Bo’s News Clips: Austin Density Bonus Dispute

Key indicators from the housing area suggest that the economy is improving for the average American: almost two million Americans emerged from “underwater” mortgages last quarter and fewer people are living with relatives and friends. Home prices continue to increase in most US cities.  Austin density bonus statute disputed.

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


At Austin City Hall, debate over affordable housing rule

By Sarah Coppola       Austin American-Statesman        February 24, 2013

Affordable housing advocates say Austin city officials are ignoring part of a 5-year-old law that should require developers to provide much more affordable housing than they must now for big projects that get special development bonuses from the city.

City staffers say that part of the law, as written, doesn’t reflect their recollection of the law’s intent, so they have interpreted it in a different way.

The dispute is over a handful of words, that in the long run, could mean Austin misses out on hundreds more affordable apartments or condos, or millions of dollars in fees for affordable housing, said Heather Way, an Austin lawyer and advocate for low-income housing.

“We as a city have a vision to have affordable housing in every part of town, and this (law) is important to help us reach that goal,” she said. “When we work to create these tools, they need to be enforced and not diluted by ad hoc interpretations.”

But developers say requiring a much higher number of low-priced housing units would make some projects difficult, if not impossible, to finance.

Full story at:


Fewer boarded-up homes: Vacancy rate for US housing falls to pre-bust levels

In the final quarter of 2012, the vacancy rate was 1.9 percent of homeowner housing, and 8.7 percent of the rental housing market, according to a new census report.

By Mark Trumbull        Christian Science Monitor      February 20, 2013

Across America fewer homes are boarded up. And fewer people are “doubled up,” sharing a tight apartment with friends or parents.

According to the Census Bureau, vacancy rates for residential housing in the United States have fallen to levels last seen before the peak of the housing boom in 2006 and the subsequent recession.

In the final quarter of 2012, the vacancy rate was 1.9 percent of homeowner housing, and 8.7 percent of the rental housing market. That’s down from rates as high as 2.9 percent (2008) in the owner market and 11.1 percent (mid-2009) for rentals.

The census numbers, released in an annual vacancy report Wednesday, add to other indications of rising strength in the US housing market – from rising home prices to home-builder enthusiasm and investor activity.

Full story at:


Fewer Americans are stuck in underwater mortgages

By Alejandro Lazo       Los Angeles Times     February 22, 2013

Nearly 2 million Americans got out of negative equity positions as home prices rose last quarter, according to new estimates.

Negative equity fell to 27.5% of all U.S. homeowners with mortgages in last year’s fourth quarter, compared with 31.1% during the same period a year earlier, according to data from real estate website Zillow.

“Underwater” homeowners — those who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth — have played a counterintuitive role in the housing market’s recovery, helping boost home prices in an unexpected way.

Rather than walking away from their properties en masse, many of these borrowers have continued paying their home loans, even when they are stuck in high-interest-rate loans.

As foreclosures have eased, for-sale inventory has plummeted. In many markets, the level of competition for a home is now so severe, it’s reminiscent of the bubble days.

Full story at:,0,5638504.story


Home prices climb in December, best yearly gain since 2006

Reuters      February 26, 2013

U.S. home prices picked up in December, closing out 2012 with the biggest yearly gain in more than six years as the housing market got back on its feet, a closely watched survey showed on Tuesday.

The S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas rose 0.9 percent in December on a seasonally adjusted basis, topping expectations for a gain of 0.5 percent.

Prices in the 20 cities jumped 6.8 percent year-over-year, ahead of expectations for 6.6 percent and the best yearly gain since July 2006.

“I expect the home price rise to persist in 2013,” said Michelle Meyer, senior economist at Bank Of America Merrill Lynch in New York.

For the final quarter of the year, prices gained 2 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis. On a non-adjusted basis, prices were up 0.2 percent in December.


Technology Upends Another Industry: Homebuilding

By Yuki Noguchi        NPR       February 26, 2013

Years into the economic recovery, hiring remains slow. Many businesses learned to do more with less during the recession, so they don’t need to bring on as many people now.

These new efficiencies have led to what economists call “labor displacement,” which is taking place around the country. One business in Rockville, Md., is doing the same amount of work with half its original staff.

Two things are noticeably absent from the offices of Mid-Atlantic Builders: people and paper.

John Lavery, vice president of sales for the residential builder, keeps a relic in his office of the company’s recent past: a binder heftier than a phone book that’s filled with sketches and floor plan options of all the homes the company builds.

“Each home had sometimes up to 25 different versions of the fronts that they could choose from. And then literally hundreds of layouts,” Lavery says.

There are millions of permutations and combinations possible for the company’s customizable homes. The paper-based systems had been confusing and fraught with potential for error, miscommunication and logistical snags.

But a few years ago, the company automated everything. Now, customers click and drag to design their floor plans. Those changes update in a single digital file, which in turn syncs up with the design, procurement and billing systems. Lavery says workers no longer wrestle with muddy blueprints or misplace orders for windows. And automation has made it possible for each worker to do more.

“I would say it doubles their efficiency,” Lavery says.


 ‘Organic’ Dry Cleaners Can Serve as Barometer of Gentrification

By Elizabeth Harris       New York Times       February 18, 2013

At the base of Crescent Street in Long Island City, Queens, you will hear the hum of traffic heading to and from the Queensboro Bridge and the rattle of subway cars hustling over elevated tracks, the same rumblings heard in that spot 20, 40 or 60 years ago. But if you look around, you will see signs of a neighborhood changed.

A glassy condominium project is on one corner, two new rental buildings are right down the block and a small flower shop has orchids arranged in the window. There is also a dry cleaner that has been operating in the neighborhood for over 40 years, which, on its Web site, proudly advertises a relatively new service: organic dry cleaning.

“People started asking for it,” said Jose Rojas, a manager at Packard Square Cleaners, nestled at the base of a recently constructed rental building. So to oblige new customers, he said, the cleaners started offering it.

Full story at:


Coercion by contract: how homeowners associations stifle expression, sustainability

By Kaid Benfield       SWiTCHBOARD        February 20, 2013

In the 1980s, I lived in a small DC condominium complex in the highly walkable Adams-Morgan neighborhood.  I was one of 14 unit owners.  Another was a fairly well-known Russian writer who had defected; the Cold War was still happening then, if not for much longer.  Alex (as I’ll call him) was a great, friendly guy, and really more a fan of American culture than a critic obsessed with Soviet politics.

I was one of the first to buy into the newly rehabbed complex; Alex was in the second group that began to fill the place out.  A couple of us tried to recruit him to join the condo board.  I’ll always treasure his bemused response:  “Hey, I didn’t leave one communist system just to join another.”

There were about 50,000 homeowners associations – including those in multifamily buildings like ours – in the US at the time.  Today there are 323,600, presiding over the homes and neighborhoods of an astounding 63.4 million Americans,

Full story at:


State agency loans $3 million to Midland apartment developer

By Joseph Basco       Midland Reporter      February 21, 2013

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs awarded a $3 million loan Wednesday to a developer making an apartment complex on Midland’s South Side.

TDHCA awarded the loan to affordable housing developer Odyssey Residential Holdings, who will be building Champion Homes at Tahoe Lake at 1905 South Lamesa Road.

Champion Homes will be a multifamily apartment complex with 156 units. Of those units, 32 will be reserved for families whose annual income does not exceed 80 percent of the area median family income, or about $53,500 for a family of four.

“This ensures there will be greater housing choices for people who don’t make the median income,” said Gordon Anderson, spokesperson for TDHCA.

Anderson said TDHCA realizes the high demand for housing in Midland. The housing agency also has funded seven other Midland projects, including Playa Del Pueblo, according to the TDHCA website.

Full story at:


%d bloggers like this: