Bo’s news clips: S TX housing shortage caused by the area’s oil and gas boom

As the nation prepares to cut budgets in light of the “fiscal cliff,” federal housing programs for poor households receive increased scrutiny from both parties. Public housing and programs for the disabled and homeless, already underfunded, are set for more pruning and paring.

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The Affordable Housing Crisis

Editorial       New York Times     December 6, 2012

The precious few federal programs that provide rental assistance to the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable families are already underfinanced. These programs provide decent housing for about only a quarter of the low-income families who qualify for them. And with nearly nine million households teetering on the verge of homelessness, the country clearly needs more support for affordable housing, not less.

The main federal programs are traditional public housing, for which the government provides operating expenses, plus two different programs under Section 8 of the housing law, in which rents are subsidized in privately owned properties. Federal housing programs provide a lifeline for about five million low-income households that would otherwise be unable to afford livable housing at all.

More than half of these households are headed by elderly or disabled people and more than a third are families that include children. These families are overwhelmingly “extremely low income,” which means they earn less than a third of the median income in the areas where they live.

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Homeless Rates in U.S. Held Level Amid Recession, Study Says, but Big Gains Are Elusive

By Annie Lowrey        New York Times      December 10, 2012

The federal government has made big strides in reducing the ranks of the chronically homeless and of veterans who are homeless, but it probably will not reach its goal of ending homelessness among those two populations by 2015, according to a government report to be released on Monday.

In an annual report to Congress, the Department of Housing and Urban Development said that the overall level of homelessness remained essentially the same from 2011 to 2012, with the number of homeless individuals falling slightly and the number of homeless families increasing slightly.

“As encouraged as I am that overall homelessness is holding steady during this economic period, we can’t be satisfied,” Shaun Donovan, the housing and urban development secretary, wrote in an e-mail. “Every number in this estimate is a person, a family or a veteran living in our shelters or even on our streets. It’s exactly why we have to redouble our efforts to find real and lasting solutions for those facing homelessness.”

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Short sellers may be hit with big income tax bills if Washington doesn’t act

By Kenneth R. Harney       Washington Post        December 7, 2012

Patrick Boris, a banquet chef in Las Vegas, is inching closer to his own “fiscal cliff,” 2,100 miles away from the political brinkmanship underway on Capitol Hill. If Congress and the White House allow the country to go over the cliff at the end of this month, Boris figures he might owe federal income taxes on more than $100,000 in forgiven mortgage debt following the short sale of his two-bedroom townhome next year — a personal financial “disaster,” in his words.

In Sacramento, Elizabeth Weintraub, a real estate broker who specializes in short sales, says many of her clients have potentially taxable exposures next year on $200,000 or more in negative equity balances on their short sales if Congress fails to act.

In the Tampa Bay area, Pam Marron, a mortgage loan officer who works with underwater homeowners seeking to avoid foreclosure, says some clients are in panic mode, terrified that Congress might force them into massive federal tax bills after their short sales. “This is ludicrous,” she says. “These people already are on the losing end. Now it could get much worse.”

Across the country, fears such as these are mounting. With the outcome of negotiations over taxes, spending and the federal debt uncertain, huge numbers of underwater owners worry that a single legislative provision that has been sucked into the “fiscal cliff” vortex could devastate them personally.

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Tax deductions in peril? Americans prefer mortgage break to item on charity.

Tax revenues are seen as one source to help cut the deficit. In a new Monitor/TIPP poll, Americans were asked which tax deduction they would be most ready to part with. The charitable deduction led the list.

By Mark Trumbull,       Christian Science Monitor      December 10, 2012

Americans would be more willing to give up the tax deduction for charitable giving than some other popular tax breaks, including the one for the interest on their home mortgages.

That poll result, which emerged in a new Christian Science Monitor/TIPP survey of US adults, arrives as President Obama and congressional lawmakers are bargaining over ways to reduce future federal deficits, while also avoiding a “fiscal cliff” of scheduled tax hikes that could send the economy into recession.

To reduce federal deficits, the options boil down to various ways to cut spending or raise taxes. And on the tax front, some elected officials in both parties argue that limiting deductions would be a way to raise new revenue without harming the economy as much as a boost in tax rates.

The poll, conducted last week, asked “If you were to eliminate one popular deduction in the tax code, please tell me which of the following five will be your choice?” The survey then offered five options, including deductions for charitable giving, mortgage interest, state taxes paid, employer-sponsored health insurance, and retirement savings.

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Soaring Rents Drive a Boom in Apartments

By Shaila DeWan and Nelson Schwartz       New York Times     December 8, 2012

Houston is better known for urban sprawl than dense apartment living. But as part of a national rush to capitalize on rising rents, developers there are building thousands of apartments like those south of downtown at Camden City Centre, where 268 units will open early next year in a complex that also has two swimming pools, billiards tables, a coffee bar and a fitness center.

As residential building recovers from a near standstill after the housing crisis, much of the momentum is coming not from subdivisions with green lawns and two-car garages but from rental apartments. Multifamily construction nationwide is two-thirds of the way back to its prerecession peak, while single-family home construction is still only about a third of the way back to its peak, said David Crowe, the chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders.

The multifamily construction recovery, fueled by young people who are striking out on their own, is strongest in the South and West, particularly in markets where job growth is picking up. Last month, the Commerce Department released data on new construction that showed new apartment complexes were going up at the fastest rate since July 2008.

That has led to a fear of overbuilding. While rents are still rising, analysts say the steep increases between 2011 and 2012 are unlikely to be repeated as a surge of units are completed in the latter part of this year and will continue to come on the market early next year. Nationally, residential rents rose 4.2 percent in 2011, but only 3.6 percent so far this year, according to Axiometrics, a Dallas-based apartment market research firm.

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A Boom in Houston Is Led by the Energy Industry

By Matt Hugins      New York Times      December 7, 2012

HOUSTON — Even first-time visitors here can tell that the city is growing rapidly. Construction cranes overhang office and apartment sites all along the Katy Freeway, a stretch of Interstate 10 that connects a string of booming submarkets west of the 610 Loop. This expanse includes the Westchase neighborhood and the Energy Corridor, home to an expanding cluster of energy companies.

The energy sector drives job growth and all manner of business activity here, with the greatest demand for office space concentrated in the west side where oil and gas companies are clustered, in the medical center just south of the central business district and in the Woodlands, a master-planned community 27 miles north of downtown.

“Houston is clearly a growth leader,” said Walter Page, director of office research at Property and Portfolio Research in Boston. “It was the first major economy in the U.S. to register more jobs than it lost in the recession.” Employment here is up 3.7 percent since August 2008, when it peaked before declining during the recession. That compares with New York’s gain of just 0.7 percent from its peak in April 2008 before declining, Mr. Page said.

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Oil boom takes toll on students, school districts

South Texas cities see housing shortage.

By Lindsay Kastner      San Antonio Express-News       December 10, 2012

CARRIZO SPRINGS — Dulce Garcia, 32, left a government-subsidized apartment a year ago, moving with her three children, including one with severe disabilities, into her brother’s small, one-story house.

She thought the arrangement would be short-lived, but now her family has been “doubled up” for a year.

Garcia’s kids are among a rising population of students in the Carrizo Springs Consolidated Independent School District who are living in temporary or substandard housing. The number of district students considered homeless under federal law has increased from 85 to more than 200 in just one year, as a housing shortage caused by the area’s oil and gas boom pushes rents ever higher.

“Some local families are living where there’s no electricity. … some where there’s no running water,” district Superintendent Deborah Dobie said.

Many others have moved in with family members living in public housing units, who risk eviction if discovered, she said.

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