Bo McCarver’s housing news clips for May

DOJ receives rare praise in financial crisis cases

By Aruna Viswanatha        Reuters       May 25, 2012

One part of the Justice Department has been receiving something in short supply for those investigating conduct tied to the financial crisis: praise.

A unit in the civil rights division focused on discrimination in the housing market has been churning out cases accusing major lenders of charging African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher interest rates than similar white borrowers.

In April, for example, it sued GFI Mortgage Bankers Inc on such grounds for loan activity from 2005 through 2009.

In December, the Justice Department reached a record $335 million settlement with failed mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp, now owned by Bank of America Corp, for loans made between 2004 and 2008.

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Distressed Mortgages for Sale

Foreclosed properties have been flooding the auction block following the housing crisis. Less visibly, pools of distressed loans are also being sold off—and it’s a market ripe for partnership with neighborhood stabilization actors.

By George Ostendorf         Shelterforce        April 24, 2012

The news these days is constantly full of stories about the market for foreclosed properties. But how often do you hear about the market for distressed mortgages themselves? A lot less. That’s at least partly because it is private. Trades are rarely publicized. There are no exchanges or reliable services that report prices and volumes. Market participants do business under comprehensive non-disclosure agreements.

But nonetheless these loans are being actively traded. According to knowledgeable participants, about $17.5 billion of residential distressed mortgages (roughly 100,000 loans) were likely sold in 2011. Approximately $26 billion (roughly 149,000 loans) were sold in 2010. Knowing something about how this market works and who is participating in it can be useful for those trying to stabilize neighborhoods with high concentrations of distressed loans—and possibly even open opportunities for partnership.

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Home prices edge up in March: S&P

Reuters       May 29, 2012

Single-family home prices edged higher in March, the second month of gains in a row, adding on to signs the housing market is stabilizing, a closely watched survey said on Tuesday.

The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas gained 0.1 percent in March on a seasonally adjusted basis, falling shy of economists’ forecasts for a gain of 0.2 percent.

On an unadjusted basis, the index was unchanged.

Prices in the 20 cities were down 2.6 percent year over year, improving from the 3.5 percent yearly decline seen last month.

Still, the major indexes ended the first quarter at new post-crisis lows, the report said. For the first quarter, prices were down 2 percent, compared to a 3.9 percent decline in the last three months of 2011.

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McMansions Fuel New Home Sales

By AnnaMaria Andriotis        Smartmoney      May 23, 2012

The rise in new home sales is being driven in part by demand for the kind of larger and more luxurious custom-built houses that had fallen out of favor in recent years: so-called McMansions.

Data released on Wednesday shows that sales of newly built homes rose 3.3% in April from a month prior and 9.9% from a year ago. While the figures do not disclose the size of these new homes, home builders credited the McMansion side of the spectrum. That’s a reversal from recent trends: During the recession the size of homes got smaller, shrinking 3.4% to 2,382 square feet, according to the US Census. But last year that size jumped 5.2% to 2,505 – the largest in at least four years. In many regions of the country, homes are even larger.

Home builders say the trend toward larger new homes picked up more this year. Michael Villane, president of Lead Dog Builders, a custom home builder in Rumson, N.J., says he’s currently building homes with sticker prices of $1.5 to $4 million, up from the $1.3  to $1.5 million his clients were commissioning a year ago. While the average size of homes in the region is 3,500 to 5,500 square feet, he says the orders he’s received this year are for 7,000 plus-square feet homes. Though there’s no official definition of the word, many define McMansions as new homes larger than 3,000 square feet.

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Urban trees reveal income inequality

By Tim De Chant       Per Square Mile       May 17, 2012

Wealthy cities seem to have it all. Expansive, well-manicured parks. Fine dining. Renowned orchestras and theaters. More trees. Wait, trees? I’m afraid so.

Research published a few years ago shows a tight relationship between per capita income and forest cover. The study’s authors tallied total forest cover for 210 cities over 100,000 people in the contiguous United States using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s natural resource inventory and satellite imagery. They also gathered economic data, including income, land prices, and disposable income.

They found that for every 1 percent increase in per capita income, demand for forest cover increased by 1.76 percent. But when income dropped by the same amount, demand decreased by 1.26 percent. That’s a pretty tight correlation. The researchers reason that wealthier cities can afford more trees, both on private and public property. The well-to-do can afford larger lots, which in turn can support more trees. On the public side, cities with larger tax bases can afford to plant and maintain more trees. Given the recent problems New York City has had with its aging trees dropping limbs on unsuspecting passers-by—and the lawsuits that result—it’s no surprise that poorer cities would keep lean tree inventories.

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Ex-offenders says housing, jobs are tough to find

Mitch Mitchell          Fort Worth Star-Telegram        May 28, 2012

FORT WORTH, Texas — For a brief moment, Tim Baker considered that death might improve his situation.

“Suicide is natural for someone who is depressed,” Baker said.

Baker had a number of scrapes with the law, ending with felony convictions on two charges of driving while intoxicated. After an eight-year prison stay, he was released. He got a job as a heating and air-conditioning technician and reunited with his family.

But he was let go after the company began working for a school district, which prohibits convicted felons from being on school property.

Soon Baker was on the streets.

“I get the sense that most people don’t care,” he said. “We’re put in this mold of being once a convict, always a convict.”

Baker, 52, now lives at the Salvation Army in Fort Worth and spends his days putting out dozens of résumés in an effort to find work. He and Brian Shaw, who is also looking for work, often run into each other at Texas Re-Entry Services, which tries to give them the tools they need to find employment and housing. They are among about 75,000 inmates whom the Texas Department of Criminal Justice releases every year. This year about 7,000 are expected to return to Tarrant County.

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FEMA trailer litigation nears end

Associated Press       May 29, 2012

A class-action settlement agreement has been reached to resolve nearly all the remaining court claims over allegations that government-issued trailers exposed Gulf Coast residents to hazardous fumes after Hurricane Katrina, a lead plaintiffs’ attorney said Monday.

In a court filing late Monday, plaintiffs’ lawyers and several companies that manufactured FEMA trailers after the 2005 storm asked U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt to approve an expanded version of a multimillion-dollar deal initially announced in April.

A separate agreement with four FEMA contractors that installed or refurbished trailers will be filed Tuesday, lead plaintiffs’ attorney Gerald Meunier told The Associated Press.

Nearly two dozen FEMA trailer makers agreed last month to pay a total of $14.8 million to resolve claims over elevated formaldehyde levels in FEMA trailers following hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Monday’s expanded settlement agreement includes claims against trailer manufacturers Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Forest River Inc., Jayco Inc. and Monaco Coach Corp. Representatives of the four companies didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

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Foreclosures down, short sales up. Are banks getting smart?

Foreclosures are down to their lowest levels in nearly five years. One reason: Lenders are increasingly using short sales, instead.

By Laurent Belsie         Christian Science Monitor       May 17, 2012

The number of foreclosures in April fell to their lowest level since 2007 – and one reason is that lenders are getting smart.

Instead of foreclosing on people, a costly and lengthy process, they’re increasingly using short sales to move people out of homes they can no longer afford. Short sales are not only faster than foreclosures, they often turn out to be cheaper. By forgiving part of the loan up front (a loss they would take anyway during foreclosure, lenders can get possession of a house faster and sell it before it has had time to deteriorate.  Homeowners get to shed their mortgage debt faster – and with less damage to their credit rating.

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Foreclosed Americans find way back to homeownership

By Jilian Mincer        Reuters       May 16, 2012

When Jennifer Anderson’s family could no longer afford their mortgage and lost their home, she expected many years to pass before they would again become property owners.

But less than two years later, in March, they purchased a $297,000 house outside Phoenix, Arizona, after qualifying for a loan backed by the U.S. government.

They joined a small but growing number of Americans who are making a surprisingly quick return to homeownership after defaulting on their loans or being forced into short sales that cost their banks money.

“We didn’t really expect it,” said Anderson, 40. “We were resigned to the fact that we were going to be in a rental property for a while.”

Financial problems arose after she lost her job as a customer service representative for a health insurance company and her husband’s hours at an automaker were cut. To make matters worse, they used up her retirement savings trying to keep their home.

Data is not available, but interviews with more than 30 lenders, builders, Realtors and consumers suggest that a growing number of Americans are getting back into the housing market, even though they went through a foreclosure, bankruptcy or short sale in recent years.

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Mortgage rates sink to record lows for third straight week

By J.D. Harrison        Washington Post      May 17, 2012

For the third time in as many weeks, fixed rate mortgages sank to their lowest levels on record, according to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac.

The 30-year fixed rate average continued plummeting to 3.79 percent, down from what was an all-time low of 3.83 percent last week. The 30-year has remained below 4 percent all but one week this year and remain well off its pace from a year ago, when it averaged 4.61 percent.

The 15-year also crept lower to a new record low of 3.04 percent, down by the slimmest of margins from 3.05 percent the week prior. This time last year, the 15-year hovered at 3.80 percent.

Freddie Mac’s vice president and chief economist said that, despite encouraging news this week in the United States, rates were again driven down by the worsening situation in Europe.

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Subdivisions go urban as housing market changes

By Haya El Nasser         USA Today       May 17, 2012

Townhouses and single-family homes are sprouting on old industrial sites in the heart of Southern California cities. In Florida, developers are coveting foreclosed golf courses in urban centers to put up new subdivisions. Builders in Texas are going after available land even near landfills for residential and retail development.

Why are the giants of the building industry, the creators for decades of massive communities of cookie-cutter homes, cul-de-sacs and McMansions in far-flung suburbs, doing an about-face? Why are they suddenly building smaller neighborhoods in and close to cities on land more likely to be near a train station than a pig farm?

A housing industry slowly shaking off the worst economic conditions in decades is rethinking what type of housing to build and where to build it. It’s a response to a new wave of home buyers who have no desire to live in traditional subdivisions far from urban amenities.

The nation’s development patterns may be at a historic juncture as builders begin to reverse 60-year-old trends. They’re shifting from giant communities on wide-open “greenfields” to compact “infill” housing in already-developed urban settings.

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Angered homeowners seek retribution, get frustration

By Jennifer Hiller     San Antonio Express-News        May 18, 2012

Residents of Stablewood Farms on the West Side say no one ever told them that their new homes were built on top of an old sewage treatment plant.

Now some homeowners are asking their builder to buy back their homes — and wondering why the city of San Antonio encouraged development there in the first place.

The city used a special taxing district in 2001 to spur the development of Stablewood Farms, near the intersection of Highway 90 and Loop 410, and the site of the former Dwyer Road Plant, which closed in the early 1990s.

John Dugan, the city’s planning director, said the location near the intersection of major highways made the area a high redevelopment priority for the city.

“In terms of development, it’s a prime location for commercial, for residential, for multifamily,” Dugan said. The city created a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which sets aside the taxes on any increase in property values to finance public improvements such as streets and sidewalks, in that area.

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Residents evacuated after walkway collapse; apartments deemed unsafe

By Ben Wermund       Austin American-Statesman       May 19, 2012

At least 150 residents of the Wood Ridge Apartments in Southeast Austin were ordered to evacuate their homes Friday night after 42 more units were determined unsafe to live in.

The second-story walkways on five of the complex’s 15 buildings “are in imminent danger of collapse,” said Ron Potts, assistant division manager at the City of Austin Code Compliance department.

The entire complex is sub-standard, though the walkways are the only major problems that code officials have discovered, Potts said.

“We know there are a lot of other violations,” he said.

More than two dozen residents were evacuated Wednesday night after one of the walkways partially detached at the complex, at 1900 Burton Drive. That walkway collapsed Thursday morning.

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Midland Memorial Hospital halts housing project

Midland Report-News      May 17, 2012

A temporary housing project for future Midland Memorial Hospital employees has been put on hold as MMH officials say they are exploring their options.

The urgency of the project has been halted as of now, said Marcy Madrid, MMH director of marketing and media relations.

“As we’ve moved forward it’s been put on the back burner as we get more aggressive on reserving hotel rooms and apartments,” she said.

“We’re still looking for a better solution. But we’re not taking a real aggressive approach. We’re still exploring options.”

On April 25, the hospital board approved $300,000 to be used for temporary housing to be developed to house new recruits coming to work at the hospital this summer.

The lack of housing in Midland has posed a problem to those recruiting for the hospital. One example, hospital officials cited was a recently hired dietitian who was unsure about taking the job because of a concern about having no place to live.

A crew of 15 recent nursing graduates will embark on Midland in June as the hospital’s newest employees, and MMH wants to have temporary housing ready for them and other new employees who can’t find a place as apartments report full occupancy.

Madrid said hospital officials are looking to take more time to develop a more long-term solution to the housing shortage.

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Bank to Pay $202 Million To Settle Suit On Mortgages

By Nelson D. Schwartz         New York Times        May 10, 2012

Deutsche Bank agreed on Thursday to pay the federal government more than $200 million to settle accusations that it knowingly misled the Department of Housing and Urban Development about the quality of mortgages that later defaulted.

The defaults ultimately cost taxpayers about $368 million. The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed against Deutsche in May 2011 by the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, along with HUD and the Department of Justice.

The home loans were issued by MortgageIT, a mortgage provider that Deutsche Bank bought in 2007. Under the terms of the settlement, Deutsche Bank admitted it should have known that MortgageIT’s practices did not conform to HUD rules after it made the acquisition. The $202 million settlement is a significant victory for the federal Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, which was established to investigate the abuses that culminated in the financial crisis of 2008 and early 2009.

MortgageIT insured the loans under a Federal Housing Administration program called Direct Endorsement Lender despite the fact that they did not qualify under the rules of the program and were not eligible for the insurance, according to the suit. When the loans later soured, the government was obligated to cover the losses.

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Ally hopes to end mortgage woes with ResCap bankruptcy

By Rick Rothacker and Paritosh Bansal         Reuters        May 14, 2012

Ally Financial Inc’s mortgage unit on Monday filed for bankruptcy and the auto lender said it will sell some international operations to help set it on a path to repaying $12 billion in bailout money.

Ally’s mortgage unit, called Residential Capital, or ResCap, filed for bankruptcy protection in federal court in Manhattan under a plan that has the support of some of its creditors, although it was still expected to be a drawn-out and litigious process.

At the same time, Nationstar Mortgage Holdings, which is majority owned by Fortress Investment Group, struck a deal to buy substantially all the mortgage servicing and related assets from ResCap for about $2.4 billion, including debt. The deal will make Nationstar the opening bidder in an auction that will be held under bankruptcy court rules.

“The single-most important thing we can do for the U.S. taxpayer is to not put billions of dollars into this business on a going-forward basis,” Ally CEO Michael Carpenter said in an interview.

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Fannie Mae Posts Profit, Doesn’t Need Federal Funds For First Time Since Crisis

By Eyder Peralta        NPR      May 9, 2012

The mortgage giant Fannie Mae announced today that it made $2.7 billion during the first quarter of 2012. For the first time since the beginning of the financial crisis, Fannie Mae will not ask the federal government for bailout funds.

CNN reports the company will pay a dividend to the Treasury Department. CNN adds:

“The company was able to report the gain mostly because it had lower expenses for its losses. Two key reasons: home price declines have slowed and fewer mortgages are in serious delinquency. …

“January and February made up the best winter for sales of previously occupied homes in five years. Builders are making plans to build more homes in 2012 than at any other point in past 3½ years. Mortgage rates have never been cheaper. And while home prices continue to fall, most cities have reported smaller annual declines than in previous months.”

MSNBC reports that last year, during this same quarter, Fannie Mae posted a $6.5 billion net loss.

In a statement, the company said its potential for losses had likely peaked in December of 2011 and that it expects its financial results in 2012 to be “significantly better than 2011.”

Fannie Mae had asked for money from the Treasury in every quarter since it was taken into conservatorship by the government in Sept. of 2008. During the fourth quarter of 2011, it asked for a $4.6 billion draw from the Treasury.

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Foreclosure Review Is Free, But Few Borrowers Apply

By Yuki Noguchi       NPR       May 9, 2012

It’s been more than six months since government regulators and banks first extended an offer to 4.3 million homeowners facing foreclosure: to review, at no cost, the foreclosure process to check for any possible errors or misrepresentations.

Homeowners stand to collect compensation of as much as $100,000 if errors are found. But thus far, only a tiny percentage of those eligible have signed up.

‘Not Enough Folks Have Signed Up’

The push for a review process was set in motion by the “robo-signing” scandal. In 2010, several banks admitted mishandling some foreclosure documents. Some borrowers may have wrongfully lost their homes as a result, and the scandal exposed systemic problems in the foreclosure process.

In the wake of the scandal, federal bank regulators required 14 mortgage companies to establish the Independent Foreclosure Review process.

The review costs homeowners nothing, but at last count, only 165,000 people — fewer than 4 percent of those eligible — have applied.

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Protesters voice anger outside BofA annual meeting

By Rick Rothacker       Reuters        May 9, 2012

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – Hundreds of demonstrators marched outside Bank of America Corp’s (BAC.N) annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday to voice anger over issues ranging from foreclosures to corporate taxes to financing for the coal industry.

The meeting, held in the bank’s headquarters city of Charlotte, North Carolina, has drawn protesters in the past, but the crowd this year was bigger than any time in recent memory.

By 11 a.m., the crowd was estimated at 700 to 800, Jen Soriano, a spokeswoman for Unity, an alliance of groups participating in the protest.

Demonstrators staged a mock boxing match between two fighters, one said to represent the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans and the other representing the other 99 percent. The group coordinating the protests calls itself “99 Percent Power.”

Bank of America’s shareholders approved the proposed executive pay package. All shareholder proposals failed to pass.

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At the 20th Congress for the New Urbanism, a Movement Feels its Age

By Anthony Flint       The Atlantic Cities       May 10, 2012

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The season, as it’s known, ended in April, leaving Lily Pulitzer-clad stragglers shopping for sunglasses on Worth Avenue and ordering the steak au poivre at Flagler’s. Until this week, when the stomping grounds of the Kennedys, Donald Trump, and Rod Stewart are descended upon by an entirely different brand of aging rocker: the New Urbanist.

The 20th gathering of the Congress for the New Urbanism runs through the weekend here, and the milestone raises some interesting questions about what happens when a revolutionary movement reaches middle age – and indeed in the world of planning and especially real estate development, becomes part of the establishment.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, New Urbanism was hitting the cover of Time as a grassroots architectural and design movement dead-set against auto-dependent suburban sprawl. CNU preached compact, walkable, mixed-use development, and traditional town planning principles for grid street layouts and user-friendly parks. It was back to the future, before World War II and the age of the automobile, before the soulless exurban tracts around cul-de-sacs, that arch-enemy of the connected landscape.

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Housing complex improved with stimulus funds

By Karisa King      San Antonio Express-News      May 9, 2012

The San Antonio Housing Authority on Wednesday unveiled a $7 million renovation of the Lewis Chatham Apartments for elderly and disabled residents on the South Side.

The improvements at the 119-unit building on South Flores were funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.

Spending on the project generated about $20 million in total economic impact and created about 105 jobs, according to a study of stimulus funds by Econsult Corp.

The Lewis Chatham development was the largest project awarded to San Antonio, which received a total of about $20 million from the recovery act.

“This was a prudent investment of federal dollars, to preserve public housing units that serve the elderly, disabled persons and families, and to create safe, healthy, sustainable communities,” said SAHA President and CEO Lourdes Castro Ramírez.

Upgrades to the apartments, which were built in 1973, repaired plumbing, lighting, security and elevators. The rehabilitation also added energy efficient heating and air conditioning systems with thermostats in every apartment.

“That feature has been hugely popular with residents,” said Melanie Villalobos, a housing authority spokeswoman.

A low-water garden with native plants, designed by University of Texas at San Antonio students, was among other features that won a Build San Antonio Green Level II designation, which means the apartments are about 30 percent more efficient than apartments built according to standard city codes.

Construction began in 2009 and residents moved back into the apartments last year.

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UTMB report: Affordable housing needed

By Amanda Casanova        Galveston County Daily News       May 9, 2012

GALVESTON — A lack of affordable housing on the island is likely to affect the health and development of children on the island, according to a brief developed by the University of Texas Medical Branch Center to Eliminate Health Disparities.

The report, released this month amid a political debate about the Galveston Housing Authority’s plan to rebuild public housing, said that as rates for rental housing have increased, affordable housing on the island has dropped.

Critics have said the housing authority plan, which includes mixing public-housing units within tax-credit and market-rate apartments, could flood the island’s housing market with additional units.

Proponents argue the plan would help the poor out of poverty.

Representatives from the Center to Eliminate Health Disparities have voiced their support of the housing authority’s plan in the past and, like other supporters of the plan, argue the island needs the mixed-income developments.

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Houston to use $151M for Ike housing recovery

Associated Press        May 10, 2012

Houston leaders have announced $151 million in federal funds will be used to fix years-old housing damage from Hurricane Ike.

The September 2008 hurricane devastated Galveston and also spread storm-related damage north to the Houston area.

The funding was announced Wednesday by Mayor Annise Parker, federal officials and community activists.

Leaders of the Texas Organizing Project had been critical of lingering Ike-related damage not taken care of in low income areas.

Parker says there are still whole neighborhoods in Houston reeling from the impact of the hurricane. The disaster funding will be concentrated in four areas.

Texas officials have said Ike claimed more than three dozen lives and left behind about $29 billion in damage.

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4,000 homes fill need: Juárez residents glad to leave flimsy shelters for sturdy houses

by Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera         San Antonio Express-News       May 14, 2012

JUAREZ — Windy nights used to scare Blanca Estela Guillén. That was when she still lived with her family in her small, feeble shack on top of a hill in northwest Juárez.

“The house rattled so much that it felt like we were out in the sea,” she said.

That changed in 2008 when Guillén’s turn came to receive a three-bedroom house from Casas Por Cristo, a Christian nonprofit organization that has built thousands of homes for the needy, most of them in Juárez.

After years of sleeping crammed in a bed with her husband and four of her children, Guillén, 40, remembers the sudden, unfamiliar feeling of having so much space for herself in her new home.

“I still couldn’t believe it when I saw my own bed and had all that privacy. My room felt so very big,” she said.

Since 1993, even through the worst years of the violence along the border, thousands of volunteers have marched into Juárez through the El Paso-based nonprofit Casas Por Cristo to build homes across the city. Today, Casas Por Cristo will break ground on their 4,000th home.

Of those, around 3,800 have been built in Juárez, said Casas Por Cristo Executive Director David Robertson. The rest have been built in the border city of Acuña, in the state of Coahuila, and in the town of San Raimundo, Guatemala.

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Mortgage servicers finally helping on some foreclosures, but problems remain

By Tony Pugh      McClatchy Newspapers       May 3, 2012

WASHINGTON — Nearly two years after the “robo-signing” scandal forced a reboot of the nation’s home-foreclosure process, mortgage servicers have begun the hard work of buffing up their industry’s tarnished image after years of making life miserable for Americans struggling to hold on to their homes.

Changing the industry’s bad behavior will be a slow and painful process for servicers who collect mortgage payments and manage the accounts on behalf of lenders, however. The inappropriate fees, mishandled accounts, shoddy paperwork and illegal foreclosures that first came to light after the 2007 housing crisis were long-standing problems that had gone largely unnoticed for years.

Whether it was obtaining loan modifications, arranging short sales, negotiating principal reductions or refinancing homes through the federal Home Affordable Refinance Program, mortgage servicers were more obstacle than facilitator during the housing meltdown, according to many housing advocates and consumer attorneys. And depending on whom you talk to, not much has changed.

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DFW home builder’s expansion is good sign for rest of us

By Mitchell Schnurman       Fort Worth Star-Telegram      May 3, 2012

Finally, it may be housing’s turn at a recovery — if not the entire industry, at least Fort Worth-based D.R. Horton. The bellwether builder, with operations in 25 states, is now spending more on lots, land and spec homes.

For Horton, it’s the first such expansion since 2006 and another positive indicator for the rest of us.

In the past three months, the national economy has generated surprising growth in jobs and retail. In Texas, sales tax revenue and auto sales increased at double-digit rates.

Now add residential real estate to the trend, and keep your fingers crossed: When this sector heats up, it boosts appliance sales, cable hookups, local schools and more.

Last week, Horton reported a 19 percent increase in orders for the three months that ended in March.

Seven large public home builders, including Horton, sold 3,670 more homes during the period, an average gain of 23.5 percent, according to ISI Homebuilding Research.

Existing-home sales are also encouraging. For the quarter, they rose 19 percent in Fort Worth and 12 percent in Northeast Tarrant County and statewide, based on data from the Texas A&M Real Estate Center.

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Amarillo real estate deals rumble market

By Karen Smith Welch       Amarillo Globe-News       May 3, 2012

Investor activity has caused some rumbling in the Amarillo real estate market.

An Amarillo apartment complex and a strip shopping center traded hands in separate deals, and an Interstate 40 office building is being offered up.

Minneapolis-based Dominium acquired Cathy’s Pointe, a 120-unit apartment complex built in 2007 at 2701 N. Grand St. Dominium owns or manages apartment communities at 226 sites in 22 states. The company also is an apartment developer.

Dominium acquired the Amarillo property, along with four others, from Wells Fargo, an announcement from the company said. The deal brings the number of units the company owns or manages in Texas to more than 2,500., a real estate news resource, offered an analysis in April promoting Amarillo and other smaller, or secondary, Texas markets as potential investing grounds for buyers interested in apartment properties.

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Increase in home sales reported in Tarrant County, across Texas

By Sandra Baker       Fort Worth Star-Telegram      May 6, 2012

Home sales surged in the first quarter across Tarrant County and median prices also rose, the Texas Association of Realtors said.

The Texas real estate market gained momentum from January through March, with sales statewide increasing 12 percent in the first quarter from the same period a year ago. The median sales price also rose nearly 3 percent.

Jim Gaines, an economist with the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University, which compiles the report for the association, said several factors were at play in the quarter.

“Continued job growth in Texas and some increased access to credit for home buyers” were among them, he said. “Most of all, we’re starting to see a shift in Texans’ attitudes toward real estate. Essentially, buyers and sellers have higher expectations for the market, so they’re beginning to take action and we’re starting to see the impacts.”

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Rents soar as foreclosure victims, young workers seek housing

Few new units and tight standards for home loans add to the pressure. The average monthly U.S. rent is at an all-time high, and a 10% jump in Los Angeles County over the next two years is forecast.

By Alejandro Lazo          Los Angeles Times      May 6, 2012

A nation still struggling to clear up one housing debacle has run smack into another — soaring rents.

The foreclosure mess has pushed millions of former homeowners with tarnished credit into a competitive apartment market across the U.S. Add fresh demand from young workers, few new units and tight standards for home loans, and the result is rental sticker shock not seen in years.

Rents are surging from New York to Los Angeles. The average monthly U.S. rent for apartments hit $1,008 in the first quarter, pushing past the all-time high set in the third quarter of 2008, according to the data firm RealFacts. USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate forecasts a 10% jump in Los Angeles County rents over the next two years. In certain markets, it is now cheaper to own a home than rent.

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Renting Prosperity

Americans are getting used to the idea of renting the good life, from cars to couture to homes. Daniel Gross explores our shift from a nation of owners to an economy permanently on the move—and how it will lead to the next boom.

By Daniel Gross       Wall Street Journal       May 4, 2012

“The Great Gatsby,” the pre-eminent American novel of financial ambition, overextension and downfall, offers a revealing vignette about the great American obsession: real estate. The narrator, Nick Carraway, can’t afford to buy in the rarefied Long Island world inhabited by Gatsby, and by Tom and Daisy Buchanan. But he can afford to rent. “When a young man at the office suggested that we take a house together in a commuting town, it sounded like a great idea. He found the house, a weather-beaten cardboard bungalow at eighty a month, but at the last minute the firm ordered him to Washington, and I went out to the country alone,” he notes. “I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires—all for eighty dollars a month.”

In the American mind, renting has long symbolized striving—striving, that is, well short of achieving. But as we climb our way out of the Great Recession, it seems something has changed. Americans are getting over the idea of owning the American dream; increasingly, they’re OK with renting it. Homeownership is on the decline, and home rentership is on the rise. But the trend isn’t limited to the housing market. Across the board—for goods ranging from cars to books to clothes—Americans are increasingly acclimating to the idea of giving up the stability of being an owner for the flexibility of being a renter. This may sound like a decline in living standards. But the new realities of our increasingly mobile economy make it more likely that this transition from an Ownership Society to what might be called a Rentership Society, far from being a drag, will unleash a wave of economic efficiency that could fuel the next boom.

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Solar panels cause clashes with homeowner groups

By Ray Henry       Austin American-Statesman       May 7, 2012

CUMMING, GA. — The government wants you to install solar panels at your house, and will even give you a tax break to do it. But your neighbors? Maybe not.

It’s a lesson Angel and David Dobs discovered when their homeowners association north of Atlanta denied their request to install solar panels on their roof.

Neighborhood officials said the panels would look out of place and might lower home values in a community that regulates details as fine as the coloring of roof tiles, the planting of trees and the storage of trash cans.

“It’s like living under communism — someone gets to dictate every possible thing you do,” David Dobs said.

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With New Rules, Housing Board Loses Power

By Emily Ramshaw and Rudolph Bush       Texas Tribune       May 6, 2012

In many ways, the planned site for a huge affordable apartment complex in South Dallas seemed perfect.

The project, known as Hatcher Square, sits next to a train station and bus lines; it is close to jobs, churches and community centers, and surrounding residents have widely supported its construction.

But according to its backers, Hatcher Square will be all but impossible to build under new state rules that govern the lucrative subsidies developers rely on to build affordable housing.

The rule changes, approved in late 2011, were intended to address two major concerns: that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has unfairly funneled housing for the poor into low-income, minority areas; and that the agency’s board was using its power over subsidies too freely and without sufficient transparency.

Many developers and affordable housing advocates agree that the new rules were drafted with good intentions. But they fear that the changes could make it much more difficult for projects to be built in cities.

Studies have shown that building low-income housing in higher-income areas can dramatically improve the life chances of poorer families, who benefit from better schools and safer neighborhoods, for instance. But advocates of inner-city housing say families who make that move also can lose the benefits of public transportation, and can lose touch with their extended families and community support networks.

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Dallas Museum Simmers in a Neighbor’s Glare

By Robin Pogrebin        New York Times      May 2, 2012

DALLAS — Two things were supposed to happen when the Nasher Sculpture Center opened here in 2003. Famous works like Rodin’s “Age of Bronze” and Matisse’s “Madeleine I” were to be bathed in copious sunlight streaming through a glass roof. And new vigor was to come to the surrounding neighborhood.

The results exceeded expectations. And Dallas has a mess on its hands.

The center, designed by Renzo Piano and Peter Walker, was considered so appealing that a 42-story condominium called Museum Tower sprouted across the street. But the glass skin of the condo tower, still under construction, now reflects so much light that it is threatening artworks in the galleries, burning the plants in the center’s garden and blinding visitors with its glare.

No one quite knows what to do. The condo developer and museum officials are at loggerheads. Fingers are being pointed. Mr. Piano is furious. The developer’s architect is aggrieved. The mayor is involved. A former official in the George W. Bush administration has been asked to mediate.

The situation has been characterized by some here as a David-and-Goliath battle between a beloved nonprofit and commercial interests. But the dispute has also raised the broader question of what can happen when, as is currently the rage, cultural institutions are cast as engines of economic development.

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Apartment group: GHA’s housing study ‘not credible’

By Amanda Casanova       Galveston County Daily News       May 7, 2012

GALVESTON — A September housing market study commissioned by Galveston Housing Authority partner McCormack Baron Salazar is “not credible,” according to a review of the study commissioned by the Galveston County Apartment Association.

The review, paid for by the apartment association, comes amid debate about the Galveston Housing Authority’s plan to rebuild public housing on the island.

Critics have said the plan, which includes mixing public-housing units within tax-credit and market-rate apartments, could flood the island’s housing market with additional units. Housing authority officials have said landlords on the island are opposing the rebuilding plan to protect their rental properties.

The demand for rental housing and the number of vacant units are among the topics in the public housing debate.

In September, a Houston company hired by master developer McCormack Baron Salazar found there were only 168 vacancies available for rent on the island, excluding offline apartments.

According to the study from Affordable Housing Analysts, the island had about 1,051 vacant units, including those closed or under renovation. But the research focused only on complexes with 50 or more units and included public housing.

About a week later, the apartment association released its own study that says Galveston had more than 1,000 vacant units, excluding apartments undergoing renovation or closed.

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Landowners worried as TAMUG plans to open dorms

By Amanda Casanova       Galveston County Daily News        May 8, 2012

GALVESTON — Rooted in the debate over public housing on the island are concerns about a declining population and lack of demand for rental housing. 

Critics of the Galveston Housing Authority’s plan to rebuild public housing within mixed-income developments have said the plan would cripple the housing market, while proponents of the plan have argued that the blended communities would house island workers and students — like those at Texas A&M University at Galveston, where campus enrollment has increased during the last few years. 

The Pelican Island campus will open two residence halls in the fall and possibly start renovations on an aging dorm, creating about 1,400 units for students.

But landlords of apartments on the island said the two residence halls paired with the housing authority’s plan will flood the island with unnecessary units.

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GHA director wants to change complex’s perception

By Michael A. Smith         Galveston County Daily News       May 6, 2012

GALVESTON — When Stanley Lowe took over Galveston Housing Authority in February, he stepped into a political war involving the federal, state and local governments, proponents and opponents of public housing, vested interests and the traffickers of various ideologies, to name a few.

The factions already were dug in deep, and a lot was at stake.

The fight over the authority’s plan to replace and modernize public housing destroyed by Hurricane Ike in 2008 will influence Galveston’s city council election Saturday, probably more than any one other thing.

At stake, at very least, are hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars, and at most, activists on both sides argue, the island’s future as a diverse, livable city.

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Insight: Falling home prices drag new buyers under water

By Tim Reid         Reuters        April 26, 2012

More than 1 million Americans who have taken out mortgages in the past two years now owe more on their loans than their homes are worth, and Federal Housing Administration loans that require only a tiny down payment are partly to blame.

That figure, provided to Reuters by tracking firm CoreLogic, represents about one out of 10 home loans made during that period.

It is a sobering indication the U.S. housing market remains deeply troubled, with home values still falling in many parts of the country, and raises the question of whether low-down payment loans backed by the FHA are putting another generation of buyers at risk.

As of December 2011, the latest figures available, 31 percent of the U.S. home loans that were in negative equity – in which the outstanding loan balance exceeds the value of the home – were FHA-insured mortgages, according to CoreLogic.

Many borrowers, particularly since late 2010, thought they were buying at the bottom of a housing market that had already suffered steep declines, but have been caught out by a continued fall in prices in wide swaths of America.

Even for loans taken out in December – less than four months ago and the last month for which data is available – nearly 44,000 borrowers, or about 7.5 percent of the total, now find themselves under water.

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Housing, profits lift Wall Street, Amazon up late

By Caroline Valetkevitch       Reuters       April 26, 2012

U.S. stocks rose for a third day on Thursday after upbeat housing data and stronger-than-expected results from companies, including Citrix Systems Inc (CTXS.O), overshadowed some high-profile earnings misses.

An index of pending home sales rose to nearly a two-year high in March, sending the Philadelphia Stock Exchange index of housing-related shares .HGX up 3 percent. Shares of homebuilder Lennar (LEN.N) climbed 5.7 percent to $27.38.

The stock of PulteGroup Inc (PHM.N), the No. 2 U.S. homebuilder, soared 10.1 percent to $9.58 after it reported a narrower-than-expected loss and its biggest increase in new orders in seven years.

After the closing bell, shares of (AMZN.O) jumped 8.6 percent to $212.50 as the world’s largest Internet retailer reported quarterly earnings that beat Wall Street’s most bullish expectations. Amazon ended the regular session at $195.99, up 0.8 percent.

During the regular session, the positive news on the housing front helped the market overcome data showing a stumbling labor market recovery. Initial claims for jobless benefits fell slightly in the latest week, but missed forecasts.

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Some Housing Markets Rebound, But Bargains Scarce

By Ted Robbins          NPR       April 30, 2012

There’s been an extraordinary turnaround for some of the nation’s hardest-hit real estate markets. Tucson, Ariz., is just one example, and it was recently named the best market in the country for investors to buy a home.

Tucson firefighter Keith Cubberley recently bought a brick house in an older middle-class neighborhood. He buys distressed property in his spare time, and when he bough this particular house it was trashed.

“It was dirty and people hadn’t done anything to take care of the property for the last 40 years,” Cubberley says.

So Cubberley gutted it, and now he has workers fixing it up. When he’s done, he’ll re-sell the house. Buying low-end real estate like this, he says, is actually getting harder to do.

“Anything $100,000 and under … are selling very quickly,” he says.

Tucson real estate agent Steve Marshall specializes in finding homes for investors, and he says a lot of homes which would have sat on the market a couple of years ago are now getting multiple offers.

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Foreclosure activity ‘a mixed bag’: RealtyTrac

By Tiffany Hsu        Los Angeles Times       April 26, 2012

Foreclosures increased in the first three months of the year from the previous quarter but are down compared to a year ago, according to RealtyTrac.

The Irvine-based foreclosure data firm continued a run of housing data this week, much of which suggests the housing market may be on the recovery track.

But this year’s landmark settlement over robo-signing at the nation’s largest banks have many experts unsure of how to predict future foreclosure trends.

“First quarter metro foreclosure trends were a mixed bag,” said Brandon Moore, RealtyTrac’s chief executive in a statement. He called the data “an early sign that long-dormant foreclosures are coming out of hibernation in many local markets.”

RealtyTrac found quarterly foreclosure activity was up in 114 of the country’s 212 large metro areas, spiking 49% in Pittsburgh, for example. Portland saw the largest quarterly decrease, with a 28% tumble in foreclosures, compared to a 26% fall in Las Vegas.

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Housing scam brings up to life sentence under three-strikes law

An Orange County man who swindled elderly people out of their homes is sentenced to 25 years to life in prison under California’s three-strikes law, which is typically applied in violent crime cases.

By Stuart Pfeifer        Los Angeles Times         April 28, 2012

An Orange County man who swindled elderly people out of their homes after promising to help them avoid foreclosure was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison under California’s tough three-strikes law.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors across the state could not recall any other case in which a white-collar offender received such a lengthy sentence under a statute typically applied in violent crime cases.

The sentencing of Timothy Barnett was unusual because his entire criminal record involved fraud. The 49-year-old was convicted last month of 17 felonies for tricking five people into unknowingly granting him title to their homes. He had been convicted of similar charges in the 1990s.

“The worst thing you can do is take somebody’s home,” Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephen A. Marcus said Friday in explaining the lengthy sentence.

“Instead of helping people, he stripped the equity from their homes and left five people homeless,” the judge said. “Even Bernie

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El Paso Housing Authority recovers from ’08 ethics predicaments

By Marty Schladen       El Paso Times       April 30, 2012

The El Paso Housing Authority is an example of how a public agency can emerge from a morass of conflicts of interests, uncompetitive bidding and other poor practices now facing numerous El Paso agencies.

Four years after federal officials criticized the agency for conflicts of interest and improper purchasing practices, the Housing Authority’s scores on federal management assessments have jumped from the mid-70s to the 90s on a 100-point scale.

It is officially a high-performing agency.

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GHA asks HUD to resolve ‘impasse’ with state

By Amanda Casanova        Galveston County Daily News      April 29, 2012

GALVESTON — The Galveston Housing Authority is asking HUD to address some of the Texas General Land Office’s concerns about the housing authority’s plan to rebuild public housing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also is being asked to resolve what housing authority officials are calling an “impasse” with the state.

As part of the plan to rebuild some of the 569 public-housing units destroyed in Hurricane Ike in 2008, the housing authority said it will replace the public-housing units within mixed-income developments that include market-rate and tax-credit units. St. Louis-based McCormack Baron Salazar would own and manage the developments.

State officials said they are worried about the financing for the $167 million plan because the “numbers just don’t add up,” said Jim Suydam, press secretary for the General Land Office.

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Residents sue San Marcos over a rezoning that allows apartments near homes

By Calre O’Rouke      Austin American-Statesman      April 26, 2012

SAN MARCOS — A group of residents living near a tract of rezoned land north of Texas State University have sued the City of San Marcos, claiming it improperly cleared the way for a multi-family residence close to single-family homes.

The lawsuit, which was filed in district court Wednesday, requests that the ordinance rezoning nearly 11 acres at North LBJ Drive and Holland Drive be voided, calling the change arbitrary and at odds with the city’s master plan.

“We need to preserve these neighborhoods,” said Ollie Giles, vice president of the plantiff San Marcos Voice, a nonprofit whose members live near the rezoned property.

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Housing just can’t keep up with booming Midland

Midland Report-Telegram       April 29, 2012

There’s no doubt Midland’s booming. Boasting an unemployment rate that’s tied for lowest in the nation and continually reporting an increasing rig count, however, isn’t without its challenges. As Midland has grown, so too have the needs for housing.

The Reporter-Telegram took a look at some of the different issues in the area’s housing and rental markets and found that while the struggles vary between families and individuals, most in town agree there’s a need for more options.

Among apartment complexes, rental costs have increased by as much as 40 percent or more in the past two years. Those willing to pay the high prices are finding they’re having to put their names on a several-month-long waiting list just to secure a spot.

In the housing market, inventory has reached its lowest point since the Permian Basin Board of Realtors started tracking home sale totals. There were 170 homes listed last week, up from the 148 active residential listings that were available at the end of March.

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