breathe. When Gaines, a liver transplant recipient, saw yellow mold creeping over the ceiling, he said doctors warned it could cause him to reject his new organ.

After Gaines complained, city inspectors recorded dozens of code violations and city workers even came in to make repairs.

New York City officials warn, however, that budget cuts being pushed by some members of Congress could decimate their housing enforcement efforts, slicing the funds used to pay inspectors, sue landlords and perform emergency repairs. Around the country, the cuts could also shutter community centers, leave rural water outages unchecked, stymie plans for new housing developments and reduce the money available for fixing broken elevators and leaking roofs in the nation’s public housing.

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Homeless veterans could lose 10,000 housing vouchers

By Rob Hotakainen        McClatchy Newspapers        March 10, 2011

WASHINGTON — Top Senate Democrats raised loud objections Thursday to a plan by Republicans in the House of Representatives that they said would eliminate 10,000 housing vouchers for homeless veterans this year, an effort to save $75 million from the 2011 federal budget.

“I believe it’s immoral,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, urging House Republicans to abandon the plan.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the proposal “astounding” and said no federal budget should shortchange the most vulnerable Americans. She wants to eliminate homelessness among U.S. veterans.

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Backstage players in foreclosure mess attract legislators’ attention

By Barry Harrell         Austin American-Statesman        March 13, 2011

Like millions of homeowners, Donna Batts had heard the advice: If you get behind on your mortgage payments, call the company that handles your loan and ask for a modification or some other help.

But after Batts lost her job following a knee injury and fell behind on her mortgage in 2009, she says she got the opposite of help when she tried to talk with her loan servicing company, BAC Home Loans Servicing, a subsidiary of Bank of America and one of the largest mortgage loan servicing companies in the nation.

Batts said she endured dozens of fruitless phone conversations and repeatedly got confusing and misleading information.

“You’d call and talk to one person, and they’d turn around and transfer you to this person, to a point where you wouldn’t really get any results,” said Batts, 41. “I talked to so many people, and they didn’t care. It was, ‘we want your house; the bank wants your house.'”

In September 2009, she was promised a temporary loan modification and made agreed-on partial payments.

Batts was stunned when she was notified the next month that her Northeast Austin home had been posted to be sold at a foreclosure auction, potentially leaving her and her 6-year-old son, Jeremiah, homeless.

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Foreclosures up across area

Recession taking a toll on housing market

By Fanny S. Chirinos         Corpus Christi Caller-Times        March 13, 2011

CORPUS CHRISTI — The recession’s effect on the Coastal Bend was delayed compared with other parts of the country, but when it hit, it particularly affected the housing market.

Several area counties saw bank foreclosures increase in 2007 and rise significantly in 2008. Local Realtors doing business in some of the hardest hit counties disagree on whether numbers will remain high in 2011.

Nueces County jumped from 275 foreclosures in 2006 to 575 last year, according to RealtyTrac, an online database of foreclosure data. The company collects data from more than 2,200 counties that account for 90 percent of the U.S. population.

Aransas County, which had no foreclosures in 2006, had 25 a year later and 70 in 2010. Jim Wells County, which also had none in 2006, had one foreclosure a year later, 80 in 2008 and 98 last year.

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Corpus Christi home market pinched by tighter regulations, poor credit scores

Few qualifiedto purchase home

By Rick Spruill         Corpus Christi Caller-Times        March 13, 2011

CORPUS CHRISTI — Now is the time to buy a home in the Coastal Bend.

If only there were more qualified buyers.

Low credit scores combined with tighter government restrictions on mortgage loans mean fewer buyers are available to snatch up deals even as average home prices drop.

South Texas finally is feeling the pinch other areas of the country started feeling two years ago, said Gabe Guerra, Corpus Christi regional manager for Kleberg Bank.

About 10 months’ worth of homes are on the market, or about 2,800 homes, according to the Texas A&M University Real Estate Center. Before the real estate bubble burst in 2008, the average home sales price in Corpus Christi was $172,400. By January, the average sales price was $140,300, nearly 20 percent less.

“It is definitely a buyer’s market out there,” Guerra said.

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A Shrinking City Knocks Down Neighborhoods

NPR         March 15, 2011

By 2006, most of the steel mills in Youngstown, Ohio, had been gone for decades. The population was shrinking year after year. So the city launched a bold plan to redeem itself.

The plan: Quit trying to redeem itself.

Before 2006 and the bold plan, there were other ideas. Or, rather, multiple variations on the same idea.

Youngstown was going to replace the steel industry with a car factory. Or with a NASCAR racetrack, or a riverboat casino. Maybe a blimp factory out by the airport.

“That was the mentality,” says Mayor Jay Williams. “It was grasping for straws. If you came in with what seemed to be an even marginally viable economic idea, there was a rush to make that the thing that was going to save Youngstown.”

In 2006, the city abandoned all that. And Youngstown walked away from the most fundamental assumption of economic development and city planning: The idea that a city needs to grow.

“We needed as a city to recognize that we’re a smaller city,” says Bill D’Avignon, head of Youngstown city planning. “We’re not going to grow; we’re never going to be the Youngstown we thought we were going to be.”

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Planning for a Range of Housing Options

Kyle Shiel             The Next American City        March 11, 2011

The prolonged economic downturn has had many impacts, including widespread layoffs, high unemployment, and mass foreclosures. The most jarring impact for many Americans is the realization that they are not as affluent as they had previously thought. The large homes that were once symbols of prosperity became a financial millstone once mortgage rates reset and the larger economy slowed down. House flipping as a form of instant wealth generation became obsolete in much of the country. Harsh economic climates often shape citizens attitudes towards consumption and personal finance, while policymakers must reconsider past practices. The planning profession can play an important part in helping Americans adjust to an age of austerity.

For the average wage earner, homes will again first and foremost become a place to live, rather than a source of instant appreciation and profit. They will rightfully be seen as means of more gradual middle-class wealth accumulation. Stagnant wages and a sagging labor market for the foreseeable future dictate that the range of available housing reflect economic realities rather than attempts at wish fulfillment. If you looked at housing prices in many areas of the country in recent years and found yourself asking how the average middle-class family could afford the extravagant prices, the answer is now apparent: They couldn’t afford them.

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Building in Affordability

A range of existing policy tools can help preserve and expand affordable housing near planned transit stations — but to have the most effect, they need to be put in place up front.

By Rebecca Cohen and Emily Salomon         Shelterforce         March 15, 2011

Earlier this year, a speaker at the National Inclusionary Housing Conference noted that the performance of a housing policy or program can no longer be measured simply by the number of homes created or preserved. These days, the measure of a successful housing program must also account for effective multitasking, strategically leveraging every dollar and opportunity to simultaneously achieve multiple goals.

This has special relevance in communities planning to develop or expand light rail and other public transit systems. While working families often have the most to gain from access to low-cost transportation alternatives, experience has shown that land costs near planned stations often escalate rapidly in anticipation of new transit investments, and failure to act early and build in affordability at the outset can make it extremely difficult and costly to preserve and expand housing affordable to working families and others along transit corridors. A similar dynamic may apply to the areas around existing transit stations—and to village and town centers—that are the focus of reinvestment and redevelopment.

Fortunately, several policies that have long been part of the traditional affordable housing toolbox can also be employed to ensure that affordability is “built in” to development within walking distance of new transit stations, as well as to other areas experiencing reinvestment and redevelopment.

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Proposed apartments draw protests from neighbors in Fort Bend

By Zen T.C. Zheng          Houston Chronicle        March 10, 2011

A proposed apartment project for low- to moderate-income tenants in Fort Bend County has drawn protests from a slew of local residents, government officials and economic development groups.

Carmel, Ind.-based Pedcor Investments is seeking a $1.3 million annual federal low-income housing tax credit for The Landings at Westheimer Lakes, proposed north of Canyon Fields Drive and west of FM 723 near Richmond.

On Wednesday, the Katy Area Economic Development Council issued a resolution to oppose the 96-unit project, after the homeowners association of the Westheimer Lakes subdivision near the project wrote Pedcor last month to voice concerns that the project “generated a high level of anxiety” among homeowners.

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Homeless panel asks impact of development

By Elliott Blackburn        Lubbock Avalanche-Journal        March 13, 2011

Plans to transform Lubbock’s downtown have focused on high-rent clients, but that doesn’t mean there was no room for the homeless, a developer’s representative told the city’s homeless committee Thursday.

Carl Tepper praised an effort to move a downtown “tent city” to more developed property across the interstate as ideal.

The McDougal Land Co. vice president of special projects said in response to committee questions developers had not formally looked into incorporating projects like The Bridge in Dallas that offered a more attractive resource for the city’s homeless without dragging down property values.

Groups representing that project and the Haven for Hope effort, in San Antonio, made presentations to the committee and at the Underwood Center in late January. Louise Underwood attended Thursday’s meeting.

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Veterans’ quest to get back extra mortgage payments

By Dave Lieber       Fort Worth Star-Telegram        March 13, 2011

Vester Owens had a complaint unlike any I’ve heard. The retired 88-year-old Air Force sergeant believed he had accidentally overpaid his home mortgage. Not by a little, either. After his Fort Worth house, which he bought in 1953, was paid off in 1973, payments continued to be deducted from his military allotment until 2009.

When he discovered the error two years ago, he and his family believed that he had overpaid by more than $30,000.

“The question is, where’s the money?” asks his nephew, Darryl Owens, who contacted me.

Vester Owens found some of it. He complained to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, which handles retirees’ pay for 2.3 million veterans, including him. Once the service learned that he is still alive, it returned $3,500 in overpayments.

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