Bo’s housing news clips: Cost of living in Austin is ‘Out of Reach’ for most renters

Special to the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service by Bo McCarver

A few economists are now saying that the housing market is stabilizing – but recovery from the bust is slow as 23 percent of mortgages are underwater and home prices still exceed what most potential buyers can borrow.

A new report shows that the average U.S. renter, earning average wages, cannot afford to rent in the present market.

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


Housing report disappoints as existing-home sales dip in February

By Jia Lynn Yang and Howard Schneider         Washington Post       March 21, 2012

Sales of previously owned homes in the United States dropped 0.9 percent in February, according to a report released Wednesday, disappointing economists.

The number indicates that roughly five years after the housing bubble burst, the real estate market’s road forward remains bumpy. Many economists had thought that with mortgage rates near record lows and the job market improving, existing-home sales would rise.

Homes were sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.59 million, compared with 4.63 million in January, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors.

Many homeowners still owe more than their houses are worth. The share of underwater mortgages is at its highest level since 2009, according to a report released this month by CoreLogic. There are 11.1 million homeowners underwater, accounting for 22.8 percent of mortgages.

Still, sales were 8.8 percent higher than they were a year ago. And the national median home price was $156,000 in February, up 0.3 percent from a year ago. Some economists say those figures point to a stabilizing housing market, especially compared with the steep price drops of last year.

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U.S. home resales complete best winter in 5 years

By Derek Kravitz       Associated Press       March 21, 2012

WASHINGTON — U.S. home sales are gradually coming back. A mild winter and a stronger job market have helped boost sales ahead of the crucial spring buying season.

The past two months made up the best winter for sales of previously occupied homes in five years, when the housing crisis began. The sales pace in January was the highest since May 2010, the last month that buyers could qualify for a federal home-buying tax credit.

February sales dipped only slightly to a seasonally adjusted 4.59 million, the National Association of Realtors said Wednesday. That’s 13 percent higher than the sales pace last July and just below the revised 4.63 million in January.

Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said February’s lower numbers “should not detract from the key point, which is that sales are trending upward.”

The sales pace remains far below the 6 million that economists equate with healthy markets.

The number of first-time buyers, who are crucial to a housing recovery, continues to lag behind normal levels, while foreclosures remain high.

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The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans Gives New Meaning to ‘Urban Growth’

By Nathaniel Rich       New York Times       March 24, 2012

“We have snakes,” Mary Brock said. “Long, thick snakes. Kingsnakes, rattlesnakes.”

Brock was walking Pee Wee, a small, high-strung West Highland terrier who darted into the brush at the slightest provocation — a sudden breeze, shifting gravel, a tour bus rumbling down Caffin Avenue several blocks east. But Pee Wee had reason to be anxious. Brock was anxious. Most residents of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans are anxious. “A lot of people in my little area died after Katrina,” Brock said. “Because of too much stress.” The most immediate sources of stress that October morning were the stray Rottweilers. Brock had seen packs of them in the wildly overgrown lots, prowling for food. Pee Wee, it seemed, had seen them, too. “I know they used to be pets because they are beautiful animals.” Brock corrected herself: “They were beautiful animals. When I first saw them, they were nice and clean — inside-the-house animals. But now they just look sad.”

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Is Growth a Prerequisite for Long-Term Community Health and Prosperity?

By David Morley        Sustaining Places      March 21, 2012

For most planners the obvious answer to the title question is probably no. But if this is the case, why is it so hard to articulate a realistic and compelling vision for community health and prosperity for a city with a declining population?

The answer, in part, is that the dominant planning paradigm in the United States has always been growth oriented. In other words, communities typically make plans to accommodate or manage demand for new development. Moreover, local planning programs frequently depend primarily on private development for plan implementation. If that development never happens, the community’s vision will not come to fruition.

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Then There’s This: Through the Roof

Cost of living in Austin is ‘Out of Reach’ for most renters

By Amy Smith        Austin Chronicle      March 22, 2012

A new national report on the cost of rent for working people confirms what most of us already know: Austin, we have an affordability problem.

“Out of Reach 2012” – released last week by the National Low Income Housing Coalition – breaks down rental housing costs by state, county, and metropolitan area. The good news? Austin’s “average” tenant makes more money than renters in most other Texas cities. The bad news: Austin is the most expensive city in Texas for residents making minimum wage or close to it, meaning their “housing wage” (which includes household costs, such as utilities) makes it impossible for most renters to afford a two-bedroom apartment without a second job or roommates.

High rents have become increasingly challenging for tenants in big cities nationwide. To cover the costs of utilities and a “modest” two-bedroom dwelling, full-time workers must earn on average $18.25 an hour, “significantly surpassing the $14.15 hourly wage actually earned by renters, on average, nationally,” the report states.

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SAHA to brainstorm ideas

By Karisa King        San Antonio Express-News       March 21, 2012

The San Antonio Housing Authority is inviting the community to help brainstorm ideas that will chart the agency’s course for the rest of the decade.

As part of a planning initiative called Plan.Build.Live, the housing authority will lead a workshop Saturday aimed at sparking a public conversation about how to define its most important goals. The target audience: Anyone with an interest.

While the effort is not an official component of the Mayor Julián Castro‘s well-known SA 2020, the city’s long-range plan, the meeting will focus on how the housing authority can add to that vision.

“Housing is an important component of a city’s quality of life,” SAHA board Chairman Ramiro Cavazos said. “We want to open up the housing authority to the needs and ideas of the rest of the community.”

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Housing for the Homeless: 14 Smart & Sensitive Solutions

By Steph          Architecture & Design, Urbanism        March 21, 2012

Photo essay of homeless shelters:

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