Bo’s housing clips: Austin police get tough on homeless; Arlington votes to waive taxes for expensive apartments

With high rollers coming to town to take in the F-1 hoopla, Austin police respond to downtown merchants who are suddenly ashamed of the homeless who frequent the streets. Although the number of homeless remains roughly the same as in previous years, the increase in complaints is enough for the police to crack down.

In other state news, a spate of upscale apartment projects are approved by city councils who generously grant tax write-offs and site variances.

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


Analysis: Waiting for housing to drive the U.S. economy

By Leah Schnurr      Reuters       November 4, 2012

The U.S. housing market is on the mend, but the so-called “missing piston” of the world’s biggest economy doesn’t have enough power to get the broader recovery firing on all cylinders any time soon.

Construction and related activity will help rather than hinder U.S. economic growth this year for the first time since 2005. That was before the housing bust helped push the United States into recession, triggering the global financial crisis.

Higher sales, prices and building, albeit modest so far, are a welcome boost as other drivers of the economy falter.

Nonetheless, housing still accounts for only a small part of gross domestic product compared with the boom years.

The housing sector “would have to be on steroids to significantly boost GDP growth,” Paul Dales, an economist with Capital Economics, wrote in a recent research note.

Neither presidential candidate has signaled any new plans to help housing, although the Federal Reserve, aware of the important role of the sector in underpinning the economy, is focusing its latest stimulus efforts in mortgage bonds.

Typically, housing leads the U.S. economy out of recession. But the vast equity losses have stymied the market this time.

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Home prices continue upward trend in August

The S&P/Case-Shiller index posts its fifth consecutive month-over-month increase and third consecutive year-over-year gain.

By Alejandro Lazo         Los Angeles Times        October 31, 2012

Home prices in August rose across a broad swath of large American cities, adding further evidence that a housing recovery is taking shape.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller home price index for the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the country rose 0.9% from July and 2% from August 2011. It was the fifth consecutive month-over-month increase and the third consecutive year-over-year bump.

Nineteen areas tracked by the index posted gains over July and 17 posted year-over-year increases.

The closely tracked index showed home prices down 29.3% from their July 2006 peak. By comparison, prices are down about 0.3% from January 2009, when President Obama took office, indicating most of the declines occurred during the previous administration.

The recovery since 2009 has been marked by a long bottom. Real estate initially improved in 2009 and 2010, with help from federal tax credits for buyers, but then dipped again after those incentives expired. The gains this year have been fueled by a low inventory of homes for sale, record-low interest rates and expectations that prices will not drop much further — a combination many economists predict will continue to fuel improvement.

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Sprinklers, yes, commercial wiring, no, in pending boarding home rules

By Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje      San Antonio Express-News      October 31, 2012

Boarding homes for the elderly and mentally ill will have to install expensive sprinkler systems under pending city regulations, but another costly requirement — commercial wiring — has been taken off the table.

San Antonio has been considering its first regulations for the homes since an August fire killed four mentally ill men in a boarding home that was later found to have multiple fire and safety violations.

The city manager’s office recommended Wednesday to the City Council that sprinklers remain a requirement — at an average cost of around $20,000 — but reversed an earlier proposal that boarding homes must have commercial wiring, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Instead, it recommended homes be required to install arc-fault circuit interrupters, safety devices that detect dangerous electrical arcs and disconnect power before a fire starts.

An AFCI installation costs around $1,000, said Roderick Sanchez, director of the city’s Development Services Department.

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Renters get move-out notices as redevelopment looms

Houston Chronicle       November 2, 2012

Residents of a sprawling apartment complex between the West Loop and Highland Village are getting word today that it’s time to find new housing.

San Diego-based OliverMcMillan, the owner of the 4444 Westheimer apartments, is redeveloping a large portion of the complex. Plans call for a $275 million development with 650,000 square feet of retail, office and residential space. The project has been named River Oaks District.

The developer did not say when demolition would begin, and a portion of the units owned by Kaplan Management were not part of an announcement made today.

A team dedicated to assist renters with their move-out plans will be onsite most days of the week, said Nancy Sims, a spokeswoman for the developer.

Residents will receive rebate checks for up to one month and their full security deposits will be returned. Some will have 30 days to relocate and others will have 60 days, depending on when their leases were signed.

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Developer seeks tax break for Arlington apartment complex

By Susan Schrock      Fort Worth Star-Telegram       November 6, 2012

ARLINGTON — A developer is seeking $2.15 million in incentives for a proposed five-story apartment complex near the University of Texas at Arlington that city officials hope will set a new standard for that type of project.

The City Council is set to vote today on whether to enter into an economic development agreement with Lev Investments for the planned Sapphire project, a $41 million high-density apartment complex and parking garage.

If constructed, the project would replace more than 100 aging apartment units in the area between Center and Mesquite streets and Mitchell and Hosack streets near downtown.

“It’s an exponential increase in the value of the site,” said Bruce Payne, Arlington’s economic development manager.

Lev Investments is seeking a grant that is the equivalent of 90 percent of the property taxes the company would expect to pay during the development’s first five years. The remaining 10 percent of the taxes paid would be three times higher than what the city currently gets on the parcels, Payne said.

After the deal expires, the city expects tax revenue to jump from about $9,000 to more than $200,000 annually, he said.

The city has never approved a deal like this for an apartment complex, but the city doesn’t have any multifamily housing that compares with the Sapphire project, Payne said.

The projected average rental rate would be $1.50 per square foot. The average rate for apartments now is 80 cents per square foot, Payne said.


City Council to review possible apartment developments

By Sarah Higgins       Midland Reporter-Telegram        November 6, 2012

Hundreds of more apartment units across Midland are one step closer to reality after the Planning and Zoning Commission gave the go-ahead for various requests and plans presented on Monday.

All of the apartment projects, which are at various planning stages, will be presented in front of the City Council on Nov. 13, said city planning division manager Cameron Walker.

Commission members unanimously approved a site plan by Oakwood Development out of Dallas for the first phase of an apartment complex that could provide 214 units on a 10.36-acre tract located on the west side of Tradewinds Boulevard just north of Business 20.

Commissioners also approved a zone change for a city-owned property on the north side of East Wall Street, between Main and Baird streets, for an apartment complex that has been referred to in the past as the Wall Street Lofts.

The loft-style apartment building could be as tall as eight stories, have up to 150 units and include more than 5,000 square feet for retail or restaurant space on the ground level, according to the city’s application for the request.

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Motel families live in limbo

Glenn E. Rice and Matt Campbell       Kansas City Star       November 6, 2012

On a sun-splashed afternoon, a yellow Independence school bus rumbles into the parking lot of the motel at Noland Road and Interstate 70.

The doors fling open, and a handful of schoolchildren scamper to the waiting arms of parents and relatives.

The children laugh and squeal, anticipating what the evening’s activities may hold.

For these and scores of schoolchildren across the area, home is not a street address or an apartment number, but a motel room number. The kitchen, living room and bedroom are all the same.

They are not technically homeless. Yet they have no home beyond a week-to-week existence.

Though comprehensive statistics are hard to come by, it’s clear that this lifestyle is becoming more common.

In Missouri, the number of students known to be living in motels or hotels jumped 140 percent from 2007 to 2012. In Kansas, it was up by half.

Typically, these families can’t afford the upfront costs of an apartment, so it’s either a motel or a shelter or the street.

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Then There’s This: Cracking Down on Homelessness

Chief defends police initiative on crime

By Amy Smith        Austin Chronicle      November 1, 2012

It’s that time of year when Austin’s charitable spirit comes to life, a time during holidays and cold snaps when homeless people are traditionally regarded with a little more sympathy.

This year, though, a police crackdown on crime Downtown has thrown the seasonal good will off-kilter. Questions have been raised about whether the Austin Police Department’s stepped-up enforcement is really just a stealth attempt to drive out the homeless in advance of Formula One, and perhaps permanently – something that many Downtown business owners and residents have wanted for years.

In an Oct. 23 briefing to City Council’s Public Health and Human Services Com­mittee, Police Chief Art Acevedo found himself on the defensive when questioned in greater detail about the new crackdown and the crime data used to justify it. APD mounted the zero-tolerance Public Order Initiative on Sept. 20, and plans to continue the effort through the end of the year.

“This is not an anti-homeless initiative,” the chief said, assuring council members that they’ll see a noticeable reduction in crime and an improvement in the quality of life Downtown. “This has nothing to do with F1 – that’s an urban myth.” Acevedo said that instead, the initiative was a direct response to data showing a rise in crime Downtown and a “growing chorus of complaints from residents and business owners and visitors.”

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